The 1600s in Europe were troubled times as religious persecution caused thousands of Protestants to flee from their homes. Central Europe was a scene of a series of wars with intermittent years of harassment. Much as it is today in the Balkans. the oppressed people of France, Switzerland and southern Germany became refugees from their ancestral lands. Forced to find new homes where they could live in peace, vast numbers of families left for America by way of Holland and England sometime in the mid-seventeenth century.
The causes responsible for forcing these people to leave their homes, possessions, friends and associates are historically clear. Simply stated, the Catholic majority was determined to stamp out all seeds of rebellion against the Roman Catholic church. Life was made so difficult in central Europe in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for Huguenots (Protestants), Quakers and Mennonites (Anabaptists) that thousands fled for their lives. Many of those who escaped down the Rhine were sheltered in temporary camps in Holland.
The Oberholtzer family originated in the Swiss village of Oberholtz, about 30 miles south of Zurich, before the 15th century. As an example of the troubles, records of the village of Oberholtz reveal that on March 2nd, 1661, Marx (Marcus) Oberholtzer (son of Martin, probably an ancestor) is recorded to have attended an evening Mennonite church service which was "visited" (raided?) by the church authorities. The people were fined and were told that they could no longer hold meetings in their homes under penalty of losing them. It was probably no coincidence that later in that same year, exit permits were issued for Marx and for Jagla (Jacob) with wife and four children, giving them permission to leave Switzerland for the Palatinate in Germany.
The Mennonite Swiss, with other protestant (or non-Catholic) groups in central Europe found temporary refuge in Holland and England. The large numbers of refugees created a massive social problem for the host countries, and a place had to be found for these people to live and support themselves. So it was that the significance of the availability of the industrious German farmers was not lost upon wealthy land speculators who possessed patents for large tracts of land in the new world, America.
From their refugee camps in England, the first boatloads left for the new world in 1710. Landing in Philadelphia, the new Americans were first settled on 10,000 acres of land in a newly-opened tract in today's Lancaster County. It was their good fortune that this land grant was (and still is) some of the most productive farmland in America, a perfect complement to the hard working German farmers.
The flow of Mennonites to Pennsylvania increased steadily over the following
years. As land in Lancaster County became fully taken up, other counties were
opened, and Mennonite settlements sprang up in Bucks, Franklin, Somerset and
York Counties. Thus, the ethnic "Pennsylvania German" became established in
Marcus Oberholtzer (1663 - 1724)
Among the early immigrants was the progenitor of our branch of the Overholt family, Marcus Oberholtzer.
As part of this migration, Marcus and his wife Elizabeth made their way to Germany, then to Holland. Here, they soon found themselves to be refugees in Queen Anne's War. Their only recourse then was to turn their heads west -- to the new world, America. Within one year, more than 6,000 set sail. Within this exodus, seven Oberholtzer families, likely related, came to America in the early 18th century.
Marcus and his family were in a group of 852 refugees from the Palatinate who were taken to London in a troopship departing Holland April 1709, arriving on May 3rd. The family remained in England for more than a year before traveling on. This was Marcus, his wife Elizabeth and five children: Jacob, Samuel, Nanny, Marcus and Elizabeth.
The family eventually arrived in America 23 September 1710 on the ship Mary Hope. Soon after reaching America they settled on a 500 acre tract on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania, across from Pottstown in present East Coventry Township, Chester County. The family prospered. The oldest list of settlers in Coventry Township were the tax rolls of 1718 which lists Marcus Overhult. He appears again in 1724.
Marcus died in 1724. Some of his sons held the farm in Coventry, while others migrated to Plumstead Township, Bucks County in 1725. Jacob, the oldest son is known to have farmed south of Deep Run Mennonite church there.
