Gongwer (Gangaware, Gangwer, Gongaware, Gongwere, Gongewer) family

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Geographic and linguistic origins of the Family name

Although the pre-1700 geographical and linguistic origins of the Gongwer family name are speculative, family and other historical documents indicate that the first family member to arrive in the American colonies was Jacob Gangwyer [sic], whose name appeared in later documents with varying spellings. Jacob Gangwyer's name first appears on the passenger list of the ship “James Goodwill” which sailed from the Rotterdam (stopping at Falmouth, England, on the way) and arrived at the Port of Philadelphia on September 30, 1727. His descendants can be found with variations of this name (e.g., Gangaware, Gongaware, Gongwere, Gongewer, Gongwer).

Rhein countries rev copy resize.jpg

The Gongwer ancestors who first came to the Pennsylvania colony in America in the 1720’s were among the thousands of Palatines (German-speaking Swiss, German and Dutch)/French Huguenot immigrants who left behind the devastation of decades of war (e.g., Thirty Years' War), disease and religious repression of post-Reformation Europe in the hope of a new start and political, religious and economic freedom. These immigrants of the early 1700’s reflected the respective Reformation heritages of the countries they left behind -- Calvinism of the French Huguenots and Dutch Reformed, the Anabaptist communalism of the Swiss Brethren, Amish, and Mennonites, and the German Reformed or Lutheran faith of many German, Swiss and Alsatian French immigrants. See articles on the Political-Religious Context in Post-Reformation Europeand Immigration of European Protestants to the American colonies for more details.

As of yet, no sources have been located that definitively prove where in Europe the family originated, nor has the source of Jacob Gangwyer's name been located in Europe, leading some family members to question whether "Gangwyer" was not an actual family name, but rather a pseudonym that Jacob assumed when he joined the other Palatines heading to the American colonies. Documents referring to Jacob and his family (and early descendants) include the original ship passenger list, land grant documents, wills, parish records, and later census data.

Origins: Alsatian Huguenot or Palatinate Lutheran?

Most historical sources suggest that the original family settlers in America were German Lutherans, although one source (Henry Shoemaker, in his essay "The Gongaware Woods") in Pennsylvania suggests that the original family members were actually Huguenots from Alsace. According to sources available to this site, no historical validation of Shoemaker's claim about a family Huguenot heritage has been found.

Alsatian Huguenot origins?

Historical documents indicate that the first family member (Jacob Gangwyer) sailed with a group of German-speaking Palatines during a period of Palatine immigration to the American colonies (one source having Gangwyer's origin as listed on ship's passenger list as Bavaria) and that he and his family were identified with the Lutheran faith. If Gangwyer had been immigrating with most of the Huguenot immigrants, is is likely that he would have sailed on one of the Huguenot passenger ships (French speaking Huguenots often formed their own French-speaking settlements - see Immigration of European Protestants to the American colonies). It is possible, however, that Jacob or his parents were originally born in Alsace (German speaking area that became part of France) and were Huguenots of the Lutheran faith (which many of the Alsatian Huguenots were, unlike most of their French-speaking Calvinist brethren in the rest of France). Huguenot was a term used to refer inclusively to French Protestants, although most French-speaking Huguenots followed the Reformation teachings of John Calvin vs influences like Martin Luther.

Geographic distribution of German-speaking immigrants in the American colonies.

Alsace has always had a unique role in the region. As an area that historically had been fought over between France and Germany, by the late 1600's and early 1700's Alsace was a German-speaking region in the eastern-most part of France, bordering Germany to the east and Switzerland to the south.

While early spellings of the family name are dissimilar from names on lists of French Huguenot immigrants or other common French Huguenot names (including surnames in Alsace), and while there is a lack of independent verification of this suggestion of Alsatian Huguenot origin, an Alsatian origin for the family is conceivable, particularly since German-speaking Alsace was heavily influenced by the Protestant ideas of Luther and and German cultural influences coming over its border, with the result that many German-speaking Alsatian Protestants identified with the German Reformed or Lutheran faith rather than the Calvinism of most French Huguenots. In addition, the Gongwer ancestors may have been among the many Alsatians that left Alsace during the 1600s as a result of the devastation caused by the Thirty Years' War (1618 –1648) or later as a result of the on-going conflict and civil wars between the French monarchy and powerful families aligned with the Roman Catholic Church on one side and the minority French and Alsatian Protestant families and allies on the other.

