Part I: The Direct Line


By Ken Warmbrod




Since at least the last quarter of the sixteenth century, members of the Warmbrodt family have lived in the small farming community of Siselen, Switzerland. The direct information we have about the Warmbrodts before their migration to America is limited mainly to particulars concerning baptisms, marriages, and deaths. However, even such limited tidbits raise interesting questions: What was life like for these people? What kind of society did they live in? What prompted them to leave their Swiss homeland and travel to America?

Though our direct information about the Warmbrodts is sparse, a great deal is known about Switzerland and the Bern region where the Warmbrodts lived before coming to America. Some of this information suggests answers to the questions just raised. It seems appropriate, therefore, to juxtapose the little that we know about our ancestors with other historical information about the time and place where they lived.

It will become obvious that such juxtaposition still leaves many gaps in the story. What did a given Warmbrodt actually do in a given situation? This is a common problem with our knowledge of history. Most of what actually happened in the past was never recorded. Consequently, whenever we try to understand history — or even our own memories — we are presented with isolated snapshots, and we try to fill in the gaps in some reasonable way. Most of the readers of this book have a unique advantage when it comes to filling in the gaps in this particular story: they are cut from the same genetic cloth as the Warmbrodts who are the subject of the story. Therefore, if you want to make a reasonable guess about what a given Warmbrodt did in a particular situation, simply ask yourself, “What would I have done?”



Our Swiss History


The image of Switzerland today is that of a peaceful country which maintains a neutral stance vis-à-vis the conflicts of other European nations. The country is notable, for example, for having managed to remain neutral throughout World Wars I and II. However, this peaceful neutrality has not always been characteristic of Switzerland, and considerable struggle was required to achieve it. Our Warmbrodt ancestors lived through most of that struggle.

The Swiss Setting

The fundamental geographical fact about Switzerland that has shaped life in that country for centuries is aptly expressed by the trite axiom of the real estate business: Location! Location! Location! Landlocked, Switzerland borders on and is surrounded by France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. The Swiss Alps pose a formidable obstruction to free passage. But Switzerland also contains critical mountain passes, and these make the country a nexus for trade between its neighbors. Traditionally, control of the mountain passes has implied control of much of the trade between the bordering countries. It is not surprising, therefore, that the inhabitants of Switzerland are not the only individuals who have thought it important to control this country. Even the ancient Romans recognized the importance of the Alpine passes for trade in wheat, cheese and cattle. The Romans improved these passes and converted many of them from trails to narrow paved roads.

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, cities were built on strategic sites along the trade routes to provide rest stops for merchants en route between the different countries of Europe. One such city, Bern, was founded in 1191. Bern was located on the great bend of the Aare river in part because the position was thought to be easy to defend. The area surrounding Bern is known as a “canton” (roughly equivalent to a state in the U.S.), and this canton also bears the name “Bern.” The small town of Siselen, hometown to the Warmbrodts, is located in this canton just 18.6 miles west of the city of Bern. There is documentation to suggest that Siselen existed as far back as 1160.

The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 by three cantons — Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden — in order to resist the control of the Habsburg family. The threat of external control led other communities to join the Confederation. Bern joined in 1353. By the beginning of the 1400s, Switzerland consisted of eight cantons; and by 1513 there were thirteen.
But Switzerland during these early times was a Confederation of sovereign states. Though the cantons were united as a defense against external threats, there was no central power that we would identify today as a government. There was a Federal Diet which included a representative from each canton. However, its “decisions” amounted to little more than suggestions: they had no legal force unless ratified by individual cantons. Each canton had its own army, laws, currency, postal service, and system of weights and measures. Cantons were also free to form their own political alliances with non-Swiss nations. Inhabitants of one canton regarded those of another as foreigners. Add to that natural rivalries that separated rural cantons from those dominated by cities, jealousies between small cantons and large ones, plus religious differences. The result was that the Swiss Confederation was more of an alliance than what we would think of today as a nation.

The three original cantons of the Confederation (Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden) practiced a form of direct democracy. In these cantons, citizens would periodically convene in a public square to vote on magistrates or matters of great importance such as war, treaties, and taxes. Such democratic rights were limited to males.

Other cantons, however, were not democratic. Political power was in most cases held by a small, city-dwelling elite — in effect, an aristocracy. Though the rural populations surrounding the cities were typically much larger, inhabitants of the countryside were considered to be subjects of the urban aristocracy. For most people, there was no right to live in any canton and little else in the way of civil rights that we think essential today. Democratic practices, at best, were sporadic and unprincipled. According to one historian, “There had been instances, in Bern for example, of the government consulting citizens on matters of great public moment; even the country people had been asked for their opinion on some occasions. But in view of public indifference, abstention and failure to agree, consultation was abandoned” (Gilliard, pp. 48-9).

In spite of its inherent weaknesses, the Swiss Confederation was generally able to defend itself against foreign incursions. In 1476, expansionist forces from Burgundy — today a part of France — were defeated. Notably, the fighting in this campaign took place mostly in the canton of Bern less than 10 miles from the current town of Siselen. Austrian expansionist aims were thwarted in the Swabian war in 1499.

Swiss forces were themselves defeated in war with France in 1515. Though the terms of the peace settlement were generally favorable to Switzerland, the defeat drove home a lesson whose effect was lasting: the natural role of Switzerland is not that of a major power in Europe. If Switzerland were to become embroiled in the conflicts of Europe, the Confederation would probably be torn apart. Therefore, the Swiss concluded that as far as European wars are concerned, Switzerland’s best stance is one of neutrality.

