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Conrad Kresge, The Pioneer

(d. 1805)

Immigrant Ancestor of the Kresge Family

by Jeffrey L. Thomas


Our immigrant ancestor of the Kresge family is Conrad Kresge who was probably born circa 1730-35 in either the Palatine region of Germany, or Switzerland. Conrad Kresge, who today is generally referred to as Conrad Kresge, the Pioneer, was among these 18th-century immigrants. Although no definitive record of his arrival in America has been found, it has been reasoned that Conrad Kresge likely arrived in America circa 1750.

While the 17th century saw only limited immigration from German speaking lands to the American colonies, by the mid-1700s German immigrants began arriving by the thousands. By the eve of the American Revolution over 200,000 German speaking immigrants had arrived at the ports of Philadelphia and New York, and this inflow continued well into the 19th century. Some of these individuals left their homeland as a result of the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty-Years war that raged in Europe between 1618 and 1648. In addition, in the 17th century Germany was not a unified country, but rather a loosely-formed confederation of districts with their own internal and external conflicts. This political system meant, among other things, that while other European countries were beginning to evolve from medieval feudalism, many German populations remained in a state of virtual serfdom, with little chance of improving their position in life. Both factors placed tremendous pressure on German populations to leave their homelands and seek a better life in the newly-formed English colonies across the Atlantic. We know that these immigrants came to America with the expectation of a better life and religious freedom, opportunities that were denied to them in their homeland.

Whatever the family surname had been in the old country, once in America Conrad’s name was corrupted to something that eventually became KRESGE. Still, for the first 50 years or so after Conrad arrived in America, the family name was spelled in a variety of ways, however by the 2nd or 3rd decade of the 19th century the name was being regularly spelled KRESGE in a majority of the records.

For years family tradition had siad that Conrad Kresge arrived in Chestnuthill Township in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, circa 1740, however church and tax records indicate that our ancestor settled first in nearby Forks Township prior to arriving in Chestnuthill. There, circa 1762 ha married Anna Margaret Kohl, daughter of John Ulrich Kohl and his wife Solomy. The baptism of their first child, Anna Margaret, was recorded in the records of the Reformed Church in Easton on 22 Oct 1763; daughter Sarah Margaret was baptized in 1767, and on at least one occasion Conrad and his wife were listed as sponsors at the baptism of a neighbors infant child. Tax records from 1772 list Conrad Kresge, "farmer" as among the residents of Forks Township. This information then, indicates that after arriving in America, Conrad Kresge spent at least 10 years in Forks Township before he and his family moved to Chestnuthill circa 1773. Therefore, it would appear that Conrad's first six children were born in Forks, while his remaining children were born in Chestnuthill in what one day would become Monroe County, Pennsylvania.

So it was that Conrad Kresge and his family came to Chestnuthill in the wilderness of Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and it would be this community that the Kresge family would be associated with in the decades to come. By the time Conrad and family arrived the community had been dealing with problems from the local Indian population for some time dating back to the French and Indian Wars of the 1750s. In the 1770s during the American Revolution local Indian tribes frequently aligned with the British and attacked remote colonial settlements, and one such attack has become part of Kresge family lore.

The story goes that in the year 1776 Conrad Kresge and John, were attacked by a band of Indians while cutting wood near the family homestead. The Indians succeeded in killing and scalping the Kresge boy, although tradition says that Conrad was able to stave off the attackers and save his own life using his axe to "parry the attacker's arrows" (or something to that effect). There is no tradition that says Conrad himself was wounded in the attack, nevertheless, he was apparently unable to save his son. Although there is no contemporary written record of the incident, the Pennsylvania Archives Series, covering the state’s colonial years, records many similar incidents around the same time. The story goes on to say that the townsmen soon raised a party to set out in pursuit of the attackers, but that party was ambushed by the same group of Indians as they were resting near a stream. Apparently they had stacked their guns and were attacked before they could react. Only a couple of the men escaped and made it back to town tell their story. The other members of the party were killed and scalped.

We know that Conrad (fortunately) was not part of the party that was formed to avenge the attack, although we have to ask ourselves why that was. Surly a man who had just seen his eldest son killed would have been part of the group pursuing the Indians, yet we know Conrad was not. Why? One possible answer is that he too must have been wounded in the attack and was therefore unable to join the party in pursuit of the Indians. In retrospect, Conrad was perhaps lucky he didn't take part in the ill-fated party's pursuit, however we have to wonder how Conrad felt afterwards knowing that almost all of the men who set out to avenge the attack on his son met the same fate.

There is a large memorial monument in the cemetery at Gilbert (shown below) and the story of the Indian attack on Conrad and his son is literally carved into stone on the monument. Conrad, the Indians, and the boy are all depicted in what is easily the most impressive memorial stone in my family! It really is something to behold.



Records from the Colonial Archives series for Pennsylvania do indicate that Conrad Kresge served three short enlistments as a private, 3rd class with Chestnuthill's militia during the 1770s. It was the job of these troops to patrol between frontier forts to prevent the type of Indian attacks that claimed the life of Conrad's son. At the end of the Revolutionary War and after peace was made with the Indians, Conrad and other settlers got down to the business of clearing vast tracts of land for their farms. Records indicate that during this time some of Conrad's children were baptized at the Plainfield Church, and confirmed at St Mathews Church in nearby Kunkletown.

In the early 1800s the Salem Evangelical Church was erected within the township. The church's early records demonstrate that the Kresge family was very much a part of this early congregation; Conrad's son Philip was on the building committee and was one of the first trustees who helped draft the church's original charter.

