Who Was Agnes Harnsberger?
Wanda Cunningham1

A recent search of the Hoffman line has led to clues which confirm that the first wife of Stephen Harnsberger was Agnes Hoffman. Agnes was approximately nineteen years old and Stephen was in his early to mid-twenties when the two were married in Virginia about 1741. No record of their marriage has been found. Credit is due to Germanna researcher Nancy Dodge for the first mention in May 1999 of the Harnsberger-Hoffman connection.

The first clue which gives proof of the relationship is a 1773 deed in which John Harnsberger (son of Stephen Harnsberger and his first wife, Agnes) of Augusta County, Virginia, sold 70 acres of land in Bromfield Parish to John Markes (perhaps Marbes) of Culpeper County. This land was the remnant of a legacy left to young John Harnsberger in the will of his grandfather, John Harnsberger, Sr. of the 1717 Germanna Colony.

In early Virginia, witnesses to deeds often included relatives of the buyer and the seller. In the case of this particular deed, a witness for the buyer, John Markes, was Jacob Holtzclaw, Jr. whose wife was a first cousin of John Markes' wife who was Catharine Smith, daughter of Anna Magdalena Thomas and John Michael Smith, Jr.  John Wendel Thomas was the brother of Anna Magdalena (Thomas) Smith and one of his daughters was the Susanna who married Jacob Holtzclaw. Therefore, Catharine (Smith) Markes and Susanna (Thomas) Holtzclaw were first cousins. One witness for the seller, John Harnsberger, was Henry Hoffman (husband of John Harnsberger's sister, Margaret). In addition, Harnsberger and Hoffman were first cousins once removed. Another witness for the seller was Harman Spilman whose wife was Anna Catherine Hoffman, born 7 June 1725, a daughter of John Hoffman and Anna Catherine Hager, and therefore a younger sister of Agnes Hoffman. Anna Catherine Hoffman Spilman was the aunt of the seller, John Harnsberger, in this deed. These relationships were defined by Nancy Dodge after careful scrutiny.

Other circumstantial evidence, without the force of the previous, but additive, is the name Agnes which was rare in the Robinson River Valley. Also, as noted, the ages of Stephen and Agnes are a good match and they did live in the same community.

John Hoffman, born 1 March 1692 at Siegen (German records say 8 May 1692), married on 7 Nov 1721 at Germantown as his first wife Anna Catherine Hager who was born 15 May 1702 at Siegen and who died in Virginia 9 Feb 1729. Their children were:

1. Agnes, b. 25 Nov 1722, d. ca 1750, m. Stephen Harnsberger,
2. John Henry, b. 18 Jan 1724, d. 27 Jan 1724,
3. Anna Catherine, b. 7 June 1725, m. Harman Spilrnan,
4. John, b. 6 May 1727,
5. A stillborn son, b. 9 Feb 1729.

When B.C. Holtzclaw wrote his history of the Hoffman family in the Germanna Record 3 in 1961, he listed Agnes as the firstborn child of John Hoffman and Anna Catherine Hager and further stated that she was mentioned in the 1733 will of her grandfather, the Rev. Henry Hager, pastor of the 1714 Colony, whose wife was Anna Catherina Friesenhagen. No further record of Agnes was known at the time of Holtzclaw's writing and he added the misleading comment that she had "apparently died unmarried as a young woman." When her father's will was written 30 Dec 1762, Agnes was not named while John Hoffman named fourteen other children. Stephen Harnsberger had remarried by 1750 to Ursula Scheitle, for their son Adam was born 10 Jan 1751. This would be consistent with the belief that Agnes had died, probably in 1748/49 following the birth of her fourth child, Margaret. Thus, her death could be the reason that John Hoffman did not mention her. Johann Henrich Häger (Rev. Henry Hager) and his wife Anna Catharina Friesenhagen had a daughter, Agnes, b. 26 Oct 1697, who came to America with her parents and married John Fishback, 1714 colonist, soon after joining the colony, about 171 4/15. Therefore, Agnes Hager Fishback was to become the aunt of young Agnes Hoffman, daughter of her sister Anna Catherina Hager who married John Hoffman. The young Agnes was named for her aunt who was her witness at the baptism.

Germantown, the birthplace of Agnes Hoffman, was formed in 1719 by a group of Reformed Germans who had arrived in 1714 from Nassau-Siegen. It was located about eight miles south of the present town of Warrenton in Fauquier County. At the time of their removal to Germantown, it was in the Stafford County. These people had been recruited by agents for Christopher de Graffenried for the purpose of mining silver but the silver mining plans were never realized. Before their release from service for Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood, they found iron ore for him. In 1719 they began to move north about 20 miles to lands of their own, where they formed the town of Germantown. Here they built a school and church, which was served by Agnes Hoffman's grandfather, the Rev. Henry Hager, who had come with them from Europe. He served as their pastor until a short time before his death in 1737, at the age of ninety-three. Germantown became the birthplace of Agnes Hoffman in 1722.

By 1725 the Lutheran group of the 1717 Germanna colony began to move westward into present Madison County (then Spotswood County) where they bought lands and formed the German Lutheran church. John Casper Stoever, Sr. became the first regular Lutheran pastor in 1733. Stoever was followed by George Samuel Klug, who was pastor from 1739 through 1764. Pastor Klug was one of the signing witnesses to the last will and testament of John Harnsberger, Sr. when it was written in 1759.

After the death of John Hoffman's first wife, Anna Catherine Hager, he married 13 July 1729 Maria Sabina Volck, daughter of John Michael Volck, deceased, of Wagenbach, Germany. She was born 19 Mar 1710 (German records) and was still living in 1782 when she was taxed for five slaves. She does not appear in records in later years, and is assumed dead by 1782/3. John Hoffman and Maria Sabina Volck had twelve children.

John Hoffman, however, did not remain in Germantown. About the time of his marriage to Maria Sabina Volck in 1729 he moved to the Robinson River area (now Madison County) near the Lutheran people. Despite the distance, John Huffman fulfilled his obligation as executor of his father-in-law, Henry Hager, of Prince William County in 1737.

Agnes Hoffman and Stephen Harnsberger both grew to adulthood in the Robinson River area and may have attended the Lutheran Church. It is possible that their marriage took place about 1740/1741, as their first child, John Harnsberger was born circa 1742, but no records this early for the church have ever been found. Agnes probably died in Madison County about 1750. By 1760 Stephen and his second wife, Ursula Scheitle, moved their family to Augusta County (Rockingham) following the death of Stephen’s father.

1. The original article of this name was written by Wanda Cunningham in Beyond Germanna, vol. 12, n. 4. For the purposes here, the article was condensed by the editor of this web site. Wanda is to be absolved of any errors which may have been introduced by the author.