Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Friend of Martin Luther, Burned at the Stake

     The wife of John Pennybacker (1713-1784) was Anneke Keyser, who was of a very prominent family important in the early settlement of Germantown, PA.  Anneke was born May 23, 1716 in Germantown.  Her father, Pieter Dirck Keyser came to America in the fall of 1688 with his father, Dirck Keyser, and two siblings.  They landed in New York and traveled to Germantown to be a part of William Penn's settlement at Germantown.  Pieter Dirck's little sister, Johanna, only five years old, died on the way to Germantown, and was buried on a farm along the route.

     Pieter Dirck Keyser was 12 years old when he and his family arrived in America.  He had been born November 25, 1676 in Amsterdam.  He married Margaret Souplis and recorded the event in the Keyser Family Bible:

               "1700, September 4.  I was married to Margaret Souplis aged 18 years,
               the Lord grant us his blessing and all which will be necessary in this
               world and in the world to come and we will praise his holy name now
               and forever. Amen."

     Pieter and Margaret had eleven children.  Three of their children married into the Pennebacker family.  Pieter Dirck II married Susanna Pennebacker, Anneke married John Pennebacker (our direct line ancestor), and Elizabeth married Peter Pennebacker.

    Pieter's father Dirck Keyser was born in 1635 and was engaged in the manufacture and sale of all kinds of silk goods in Amsterdam. He brought this copper plate from Amsterdam with him:

     Dirck married first Elizabet ter Himpel, who was the mother of our direct line ancestor, Pieter Dirck.  After she died, he married Johanna Harperts Snoeck, who was the mother of two daughters, Johanna and Cornelia, both of whom died as young children.  Dirck was a single dad when he made the voyage to America.  He served as the first pastor of the Mennonite Church of Germantown until his death in 1714.

     The family's strong Christian faith started with Dirck's ancestor, Leonhard Keyser.  Leonhard was a Catholic priest in Bavaria, who read the writings of Martin Luther and went to Wittenberg to meet with him.  He returned to Bavaria in 1525, spreading the Gospel  "with great zeal and power."  He was taken by the Bishop of Passau and charged with preaching that only faith justifies, and other Reformist beliefs.  The book Foxe's Book of Martyrs reports that Leonhard was condemned to death by fire. 

               "Then the wood was made ready to be set on fire, and he began to cry out with
                a loud voice, "O Jesus! I am thine, have mercy upon me, and save me." And
               therewithal he felt the fire begin sharply under his feet, his hands, and about his head.
               And because the fire was not great enough, the hangman plucked the body, half burnt,
               with a long hook, from underneath the wood.  Then he made a great hole in the body,
               through which he thrust a stake, and cast him again into the fire, and so made an end
               of burning.  This was the blessed end of that good man, who suffered for the testimony
               of the truth, on the sixth of August, A.D. 1527."

     In the book History of the Great Reformation of the Sixteenth Century in Germany, it is said that when Martin Luther was told of Leonhard's death, Luther said, "Who am I, a wordy preacher, in comparison with this great doer?"

                                             Leonard Keyser, in the cart, picked a flower from
                                             beside the road, on the way to his death by fire.

     The Keyser Family in America became very prosperous and active in the Mennonite and Dutch Reformed churches.  Pieter Keyser memorized all of the New Testament and much of the Old Testament as a young man by installing a shelf over his work station in a leather tannery.  He placed his Bible on the shelf and worked at memorizing Scripture while he worked.

     The Keysers were great supporters of education.  They were well-known for their love of artwork, needlework, and especially penmanship.  Charles Keyser handwrote a 1,838 page Concordance of the New Testament when he was 80 years old, and it had the appearance of being engraved because each letter was formed so perfectly.

     The family's physical characteristics were that they were unusually tall, both men and women being at least six feet tall. The women were said to have very small hands and feet.  Most of the family had dark hair and blue eyes.  The men loved outdoor sports, especially skating, swimming, and horseback riding.  Two descendants were known especially for their strength:  John Keyser, a Marshall in Philadelphia, carried two adult outlaws down the street at the same time.  Enoch Keyser was notorious for lifting a millstone that was said to weight 2,000 pounds.

     A family reunion was held in 1888 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Keyser's arrival in America.  It included many speakers, and a book was made of the transcriptions of all the speeches.  That book, The Keyser Family: Descendants of Dirck Keyser of Amsterdam by Charles S. Keyser is available on archive.org and was the major source for this post. 

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