In these early times, of course, there were no mass media, and formal education was available only for the sons of wealth and privilege. The level of ignorance of the ordinary person can be difficult to appreciate. Religious authority was commonly considered to be a source of answers for matters that in fact were simply not understood. One good illustration is a practice that was often used to control insect pests: “At the request of Frikart, Chancellor of Bern, and in the name of the republic the insects were tried before the tribunal of ‘their’ bishop… Neither the advocate nor the accused appeared in court. The ecclesiastical court passed judgment and pronounced ‘a contumace,’ a severe sentence. The insects were excommunicated, proscribed in the name of the Holy Trinity, and condemned to leave forever the entire territory of the diocese…” (Luck, p. 96). Such ecclesiastical methods of insect control were practiced as late as 1733.

The Sixteenth Century

Perhaps the most important event that would have affected the life of Cledo Warmbrodt was the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation, which began in 1517, reached Switzerland through the influence of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531), John Calvin (1509-1564), and John Knox (1514-1572) (exiled from Scotland). For the ordinary person, it should be noted, conversion from one faith to another was not strictly an issue of personal commitment as it would be today. Once the ruling families of Bern accepted the teachings of Zwingli in 1528, Catholic religious services and images were simply banned, and the property of monasteries was confiscated.

The Reformation brought with it a new problem for the Confederation. The more heavily populated cantons, including Bern, Zurich, Basle and Schaffhausen, represented a majority of the citizens of the country, and they were the most receptive to the ideas of the Reformation. However, a larger number of cantons remained Roman Catholic. Since each canton had only one representative in the Diet, the Catholic cantons could dominate national policy though they actually represented a minority of the population. This circumstance was naturally a source of ongoing dissatisfaction for Protestant cantons.


The Seventeenth Century

Most of Europe was occupied with the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. Though Switzerland was officially neutral, the war was a major test for the Swiss Confederation. The conflict was in part a clash between Catholic and Protestant religious interests, though political ambitions of the belligerents were also a factor. Since Switzerland had become divided along religious lines, the war posed a significant internal threat. Fortunately, Switzerland’s neutrality was maintained because most Swiss placed loyalty to the Confederation above political and religious ideology. Nevertheless, some battles of the war were fought on Swiss territory, and Swiss mercenaries were used by both sides for much of the fighting.

When the Thirty Years War finally ended in 1648, much of Germany was devastated and the map of Europe was redrawn. Nevertheless, Switzerland was rewarded for its neutrality. The Peace of Westphalia formally recognized the sovereignty and independence of the Swiss Confederation.
Meanwhile, economic changes and the increasingly autocratic rule of the city aristocrats brought significant dissatisfaction in the cantons. Farmers had enjoyed prosperity during the war because there had been an influx of refugees and greater demand for food as a consequence. The departure of the refugees tended to reduce farm income.

The rulers of Bern made the situation worse by imposing harsh taxes with no consultation of the rural residents. In 1652, the city exacerbated the problems by devaluing the currency 50 per cent and allowing only three days in which debts could be paid with the currency at its old value. Dissatisfaction became open rebellion. In 1653, 16,000 peasants laid siege to the city of Bern, and they succeeded in forcing the city to agree to their demands. Thinking their cause had been won, the peasants disbanded and went home. However, the rebellion failed in other parts of Switzerland, and the Bern rulers renounced their agreements. Eventually, the rebellion was crushed, and its leaders were tortured and executed.

Would Jakob Warmbrodt have participated in the uprising against Bern? All we can say with confidence is that he was about 28 at the time of the event, and as a resident of the rural area around Bern, he clearly would have been affected by the city’s harsh measures.

It is very likely, however, that Jakob would have been involved two years later in the First Villmergen War of 1655. In this war the Protestant cantons of Bern and Zurich were allied against several Catholic cantons. The Bernese army was unprepared for combat. When they became separated from the Zurich army, they were attacked and defeated by Catholic forces. Nearly 600 Bernese soldiers were killed and another 400 were wounded in this battle. Though we do not know the date of Jakob’s death, we can be reasonably sure that he was not killed in this war since he had two children who were baptized in 1668 and 1670.
In 1685 Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, a law which had guaranteed freedom of religion to French Protestants since 1598. Deprived of religious and civil liberties, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots emigrated to other countries. As many as 60,000 refugees fled to Switzerland. Since the new arrivals were generally destitute, the influx placed a severe strain on the Swiss economy, and relations between the Protestant cantons and France deteriorated.

The Eighteenth Century

In the early eighteenth century, the imbalance between Protestant and Catholic cantons again came to a head. As noted earlier, there were more Catholic cantons than Protestant, so the Catholic powers could easily control the Swiss Diet. Nevertheless, it is estimated that there were 700,000 Protestants in the country vs. only 300,000 Catholics (Martin, p. 117). In addition, the Protestant cantons were generally wealthier and more industrialized than their Catholic counterparts.

It is not surprising that such imbalances would lead to conflict, and the Second Villmergen war of 1712 was the result. The army of Bern was again heavily involved, so it is reasonable to assume that male Warmbrodts would have participated. Hans Jakob Warmbrodt would have been about 42 and still within the age range at which military service was required. In addition, two of Hans Jakob’s sons had reached military age. This time, the Bern army was much better equipped and had better leadership. They were victorious in the critical battle which, as it happened, occurred on the same field where the army of Bern had been defeated in the war of 1655.

As a result of their victory, the Protestant cantons, including Bern, took control of new territory. They also secured agreement that the Swiss Diet could no longer resolve religious disputes by a simple majority vote. Such issues would now have to be addressed by courts of arbitration in which both parties had equal representation. The Catholic cantons, however, were embittered by the settlement. They formed their own alliance with the French king Louis XIV and thereby placed the Catholic cantons under French protection. The independence of the Swiss Confederation was thus severely compromised.
The government of Bern continued to establish its reputation for oppressiveness. In 1723, a hero of the Second Villmergen war known as Major Davel expressed his opposition to autocratic rule and advocated that a region known as Vaud, which at that time was under the control of Bern, should be allowed to separate and become an independent canton. Unfortunately, Davel failed to arouse popular support for his separation plan. For his trouble, Major Davel was tried, convicted, and sentenced to have his right hand cut off and then to be decapitated. Not wishing to appear cruel, the Bern government commuted his sentence to simple decapitation.
The 1740s were the time of two unsuccessful attempts to partially democratize the government of Bern. The main governing body, the Great Council, comprised 200 chairs which were doled out by lot to the members of only a few dozen families. The governing positions were themselves a source of significant wealth for the holders. In 1744, a number of other citizens of the city signed a petition requesting that government posts not be confined to only a few families. However, the ruling clique viewed the petition as an act of treason. The signers were banished for a number of years.