Marcus and Elizabeth had seven children:
Jacob Oberholtzer 1699-1760 m. Barbara Fretz Samuel Oberholtzer 1700-1759 m. Elizabeth ? Nanny Oberholtzer 1703-1787 m. Jacob Wismer Marcus Oberholtzer 1706-1760 Elizabeth Oberholtzer 1707-? m. a Kolb Martin Oberholtzer 1709-1744 m. Agnes Kolb Henry Oberholtzer 1712-1763 m. Elizabeth Killian
Samuel Oberholtzer (1700 - 1759)
Samuel Oberholtzer was a farmer in Coventry Township.
Samuel appears on the 1754 tax rolls for the last time. On 13 Jan 1755, he and wife Elizabeth sold their 103 acres in Coventry Twp., Chester County, and moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He died there is 1759.
Their only known child was Mark Overholt (1722-1754) who married Elizabeth Staats.
Mark Overholt (Abt. 1722 - 1754)
Mark Overholt, born about 1722, is considered to be a son of Samuel Oberholtzer. About 1740 Mark married Elizabeth Staats.
Mark and Elizabeth lived in Bedminster Township, Pennsylvania. He was involved in the movement to organize the township. In March, 1741, thirty-five inhabitants of Deep Run petitioned the Court of Quarter Sessions to form the territory into a township. Among the list of names are Mark Overhold and Martin Overhold, probably his uncle. The petition was granted in 1742.
In 1748, Elizabeth's father, Peter Staats died. As was customary, his will provided for the property going to his sons. As her share, Elizabeth received 20 Pounds Sterling.
In 1754, in his early 30s, Mark died leaving Elizabeth with three young children and heavily in debt. The financial problems that beset the young widow suggest that Mark may have been in poor health and unable to work the farm for a long period prior to his death.
Custom was relentless and seemingly uncaring, as the thrifty Mennonite farmers
were quite able to keep compassion separate from business. Shortly after Mark's
death, the following petition was filed by one John Crawford:
THE PETITION of John Crawford, one of the Administrators of Mark Overholt, late of Tinicum, deceased, was read in these words following, to wit: Humbly sheweth that your petitioner dignified according to law with the Widow Overholt upon the estate of Mark Overholt, late of Tinicum, deceased. Your petitioner strongly alleges and other creditors that the said intestate widow hath kept back part of the intestate goods in order to deprive the creditors. Your petitioner prayeth that you would look into this a fair portion or to empower him to look into that affair that you would please to appoint men to settle the account of the said estate, and your petitioner shall ever pray.
The court allowed the creditors to seize and auction off all assets. The creditors (the largest being Crawford) were paid off. Crawford and seven others received commissions of 16 Pounds.The net remainder for Elizabeth was 10 Pounds. Apparantly even Crawford relented a little since the following statement was added to the final accounting:
And we, finding that the widow has taken very little trouble about the affair we do judge her to have four Pounds out of the Sixteen examined and settled by [the administrators].
Elizabeth was left with only 14 Pounds in cash for her new life.
It is not known what happened then, or what became of Elizabeth and the children. Upon Mark's death, Magdalena was 13, Staats was 11 and Martin was 8 years old. She had brothers and sisters with farms, and it may be assumed that she went to live with one of them, bringing two strong young farmhands. It is very likely that Elizabeth remarried in due time as that was the accepted practice with widows and widowers. In any event, Staats learned his trade well, as later years demonstrated.
The children of Mark and Elizabeth were:
Magdalene Overholt 1741-1816 m. Christian Hunsberger Staats Overholt 1743-1820 m. Susannah Hunsberger Martin Overholt 1745-1817 m. Elizabeth Nash
It is to be noted that Magdalena and Staats married brother and sister, Christian (?-1814) and Susanna (1750-1834) Hunsberger.
The family structure is corroborated by the will of Christian filed in Bucks County in 1814 which identifies his siblings by name, including Susannah, and, second, by the 1817 will of Martin (Staats' brother), Martin Oberholtzer, which refers to a legacy from "my brother-in-law Christian Hunsbarg and his wife Magdalene."
