Created March 2021
By Brian Bowers
HEINRICH and SUSANNAH HEILIG
Heinrich Heilig was born June 2, 1700, in Germany. (1)
Married Susanna Rittenhouse about 1730. She was the daughter of Nicholas and Wilhelmina (DeWees) Rittenhouse of Roxborough Township, Philadelphia County, Pa. (2)
Anna Maria Heilig. Married Michael Schlonecker.
Henry Heilig, eldest son.
Susanna Heilig. Married Henry Teany (also spelled Taney).
Heinrich’s first name and surname are spelled a variety of ways in 18th century records. In records of the German-language church he attended, it is Heinrich Heilig – probably the closest to the original spelling. In civil records written in English, his first name is almost always Henry, but his surname appears as Heiligh, Highligh and Hilich, among others. His first name is sometimes spelled in the Dutch manner, Hendrick, perhaps because of his wife’s Dutch origins. This diversity might be due to the fact that he did not sign his own name on records but left a mark – a squiggled that resembled an “H” in German script.
According to “Pennsylvania Clocks and Clockmakers,” by George H. Eckhardt, Henry originated in Hanover, Germany. He immigrated in 1720 aboard the ship Polly, which sailed from Amsterdam, according to Eckhardt. A wide variety of books about clockmaking repeat this information. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t cite the source of his information and Pennsylvania didn’t maintain consistent immigration records until 1727. (4)
Hendrick Heilig appears in many books about clockmaking and craftsmanship in early Pennsylvania. For example, “Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758,” published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, refers to him as “patriarch of an influential family of Pennsylvania Mennonite clockmakers.” However, it also notes, “Little is known of Heilig’s work, although it is thought that he practiced the trade until his death in 1775.” (5)
It’s likely that Henry first settled in or near Roxborough Township, where he would have met his future wife, Susanna Rittenhouse, who father was a papermaker there. The couple probably married about 1730. Their daughter Anna Maria married in 1749 and it would be unusual if she were younger than 18 at the time.
At some point, Henry moved to what is now Upper Hanover Township in Montgomery County, Pa. At the time, it was part of Philadelphia County.
In the late 1740s, he starts appearing in the records of New Hanover Lutheran Church in Falkners Swamp. On Nov. 6, 1748, Henrich and Jurg Heilig were confirmed. The boys would later be listed as Henry and George in English-language records. In that year, the congregation started taking a collection for building improvements and Henry contributed to the effort. And on March 26, 1749, his daughter Anna Maria married Michael Schlonecker. (6)
“Worldly Goods” implies Henry was a Mennonite. And, indeed, many members of the Rittenhouse family were Mennonite and Henry was eventually buried in a Mennonite cemetery. However, it seems certain that he was Lutheran. In addition to the mentions in the records of New Hanover Lutheran Church, he bequeathed 3 pounds to the Lutheran Church in Germantown in his will.
On April 11, 1749, Hendrick Heilig became a naturalized subject of King George II of Great Britain. Before taking the required oath, he needed to provide a certificate proving that he had taken communion in a Protestant church recently. The record says he took communion on March 26 – the same day that his daughter Anna Maria was married. (7)
A little more than a month later, Henry purchased his first parcel of land. On May 16, 1749, Henry Highlig, a yeoman in Upper Hanover Township, purchased 160 acres, 40 perches, of land for 64 pounds, 7 shillings, in Pennsylvania money. The term yeoman refers to some who owned a small farm – possibly an indication that clockmaking was not his primary occupation. (8)
About a year after purchasing the tract in Upper Hanover Township, Henry bought another 145 acres and 70 perches of land in the same township. This sale occurred on May 1, 1750. (9)
The house the Heiligs built in New Hanover Township still stands on Pottstown Avenue in what is now the town of Pennsburg. The interior of the stone house is described in “Inventory of Historic and Cultural Resources, 1975,” compiled by the Montgomery County Planning Commission. “Henry Heilig built this house, the oldest in Pennsburg, c. 1750. The house contains a walk-in fireplace, a hand carved partition; and originally there was a ‘Dutch door’ entrance at the east end of the house. Tradition has it that the bricks above the windows and doors were imported from England.” (10)
The property was next to that of David Shultze, a legal adviser to German immigrants in the area. As a result, Henry is mentioned in Shultze’s journals. For example, on Feb. 26, 1757, Shultze says he “Wrote at Henry Heilig’s.” And on Oct. 16, 1759, he mentions “Henry Heilig’s nuptials” – presumably those of Henry’s namesake son. (11)
On Dec. 15, 1762, Henry Hilich of Upper Hanover Township, yeoman, purchased 160¾ acres of land in New Providence Township, Philadelphia County, for 640 pounds in Pennsylvania money. One of the witnesses of the purchased was Henry’s brother-in-law Henry Rittenhouse – who signed his name Hindrich Rittenhauss. (12)
By late 1766, Henry and Susanna moved to Providence Township, which is about 20 miles south of their previous home. On Nov. 15, 1766, Henry Hilich of Providence Township, yeoman, and his wife Susanna sold the tract purchased in 1750 to their son George for 500 pounds in Pennsylvania money. (13)
Despite the distance, David Shutlze visited his former neighbor on June 12, 1768. Shutlze’s journal notes that he “Went with John G. Heiligh to old Henry Heiligh’s in Providence. Returned on the 13th in rain – 11½ hours.” The editor of Shultze’s journal explains, “Henry Heilig resided on a farm adjoining Davids plantation from 1749 to 1762, when he removed to a newly acquired plantation in Providence Township. David’s visit may have been strictly social, but the fact that John Heiligh was married two weeks later suggests that the family may have requested David’s services in effecting some property distribution preparatory to the wedding. George Heilig, the elder of Henry’s sons, remained on the farm in Goshenhappen.” (14)