One of the banished, Samuel Henzi, was a man of culture and the son of a pastor. Since it was clear that reform would not come by peaceful means, Henzi and several others formed a conspiracy in 1749 to overthrow the Bern government by force. Unfortunately for Henzi, the plan was exposed before any action could be taken. Henzi and two others were decapitated; other conspirators who had fled the city were simply banned.

The Bern government did not restrict its defense of patrician power to its own canton. In 1707 and again in 1782 Bern sent troops to Geneva to suppress revolts and restore the aristocratic government of that canton.

The last quarter of the eighteenth century was a time of revolution for much of the Western world. One Swiss native son contributed significantly to the ideological genesis of that revolution. In 1762, the Geneva-born philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau published his Social Contract. Rousseau’s opening words resounded like thunder in his age: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau advocated the absurd proposition that the source of any government’s authority is the people, not God. Societies and governments exist as a result of a contract freely entered into by equal parties. In Rousseau’s view, any form of government must be answerable to its people, and it can be changed if it fails to serve its people.
The governing clique of Bern held Rousseau’s ideas in such contempt that they had his books burned. But Rousseau’s work quickly found its audience. In 1776, the American Declaration of Independence echoed Rousseau’s views of the freedom and equality of men. In France, Robespierre exploited Rousseau’s writing: Rousseau’s ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity became the battle cry of the French Revolution of 1789.

Switzerland was spared much of the initial fervor — and carnage — of the French Revolution, but change was unavoidable once Napoleon came to power. As in the past, geography dictated the course of events: Napoleon saw the Simplon and Great St. Bernard mountain passes as strategically important. To control the passes, he had to control Switzerland.

The only canton to offer significant military opposition to Napoleon was Bern. In this conflict, all the sons of Hans Jakob Warmbrodt (Niklaus, Bendicht, Jakob, Peter, and Peter Hans) were of military age, and it is likely that all would have been obliged to participate in the defense of Bern. The French army mounted a two-pronged attack on the canton from the north and the south. Though the Bernese forces managed to achieve one victory at Neuenegg, overall they were far outnumbered by the French. Napoleon’s army occupied the city of Bern on March 5, 1798. With the fall of Bern, resistance elsewhere in Switzerland collapsed.

The Swiss Confederation was abolished, and the French set up their own “Helvetic Republic” in Swiss territory. In some respects one could argue that the new Republic was an improvement. All citizens were now equal. There was freedom of the press, and one could worship according to one’s beliefs. However, the imposed constitution was written in Paris with little recognition of Swiss history or traditions. The
cantons, once sovereign entities, were now reduced to mere administrative districts of the central government. Napoleon had transformed Switzerland into a puppet state and a battlefield for French conflicts with other countries. Numerous violent uprisings occurred, though all were suppressed by the French military. The new constitution remained a foreign imposition whose authority derived from the power of French arms rather than from the will of the Swiss people. This was clearly not the sort of arrangement Rousseau had advocated. Gradually, Switzerland deteriorated to a condition of near anarchy.

The Nineteenth Century

The situation improved somewhat in 1803 when Napoleon again intervened with the Mediation Act. This law had the effect of restoring a political structure similar to that of the old Swiss Confederation. The individual cantons were permitted to return to their previous forms of government, though the Federal Diet was modified to allow two representatives each for the larger cantons and one each for the smaller ones. Napoleon still insisted that Switzerland maintain a pro-French — hence, non-neutral — stance in European affairs.

In June of 1815, allied forces finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. At the ensuing Congress of Vienna, the great powers of Europe formally recognized the permanent neutrality of Switzerland. According to their declaration, “the Powers… declare… their formal and authentic Acknowledgment of the perpetual Neutrality of Switzerland; and they Guarantee that country the Integrity and Inviolability of its Territory…” (Luck, p. 330).

Even before the conclusion of the Congress of Vienna, the Swiss cantons adopted the Federal Pact of 1815 which had the effect of restoring the arrangement of the previous Confederation almost completely. Even the old “one canton – one vote” rule for the Diet was restored. Thus the 12,000 people of Uri had as much influence in the Federal government as the 200,000 citizens of the canton of Zurich or the 300,000 citizens of the canton of Bern.

In Bern itself, the aristocrat Karl Ludwig von Haller argued that, contrary to Rousseau’s claims, government is not the result of any social contract among equals. It was God’s will, according to von Haller, that the strong should rule the weak. However, one article of the Federal Pact stipulated that political rights could not be denied to any class of citizens. Grudgingly, therefore, the leaders of Bern accepted 99 representatives of the rural area surrounding the city of Bern into the canton’s Great Council. The 99 rural members represented a population 30 times that of the city of Bern. The consolation for the aristocrats was that they still held 200 seats. The Pact did not say that representation had to be equal! So a tiny patrician minority continued to have effective control of the affairs of the canton. Similar maneuvers in other cantons insured that the aristocracy regained its position of privilege in most of the country.

