Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township

HATT | PO Box 2084 | Pocono Pines, PA 18350-2084

The Silfies Family

Contributed by Elaine Silfies with Gene Kerrick | April 2014

The history of the Silfies family is a long, colorful and rich one. It occupies more than 200 pages of a family tree, which is constantly being expanded and improved.

My Silfies lineage is Henry, Henry, Henry, John, Henry, Caesar, Henry, and me, Elaine Silfies.

In the Holy Roman Empire where we believe our ancestor came from, during the early 1600-1700s the lower classes suffered in endless wars, religious oppression, severe winters and economic disturbances. They fled in mass to the New World which offered them freedom and a chance to be free from feudalism. They were deeply religious people, honest and industrious.

In their groupings in the New World they lived within their own social settlements and did not mingle too much, clinging to their native language and customs, while developing a dialect still in common use known as “Pennsylvania Dutch.”

At the start of the Revolutionary War it is estimated that there were some 110,000 Germans in Pennsylvania, about one-third of the state’s population. One small group of three men who arrived in 1738 on a ship from Europe have spawned thousands of present day individuals spread throughout the United States. In this report we will go from the early 1700s in eastern Pennsylvania and conclude in our own Tobyhanna Township.

The Silfies researchers span the U.S., from California to Vermont. Well over 100 individuals are researching the Silvius line. Our communication is basically through emails and the Silvius Wave page on Ancestry.com.

We all do not have the same family surname. The first spelling of the immigrant was Silvius, as he signed his name on the Oath of Allegiance aboard the Queen Elizabeth, the ship he came over on. However, as you all know, names are consistently misspelled. We now have about 30 spellings identified in our lineage. In German, the letter V has a phonetic sound of F.

Originally, individuals were known only by their first names. As we humans became more prevalent, it was harder to identify specific people. In order to make it easier to identify us, areas mandated that a surname be added. Many surnames originated from the individual’s occupation or location (Examples: Brewster was a beer maker, Mason was a bricklayer, Sawyer was a carpenter, Thatcher was a roofer, etc.).

Silvius means “one who comes from the woods” or “son of the forest” depending on its translation from German. Which might answer why our ancestors chose the beautiful Blue Mountains to settle in — the area reminded them of their homeland.

Germans had a naming custom that followed into the New World until the late 1800s: The first son was named after his father’s father, a second son named after his mother’s father, a third son after the father, a fourth son after the father’s ather’s father, and a fifth son after the mother’s ather’s father, and so on. If a child died, his name could be reused for another child. Sometimes this makes researching easier; sometimes it makes it more difficult.

Some other surnames that are in our family are Wrick, Blakeslee, Henning, Serfass, Dotter/Dotterer, Heil, Best, Sober, Getz, Wagner, Shade, Keiper and Hawk.

“Johann Heinich Silvius”, as he was named on the passenger list of the Queen Elizabeth, arrived in 1738 at Philadelphia. He was listed as 25 years of age. Although not listed on the ship’s manifest because they were underage, it is thought that Henry brought with him three younger brothers. They show up in later naturalization records, living nearby. This one group of three or four men who arrived in 1738 on a ship from Europe has spawned thousands of present day individuals.

The ship left Rotterdam, Holland, in June of 1738 and headed for the English port of Deal. Although this trip could take as little as eight days or less, they spent three to five weeks at sea due to a violent storm, From Deal the trip to Philadelphia was about eight to 12 weeks. It was said that in 1738, on the more than 15 ships that arrived in Philadelphia, about 2,000 people died en route because of illness.

Johann Heinrich becomes Henry in the family tree. There is a family story passed down through many generations that Henry had to become an indentured servant in Germantown, Pa., because he did not have enough money to pay for his passage. He had to wait until a local merchant gave the captain money for his fare and then work off his debt as an indentured servant.

After working off his debt, Henry No. 1 worked his way north into Northampton County, as did many other German immigrants. It was said that the land resembled their native area in southwestern Germany – the Palatinate. Henry’s wife was Anna Martha Ickes, whose brothers Nicholas and Henry came on the same ship. (Nicholas Ickes also sponsored Henry and Anna’s son, Henry No. 2).

Henry No. 1 was born about 1713 and died in 1776. Women and children were not listed, so it is not known who else may have come with him on the ship. He squatted on land near Palmerton in Northampton County. It is not known where he is buried and to date no will has been uncovered.

Henry No. 1 was father to four sons and two daughters, Nicholas, Anna Maria, Jacob, Maria Barbara, John and Henry No. 2. Nicholas is documented as having been captured by Indians in 1756 at the age of 13 and was returned a few years later. Three of the four sons — Nicholas, John and Henry No. 2 — served in the Revolutionary War. The Daughters of the American Revolution lists them as verified patriots.

Henry No. 2 settled in the area of Ross Township. He was born in 1754 and died in that township in 1834. He married Elizabeth Barlieb and had four sons and seven daughters, Henry No. 3 being the youngest.