At some point before November 1772, the Heiligs moved again, this time to Cheltenham Township, which was about 25 miles to the east of Providence Township. On Nov. 14, “Henry Highlig (otherwise Highligh) now of the Township of Cheltenham in the County of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania yeoman and Susanna his Wife” sold the 160 acres they still owned in Upper Hanover Township to their son George for 645 pounds. (15)
By this point, Henry was feeling his age. When he had his will drawn up on Oct. 29, 1772, he noted that he was “aged & infirm in Body, yet of sound & Disposing Mind Memory & Understanding, Blessed be God therefore.” Henry was most concerned about providing for Susanna. The will states, “I give and Bequeath to my Beloved Wife Susanna the Sum of Two hundred pounds Current Lawfull Money of Pennsylvania Together with my best Bed Bedding & all furniture thereto belonging, all our Kitchen furniture, all our pewter, One Dresser & furniture thereof, one Mare & one Cow to dispose of all which as she pleases in full of her part of Dower or Widows part of my Estate.” He also left 75 pounds to Barbara Heiligh, the only surviving children of his son Henry, who had died in 1766. The rest went to his surviving children, aside from the 3 pounds that he gave to the Lutheran church in Germantown. (16)
In 1773, Henry sold the property in Providence Township to his son John, according to “Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: A History.” The book says the transaction occurred on April 1, 1773, but the index to Philadelphia County deeds doesn’t appear to have an entry for the Heiligs in 1773 or in the years immediately following. (17)
Henry died on May 14, 1775. He is buried under a headstone reading, “Henrich Heilig,” at Methacton, Mennonite Cemetery in Fairview Village, Montgomery County. (18)
Presumably, Susanna outlived her husband since he did not change his will before his death.
(1) Henry’s birth date can be calculated from his headstone. See “Burials in Worcester, or Methacton, Mennonite Cemetery, Fairview Village, Montgomery County, Copies from Gravestones,” by Wilmer L. Gravestones, 1966, page 31. A photo can be found at Findagrave.com. He was born in either Germany or Switzerland based on his Germanic name and the fact that he needed to naturalized in Pennsylvania. (2) Susanna Heilig (actually spelled “Heylyg”) is mentioned in the estate papers of Wilhelmina Rittenhouse. A transcript of the Dutch “will” and an English translation appears in “A Genea-Biographical History of the Rittenhouse Family and All Its Branches in America,” Vol. I, by the Rittenhouse Memorial Association, Philadelphia, 1893, page 74. Her father’s will only mentions “my daughter Susanna,” on page 72 of the same book. The link is also mentioned in “Memoirs of the Life of David Rittenhouse: Late President of the American Philosophical Society,” by William Barton. Susanna is mentioned because she was the aunt of David Rittenhouse and the memoir contains a bit of family history. It was written in 1813, when some of Nicholas Rittenhouse’s grandchildren were still alive and would have remembered Susanna. (3) Henry’s will mentions that his eldest son – Henry – predeceased him and that he had four other children. They are identified as George; Johannes; Anna Maria, the wife of Michael Sloanacres; and Susanna, the wife of Henry Deamy. His will is in Philadelphia County Will Book Q, page 149. Susanna’s husband is identified as Taney and Teany in other records. (4) Henry’s place of origin and immigration are mentioned in “Pennsylvania Clocks and Clockmakers,” by George H. Eckhardt, Devin-Adair Co., 1955. page 179. (5) Henry’s clockmaking is mentioned in “Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680-1758,” by Jack L. Linsey, and others, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999, page 99. (6) The confirmations appear in “A History of the Lutheran Church in New Hanover, Montgomery County, Penna.,” compiled and arranged by the Rev. J.J. Kline, New Hanover, Pa., 1910, page 347. The wedding appears on page 411. The contribution is mentioned in church records transcribed in “Notes and Queries Historical and Genealogical, Chiefly Relating to Interior of Pennsylvania,” annual volume 1898, edited by William H. Engle, reprinted Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1970, page 184. (7) The naturalization is in Pennsylvania Archives, Second Series, Vol. 2, page 321. (8) The 1749 transaction appears in Philadelphia County Deed Book I-12, page 80. (9) The second purchased is mentioned in a transaction from 1766, which appears in Philadelphia County Deed Book I-12, page 81. (10) The house is described in “Inventory of Historic and Cultural Resources, 1975,” Montgomery County Planning Commission, Norristown, Pa., 1975, page 68. (11) A deed for Shultze’s property – written May 16, 1749 – says it was beside “Land in the tenure of Henry Higley.” See “The Journals and Papers of David Shultze,” Vol. 1, 1726-1760, translated and edited by Andrew S. Berky, Schwenkfelder Library, Pennsburg, Pa., 1952, page 80. The reference to writing appears on page 198, and the nuptials are mentioned on page 246. (12) The 1762 transaction is recorded in Philadelphia County Deed Book H-17, page 293. (13) The 1766 transaction appears in Philadelphia County Deed Book I-12, page 81. (14) The trip to Providence Township is mentioned in “The Journals and Papers of David Shultze,” Vol. II, translated and edited by Andrews S. Berky, The Schwenkfelder Library, Pennsburg, Pa., 1953, page 19. (15) The 1772 transaction appears in Philadelphia County Deed Book I-12, page 82. (16) Henry’s will appears in Philadelphia County Will Book Q, page 149. (17) The 1773 sale is mentioned in “Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: A History,” vol. II, by Clifton S. Hunsicker, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., New York, 1923, page 169. (18) Henry grave is listed in “Burials in Worcester, or Methacton, Mennonite Cemetery, Fairview Village, Montgomery County, Copies from Gravestones,” by Wilmer L. Gravestones, 1966, page 31.