Switzerland of 1815 thus indulged in an orgy of restoring the “good old days.” But restoration also meant bringing back the weaknesses of the old Confederation, and these deficiencies now became more conspicuous than ever. To begin with, the weather during 1816‑17 was terrible. Snow fell during every month, and there was massive flooding. Some sources have referred to the period as a quasi ice age. Harvests were ruined everywhere. Also, the country’s textile industries had mechanized too rapidly with the result of substantial unemployment and starvation. The weak federal system lacked the resources to respond, and the cantons which held the real power could not cooperate effectively.

The nations of post-Napoleonic Europe began to introduce tariffs to protect their own industries. The Swiss Diet responded with tariffs of its own. However, the cantons also had this authority, and they proceeded to erect trade barriers against each other. By 1823, there were 400 places in the country where travelers were required to stop to pay duties, tolls, and other fees. Restoration also brought back separate currencies and weights and measures for each canton. It thus became cheaper and faster for shippers to detour around the country than to send goods through it. Increasingly, there was less and less sense in doing business in Switzerland.
The restoration of authoritarian rule also meant the loss of freedoms that ordinary citizens had briefly experienced under French rule. Censorship was re-imposed in the press; deliberations of the cantonal governments were cloaked in secrecy; and religious intolerance became the order of the day. Even torture was reintroduced.♥

The tide of conservative thinking in Switzerland reflected similar political changes that occurred elsewhere in Europe. The reactionary powers of Europe became increasingly annoyed with the ancient Swiss tradition of granting asylum to political dissidents from other countries. Under threat of possible foreign intervention, the Diet was forced in 1823 to halt the practice. The episode was humiliating for the Swiss and a reversal of the assurances of independence that had been solemnly proclaimed just eight years earlier at the Congress of Vienna. It was clear now that the only way for Switzerland’s neutrality and independence to be guaranteed was for the Swiss to do it themselves.
The events of 1823 helped to initiate a process of rethinking the direction that the country had taken. Opposition to authoritarianism began to mount. Demands for reform finally compelled the Bern government to accept genuine democratic restructuring in January of 1831. Nevertheless, intrigue and political maneuvering continued. Visiting Bern in 1832, the American novelist James Fenimore Cooper commented that “many arrests had just taken place, and a conspiracy of the old aristocracy had been discovered, which had a counter‑revolution for its object” (Luck, p. 376).

One by one, however, the cantons bowed to public pressure to liberalize and democratize. According to Georg Thürer, this new revolution was rural at its roots: “It was a rebellion of the villages, under the leadership of the little country towns whose lawyers, pastors, teachers and doctors felt underprivileged in comparison with the people of the cities… [T]he rebellion secured…the sovereignty of the people, representative democracy, open meetings of the Great Councils and local assemblies, freedom of speech, association and settlement.” (Thürer, p. 103)

But these reforms were limited largely to the cantonal governments. Modification of the Federal Pact would prove to be a more difficult matter. The framers had failed to include any provision for legal amendment of the Pact. It would take a civil war to open the way for significant change in the national government.

Tensions between Protestant and Catholic cantons again came to a boil in the 1840s. The conflicts were now not only religious but were colored heavily by political ideology. Protestant cantons, including Bern, now tended to be politically liberal; Catholic cantons were more conservative. In 1844-45 self-appointed liberal radicals made two abortive attempts to violently overthrow the conservative government of Lucerne. The Catholic cantons responded by concluding a self-defense pact known as the Sonderbund. Though the alliance was initially kept secret, the member cantons made overtures to conservative governments elsewhere in Europe that were perceived as sympathetic to their cause. Promises of both diplomatic and military support were received.

The Sonderbund had not formally moved to secede from Confederation, but the Diet nevertheless considered the arrangement to be illegal: one provision of the Federal Pact prohibited alliances between cantons that were prejudicial to the Confederation as a whole. The Diet demanded that the Sonderbund disband, but the Catholic cantons refused. Finally, on November 4, 1847 the Diet ordered that the Sonderbund be dissolved by force of arms.

Both John I (age 43) and John II (age 16) were within the age range at which military service would have been required. Fortunately, the civil war was brief but decisive. Federal leaders commanded an army of 50,000 vs. 30,000 for the Sonderbund. The Federal army was also better equipped and more competently led. Fribourg, the Sonderbund canton directly west of Bern, capitulated on November 14. Lucerne offered the strongest resistance, but its forces were simply outnumbered. The war was over in only 26 days.
Short wars are almost always better wars, and in this case the quick resolution was especially propitious for Switzerland. The outbreak of the war had been accompanied by ominous and threatening diplomatic notes from Austria, Prussia and France. These conservative governments were openly sympathetic to the Sonderbund and hostile to the liberal inclinations of the other Swiss cantons. Some of these powers would probably have intervened if the war had dragged on. As it was, the Diet was able to respond to the notes by saying that the Sonderbund had been disbanded and a state of war no longer existed.

The way was at last open for Switzerland to address the problems that had so long beset the weak association of Confederation. In early 1848, a constitutional committee — which included representatives from the cantons of the defunct Sonderbund — set about the task of writing a new Constitution. For the new legislature, the framers followed the bicameral model of the United States Constitution. One body, the Council of States, included a fixed number of legislators from each canton; the second body, the National Council, consisted of legislators who represented a certain proportion of the population. Matters such as the national army, treaties with foreign countries, tariffs, currency, postal services, weights and measures were now to be the domain of the Federal government. There were also guarantees of fundamental civil rights such as freedom of the press and religion, the right to live in any canton, and equality under the law.

The proposed Constitution was submitted for approval both to the cantons and to the people in a popular vote. Overwhelming majority approval was received in both cases, and the new Constitution became the basic law of Switzerland on September 12, 1848. Bern was chosen as the new national capital.

The new Constitution unquestionably strengthened Switzerland as a nation. However, the issue of the country’s neutrality and independence was not automatically conceded by other nations. In 1849, Federal troops had to be mobilized to guard against possible intervention from Prussia. In 1851, France threatened economic blockade and military occupation. Again the pretext, in part, was Switzerland’s practice of giving asylum to political dissidents and refugees. It was clear that, as always, Swiss neutrality and independence could be insured only by the Swiss. Strengthened by the new Constitution, the country now had the means to do it.