1791 map of Pennsylvanian counties (Lehigh County is carved out of Northhampton County in 1812)

While many Protestants had already left France by that time, the exodus of Huguenots out of France was most pronounced in the late 1600's after the French King Louis XIV revoked the civil rights for French Protestants. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes through the issue the Edict of Fontainebleau and made Protestantism illegal in France (including the region of Alsace). The result was a mass diaspora of French Protestants, many who fled across the nearest border. Many German-speaking Huguenots from Alsace fled into the neighboring Palatinate and other parts of Germany (e.g., Baden Wurttenburg, Hesse, Bavaria, Rhein). Once safe, they either tried to re-establish their lives in these new places, or join up with groups of people from the various Protestant Reformed faiths (particularly those that lived along the major waterways, such as the Rhine River) that were making their way toward Rotterdam, Holland, in the hope of finding passage to other countries (e.g., the American colonies).

German Lutheran origins?

While it is conceivable that Jacob's odyssey began as a German-speaking Huguenot in Alsace prior to emigrating from Bavaria (or another origin the greater Palatinate region) in 1725 as historical sources seem to indicate, the literature available to us suggests that once the Gongwer ancestors arrived in Pennsylvania, they settled among Lutherans and German-speaking Anabaptists (e.g., Mennonite). The family lineage in America during the first hundred years or so indicates intermarriages primarily with other German-speaking families (the so-called “Pennsylvania Deutsch” or “Pennsylvania Dutch”) of the Anabaptist/Mennonite or Lutheran faith traditions. Thus, it seems just as likely or more likely that the Gongwer ancestors were German-speaking Lutherans originating from southern Germany (e.g., Bavaria, Palatinate). Historical references:

1884 map of Lehigh County.

1. First, according to sources available to this site, no historical validation of Shoemaker's claim about a Gongwer Huguenot heritage has been found.

2. Jacob Gangwyer sailed with a group of German-speaking Palatines (and not with one of the Huguenot passenger ships), and the Ships List of the "James Goodwill" stated that Jacob Gangwyer's origin was "Bavaria". This alone doesn't prove anything, since it appears from historical documents that all German-speaking immigrants during this time were labeled as "Palatines", even though historical documents later indicate that these ships carried individuals and families from a variety of European regions, including German speaking Huguenots, Swiss Anabaptists (e.g., Mennonites and Amish), Germans from Bavaria, Hesse, and Baden Wurttemburg, as well as the Palatinate.

3. A number of various historical references suggest that Jacob Gangwyer's family belonged to the German Reformed or Lutheran faith. Gangwyer initially settled in the predominately Lutheran settlement in Upper Saucon, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and later moved with his sons to the predominately Lutheran pioneer settlement of Hempfield Township. In Hempfield, members of the Gongawares (also referred to as Gangawares) and several other German families built Harrold Church, the first Lutheran church in the area.

4. Encyclopedic histories of both Lehigh County and Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, claim that the Jacob's family members were among the original Lutheran German pioneers. See articles on Hempfield Township and Harrold Zion Lutheran Church.

Current location of original Gongaware tracts in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh and Bucks Counties.

