When people hear my surname, Kemper, they wonder where my family comes from. I tell them the story of a German immigrant and his journey from a 17th century Prussian village to the wilds of colonial Virginia.
Introducing Johannes Kemper
Johannes Kemper is the ancestor of most of the Kempers living in the United States today. His journey from Germany and the legacy he left behind is a study of immigration, determination, and inspiration.
Johannes was born on 8 July 1692 near Musen, Nassau-Siegen, Westphalia to Hans Georg Kemper and his first wife, Agnes Kleb. At the time of Johannes’ birth, much of Westphalia was part of the Duchy of Prussia. Today, it is part of modern Germany.
The Kemper line had been in this part of Westphalia for a few generations at that time. Many of the men in the family, including Johannes and his father, trained and worked as blacksmiths. Mining was a major part of the economy in this part of Westphalia. This fact would play a role in Johannes’ decision to go to the British Colonies.
Johannes was one of four children born to Hans Georg Kemper and Agnes Kleb. His siblings were Anna Margarita, Johann Heinrich, and Paul. Johannes’ mother, Agnes, died in 1703. Hans Georg married Anna Margarete Waffenschmidt soon after. They had at least three children (Johann Georg, Anna Juliana, and George).
The Decision to Go to the American Colonies
In 1712-13, an agent working for Alexander Spotswood, then lieutenant governer of the Virginia colony, came to the Nassau-Siegen region of Prussia to recruit miners to immigrate to Virginia. Spotswood had a dream of exploiting the natural resources found in the foothills of Virginia.
Silver and iron were available resources that would expand the colony and make him some money also. Spotswood purchased a large tract of land in what is now Orange County, Virginia. He decided to bring miners to the land to start mining the iron deposits on the property. To get around British politics at this time, Spotswood decided to go to Germany to recruit miners for his projects.
Johannes joined 41 other people from around the Nassau-Siegen region to make this monumental move. The families left in spring 1713 for London where they remained until early 1714. The group then made the Atlantic voyage to Virginia, arriving in April 1714. Spotswood settled the group on his property, along the shores of the Rapidan River. This was the beginning of the Germanna colony.
The group built a settlement out of the wild Virginia wilderness. It would be their home until 1719. While in the Germanna colony, they mined silver and iron. However, the project was not highly successful. When their commitment to Spotswood ended in 1719, the members of the Germanna colony moved to what is known as Germantown.
Johannes’ Wife and Children
During his time in the original Germanna settlement, Johannes found his wife.
Ailsey Utterback was the daughter of Johann Herman Otterbach and Elizabeth Heimbach. She was born 19 April 1697 in Trupbach, Nassau-Siegen, Westphalia. She and her family were part of the Germanna group that Johannes traveled to Virginia with.
Johannes and Ailsey’s exact marriage date is not known. The union likely occurred in 1715 or 1716, as their eldest son was born in 1717.
Johannes and Ailsey had nine known children, all of whom had children of their own.
- John Peter Kemper (1717-1788) married Elizabeth Fishback (1723-1768). They had 10 known children.
- Catharine Kemper (1720-1803) married first John Smith (unknown dates). They had three children. She second married Harman Button (1730-1790). They had 7 known children.
- John Kemper (1722-1799) married Ann Weaver (1728-1793). They had 12 known children.
- Harman Kemper (1724-1774) married Catherine Kuntze (dates unknown). They had 9 children.
- Mary Kemper (1725-1803) married James Crocket (1715 – 1797). They had 6 known children.
- Jacob Kemper (1727-1806) married Sarah Whitesides (died 1814). They had 8 known children.
- Henry Kemper (1730-1793) married Letitia Whitesides (1730-1812). They had 7 known children.
- Dorothy Kemper (born 1735) married Frederick Burdett. They had 1 son.
- Elizabeth Kemper (1738-1811) married Robert Turnbull. They had 1 son and 1 daughter.
Later Life and Legacy
The family lived in and around Germantown, Virginia for a number of decades after leaving the original Germanna colony. Ailsey likely died sometime between 1750 and 1755. Johannes likely followed her around 1760, though some descendants claim it was as late as 1769.
The legacy left by Johannes and Ailsey is formidable. Many of their children had large families. Several of their grandchildren had large families. Today, tens of thousands of people in the United States can claim Johannes and Ailsey as ancestors.
Not all Kempers in the United States can claim this couple as ancestors though. In 1738, Johannes’ brother Johann Heinrich came to Pennsylvania with his family. A distinct line of Kempers come from this brother’s line.
My Connect to Johannes
I descend Johannes and Ailsey through their youngest son, Henry. He and his wife, Letitia, moved from Virginia and settled in what is now Fayette County, Kentucky. Their grandson, John C. Kemper and his wife Mariah, moved into Shelby County, Indiana about 1830. The family settled there through my paternal grandfather’s generation.
(I am doing this as part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. I did not find this challenge until I saw someone post their week 2 entry. This is a challenge I think will be a good fit for this blog. Plus it allows me to share some of my ancestors with the world.)