Staats Overholt (1742-1820)
Susannah Hunsberger (1748-1834)
Staats Overholt, a Mennonite, emigrated from Pennsylvania to Canada in 1786. He was the product of two long and distinguished lines.
The Overholt line is a branch of the Oberholtzer family, with origins in Switzerland. The surname Oberholtzer, and its several variants in spelling including Overholt, is German for high woods. As a consequence of the 16th Century religious persecutions in Europe, several members of the Oberholtzer family became part of a large scale emigration to America. The industrious, conservative Germans were eminently successful in building prosperous farms in the countryside around Philadelphia.
The Staats family is Dutch, and appears prominently in the very early history of Albany, New York, during the years of the Dutch Patroons, wealthy land owners who governed their estates as fiefdoms. A branch of the Staats family settled on Long Island. Their villages are the precursors of the present New York urban area . . . Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Flatbush, etc. They intermarried with other old families, such as Van Dyck and Pietzerszen (Peterson). Further generational movement took them to Staten Island, then to New Jersey and to the Philadelphia area. In later years, family branches were to change the name Staats to States.
When the American Revolution began, Staats was a farmer with a family, owning land in Tinicum Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. As independence fervor began to assert itself some farmers had Tory leanings, while most attempted to stay neutral as a consequence of their pacifist beliefs. While Staats was a Mennonite, he, with others served in the local militia as a force to protect their land against aggression. The record finds Staats serving in Capt. Paterson's Company of Tinicum Militia in 1780. The only details of this service are of fines for not attending drill. Serving in the same company is Martin Overholt, probably his brother.
The years of the Revolutionary War were hard for the Mennonite farmers of Pennsylvania. While they found ready markets for their farm products, their pacifist religion caught the Mennonites in the increasingly polarized political scene. Intolerance branded everyone as either rebel or Tory . . . there was little middle ground. At worst, they were harassed by the rebel majority; at best they had to pay heavy Excise Taxes (read: penalties). While outwardly ambivalent to the struggle, the Mennonites' private leanings likely favored the British position. After all, their fathers and grand-fathers were driven from their homes in Europe by religious intolerance, finding refuge and help in England before traveling to America. Why should they turn their backs on the country which so recently had sheltered them?
After the war ended, the prolific Mennonites were finding it difficult to obtain new land in eastern Pennsylvania for their expanding population. Since the middle-western states were not yet opened for settlement, they looked north to Canada.
There is no record stating that Staats left Pennsylvania for Canada for political reasons. But there had to be a good reason. The war was over. Staats was nearly forty years old by now, and he had a family of six children and he had his farm. So, the decision to uproot and embark on a trek into the wilderness was hardly taken lightly. We can only conjecture that the lure of land was irresistible.
The Governor-General of Canada, General Haldemond, had his hands full settling tens of thousands of Tory refugees and discharged soldiers, and feeding them through two long winters on the frontier. The Pennsylvania Mennonite families were a welcome solution to the problem. They were skilled farmers, and could be counted on to quickly clear land and make it productive. Equally important, they could also teach the refugees, many of whom had never before touched a plow. As a consequence of this, the Pennsylvania German farmers were actively recruited with the promise of generous grants of land. Among this group was Staats Overholt who initially received 476 acres of lakefront property in Ontario, or Upper Canada as it was first known.
The route to Canada was not easy. The trail was more than 200 miles long through the forest, under the constant threat of hostile Indians and brigands. Staats and his family trekked along the valley of the Susquehanna north from Lancaster across Pennsylvania and into New York, thence west along the Mohawk Valley, eventually to the south shore of Lake Ontario to the Niagara River in the vicinity of present-day Lewiston. There, they built rafts and ferried themselves across the river, swimming their livestock through the swift current to a landing near the settlement of Newark (presently Niagara-on-the-Lake).