5. Lastly, there is dissimilarity of the recorded variations of the early Gongwer name with common French Huguenot names. However, it is unclear whether the surname of "Gangwyer" is even historically accurate, or merely a name that Jacob assumed for his emigration to Pennsylvania, or was one that was assigned to him. Although various family members have attempted to research Jacob's origins, this effort to-date has not been successful, as none of the variations of the family name spelling have been matched in Alsace or Germany. It was very common for German immigrants to change their names or change the spelling of their names once they immigrated, and many of the German names had originally been French, but went through changes over the years.[1]

Whether, as speculated, the first Gongwer family immigrants to Pennsylvania were originally from Alsace or Bavaria, were Huguenot, Anabaptist or Lutheran, the Gongwer lineage in America during the first hundred years or so indicates intermarriages primarily with other German-speaking families (the so-called “Pennsylvania Deutsch” or “Pennsylvania Dutch”) of the Anabaptist/Mennonite or Lutheran faith traditions.

The family in Northampton and Lehigh, the early years (1740 - 1820)

History of the counties of Lehigh and Carbon... reference to Jacob Gongwer/Gangaware

The following variations of the name are found in historical documents related to the Upper Saucon region in Lehigh Valley, the location in the former Northampton County, Pennsylvania, where the family (which assumed various spellings in historical documents, e.g., Gangwer, Gangwere, Gangewere, Gongwer) first settled.

Jacob ‎Gangwyer (whose name was later changed in the records to Gangaware) was one of the founders of Saucon Township in 1743.[2] At the time he owned two tracts of land (Tracts 127, 128 – under name Jacob Gangaware) [3]. The first tract of land was obtained by occupation as a settler: “Jacob Gongwer first occupied a tract of one hundred and fifty acres, now owned by Jacob Gangaware and the Thomas Iron Company.”[4]

In December 27, 1781, the name "Jacob Gangware" was included on the tax list for Saucon Township.[5] The assessment for 1812 included the names of "David Gangeware", "Jacob Gangeware", and "Henry Gangeware". The total tax collected for roughly 300 landowners was $609 for the year of 1812.[6]

"The taxes in those days were trifling compared with present rates. A farm of two hundred acres paid from eighty cents to one dollar and fifty cents. Laborers paid from ten to twelve cents, while those classed as *' poor" paid no taxes, though some of them owned from thirty to forty acres of land. In 1763 the inhabitants of Upper Saucon were classified thus: eighty farmers, nine laborers, two tavern-keepers, two weavers, one carpenter, three blacksmiths, one miller, one doctor, one cooper, four poor, with neither shoemaker, saddler, tailor, wagoner, mason, nor tanner. In 1773 the township contained five thousand seven hundred and ninety-two acres of cleared land, one thousand and twenty-eight acres of which were in grain. In 1752 the township had a population of six hundred and fifty souls."[7]
The names of but two teachers of this era are preserved to us, — Vigero, who taught and preached at the same time for the Lutherans, and Peter Knepley, of whom we find the following entered in the first church book of the Lutheran congregation now serving at the Blue Church: "June 23, 1757, Peter Knepley, the schoolmaster, married to Christina Gangaware."[8]
"Henry Steckel, who settled upon the tract of his father's (Christian Steckel), had several children, among them a son, Peter, who acquired the original Steckel tract near Egypt, and owned it until he died. He was married to Elizabeth Biery, and had thirteen children, to wit: Thomas, residing at Allentown; Peter, who settled in Ohio; Henry, in Illinois; David, in one of the Western States ; Joseph, in Indiana; Charles, who died here; Deborah, wife of of Thomas Gangewere, who settled in Indiana."

The Family and America's early military conflicts

French and Indian Wars


Battle of Bushy Run and the Gongaware Farm

See main article Battle of Bushy Run and Henry Shoemaker's article The Gongaware Woods

A little known but historically significant battle in the French and Indian War was fought in early August 1763 on land owned by early Gongaware settlers.