There has been some mix-up over the years about where Henry No. 2 is buried, but both he and his wife are buried in St. Matthew’s Cemetery in Kunkletown in the west end of Monroe County.

Two mistakes were made. It is possible his sons could not speak German, as the name Mary was put on the tombstone instead of Elizabeth. The other error puts Henry’s name on a veteran’s monument in a Kreidersville church cemetery. He did participate in the Revolutionary War, but is not buried there.

Henry No. 3 settled his father’s estate, which included a variety of items, including a violin.

Henry No. 3 was born in 1793 and died in 1849. He married Susannah Correll, born in 1800 and died in 1876. They had eight children, John William, David, Susanna, Maria, Sarah, Charles, Elizabeth and William. His wife, Susannah, is listed as a widow in Towamensing Township in Carbon County. Both are buried in St. Mathew’s Cemetery.

Silfies_JohnWilliam Silfies_ElizabethD
John William Silfies, 1926-1910, and his wife, Elizabeth Dotter Silfies, 1834-1898

Their eldest son was John William, born in 1826 and died in 1910. He married Elizabeth Dotter, born 1834 died 1898. She was the daughter of Jacob and Sarah (Serfass) Dotter Jr.

John William is listed as a hotelkeeper and farmer in one census and as a farm laborer in others. As a widower, he was living with a grandson in 1900 in Kidder Township. His address in the 1870 census was Lehigh Tannery, South Kidder Township, Carbon County.

Both are buried in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church cemetery in Albrightsville, Pa. The couple had 10 children in all, John Henry (also known as Henry No. 4), Sarah Jane, Jacob Franklin, George Washington, Frederick Josiah, William James, Elizabeth Annie, Elemenda, Mary Alice and John Charles Edwin.

Two of these children are directly involved with the history of Tobyhanna Township.

Henry No. 4 (1853-1933) is my great grandfather. He married Salome Gets about 1874. Both are buried in St. Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery in Albrightsville. In one document it is stated that they had 16 children, but we could only verify nine boys and four girls, missing three.

The Tobyhanna Falls House in Blakeslee (now McGinley’s), operated by Henry (No. 4) Silfies

Henry No. 4 spent most of his life in Carbon County, but lived in Tobyhanna Township in the early 20th century. He ran a hotel called the Tobyhanna Falls House in a building we know today as McGinley’s, located about a quarter mile south of where the Wawa store is today in Blakeslee. He owned 130 acres around it. Some relatives lived on his property on the Wilkes-Barre Eastern Turnpike, today's Route 115.

One son, my grandfather, Caesar Rodney was named for a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Delaware. His wife was Carrie Wrick and her family is also prominent in Tobyhanna Township. Caesar had several of his children here, and a number of his descendants still live in the township. Some Blakeslees and Knechts in the township are descendants of his.

One of his children, Lester, died of wounds suffered in World War II in the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific, and was buried at sea. At one point Caesar worked for A.T. Blakeslee and did the mail run. Beside him resided his brother Daidy, whose real name was Dayton. Both men and their wives are buried in Blakeslee Cemetery.

Also on the property resided a grandson and nephew of Caesar and Daidy named Archie Silifes with his several children. The ruins of the house are still visible. Archie ran a grocery store where Hayloft is now located, next to Skeeter’s Garden Center.

The eighth child of Henry No 3, Elemenda, born in 1872 in Albrightsville, Carbon County, is the grandmother of Virginia Henning Kerrick, Gene Kerrick's wife. Elemenda married John William Henning about 1892. She was a very determined woman. At one point her doctor prescribed a back brace. After her death, the family found it folded away in a bureau with a note saying, “I told him I would not wear it and I didn’t.”

The Pocono Summit Hotel was operated by Elemenda Silfies and her husband, John William Henning.

The couple helped operate the Henning store in Pocono Lake for some years and then ran the Pocono Summit Hotel. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, instituting Prohibition, went into effect while they were there. One woman was a constant customer at the bar and upon being informed that the government did not permit drinking alcohol any more, she replied “Government SOB!

Soon after the couple moved to Stroudsburg in 1923, Elemenda’s husband died. Some of her children lived with them until they were married, but the oldest one, Phara Philip, and his wife, Helen Martha (Hamill) remained with her in that home. Since Elemenda loved her garden she very often worked outside while Martha worked inside. At the end of her life in 1960 she was a resident of a nursing home. John William and Elemenda Henning are buried in Stroudsburg Cemetery.

A sister of Elemenda, Elizabeth, married George Philip Henning, and their descendants have had a considerable role in the history of Tobyhanna Township. Two of their children owned "The Two Sisters" just north of Blakeslee, now known as "Da's Pub."

Other descendants live just at the boundary line of our township and Kidder Township and own the County Line Ski rental.

Of course, Gene's twin daughters, Martha and Margaret Kerrick, are Silfies descendants.

Not only is the story of the Silfies family long and interesting, but also it still plays an important role in our township.