Family Legends (and lies)

Did Emanuel Serve with the Hessians?

I first heard of the Hessian story from my Dad when I was a child, long before the genealogy bug bit me. As with most Behe researchers I’ve contacted, I have always doubted it. Perhaps it deserves a second look. First of all, it seems an odd story to be made up out of whole cloth and passed down through the years. If someone had made up such a story, why would they have claimed the Hessians, who were the mercenary enemies in the Revolution? If the story is true, it means Emanuel would have gone back to Europe after the Revolutionary War, and then emigrated back to America. Many Hessians stayed in America after the war, and it seems likely he would have done the same if he had that yearning. Other than family tradition, does anything else point to Emanuel serving with the Hessians? (Note: Hessians was a term for all the German mercenaries that served. Most, but not all, were from the State of Hesse.)

  • Luke Behe, Emanuel’s grandson through Mathias, claimed that his grandfathers (plural) fought in the Revolutionary War. His maternal grandfather was a Kaylor, who we know fought in the war. It could be that Luke’s claim, in the Presidents, Soldiers, Statesmen book was meant as singular. In any event, Luke makes no mention of Hessian service.
  • Emanuel Biechi, from Alsace, was born in 1751. The first Hessians arrived with the English armada that came to New York in 1776. He would have been 25 years old. Some have discounted the Hessian story if Emanuel was born around 1760, as he would have been too young. However, if Emanuel Biechi is Emanuel Behe, he would have been old enough. We do know that Emanuel’s daughter Susannah was born sometime in 1780, so at a minimum he was back in Europe early that year, well before the war ended.
  • Emanuel Biechi’s father, Johann Georg, is listed in his wife’s death certificate as having been a ‘mercenarius’, which is a mercenary or soldier. Could Emanuel have had the same occupation? If so, it could open some interesting possibilities. At various times Emanuel’s occupation is listed as ‘gunsmith’.
  • The late John Merz, a leading scholar on the Hessians, listed Emanuel in his work. However, the name was added as a possible Hessian, evidently sent in by a Behe researcher as an inquiry. Mr. Merz was going to look into it, but unfortunately passed away. Below are the listings in the Merz data (Yahoo search – John Merz Hessians)

Behe, Emmanuel, see Bueche, settld.Cambria Co.?,S#400.
Bueche, Emmanuel, aka Behe, Cambria County (gunsmith)

Some of the information makes the Hessian story possible, but there is no known documentation of it. There are lists of thousands of Hessians which I haven’t researched. And he may have been a camp follower as a gunsmith, and would not show up on any list of soldiers. Until someone proves something, it will just have to be considered an interesting possibility.

The Indian Squaw Legend

Another interesting family story is that Emanuel took as his wife an Indian woman, or that there was other Indian blood in the family. This story seems, though I can’t be certain, to have come down through the Conrad Behe line. Again, though I don’t dismiss it, it seems unlikely. He would have had to have married her in his Hessian service in America (itself unproven), then brought her back to Europe, had three children, then back again to America. There is a record on the LDS website that shows his wife, named Mary, as dying in Conewego in 1802. I don’t know who submitted it, or what the source of the information was. If it were true, possibly Emanuel took an Indian as his second wife. However, the death of the first wife in 1802 is unproven and seems unlikely. The Basilica in Conewego has no record of her death, or any other record of a Mary Behe. The McMullen book shows a record of an ‘A. Behe, wife of Emanuel’ in Loretto in 1810. Census records at the time do not mention names other than the head of household, but do show an appropriately aged female in the house as late as 1830. And a Mary Behe is listed in Emanuel’s Bill of Sale document of 1821, which may have been intended as his distribution of assets. It seems Mary Ann was alive and well long after the 1802 date.

Is there anything to the Indian squaw story? Other than legend, there are no known documents or facts to support it. Much of the Indian population was gone from Pennsylvania in the last part of the 18th century. If there is anything to it, maybe an Indian or mixed blood woman was a domestic employee for the family, and the story spun from there. This is pure speculation of course, and should be treated as such. Could it ever be proven? Possibly if an X-line DNA descendent was tested it might reveal something.

Update:  A direct X-line descendant of Susannah (Behe) Walters had a DNA test which confirmed origins in Northern Europe. The ‘squaw’ legend was just a legend.

Brother Henry and Sister Mary

There is an old family tale about Emanuel having a brother and sister that emigrated with him. One has him and his brother Henry swimming out to an immigrant ship and stowing away. The McMullen book states that his sister Mary Ann travelled with him and married a Peter Simon. The stowaway story is highly unlikely, given what we know of Emanuel’s family situation (wife, children, etc.). As far as his sister Mary travelling with him, there may be more credence to it. The McMullen book seems to have been well researched. However, I have found no secondary record of this sister or a Peter Simon. And it seems strange that her name, Mary Ann, would be the same as Emanuel’s wife. By coincidence, the Emanuel from Alsace listed above had three sisters, all with the common first name of Maria (Mary). Two died in Alsace. The third, Maria Christine, was born in 1737 and there are no further records of her in Alsace.