The Battle of Bushy Run.jpg
The Battle of Bushy Run was fought on August 5-6, 1763, in western Pennsylvania, between a British column under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet and a combined force of Delaware (Lenape), Shawnee, Mingo, and Huron (Wyandot) warriors. This action occurred during Pontiac's Rebellion. Though the British suffered serious losses, they routed the tribemen and successfully relieved the garrison of Fort Pitt. By 1837, Lewis Gongaware purchased much of what was the original site of the famous Bushy Run Battlefield from the French and Indian Wars and added it to his farm. This land was originally in the Gongaware family at the time of the battle:
By 1837, most of the battlefield was sold to Lewis W. Gongaware, one of the largest farm owners in the county, who worked the land until about 1880. The farm was then sold to John Wanamaker, and his descendants owned the land until the 1920s when it was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More than one hundred-fifty years before the battlefield became a historic site, visitors were walking the land and even picnicking on the hilltop."[10]
Preparatory to this anniversary commemoration the battlefield had been gone over and marked by a competent committee of gentlemen selected for that purpose. According to their report, the first day's fight, where the Forty-second Regiment, Highlanders, suffered so severely, took place on the Lewis Gongaware farm on that part of it which they designate as "The Hills." The fight around the convoy, where the savages were finally deceived into an attack and routed, took place on the Lewis Wanamaker farm, a short distance southeast of Mr. Wanamaker's present residence. The old Forbes road ran through the Wanamaker and Gongaware farms, but not on the same line as the present road, sometimes designated as the "Old Road." The engagement, speaking in general terms, took place upon the crest of a hill on a tract of land now included partly in the Wanamaker and partly in the the Gongaware farm, and covers an area of perhaps one-half a mile or more in length by probably from two to three hundred yards in width. [11]

American Revolution

During the American Revolution, several family members served in Continental Army or local militias in the war of independence against the British. Northampton County, which had enjoyed over a decade of peace, found itself caught up in the revolutionary spirit and events taking place in nearby Philadelphia. During the convention held in Philadelphia January 23-28, 1775, Northampton was represented in the convention which thus enunciated the independent principles of the people by George Taylor, John Oakley, Peter Kichline, and Jacob Arndt.[12] The following is an extract from the resolutions adopted:

"But if the humble and loyal petition of said Congress to his most gracious Majesty should be disregarded, and the British administration, instead of redressing our grievances, should determine by force to effect a submission to the late arbitrary acts of the British Parliament, in such a situation we hold it our indispensable duty to resist such force, and at every hazard to defend the rights and liberties of America." [13]

The war opened with the battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775 and the Battle of Bunker Hill the following year on June 17, 1776. The Continental Congress appointed General George Washington to head the army. Pennsylvania began to raise four thousand three hundred men and supporting funds for the effort, and Northampton (under the authority of a resolution of the Continental Congress dated December 9, 1775) quickly organized a company of soldiers under the command of Captain Thomas Craig, each man receiving a signing bonus of approximately $8.00.[14] George Gangwer served as a private in Captain Craig's company of Northampton County men, which in 1776 was to be three hundred and forty-six, two hundred of which were from the territory that is now Lehigh.[15]

War of 1812-1814

Lehigh County also played a role in the second war with Great Britain in the War of 1812-14, and a number of family members served in the military.

In the course of increasing hostilities between the recently independent United States and Great Britain, it was commonly assumed that the British were planning an assault on Philadelphia (though it later turned out that the British intended to attack Washington rather than Philadelphia).[16] On July 14, 1814, President Madison issued a call for ninety-three thousand five hundred militia, a goal towards which Pennsylvania was required to raise and commit fourteen thousand men.[17] A number of companies, both infantry and cavalry, were raised in Northampton County where the Gangwere family lived.

Three of these companies were under the commands of Captain John F. Ruhe (of the Northampton Blues), Captain John Dornblaser's Company, which belonged to the detachment of Northampton, Lehigh, and Pike County militia, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Christopher J. Hutter, and Captain Abraham Gangwere.[18]

None of these companies saw any action with the British, and on January 8, 1815 the news reached the County that Jackson had defeated the British at New Orleans.[22]

American Civil War


During the American Civil War, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania played a critical role in the Union, providing a huge supply of military manpower, equipment, and leadership to the Federal government. The state raised over 360,000 soldiers for the Federal armies, and served as a major source of artillery guns, small arms, ammunition, armor for ironclad United States Navy gunboats, and food supplies. The Phoenixville Iron Company by itself produced well over 1,000 cannons, and the Frankford Arsenal was a major supply depot. (See Wikipedia article on Pennsylvania in the American Civil War.)

