I’m sure some people learn about their genealogy and find they’re descendants of famous people. My mom has not had that experience. The closest we come to famous ancestors is Conrad Weiser, the brother of an ancestor and an interpreter between the colonists and Native Americans of 18th-century Pennsylvania.
I’m currently reading his biography (Conrad Weiser 1696–1760: Friend of Colonist & Mohawk, by Paul Wallace) and finding it fascinating. Pennsylvania schoolkids learn about the history of the commonwealth in elementary school, but somehow, being picked first for dodgeball always seemed more important at that age. Now that I’m older and reading about it through the story of a key figure in its development, it’s quite engaging. Especially since I’m a language nut: of course my only famous relative made his fame through interpreting!
Mom has been wanting to visit the Homestead in Womelsdorf, PA, for years, and since she had to be in Harrisburg for a meeting anyway this past weekend, she asked if I’d like to come along and visit the Homestead the next day. We were lucky—this was the weekend they were performing Terror in the Tulpehocken, a series of scenes around the Homestead and park to demonstrate the fear and uncertainty felt that far east after the fall of Braddock during the French and Indian War.
In one scene, we overheard German farmers fleeing their fields out of fear that the Lenape were coming to massacre them. In another, we watched as the Lenape explained their reasons for siding with the French against the British colonists. The French just wanted trade; the British wanted to take all the land. Afterward, my mom confessed she was almost moved to tears.
Conrad Weiser, German immigrant, was in the middle of it all, interpreting language and culture for the different sides to come together.
Looking back at history, it’s true that there are no longer any tribal lands left in Pennsylvania, so perhaps he wasn’t as much on the natives’ side as it seemed. It’s easier to wish for what could have been than to look at what was and is in the face. But what is certain is that Conrad Weiser’s legacy lives on in Berks County, from Conrad Weiser Parkway to Conrad Weiser High School to the well-maintained Conrad Weiser Homestead and Memorial Park.
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