Rittenhouse Papermills

As you may recall, in April I wrote about Hans de Neus, my 7th great-grandfather on Daddy’s side.  I also wrote about the Kunkle’s from the same side.  From those blogs, you know that Susan Neis married Michael Schlonecker, Jr.  Michael’s mother was Anna Marie Heilig.  Her parents were Johann Henrich Heilig and Susanna De Wees Rittenhouse.

The Heilig and Rittenhouse families are the ones I have been researching lately.  They are fascinating!

William Rittenhouse (originally Wilhelm Rittenghausen) was the son of Nicholaus.  Wilhelm was born in Broich, a small village outside of Mühlheim on the Ruhr River (today a district in the city of Mühleim an der Ruhr in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia) during the year 1644.

Adolf and Mathias Vorster leased and ran a papermill in Broich and came from a family of papermakers.  Mathias married Claus’ sister, Ermgard and they moved to Holland in the early 1660’s.  Wilhelm also moved to the Netherlands to help his Aunt and Uncle run their papermill in his late teens or early twenties.  He lived in the Netherlands for over twenty years.  In 1665 he married Geertruid Pieters.  They had three children, Nicholas (Claus), Gerrit, and Elisabeth.  They grew up speaking both German and Dutch, if not predominantly the latter.

By 1672, they moved to Amsterdam and the Vorster and Rittenhouse family papermaking business was expanding.  Wilhelm eventually moved to Amsterdam as their paper merchant.  He learned both the production and marketing sides of the paper industry.

Wilhelm took the citizen’s oath in Amsterdam, signing his name as “Willem Riddinghuÿsen.” He had assumed a Dutch identity.  He was also familiar with and eventually converted to the Mennonite faith.  He jumped on the William Penn bandwagon and his “holy experiment” to Pennsylvania, USA.

When Willem decided to emigrate to America he knew that no paper was being produced in the British colonies of North America and he also knew he was on to something big.  He was rivaled only by paper being imported from Europe.

As he grew up in the Rhine region and Dutch-German borderlands, Rittenhouse was familiar with the “low Dutch” and “High German” languages.

It is believed “that the Rittenhouse family first shipped to New York, based on the work of a nineteenth-century antiquarian who claimed to have seen a family bible that noted the family’s arrival in New York on November 2, 1687, as well as the fact that Claus Rittenhouse married a Dutch woman, Wilhelmina de Wees, in the city on May 29, 1689.”       Source:  “The First Successful Attempt to Rescue From Oblivion’ the History of the Rittenhouse Family and Their Paper Mills,” RittenhouseTown: A Journal of History 1.1 (2000): 20-41. Collections of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society I, Marriages: Dutch Church, New York, 1639-1801 (1890), 67.

Willem and Claus were awarded several town lots to grow their papermill in the formed settlement of Germantown, six miles outside of Philadelphia and on September 29, 1690, Willem leased a twenty acre lot on a tributary of the Wissahickon Creek and formed a company with several prominent Philadelphia residents to erect a paper mill.” Source: “Rittenhouse Paper Mill Lease, 1706,” “Rittenhouse Family Papers,” Library Company of Philadelphia.

On that day, Willem Rittenhouse and his son Claus began their careers as paper makers and business owners in America.  It did not take him long to seek out investors.  He found three prominent citizens and a deal was made.  Willem bought paper molds from his uncle in the Netherlands.

The demand for paper in Pennsylvania started increasing.  One of his partners sold his 1/4 share back to Wilhelm.  As payment, Claus and William Rittenhouse agreed to “deliver to sd. William Bradford… ye full quantity of Seven Ream of blue paper, yearly” and let Bradford “have ye refusal of all ye printing paper that they make and he shall take ye same at Ten shillings pr. Ream, As also ye sd. Bradford shall have ye refusal of five Ream of writing paper and Thirty Ream of brown paper yearly… ye writing paper to be at 20s and ye brown paper at 6 s. pr. Ream.”  Source: The text of the original lease, now lost, is quoted in Jones, “Historical Sketch,” 323-324.   Did you notice the word, ream?

The molds that made the paper were pounded out or reamed out.  That’s how you have your “ream” of paper.

Unfortunately, a flashflood around 1700 destroyed the entire mill building.  “But, William Penn clearly deemed Rittenhouse’s business a great asset to the colony and, while on his second visit to Pennsylvania, took an active interest in raising support for the reconstruction of the mill.” (Same source as above)

Wilhelm’s health was declining so he “leased” three of his four shares to his son, Claus for the nominal rent of “one peppercorn yearly” (a metaphor for a very small payment),  Wilhelm died of unknown causes on February 18, 1708.  He left no will and all four shares of the mill went to his son Claus, who became the sole owner.

Claus continued his father’s practice of rearing up family members in the craft of papermaking. In addition to his son, William (1691-1744), who inherited the mill in 1734, Claus also taught the trade to his brother-in-law William De Wees (brother of Claus’s wife Wilhelmina) and assisted him in setting up a second paper mill in the Chestnut Hill district nearby in 1710.

Until 1729, the Rittenhouse family had a monopoly on papermills in Pennsylvania and the British colonies at large.  None of the mills seemed to have survived, but below is the William Rittenhouse homestead built in 1707.

In the rear is a metal plate reading “W C R 1707” for William and Claus Rittenhouse 1707.

The smaller building seen in the below picture was built in 1690 as a residence.

A third mill was built by Claus in 1734.  The mill produced several kinds and qualities of paper, including writing, printing, brown, and blue paper, as well as pasteboard.  Watermarks were produced by working a certain wire pattern into the molds;

Sources: Allen, “Rittenhouse Paper Mill,” 119-122; Green, Rittenhouse Mill, 17-19.

Although the Germantown Mennonites started meeting in the house of Jacob van Bebber as early as 1690, it took until 1698 for Rittenhouse and another craftsman, the silversmith Hans de Neus (my 7th great-grandfather!), to be chosen as minister and deacon of the community.   Since Rittenhouse was not an ordained bishop, however, no one in the new Mennonite community was authorized to perform baptisms and communions.  Source: John L. Ruth, “A Christian Settlement ‘in Antiquam Silvam’: The Emigration from Krefeld to Pennsylvania in 1683 and the Mennonite Community of Germantown,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 57 (1983): 307-31, here 320, 322.

Wilhelm’s great-grandson is David Rittenhouse (April 8, 1732 – June 26, 1796) an American astronomer, inventor, clockmaker, mathematician, surveyor, scientific instrument craftsman, and public official. Rittenhouse was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the first director of the United States Mint.  More on him at another time.

Nicholas’ daughter is Susanna de Wees Rittenhouse.  She married Johann Henrich Heilig.

The Heilig’s are another interesting family.  My next blog will be about this immigrant from Germany who made clocks.  Do you have a Heilig clock?

As always, if you see any errors or have any suggestions, let me know!

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