Pennsylvania was the site of the bloodiest battle of the entire war, Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), which became widely known as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." Numerous other smaller engagements were also fought in Pennsylvania during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign and during an 1864 cavalry raid that culminated in the burning of much of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The industrial town of York, Pennsylvania, was the largest city in the North to be occupied by the Confederate States Army during the war.

Over 360,000 Pennsylvanians served in the Union Army, more than any other Northern state except New York.[23] Beginning with President Lincoln's first call for troops and continuing throughout the war, Pennsylvania mustered 215 infantry regiments, as well as dozens of emergency militia regiments that were raised to repel threatened invasions in 1862 and 1863 by the Confederate States Army. Twenty-two cavalry regiments were also mustered, as well as dozens of light artillery batteries. The vast majority of Pennsylvania soldiers fought in the Eastern Theater, with only about 10% serving elsewhere. The thirteen regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves fought as the only army division all from a single state, and saw action in most of the major campaigns and battles of the Army of the Potomac.[24]

Family references

There are a number of historical references to Family members involved in the Civil War. These references include:

Family members contributing to the development of Lehigh County

By the late 1800s, three-quarters of the population of Lehigh County were Pennsylvania Germans or their descendants, an immigration pattern that had started in 1682. Most of these came from Rhenish Bavaria, Baden, Alsace, Wurtemburg, Switzerlan, and Darmstadt.[31] Their numbers in Pennsylvania swelled from several thousand pre-1689 to some one hundred thousand in 1742 and two hundred and eighty thousand by 1783. [32]

The Gangweres in Allentown

According to a written history of Lehigh and Carbon counties, the Gangweres played a role in the rapid build up of the city of Allentown, but, like many of the early families, later moved further west without leaving roots in the places they had helped build and then left. In 1800 there were only about 90 houses in the town. By 1810, the town's population had reached seven hundred and five, nearly one hundred greater than nearby Bethlehem. In 1812 Andrew Gangwere and Isaac Gangwere (listed as a Freeman) were on the town's list of taxable inhabitants.[33]

“The Gangweres were active citizens of high standing, who left no descendants here. The two brothers, Jacob and Solomon, were in business for many years, the latter engaged in the lumber trade and in hotel-keeping. In the latter occupation Abraham, a son of Jacob, was also long engaged.”[34]


For a detailed indexed listing, see the Family history - Indexed bibliographical references article.



Northampton and Lehigh Counties, Pennsylvania

Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

See also


  1. German-American names. Jones, George F. Genealogical Publishing Com, 2006. p. 54.
  2. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Alfred Mathews & Austin N. Hungerford. Publisher: Philadelphia: Everts & Richards. 1884, p. 427.
  3. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 427.
  4. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 426.
  5. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 428.
  6. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 429.
  7. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 429.
  8. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 432.
  9. 482
  10. [http://www.dgs.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_6_2_41090_4279_473341_43/ "North America's Forgotten Conflict at Bushy Run Battlefield." Ockershausen, Jane. This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Volume XXII, Number 3 - Summer 1997
  11. Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Richards, John M. Buckalew, Sheldon Reynolds, Jay Gilfillan Weiser, George Dallas Albert. p. 536
  12. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 11.
  13. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 11.
  14. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 12.
  15. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 13.
  16. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 20.
  17. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 20.
  18. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 21.
  19. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 21.
  20. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 21, 22.
  21. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 23.
  22. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 21.
  23. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PAHMC)
  24. Wikipedia's article “Pennsylvania in the American Civil War.” October 24, 2010.
  25. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 88.
  26. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 103.
  27. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 68.
  28. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 73.
  29. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 76.
  30. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 80.
  31. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 24.
  32. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon..., p. 23.
  33. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 126.
  34. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 127.
  35. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 49.
  36. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon... p. 49.
  37. History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon..., p. 50.
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