Immigration to America


The intriguing question remains: Why did the Warmbrodts leave Switzerland in 1852? The initial incentive for the trip to America apparently came from John II. According to Grover Warmbrod,

He told his parents he was going to America. He did not wish to serve in the army, which was required of all males. His father told him they were thinking of making the same move. He told John II that if he would wait until they could sell their property, they would all go together. (Grover Warmbrod, p. 9)

From one point of view, one could argue that they left just as things were beginning to look up. A new national Constitution had just been adopted, and there was finally the prospect that Switzerland would be able to put its history of instability behind it.

Of course, one can make such an argument today only with the benefit of hindsight. Threats to Switzerland’s neutrality, independence and stability were ongoing even in the early 1850s. There was no reason to believe that these problems would suddenly end. For John II, at age 21, Switzerland’s requirement of lifelong military service was doubtless an onerous burden. In view of the country’s history of conflict and instability, one had to assume that such service would not be limited to boring drills over weekends and summers. Even John I, at age 47, was still liable for military service.

The fundamental fact remains also that for many generations Switzerland and Bern had demanded military service from all male citizens while simultaneously denying most of them any voice in the affairs of their government. One wonders whether John II’s decision to leave may have been in part a personal rebellion, a statement on behalf of his own ancestors. Anger over rights long denied is sometimes not expressed until after the rights have been recognized.

John I’s ready agreement to his son’s proposal is easily understandable when one considers what he had already lived through: during his lifetime, the Swiss had endured foreign domination by the French, the overthrow of that domination, two fundamental restructurings of the national government and a civil war. Revolution had also finally overturned the local system of authoritarian government in Bern. John I’s 47 years covered what was unquestionably the most tumultuous period in the history of Switzerland. Regardless of whether John I was involved in any of those events himself, there surely must have been times when he wondered whether the fabric of his society was simply coming apart. Perhaps, then, the appropriate question is not, “Why did the Warmbrodts leave in 1852?” but “Why didn’t they leave much earlier?”

There is another likely reason for the move in 1852. John D. Warmbrod traveled to Siselen in 1998 and interviewed Hans Schwab (83) who had written a pamphlet about Siselen. According to Schwab, there were serious problems with flooding in the farms of Siselen around 1850. The period from 1845 to 1850 is widely known as the time of the potato blight which caused massive starvation in Ireland. But these effects were not limited to Ireland. Historical sources indicate that inclement weather resulted in a general subsistence crisis from Ireland to central Europe. With respect to Switzerland specifically, Murray Luck writes, “In 1843 and 1846-47 agriculture suffered from widespread outbreaks of potato disease and a series of bad harvests in the 1850s. Food shortages were common…” (Luck, p. 463). Bad weather, flooding and failed harvests clearly would have been problems for John I since he and his family depended on farming for their living.

Whatever the reason, the John Warmbrodts were not alone in leaving Switzerland. According to Hans Schwab, 290 citizens of Siselen emigrated to the U.S. from 1830 to 1888. Of that number, 49 were Warmbrodts or blood relatives of Warmbrodts. Other estimates indicate that 300,000 Swiss left their homeland for the U.S during the period from 1820 to 1925.

The trip required traveling through France to the port of Le Havre where a ship could be taken to the United States. Fortunately, John II had learned to speak both French and German at different times of his life. Grover Warmbrod writes,

Because of his mother’s poor health, at an early age he was sent to live with his grandparents. They lived in the French speaking area of Switzerland. He returned to live with his parents at school age. He spoke fluent French at that time and had forgotten German, the language of his parents. When his school days were over, he returned to his grandparents. At that time he had forgotten French, but spoke German fluently. About 1851 or 52, he went back to his parents place. (Grover Warmbrod, p. 9)

The likely course of the actual trip is described by John D. Warmbrod drawing on his interview with Hans Schwab and other sources.

It was still a very hard and difficult trip from Siselen to Le Havre. Hans said that the people walked and had horse drawn wagons to carry whatever they were bringing to America. A straight line between Siselen and Le Havre is approximately 365 miles and by road the distance was obviously more. Assuming that they could travel 20 miles per day, it took in the order of 20-30 days to get there. He said that merchants there at Le Havre bought the wagons and horses from the emigrants after their belongings were unloaded and put on the ships. Based on information that was found in the Allen County Public Library at Fort Wayne, Indiana, 7 Warmbrodts left Le Havre, France on July 9, 1852 on the ship “Amelia” bound for New York City. The ship arrived in the port of New York City on August 26, 1852. These Warmbrodts must have left Siselen during the month of June to have met this departure date from Le Havre. We, who now live in America, should all be grateful to these Warmbrodts who gave up their homeland, loved ones, friends, property, and a way of life that they knew to come to America. It took great courage and inner strength to make this move.

Le Havre France to New York City

[The Amelia] was an unpowered sailing ship and it took 48 days for it to make the voyage to New York City, having arrived in New York Harbor on August 26, 1852. There were 245 passengers plus crew members that left Le Havre. During the trip, there were 2 passengers (infants) that died, 4 births, and one crewman named Hugh Hughes who was drowned on July 22 after falling from the fore-top gallant yard. The passenger list showed the majority of the passengers were young families with the adults in the 20-30 year old age range. John I was one of the oldest passengers on the ship. Most of the passengers were from France, Switzerland, and Germany. The ship Amelia sailed in company with another ship Woodside for most of the voyage. The Amelia weighed 623 tons and was built in Warren, Maine. In 1819, the U.S. Congress passed a bill to establish the maximum passengers per ship at two persons per 5 tons of ship weight. The voyage was described as calm sailing against light westerly winds the whole passage.

