Monday, December 14, 2015

Martin Sommer - Youngest Freistett Brother

As we know, I have been interested in rounding out the story of the Sommer family of Freistett, Germany who arrived in PHL in the 1750s. The youngest brother to arrive was Martin Sommer, born 1729 in Freistett, which means he was about 23 years old when he arrived in PHL. Based on Communion records at StM&Z, it appears that this Martin remained unmarried until the early 1760s when baptism records begin to appear for Martin Sommer and his wife, Maria Margaretha. Unfortunately, we still don't know who Margaretha was, but according to the church records, a couple named Martin and Margaretha, presumably this couple, had 10 children between 1764-1784. Among those children were two sons, one named Martin and one named George, who, it appears, both worked as blacksmiths in Philadelphia - but more about the sons later. In this post, I want to focus on Martin Sr. and some interesting details that emerged recently about him.

First, after all my recent research on Jacob Sommer of Moreland, and his father, John (Johannes, one of the three brothers to emigrate from Freistett), I am inclined to associate Sommer/Summers surnames in Moreland with the Freistett clan. Indeed, we find there was a Martin Sommer on Moreland Twp. tax lists for J. Northrop's estate between 1767 and 1780. There was also a Martin Sommer in Northern Liberties tax lists for George Bender's estate between 1779-1787. In the 1780 tax list, Martin was noted as "Smith". I take this to mean our Martin Sr. was, himself, a blacksmith. Interesting!

But where was this Martin Sommer in 1790? The only one I found was in downtown PHL, and there I made a discovery. This 1790 census of PHL listed the address of each person enumerated, and for Martin, it was #46 N. 7th St. For some reason, both familysearch and ancestry indexed this as an enumeration of Water St. East, but if you look at the previous page of this enumeration, it says 7th St. from Market to Race Sts. East. Sure enough, in the PHL city directories for 1791, 1793, and 1794, we find a Martin Summers at that address with occupation as laborer or carter. In the 1800 directory, there is no longer a Summers listed at that address.

So why is this significant? The 1799 burial record of Martin Sommer from StM&Z recorded not only his age at death to the year and month, matching the baptism record we have for this Martin in Freistett, but also that he was living at 7th and Arch Sts. when he died, which is pretty much the address we see in the 1790 census. In fact, this location is also close to the U.S. Mint, and I would almost worry that we have some how mixed up Freistett Martin with H-W Martin, 1740-1804, who is the one we've associated as having worked at the U.S. Mint. But H-W Martin left a will that mentioned both his wife, Anna Barbara, and his Mint job. It can also be noted that the 1806 and 1807 PHL City Directories listed Mrs. Summers, widow of Martin, at 131 Cherry St., which would have been after the death of H-W Martin, and was also very close to the Mint. So the proximity of the Mint to the address in this 1790 census is seemingly a coincidence.

But now we get to the really good part. Thanks to another Sommer researcher whose knowledge of old PHL is fantabulous, I learned that "On the corner of 7th lived the famous David Rittenhouse in his mansion. Next is Martin apparently renting from Rittenhouse (so says the 1798 Direct Tax List). The next person up the street is Eliza Sergeant who is a widowed daughter of the Rittenhouses. The modern day analogy here is that Martin living in Rittenhouse's back yard would be like living at the back of Stephen Hawking's house!"

Here are some notes from my research about all this:
  • The 1798 tax list actually shows Martin was renting from the Rittenhouse widow, David's second wife, Hannah Jacobs, which rang a bell. During my recent research trip to SLC, I had looked up the will of Catharina Wolff Menge (wife of our Ernst Menge's brother, John), who died in 1795. Her will mentioned that she (??) had purchased a plot of ground from John JACOBS situated in Kensington, Northern Liberties. Was this the same John Jacobs, a brother of Hannah Jacobs Rittenhouse? 
"John was the last speaker of the assembly before the revolution, and of him Benjamin Rush reported that he has been in favor of a Republican form of government for twenty years before that time." (from "Bebber’s Township and the Dutch Patroons” page 4). 
  • The other name that jumps out is SERGEANT. We have a letter written from a John Sergeant in PHL to our Jacob Sommer, the PA state senator, and indeed this John Sergeant would himself later become a US Congressman. This John Sergeant was the son of Jonathan Sergeant and Margaret Spencer. After Margaret died in 1787, Jonathan Sergeant remarried to Elizabeth Rittenhouse, the daughter of David Rittenhouse, the mathematician!  
My goodness, look at all the almost-connections! I have looked and looked for some connection between any of the known daughters of Martin Sommer and Rittenhouse, Jacobs, or Sergeant, but so far, nothing. Who knows, maybe the connection was through Martin's wife, Margaretha?  Otherwise, the best I can figure at this point is that Martin Sommer Sr. was somehow acquainted with these PHL families via his nephew, Jacob-Moreland, and was being employed in some capacity. But to be honest, I'm sure the Rittenhouse family had any number of employees, and yet the name of Martin Sommer appears on its own. Curious, eh?

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