Why They Came


The picture is of my mother's father, Ernest Hayes Almas (1900-1938). His ancestor, a Hessian soldier names Christian Almas, came to Fort Niagara in 1787, crossing the Niagara River with his family into what had been 'New France and which would soon be known as Upper Canada - and then Ontario, Canada. Originally from Germany, Christian came from New Germantown (now ‘Oldwick) in New Jersey after the Revolutionary War. The family also lived for some time in Upper Bethel, Pennsylvania. The family were United Empire Loyalists and subsequently made claims for land as promised UELs and the new loyalist settlers in the new homeland.

There is a mystery in that the eldest child - Anna Justina was christened in Upper Bethel, but the the next child, Henry, was christened in Zion Church, Germantown. This would indicate some kind of retracing of steps (and abodes?). It would make more sense if they moved directed from Germantown via Upper Bethel and hence to Ft. Niagara - but the dates and christening records indicate otherwise. I wonder if there were family connections already established in Upper Bethel (and whether Anna Justina was born there during 'a visit' of her mother, Magdalena.

Expanding on the above . . .

The earliest Almas family member of my mother’s ancestors in North America was Christian Almas (also known as Christopher - or spelled Cristeon: Almas, Almast, Almost, Allmos, Allmus, Almuss, Almos or Almis). He was born in 1752. One old family reference says he was born in Stuttgart, Germany but another suggests, Strasbourg (Germany/France) — perhaps on a farm between both locales?). Christian was a Brunswick (Braunschweig) soldier, conscripted (press-ganged) into service, who fought with Von Riedesel’s Regiment under Johnny Burgoyne. Some think that because he was a Braunschweig soldier he was born in the city or region of Braunschweig, but I beg to differ. (The Dukedom of Brunswick was tied to the British Crown by blood so it was natural that when help was needed for Britain to combat the Americans in their Revolution, German princes would promise troops to England's George III.

One story has it that that Christian, while out in the barn one night seeing to  a sick cow, was taken (along with whatever else the press-ganging soldiers wanted). This was in January of 1776. The Brunswick troops numbering 5,723 men arrived at the docks for departure on February 15th but did not sail until the 22nd of that month. The Brunswick Troops numbered.

Christian served in the German troops with the British until the time of his capture, after the Battle of Saratoga. The petition of Chistian Almas (May 6, 1796) states that he was a soldier in the German troops and served under General Burgoyne. Captured at Saratoga, he was marched to a prison camp at Cambridge, Massachusetts where he remained from 7 November 1777 to 9 November 1778, when the prisoners were marched under guard to Charlottesville, Virginia (a distance of 678 miles).

(Most of the Brunswick units, with the exception of 667 men who had been left behind with Governor-General Carleton, and the men from the Prince Frederick Regiment who had been left to garrison Fort Ticonderoga after its recapture by Burgoyne’s army, were captured by the Americans at Saratoga, in 1777.)

The prisoners passed through Pennsylvania and New Jersey but somewhere during this march, Christian Almas deserted. A regimental diary indicates that the Brunswick prisoners coming from the Boston camp marched on December 4th, 1778, to Sussex, New Jersey. From there they moved to Fussell (?) near Newton, 5th December. The 6th and 7th were days of rest but they marched on December 8th to Hackettstown, and on the 9th to Neulong (?). On the 10th they reached Pittsdown. Somewhere between Hackettstown and Pittstown, Christian escaped.

One story has it that Christian hid out and worked till the war ended on the farm of Jacob Backer (a German settler, with considerable land). Subsequently, Christian married the Backer daughter, Magdalena. Magdalena Backer's first name may have been Mary. Another story suggests that her father was ‘Henry’ Backer and that she was a widow – her husband having been killed during the Revolution. That could mean that the older ‘Almas’ children were actually the children of the first husband (last name unknown). Still another story indicates Christian Almas may have used the alias 'Christian ‘Backer’ to escape re-capture, arrest or other persecution.

Through Christian and Magadelna's daughter, Anna Justina, there is connection with the Hendershott family, who lived in what is now the ‘Long Valley’ – 10 miles north of Oldwick.

Noting the possible use of an alias, as an escaped soldier, perhaps as: Christian Backer, records in the Huntingdon County Historical Society indicate that Christian paid taxes on land for a number of years, perhaps with the name Backer or with a variant of Almas, as follows: “1778 – Cristeon Backer, 1784, Tewskbury” (Township); “Allmus, Cristeon. Tewskbury, 1784”; “Cristofer Backer, 1786, Tewskbury: (Township), Huntingdon County; “Cristean Backer (?), 1785”; “Almose, Cristean. Tewksbury, 1785”; “Almos, Cristeon. Tewksbury, 1786.”

Deed of Land

Following the Revolutionary War, Christian Almas (Almis, Almost) was the eleventh petitioner on a petition of 1793 for land in Township #8 (Barton), made by James Wilson and Associates (altogether 22 names). ” . . . having made settlements on which they live adjoining the west line of Township #8, near the (Governor’s) road, lately laid out from the head of Lake Ontario to the River La  Tranche (Thames), that they were encouraged by the Land Board and the Acting Surveyor to settle upon those lands four years ago before they were surveyed, which proves now to be reserved lands; your petitioners pray that the same may be confirmed to them.” (They had squatted on their land in 1789.)