A copy of the Amelia’s passenger list was obtained from the Fort Wayne, Indiana library and the following Warmbrodts were listed along with their ages:

Johann             47

Barbara            47

Johann             21

Maria               18

Jacob               16

Anna                9

Benedict          7

Two of Johann’s (alias Hans Jakob, John I) children were not on the passenger list.  Other sources have noted that the oldest child Elizabeth was pregnant at the time of passage and came to America at a later date with her husband and child.  The youngest child Fred who would have been 5 years old at the passage time was not on the passenger list, but was listed in the 1860 Federal census in Kenton, Ohio when he was 13 years old. He may have stayed with his older sister in Siselen, Switzerland and came to America when she did.  He died in 1870 in Kenton, Ohio at the age of 23 having never married. In fact, it is interesting to note that of the three children of John I and his second wife Barbara (Anna, Benedict, and Fred) that only Benedict married and had descendants.

Portions of the passenger list of the Amelia have been reproduced in Part IV of this volume.

Settlement in America

John I in Ohio

Upon arriving in the United States, John I and his family chose to live in Ohio which was a common location for settlement of Swiss families. Grover Warmbrod writes,

John I purchased a farm in Pleasant Township, Hardin County, Ohio on February 12, 1853. The farm is located as follows in the deed: “The north west quarter of the south west quarter of section four, township four of range eleven containing forty acres more or less”. The price was $450.

Concerning Hardin County and John I’s life there, Doris Warmbrod Free writes,

Kenton was already a thriving community. The first train had arrived on 4 July 1846. The town was very crowded that day: people came from miles around by foot and horseback to witness this big event.

The first settlers arrived in what is now Kenton, Ohio in 1830. The town site was then a dense forest. Rain falling on the north side of Kenton makes its way to Lake Erie while on the south ridge to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hardin County was organized and open for settlement in 1825. Kenton was established on January 19, 1833. By 1840 the population of each township ranged from 170 to 569. Buck and Lynn townships had not yet been opened for settlement in 1840.

Hans Jakob (John) purchased forty acres the 22nd of February, 1853 on the west side of section four, Pleasant Township, and here he spend the rest of his life. His closest neighbors were James Crooks and John Doll. George Kritzler lived in the same section, while J. Kurt and E. Lindensmith lived about two and one half miles away. So some of his descendants didn’t need to go very far to find their partners…

We learn from Hans Jakob’s will, dated and signed 11 April, 1877, that he raised cows, hogs, and fowl on his farm. What else is not known. He, and his two older sons, John and Jacob, filed “Letters of Intent” to become citizens on the 17th of March, 1855. It wasn’t necessary for children and wives to file. They automatically became citizens if the father or husband was naturalized. But no citizenship papers have been found. (If any reader knows of these records, please inform the writer.)

Hans Jakob (John) Warmbrodt was buried about three miles from his home, at the Speeler Cemetery, once called the Cessna Cemetery. It is on the Rangeline Road between Pleasant and Cessna Townships. The inscription is “John Warmbrodt died 8 Feb. 1880, aged 74 years, 3 months, 15 days.”

His wife, Barbara, only out-lived him by 8 months. Her inscription on the same stone is “Barbara, wife of John Warmbrodt died 25 Oct. 1880 aged 75 years and 9 mos.”

John II in Ohio and Tennessee

Grover Warmbrod describes the life of John II and his family in the United States is follows.

The next information available is that they arrived in Hardin County, Ohio in the fall of 1852.  Incidentally, at that time John II spoke fluent French, and was again learning German. As he came in contact with few French speaking people, he again forgot his French.

Little more is known of John II until 1875.  It was mentioned that he worked as a laborer and crew boss on maintenance of railroad lines.  At that time the boss worked as hard as the others.  He was responsible for getting the work completed timely and correctly.  He was held accountable for the tools.

An interesting event occurred during the Civil War.  A draft act was passed in 1863.  It posed a dilemma for John.  It was made worse by certain persons in Kenton, the county seat, who before the draft urgently insisted that he enlist.  The draft law had a provision that one drafted could hire some other person to serve in his place.  John knew the ones who were putting pressure on him to enlist had sons of draft age.  He knew they didn’t enlist and he was sure they would hire a substitute if they were drafted.  He did not think the draft law fair or democratic.  He decided not to serve.  He left Hardin county and went to a town close to the Canadian border, intending to go into Canada if his draft number was drawn.  Fortunately for him his number was not drawn.
The 1870 Census for Cessna Twp., Hardin county listed the following people:  John Warmbrodt, male age 37, born in Switzerland; Anni Warmbrodt, female age 27, born in Switzerland; and sons, Charles age 4, Henry age 2, and John III age 1/2; all born in Ohio.  The property listed was real estate value $1,000, personal property $500.  “Anni” no doubt was a misspelling of John’s wife Anna.  It is apparent that John was farming before moving to Tennessee.

John’s wife, Anna was afflicted with asthma.  It caused her severe pain during the winter.  They thought that a move to a warmer climate would be beneficial.  In late 1874, they found an item in a Church paper (Reformed Church) that a new Church was started in Belvidere, TN.  John showed the paper to Anna’s brother John Kurt.  The next spring the two Johns made a trip to Belvidere.  Evidently they were impressed with the area.  Each purchased a farm.  Late that fall they moved their families to Belvidere.

The deed to the land purchased by John II is somewhat confusing.  In fact there are two deeds.  The first deed transfers title of the land from Hayden Marsh to John Kurt and John Warmbrodt.  This deed was dated June 9, 1875.  The second deed transfers John Kurt’s one half interest to John Warmbrodt.  The first deed lists the price as $2250.  The second deed reads, “For a valuable consideration”.  This deed is registered November 25, 1875.

