Our Whistler line is well documented from the present back to Henry Whisler/Whistler born 1749 in Lancaster, PA and who raised a large family in Rockingham County, VA.Additionally, researchers agree that Heinrich Wissler’s arrival in Philadelphia, PA was the first of our family in America.However, connecting Heinrich and Henry has proved to be a challenge for all of us.
There are two often-referenced books on the early Whistler families and a one brief summary for Heinrich Wissler:
- ” Some Descendents of Heinrich Whisler who landed in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in September 1737” by John Marquiss Whistler privately published in 1967.
- "Compilations of early Wissler, Whisler, and Whistler Families” by Oby J. Bonawit published 1985 with a revision in 1988.
- "Emigrants, Refugees and Prisoners” Vol 1 by Richard Warren Davis published 1997.
John M. Whistler performed a great deal of research in courthouses and libraries, and he constructed a case for a 12 year old son named John accompanying his parents to America in 1737.Since only the male head-of-household was typically listed on a ship’s manifest, this scenario is possible.John possibly married Eva Weaver about 1748, and his first child, born in 1749, was named Henry, after Heinrich Wissler.John M. Whistler said that this followed a German tradition of naming the first son after his paternal grandfather.In turn, Henry Whisler named his first son John.Additionally, oral tradition in John M. Whistler's family was that the father of Henry Whisler was John.However, there is only circumstantial evidence that links John to Heinrich - the naming tradition and the fact that he resided in Lancaster County, less than 30 miles from Heinrich.
Oby J. Bonawit’s book published eighteen years later says that Heinrich’s children were Anna, Christian, Jacob, Benjamin, and Henry (1749).Of these, only Benjamin can be definitively tied to Heinrich as he is named as his son in a land transaction.Anna was said to marry Valentine Metzler, however, there is strong evidence that Valentine's wife was actually Anna Nissley - which is only two letters different from Anna Wissler.So perhaps a transcription error was made and maybe Anna Wissler did not exist.Christian and Jacob held land in Lancaster County but there is not any other evidence to prove conclusively that they were Heinrich's children.As such, an argument can be made that John has just as much claim to be Heinrich's son as Christian and Jacob.
Bonawit claims subsequent research proves that Eva Weaver was named as an infant in her father's 1745 will; thus, John Wissler could not be the father of Henry as Eva would have been too young.However, Bonawit does not explain why this John could not be a son of Heinrich or why John could not have had a first wife that was the mother of Henry, prior to his marriage to Eva Weaver.Additionally, as was the style at the time, using the term infant in a will does not have the same connotation as it would in modern times.Unmarried dependents of the deceased were sometimes termed infant children even when they were in their teenage years.Hence, Eva could have been of age when Henry was born in 1749.
Perhaps the best support of Bonawit's assertion that Henry is the son rather than grandson of Heinrich is found by quoting documents from a marriage conducted in Rockbridge County, VA in 1802.The marriage record says that Henry Whisler Jr. (son of Henry Sr.) married Mary Freed, who was a daughter of Peter Freed of Pennsylvania and sister of the wife of another Henry Wissler (son of Jacob, named by Bonawit as the son of Heinrich). Crucially, the document names the two Henrys as "cousins" - Bonawit thusly infers that Jacob and Henry Sr. were brothers and sons of Heinrich.
Conversely, those citing John as the father of Henry Sr. could claim that cousins doesn't necessarily mean 1st cousins.However, this marriage record does offer critical evidence that Henry Sr. and Jacob were at least linked in some way.
R. W. Davis has only a short entry for Heinrich Wissler.He showed Heinrich born in 1712, married Anna (born 1694), arrived in America in 1737, and had two sons, Benjamin (1740) and Henry (1749).Clearly, Anna’s age is a problem with the construction of this family.
Every author agrees that Heinrich Wissler arrived in Philadelphia in 1737 with a wife named Anna, and the key to this conundrum may be data associated with Anna. The answers to one or more of the questions below could help resolve this issue:
1. What is the source of Anna being recognized as Heinrich’s wife?Heinrich died intestate, but he clearly owned land.Is there a court record with the name of his wife and/or children?
2. Is there any data concerning Anna’s age or the date she married Heinrich?Is the frequently reported marriage date estimated from the youngest child?
3. Anna reportedly died in 23 Mar 1793, 38 years after Heinrich’s death.Is there any record (marriage, land transactions, court cases, or census records) of her after she was widowed?
While all the authors did a great deal of research, the most recent Wissler update was in 1988, and neither Whistler nor Bonawit was able to utilize all of the data that has been digitized and stored on the Internet.While our problem is not new, we hope that someone somewhere has new data, documentation for existing data, or a different analysis of published data. If so, please contact us!
Wayne Whistler (descendant of Jacob Whistler, son of Henry Sr.)
Joshua DeMoss (descendant of Henry Whisler Jr., son of Henry Sr.)