In 1786, Staats' small party arrived at "The Twenty" (Vineland) on the shores of Lake Ontario. The group consisted of four families numbering twenty-five individuals. The families were Jacob Culp (1729-1799), who was the oldest and, therefore, the leader of the group, his brother Tilman Culp (1744-1824), Frederick Haun (d. circa 1791) and Staats Overholt.
Staats' family consisted of his wife, Susannah, and their six young children. His daughter Susannah was about 12 at the time. His date of arrival in 1786 is confirmed by the fact that, on arrival, he purchased supplies at the Servos Mill at Newark. Within his first year, Staats had cleared six acres of land, three of which were sown with wheat.
Although all were peaceful Mennonites and "non-associators" during the American Revolution, the heads of the four families were granted large tracts of land because of their skills as farmers. Ultimately, all were recognized as United Empire Loyalists.
The Crown had acquired vast tracts of acreage from the Missisauga Indians. Lots
were surveyed and were to be allocated to soldiers first, then to the refugee loyalists. In 1791, Staats petitioned for land and received a grant of 200 acres. In time, his land acquisitions were to total nearly 1,000 acres. The Registry Office at St. Catherines had listed the following transfers of land for Staats:
1797 60 acres Broken Front Lot 16 1797 100 acres Concession One Lot 16 1802 50 acres Broken Front W1/2 Lot 17 1802 200 acres Broken Front Lots 18/ 19 1802 50 acres Conc. One W1/2 Lot 17 1802 100 acres Concession One Lot 18 1802 50 acres Conc. One E1/2 Lot 19 1802 100 acres Concession 2 Lot 16 1803 26 acres Broken Front Lot 19
All of these parcels were adjoining in one way or another. The term "broken front" means the lot was lake front with an irregular boundary. The oldest known plot map of Clinton Township shows the above lots identified to Staats. They total nearly 1,000 acres. (This map also shows Concession 7 lot 13 which was later granted to his son-in-law, John Singer).
Upon receiving his first grant of land, Staats built his home on the broken front (lake front) lot 16.
Staats Overholt is credited with assisting in the formation of the first church in the village that was later to become Beamsville. There are several references to the first preaching meeting in the area as taking place in Staats' home. His log cabin home was the scene of many early church meetings. Subsequently the Beamsville Baptist Church was organized and recognized in 1807. There were 20 charter members which included Staats and Susannah and their children, Susannah, Isaac, Mary and Anna (Elizabeth?).
An examination of the church's meeting records reveals a quarrelsome, unruly and completely human congregation. Many meetings were devoted solely to settling disputes among the members. One long-running dispute involved Susannah Overholt Singer and a Mrs. House. On several occasions, different committees were assigned to call upon either "Sister House" or "Sister Singer", or both, to affect a settlement. Christopher Overholt, son of Staats and erstwhile preacher was accused of brawling and public drunkenness on more than one occasion, each time being dismissed from the congregation until he returned repentant.
Staats served on the Clinton Township council as Assessor in 1794-95. He was naturalized as a citizen in 1796.
Staats died in 1820, followed by Susannah in 1834. We can assume they were buried in the graveyard of the Beamsville Baptist Church (as was John Singer and probably his Susannah), but much of the old sexton records are missing. Only the location of John's grave is known.
Staats wrote his will in 1804; it was proved upon his death in 1820. It is a remarkable document for not only does it identify clearly the entire family but it provides excellent insight on how property was passed on during the early years of the nineteenth century:
First, I give and bequeath to Susannah, my wife, dearly beloved, the sum of fifty Pounds lawful money New York currency to be raised and levied out of my estate together with all my household goods, and one cow and the protection of the dwelling house and the enclosure in which the house stands by her to be protected as long as she lives, and my son Christopher Overholt is to give her yearly 10 bu. of wheat and six bushels of buckwheat; likewise 6 bushels of Indian corn and whenever she stands in need of it, he is to take the same to the mill and return to her the flour and the bran likewise and to deliver the same to her house. And likewise he is to deliver yearly one hundred fifty weight of pork, likewise 20 pounds of mangled flax and likewise to deliver to her door a sufficient amount of firewood whenever she stands in need of any.