The writer can only surmise the reason for the two deeds.  I remember my father saying that the Kurts had more money than his father.  It is possible and probable that John Warmbrodt’s land in Ohio had not been sold at the time of the first transaction.  So John Kurt came to his aid.

Both deeds were for two tracts of land.  One tract contained 168 acres, and constitutes most of what is called the home place, the second tract was 60 acres of land located about one mile west of the Western boundary of the home place.  That tract is rather swampy and is still in woodland.  It is now owned by Karlton Warmbrod.

The present place includes one small tract not covered under the 1875 deeds.  This is a piece of land in the southwest corner of the home place, then known as the Bridges Well Lot.  The tract measured 20 poles north and south and 8 poles east and west.  (A pole is now called a rod and is 16-1/2 feet.)  Michael Glaus who owned the lot and land west of the home place wanted an access road along the southern boundary of the home place.  John and Michael arranged a trade whereby Michael got his road and John received the Bridges well lot.

John operated this farm until his death.  When he purchased the farm, the soil was badly depleted from the cotton and corn cropping in the slave economy.  All the buildings were in poor condition.  One field was abandoned and was growing up in bushes and briars.  Fences were non-existing.  Not a pleasant situation by any means.  But John was not one to be disturbed by the task before him.

He discontinued the cotton production entirely. He followed a rotation of corn 1 year, wheat or oats 1 or 2 years, then clover and grass 2 or more years.  He started the land on the road to recovering its former fertility.

Other improvements included:

  • A nice house built in two stages which included a large room that served as the kitchen and dining room, a parlor, a living room and one bedroom on the first floor. There were three bedrooms on the second floor.
  • A large barn, a grainery for small grain, a crib for corn, a pig pen, and a smoke house for curing meat.
  • The farm was well fenced with wood rails.
  • The abandoned field was brought back into cultivation and another field was added by clearing 16 acres of woodland.

John II and his brother-in-law John Kurt were very close all their time in Tennessee.  Their deaths occurred within a few days of each other.  John Kurt was attacked and severely injured by a bull.  He died a few days later.  Some relatives from Ohio came for the funeral. A few days after the funeral John II was taking the visitors to the home of his son John III.  When they were nearing the house of John III, John II had a heart attack.  He died the same day.

John II and Anna had four sons: Charley, Henry, John III and Alfred.

(Grover Warmbrod, pp. 9-11).



The Belvidere Community


This small farming community is a common beginning point for all descendants of John II since John and his family moved to this town in 1875. The town’s initial attraction for John was the hope that it might be better for the asthma condition suffered by his wife Anna. As John discovered, the town is well named. According to John Fandrich, Sr., “The name ‘Belvidere’ is derived from the Latin, bella for ‘beautiful’, and vidae for ‘sight’. Combined it means ‘beautiful sight’ or ‘beautiful view’” (Fandrich, “Part I,” p. 7).

One person who may have influenced John II to investigate Belvidere as a place to live was John Kasserman. Kasserman had emigrated from Switzerland in 1838. After the Civil War, he toured many states looking for a place to settle. When he traveled through the Belvidere area, he was impressed by striking physical similarities to familiar places in Switzerland. Kasserman and his father purchased a farm in the area in 1868 and then began a conscious campaign to attract other Swiss immigrants to the area. Kasserman “wrote letters to friends in Ohio, to relatives in Switzerland, and to foreign language papers in the north encouraging other German-Swiss to migrate to this region” (Fandrich, “Part I,” p. 9). It is entirely possible that one of Kasserman’s articles was the item that John II found in a church paper that led him to investigate coming to Belvidere.

Kasserman also began a Belvidere tradition of employing the most advanced farming techniques. Though Kasserman did not have a farming background, he undertook to educate himself about farming and then successfully applied what he had learned. He introduced “new seeds for crops, farming machines, the use of ground limestone for the land, and the purchase of buffalo bones from the Midwest to grind for fertilizer” (Fandrich, “Part I,” p. 9). Belvidere farmers continue even today to be leaders in applying the latest methods in farming. See, for example, the article in Part II of this book on Fred Victor Warmbrod for a discussion of what such methods can achieve.

Another feature of Belvidere that was important to John II and his family was the fact that the community made it possible for them to continue to follow the religious faith they had practiced in Switzerland. A congregation of the German Reformed Church was already in place in Belvidere. This congregation was formally organized on July 13, 1873, though members had previously met informally in homes and in a schoolhouse. This church did more than just practice John II’s faith. It literally spoke his language: all services were conducted in German. Sunday School classes in English were not introduced in the church until the late 1880s. The use of German in some services continued until the ministry of P. Taylor Evans during 1917-1922.

A one-room sanctuary was built for the church in 1884-85. This building has since been expanded and extensively remodeled. The area behind the church building was designated as a cemetery. Over the years, this cemetery has embraced the remains of many members of the Warmbrod family.

The members of this denomination have always taken the Christian ecumenical movement very seriously. In 1934, the German Reformed Church merged with the Evangelical denomination to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957, the denomination joined with the Congregational Christian Church to form the United Church of Christ. Finally, in 1993, the Belvidere congregation voted to change its name to the First United Church, U.C.C.


“Warmbrodt” Becomes “Warmbrod”


When exactly was the “t” dropped from the family name? In his preface to The First Hundred Years in 1981 Grover Warmbrod suggested that it occurred in 1900:

My father told me that the four brothers [Charles, Henry, John III, and Alfred] went before a judge and he changed it legally. As to the time, certain events help to determine the approximate date of the name change. John Warmbrod II died on February 2, 1897. Charles was living in Montana at that time, so the estate was not settled for nearly three years. On about January 1, 1900 Charles and his wife Grace came to Tennessee to help settle the estate. In the settlement, Henry and Alfred came to be owners of the home place. The deed transferring title to Henry and Alfred was signed on January 18, 1900 by John III and Ida Warmbrod, Charles and Grace Warmbrod, and Anna Warmbrod, the mothers of the four boys. All signed without the “t” on the end. This is the earliest document I have seen without a “t” on the end of our name.

