Johannes and Apollonia Unruh

Johannes Unruh was from Ober Lustadt, a small village in the Palatinate between Speyer and Landau. About 1737 he married a woman named Anna Apollonia.1 They had four children baptized in Ober Lustadt, two sons and two daughters. The daughters both died young.2 Johannes and Apollonia were members of the Reformed Church, where the records of their children appear, including two sons who traveled with them to Pennsylvania.

In 1752 Johannes, Apollonia and the two sons traveled to Pennsylvania on the ship Brothers, William Muir captain. They sailed from Rotterdam, having stopped at Cowes, England on the way.3 They left no record of their travels, but the outlines of the immigration from the Palatinate are well known: the need to obtain a passport from their locality, the tortuous trip down the Rhine past many toll stations, the rigors of the Atlantic passage. They arrived safely in Philadelphia, where on September 22 Johannes took the oath of allegiance at the State House in front of Edward Shippen.4 He could not sign his name, and signed with a mark. This was a customary rite of passage for immigrants from continental Europe, based on laws passed by the Provincial Council. There were two oaths: one of allegiance to the British crown and one of fidelity to the laws of the province.5 In April 1763, after being in the country for ten years, John was naturalized at the Supreme Court in Philadelphia, before Justices William Allen and William Coleman.6

There are no records of their lives for the next six years. They undoubtedly lived in Germantown or adjoining Bristol township, working as farmers, either renting land or working for someone else. The two teenage sons were surely welcome labor. They may have attended school (or perhaps they had already attended in Germany), since Sebastian at least was able to sign his name.7

In September 1760 John bought a stone house and an acre of land on the Germantown road from Jacob and Elizabeth Dietrich for 200 pounds. The land was described as in his actual possession at the time, but he was also described as John Unruh of Bristol. In any case, an acre of land was not sufficient for farming; perhaps he bought the house and lot for his son George Nicholas, who would marry Catharine Frank the following year.8

In 1764 John made a larger real estate purchase, buying a farm of 97 acres from Justus William Rubencam. He paid £700 for the land in Bristol, adoining Anthony Williams, John Shoemaker, Daniel Berndollar, other land of Rubencam, John Clever, and Ezekiel Potts. One corner of the tract was set aside for a school, granted by Justus and his wife Susanna for the service of the neighborhood. This land would later go to Sebastian, the younger son, and in turn to his son Philip.9 The house on the tract still stands, known as the Rubencam-Unruh house; it has been greatly expanded and was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1960.10

In 1762 John and Apollonia were sponsors, as grandparents, of the baptism of Apollonia, daughter of their son George (Sebastian) and Catherine. She was baptized on December 12 at the Germantown Reformed Church.11 Founded in the 1730s, it was probably the home church for John and Apollonia, as both of their sons baptized children there. The alternative would have been St. Michael’s Lutheran Church where George Nicholas and his wife Catharine were buried. In 1765 John and Apollonia were sponsors for the baptism of their grandson John in October at the Reformed Church, the second child of George Sebastian and Catherine.12

In 1764 the families of Germantown subscribed for the cost of a fire engine. John Unruh (as Unrue) and his son George signed up.13 In 1769 John and Sebastian were both taxed in Bristol Township. John still owned the 97 acres, with two horses and six cows. Sebastian was not taxed for any land, so he was probably living with his parents.14 In 1774 John and Apollonia sold their farm to Sebastian, but they probably retained the privilege of living on it for the rest of their lives. The usual formula for such arrangements was for the older generation to have the privilege of a room, plus use of the kitchen and cellar, pasturage for a few animals such as a cow and a horse, delivery of firewood, and a cash annuity.15

Apollonia died in 1776, a few days before her 76th birthday. Her death was recorded by St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, and the record stated that she was buried there. There was no record of John’s death.16 He did not leave a will. Since the farm had gone to Sebastian, the younger son, it is probable that John had already provided for George Nicholas, either by a cash grant, or by requiring Sebastian to pay Nicholas (although this is not specified in the sale to Sebastian).

Children of Johannes and Apollonia:17

George Nicholas, born or baptised 1 Sept 1738, died 1807, usually known as Nicholas18

George Sebastian, born or baptised 10 November 1739, d. 1813, known as George or Sebastian

Mary Margaretha, born or baptised 1742, died March 1745

Anna Apollonia, born or baptised 1744, died March 1746


  1. It is possible that John had another wife before Apollonia. The records of the Ober Lustadt Reformed Church show a Johannes Unruh and wife Mary Catharina, who had five children between 1728 and 1736: Johannes, Anna Catharine, Johannes George, Maria Barbara, and Johannes Andreas. The dates of these children do not overlap with the children of Johannes and Apollonia. However the names do not fit the pattern of Johannes’ known later children.
  2. Annette Burgert, Palatine Origins of some Pennsylvania Pioneers, records of the Reformed church in Ober Lustadt. The deaths are from the Ancestry tree of Dale Unruh.
  3. Strassburger and Hinke, PA German Pioneers, vol. 1.
  4. Strassburger and Hinke, vol. 1, page 481.
  5. Strassburger and Hinke, p. viii.
  6. Pennsylvania Archive, Series 2, volume 2, reprinted on USGenWeb Archives.
  7. He signed his name on deeds, for example two in 1805 (Phila Deed Book IC 2, p. 327 and IC 3, p. 626).
  8. Hannah Benner Roach, “Detective work among the Benners”, Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, 1950, volume 7(2), p. 140. The deed is in Phila Deed Book GWC 114, p. 482. It was not recorded until 1831.
  9. Philadelphia County deeds,  Book H 20, p. 149 (Rubencam to Unruh), and IC 3, p. 626 (Sebastian to Philip). Philip in turn left it to his son Samuel in his will of 1835.
  10. The Register reference is from the website of Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, at A photo of the house is available in the nomination of Box Grove Plantation at
  11. Now known as Market Square Presbyterian Church.
  12. George Sebastian followed the tradition of naming the first two children after his parents.
  13. Garber et al, History of Old Germantown, 1907.
  14. Proprietary Tax List of Philadelphia County and City. George Nicholas Unruh, the other brother, was taxed in Germantown for 28 acres.
  15. The transfer to Sebastian was apparently not recorded, but is recited when he transferred it to his son George in 1804, Phila deeds, Book EF 17, page 676. The 1804 deed contains an example of privileges retained in a sale, since Sebastian and Catherine were to stay in the house until they died. Something must have gone wrong with this arrangement, since they transferred the same tract the following year to their son Philip, with the same privilege of staying in the house, Phila deeds, Book IC 3, p. 626.
  16. Weiser and Smith, St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Germantown, 1741-1841.
  17. Records of Ober Lustadt Reformed Church, in Annette K. Burgert, Palatine Origins of some Pennsylvania Pioneers, 2000, and the Ancestry tree of Dale Unruh.
  18. Many German families of the time gave every boy in the family the same first name, usually the favorite saint of the family. This was done to honor the saint, although some folklore says that this confused the devil when he came to snatch away a child.

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