Conrad Kresge died in the spring of 1805. His will which was made two years earlier, was probated at the Northampton County courthouse in Easton on 4 June 1805. Conrad's will, written in German and possibly in his own hand, sets aside certain provisions for his wife, and divides his money between her and his children. During his life Conrad had acquired considerable tracts of land in Chestnuthill, and some degree of wealth, relative to the times. There is no record of Conrad’s burial place, however it was unlikely to have been the cemetery at Gilbert because his death in 1805 predates the church’s first known burial. Conrad may have been buried at the cemetery in Effort which is close to his original homestead. Unfortunately this is a family mystery that will likely never be solved.

Conrad’s wife Anna Margaret survived her husband by some twenty years, and is generally credited with being the first to preserve the history of the Kresge family; much of the data on early family members came from her bible. When she died in 1825 at the age of 90, she was survived by a total of 83 and 75 great grandchildren.

A word about the Kresge family cemetery in Gilbert. It's a large cemetery and we are fortunate in that so many older Kresge family member stones are still quite legible something that's a great help to us would-be genealogists. Although there is no surviving stone to mark the final resting place of Conrad Kresge the markers for his wife Anna Margaret and some of their children can still be seen today. The problem is that, although many of the cemetery’s older markers survive, not all mark the actual resting place if the individual mentioned on the marker. It seems that around the turn of the (20th) century, the older section of the cemetery was a complete mess. There were lots of fallen grave markers, many that simply lay where they fell and others that were plied up in certain corners of the cemetery. This was about the same time that the Kresge family began to hold their first reunions, and one of the first pieces of business taken up by the reunion association was to fix up the cemetery.

A reunion committee decided that funds would be raised to clean up the cemetery, as well as for its future care. The idea of erecting a memorial to Conrad Kresge also took shape at this time, the result of which was the aforementioned Kresge monument. Since the older part of the cemetery had been in a state of great disarray for many years, we are fortunate that most of the original grave markers survived at all. It was far more common for cemeteries when "cleaning-up" to simply relegate fallen stones to some distant corner of the cemetery, or worse, dispose of them altogether. What the reunion committee decided to do instead was re-erect the dozens of fallen markers into neat rows, however in many instances markers were simply lined up row by row with little regard of who was being placed next to whom. As a result most of the stones in the older (front) portion of the cemetery are no longer in their original positions. Still, many genealogists have been helped by the family’s considerable effort to preserve the cemetery.

In 1903 the first official Kresge family reunion was held in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and with the exception of the years during World War Two, have been held ever year since. Since 1930 the reunion has been held at the West End fairgrounds in Gilbert, close to the Salem Church. In 1915 the Kresge monument mentioned above was dedicated at the cemetery and is today considered a historical landmark of Monroe County.

Conrad and his descendants played leading roles in the development various communities, have held both civic and county office, and have served their country in times of war. For example, when the call to arms was issued by President Lincoln at the outbreak of the Civil War, the family responded by sending over two-dozen boys and men to defend the union. Today the descendants of old Conrad Kresge number in the thousands and can be found all across America and abroad.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
Written 2003
Revised 2009


Excerpt from the 1953 Kresge Family History Book

Conrad Kresge - Pioneer

In writing a history or biography it is essential to deal with facts, proven facts. There has been much said about where Conrad Kresge came from but there are no known facts to prove these statements. His birth date is also a question and we only know that he died in the Spring of 1805 and his will was probated in the Northampton County Court House at Easton, Penna., on June 4th 1805. No headstone or marker has been found to show where he was buried.

Conrad Kresge came from German extraction - his knowledge of the German as set forth in his last will is proof of that. It is also established that he was a man of intelligence and understanding because the structure of the will shows quite clearly that he possessed considerable knowledge.

The first family records which are available of the Kresge Family go back to Conrad's wife, Anna Margaret (nee Kohl) Kresge who was born in the year 1735 and died at the age of 90 years in 1825. In a period of about 18 years she bore for him 12 children - 7 sons, 4 daughters and a child of which we know very little. The clearing of the unbroken wilderness and the building of the first homestead seems to have been where the town of Effort now stands, in the heart of Monroe County, Penna.

During the French and Indian War and the Revolution following while the family was growing up, life must have been very difficult. The Indians, following the Walking Purchase of 1737, became resentful and hostile and the settlers on the frontier were in constant danger, many of them being killed and others driven back across the mountains to the larger towns. During one of these Indian raids, the oldest son of this family, John, a boy of 12, was killed by the Indians lying in ambush while the father was clearing the land nearby.

Forests covered the whole area during these early years and the woods had to be cleared to provide farm land from which the family could raise enough food on which to live. Our forefathers came from a land where there had been oppression and suffering. When the call came for volunteers during our struggle for independence, his patriotism to his new home and country was unfailing. Records show that he served three enlistments during the Revolutionary War. These enlistments were made at the time he was establishing a homestead and raising a family. Mrs. Kresge indeed must have had a stout heart to be able to withstand the hardships of constant danger and the burden of raising a large family.

It can be very easily assumed that the early Kresge family believed in God and that their religion was deeply routed in their souls. Their descendants, in later generations, by their deep devotion to their respective churches prove that these pioneer parents built for their children a goodly heritage and a true knowledge of the Divine Being. In the trying times in which they lived, the only thing left for them was to turn to diving guidance.

After peace with the Indians had made living more tolerable and the family began to live in peace and security, there must have been a great deal of activity - the building of houses and barns, clearing of vast sections of land and the growing of crops to sustain the family. In the last will of Conrad can be read the parcels of property, sections of land and money which he divided between his wife and children. Certainly we must believe that he was a most energetic man to have acquired so much from so little. In comparison with the times it may safely be said that he had acquired some wealth.

As generation after generation was born, so a bigger and more widely spread family was coming to be recognized. The Kresge family has played its part in helping to make this great land of ours a little better and a little richer - physically, materially and spiritually.



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