The suggestion that the name change occurred in 1900 is plausible since there would not have been many other occasions when all four brothers were together to go before a judge. Information that has come to light since 1981 makes the picture a little fuzzier but does not disprove Grover Warmbrod’s suggestion.

Fred V. Warmbrod examined deeds that involved transfer of ownership of the Warmbrod homeplace. On deeds dated June 9, 1875 and November 25, 1875, the name was signed with a “t.” However, as Grover reported, the “t” is missing on the deed dated January 18, 1900.

Other information appears to conflict with Grover’s suggestion. Fred checked the Franklin County Archives and searched the records of the Chancery Court from 1875 to 1912, but he found no record of a legal name change for the family. Fred also reports that the legal record of marriage of Henry Warmbrod and Lena Amacher on January 15, 1897 shows no “t” on the name. There is no legal record of the death of John II on Feb 2, 1897 because records of this type were not kept at that time.

There is evidence, however, of the name being used with no “t” much earlier than even 1897. Names were recorded on the passenger list of the ship Amelia that brought John I and his family to America in 1852. Portions of this list have been reproduced in Part IV and on the cover of this book. Though the names are faded and difficult to read, there does not appear to be a “t” following the family name. The change in spelling of the family name is consistent with the fact that several other names on this list have been Anglicized compared to the spellings in the Siselen records obtained by Doris Free. For example, “Jacob” is spelled with a “c” on the passenger list rather than with a “k”; “Benedict” is used instead of “Bendicht”. In addition, the names of John I and John II are both given in the list as “Johann.” In the Siselen records, John I is named “Hans Jakob” and John II is named “Johannes.”

It seems likely that John I and his family realized very early — perhaps even while they were still in transit to the U.S. — that many of their names needed to be spelled and pronounced differently to make them friendlier for the American tongue. Hence, the family name may have been used casually without the “t” for many years. The formal detail of removing the “t” legally may still not have occurred until 1900.

On the other hand, if Grover’s story about the legal name change is mistaken, maybe we are all still Warmbrodts and just don’t know it!






Other Children of John I


Though John II is the ancestor of all Warmbrods described in Part II of this book, it is appropriate to include here at least brief mention of John II’s sisters and brothers. Most of this information has been supplied by Doris Warmbrod Free.

Elisabeth Warmbrod

While still in Switzerland, Elisabeth married Christian Batschlet from Walperswil. Elisabeth and her husband decided to remain in Switzerland when her father John I immigrated to the U.S. Sometime later, Elisabeth and her husband made the trip to Ohio and purchased a 78‑acre farm in Lynn Township. Elisabeth died on February 21, 1918.

Elisabeth and Christian had ten children: Frederick, Delphus, Julius, Mary, Celia, Helena, Elizabeth, Elle, Ida, and Sarah.

Anna Maria Warmbrod

After coming to America, Anna Maria married Joseph Laws on March 31, 1858. Joseph Laws owned a 50‑acre farm in Pleasant Township in Hardin County, Ohio.

Anna Maria and Joseph had six children, though one died at an early age.  One child was named Charles, but the names of the others are not known.

Jacob [Jakob] Warmbrod

Jacob became a farmer in Hardin County Ohio. He married Mary Ann Wagoner on Oct 2, 1863. Mary Ann had also emigrated from Switzerland. Jakob died on July 9, 1912.

Jacob and Mary Ann had seven children: Lee, Mary (Mollie), Flora, Effie Ellnora, Robert Ingersoll, Nettie Edna, and Lloyd Orlie.

It is worth mentioning here that Doris Warmbrod Free is granddaughter of Jacob Warmbrod and a daughter of Lloyd Orlie Warmbrod.

Anna Warmbrod

Anna never married and lived much of her life with her parents. Anna died on May 10, 1914.

Benedict [Bendicht] Warmbrod

Benedict ran a 71-acre farm in Pleasant Township, Hardin County, Ohio. He married Margaret Lindensmith.

Benedict and Margaret had seven children: Oscar, Orla (Orlin), Olettie Gate (Latty), Vera, Marsilla (Rae), Carl, and Grover.

Fred Warmbrod

Fred did not immigrate to the U.S. with his father John I, but he did make the trip some time later. Fred apparently never married.




Augustiny, K. “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Swiss History, But Were Afraid to Ask,” history.html.

Diem, Aubrey. “Switzerland,” Encyclopedia Britannica.  Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1996.

Fandrich, John S., Sr. “Belvidere, Tennessee, Part I, The People and the Community” Franklin County Historical Review, December 1972.

Fandrich, John S., Sr. “Belvidere, Tennessee, Part II, The Churches and the Schools” Franklin County Historical Review, June 1973.

Free, Doris Warmbrod. Correspondence with Grover Warmbrod.

Gilliard, Charles. A History of Switzerland. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1955.


Luck, Murray J. History of Switzerland. Palo Alto, CA: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, Inc., 1985.

Martin, William. Switzerland from Roman Times to the Present. London:  Elek Books, 1971.

Oechsli, Wilhelm. History of Switzerland, 1499-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922.

Stipp, John I., et. al., The Rise and Development of Western Civilization, Part III. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1972.

Thürer, Georg. Free and Swiss, The Story of Switzerland. London: Oswald Wolff, 1970.

Unknown. 125th Anniversary of the First United Church, U.C.C, Belvidere, Tennessee, 1998.

Warmbrod, Fred V. Correspondence, 2000.

Warmbrod, Grover. The First Hundred Years, 1981.

Warmbrod, John D. Correspondence, 2000.


Thank you for visiting our family journey from Switzerland to America.   If you have any questions or comments you can contact me by email or Facebook.

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