It is interesting to note that while the will is silent on the disposition of the home farm, it was the custom of the time that the home property was to be occupied by the widow during her lifetime, passing automatically to a designated son (Christopher) upon her death.
Another item of interest is that Staats retained an old world custom of leaving property to his male offspring, and to the extent of recognizing his female offspring he leaves their bequest to their husbands. Back then, women had few legal rights.
The will is the only known record of a son named Mark. As a result, there is a great deal of interest in him, and much speculation since there are many Overholts in Canada. In several documents up to the will Staats mentions six children, putting to the test the notion of a seventh (Mark Overholt) in the will. Putting aside for the moment a concern of how or why this came about, it nonetheless seems more likely that Mark Overholt was the son of Christopher. His dates make it more reasonable. Another bit of circumstantial evidence is that Mark married Catherine Gilmore, and a Gilmore family lived next to Christopher in the 1828 census.
Finally, Staats' will spells out that Christopher had the care of his mother, and by inference would inherit the home farm in due course. That said, it seems that young Mark could easily have been a favorite grandson around the house. Hence the conclusion, whoever wrote the will put down the "beloved son" phrase when it should have been "beloved grandson." Then, this sort of logic begs the question of what about Staat's other grandchildren and what his other children thought of that idea. And so it goes . . .stay tuned.
Census entries for this family of Overholts:
The 1828 census of Clinton Township lists the Christopher Overholt household as consisting of two males, two females and one female over 16 years. The same census lists a Joseph Overholt with two male adults, three female adults, two males under 16 and four females under 16.
To summarize, the children of Staats and Susannah were:
Isaac Overholt 1766-1833 m. "widow" Moyer Jacob Overholt 1772-1849 m. Susannah ? Susannah Overholt 1774-1838 m. John Singer Christopher Overholt 1776-1853 m. Parmellia Lambert Elizabeth Overholt 1780-? m. Jacob Fisher Mary Overholt 1782-1840 m. Henry Rott
Susannah Overholt (1774 - 1838 )
John Singer (1766 - 1842 )
Information on this family can be found in the SINGER section of this history.
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 Return to textBucks County Historical Society Papers, Vol. 2., page 75-76.
 Return to text "Soldiers of the American Revolution, Bucks County, Pennsylvania", transcribed from the Pennsylvania archives, 1975, by R. and M. Williams.
 Return to text Personal communication, Gary Culp to Eugene Singer, 20 April 1988.
 Return to text Summers and Taylor, "Clinton Township, Crown Grants and Abstracts," 1964, St. Catherines Public Library.
 Return to text A word about the Crown Grants. Upper Canada was divided into Counties. Each County was surveyed to define basic lot size as more or less 100 acres to be known as a Concession. Taking Lincoln County as an example, the county was surveyed into a grid of east-west and north-south boundaries. The east-west rows were called Concessions ( of which there were 10 in the county plus an eleventh along the lake shore known as Broken Front. The north-south grids defined the lots. Thus, Lincoln County became a grid of rows (Concessions) and columns (lots), all of which, except for the Broken Front row were neat identical lots of 100 acres each. The individual grants were thus easily described as, for example, Concession One Lot 16. Maps of all the Counties of Upper Canada are contained in "The Mini-Atlas of Early Settlers in the District of Niagara", by Taylor and Parnall, 1983.
 Return to text Plot of Township No. 5, dated Nassau, October 25, 1791. Survey by Augustus Jones.
 Return to text Dawdy, Marion Whitman; "Baptists of Beamsville 1788-1988"; Beamsville Baptist Church, 1988.
 Return to text The minute book is located at the church;
also on microfilm at the LDS library in Salt Lake City.