Christian had arrived at Fort Niagara in 1787 with his wife, Magdalena Backer, and her four children, who had been treated very badly by the rebelling Americans. (Christian and Magdalena were married in New Jersey late in 1778 or early 1779. Magdalena was born in New Jersey.) After swimming a cow and all their belongs on a raft across the Niagara River, they crossed in what was to be Upper Canada. The four older children who came to Canada with Christian and Magdalena were: Anna Justina, Adam (through whom I descend), Henry and David. Records in the Huntingdon County, New Jersey, Historical Society indicate that Henry, son of Christian Allmos and wife Magdalena Baker, was born June 29, 1784, baptized September 25, 1784, at the Zion Lutheran Church, New Germantown (now ‘Oldwick’), Huntingdon County, New Jersey. They had at least 7 children.

In 1787, the Almas family squatted on Lot 19, 8th concession of Barton Township (also claimed by William Mcleese, whose heirs later gave up their claim). On 3 August, 1794 Christian received land grants for Lots 55 and 56 of the 3rd Concession, Ancaster Township. He lived here for the rest of his life where, until just a few years ago on this original homestead property, descendant Charles Russell Almas resided.

The brick house (see picture) was the home Christian built at Lot 53 Ancaster Townshipp. I was privileged to visit Russell on at least two occasions and he shared with me his recollections of information passed down to him. On the walls were two of the original land grant deeds with thick wax seals affixed, inscribed with the image/head of King George III. The land now includes the housing development called ‘Almas Acres.’ The old brick house, built by Christian ca 1836 was demolished in 1986, after my visit with Russell.

There is a marginal note on a Surveyors’ Certificate at the Ontario Archives, Toronto, re Christian Almas: - “A discharged German soldier from the Reidhazell’s (Riedesel’s) Regiment, brought with him a wife and three (there -sic, their) children in the year 1787.” (The number of children is incorrect here, as other records indicate the proper number to be four.)

A statement attached to his Petition with the Land Board at Nassau, reads: “This may certify that this (??) or Christian Almis hath this day sworn before me that he served as a Private soldier in Capt. Slagindogs (Schlagenteuffel’s?) Company of the German Troops under General Burgoen (Burgoyne). Also Jacob Wilson who was a Sergt. in Col. Delanies (DeLancey’s?) Corps. I am he. I am the said Alms (sic) in the army in (Sotdoers?) living. Given under my hand this 19th of October, 1796.” The Simcoe Papers state: “Petitions read on 12 July, 1796 – “#1 Christian Almis, late a soldier in the German Troops, stating that he came into this Province in 1787 with a wife and four children, and has received 160 Acres, praying for 400 in addition. Certificate to be produced and his discharge.”

In the Province of Ontario, Christian Almis received a grant of land in the Township of Ancaster in the County of Lincoln in the District of Niagara: “yeoman, of a tract of Land in the said Township of Ancaster in the County of Lincoln in the District of Niagara, containing 290 Acres being Lot number 42 in the 5th Concession and the South part of Lot number 43 in the 5th Concession of the said Township. Boundaries and Clergy Reserves as per Surveyor (?) Description and Specification annexed. O.C. 12th July 1796.”

Almas Homestead

Another record indicates that Christian Almas, Nassau District, was granted by the Land Board at Newark some 300 acres (“having served in the last war”) and 200 acres for his family (August 30, 1794). In the Council Chamber, York, 23 May, 1798: – “Christian Almas, praying for the residue of his military lands, ordered 100 acres to complete the Petitioner’s military lands, ordered 100 acres to complete, if not granted before.”

Christian was also one of the original 15 share-holders of the Union Mill Company in Ancaster (also called 'The Willson Mill) which was operating as early as 1806. They did not buy the mill from Jean Baptiste Rosseau until 4 May, 1809. During the Ancaster ‘Bloody Assizes’ of 1814, the Union Mill was used as a jail for the traitors that were to be tried. One of the traitors, Abraham Markle, head of the Union Mill Co., was tried in absentia (he had escaped to the US). His properties were confiscated, including his 1/15th share in the mill. The mill changed hands again in 1816.

The first Union School – S.S. #3, located in Barton (also serving Ancaster and Glanford Townships) was built in 1810, on a lot granted by Christian Almas.

When he arrived in what was to become Upper Canada, Christian worked with surveying parties, between 1787 and 1791, with Augustus Jones their leader.

Christian spoke his native German all his life, never learning English (Russell Almas told me). Family lore also states that he was struck blind suddenly one Sunday morning while he and Magdalena were on their on way to church. Christian died at his residence in Ancaster Township on the 30th of November, 1843. He and (later) his wife Magdalena (known as Lena) were buried in Barton Union Cemetery (also called St. Peter’s), on Mohawk Road, West. The gravestones gradually decayed and disappeared completely in the 1920’s.

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