Sunday, February 16, 2014

52 Ancestors: #7, Andrew Sukeforth: A Hessian in the Family

Thirty-odd years ago, I had only a passing interest in genealogy and family history. My younger brother was the avid family genealogist, and I admit I sometimes only half-listened to his accounts of what he had found in his research. As far as anyone knew, our family consisted of a nearly solid line of farmers (and the occasional shipwright) of Scots, Irish, and English origin, with a one-eighth portion of French-Canadian farmers thrown in – in other words, a typical New Englander mix, or so we believed.

That is, until the day my brother called me with a startling revelation about a previously-unrecognized aspect of our lineage. You see, there was this Hessian mercenary...

Eighteenth century illustration of two Hessian soldiers.
During the American Revolutionary War, the princes of several small German states hired out some of their regular army units – about 30,000 soldiers altogether, nearly half from the Hesse region (hence the "Hessian" sobriquet) – to the British, who found it easier to hire mercenaries than to recruit soldiers themselves. (Calling them "mercenaries" is a bit misleading, implying as it does that the soldier hired himself out for pay; on the contrary, a good many were press-ganged into the prince's service, with the prince getting paid when he hired them out.)

One such "Hessian" was young Andreas Suchfort, born ca 1755, perhaps in Hesse-Kassel or maybe Hanover.1 We don't know if Andreas was impressed into service or was a volunteer, but we do know he was one of the hundreds (or thousands) of Hessians taken prisoner in 1777 when British General John Burgoyne surrendered at Stillwater after the Battles of Saratoga.2 Some of the prisoners were exchanged and returned to their German homelands; some deserted after being exchanged; and many were "paroled" to work as farm hands, settling permanently in North America.

Andreas appears to have been one of the latter. Again, it's unclear how he happened to end up in Boston (many, if not most, of the captured Hessians were sent to Pennsylvania), but in the fall of 1778, he came from there to Stirlington (or Sterlingtown), Maine, "sponsored" by Philip Robbins, one of the earliest settlers of the area.3 He soon married Catherine Newbert, the daughter of a Bavarian immigrant from Waldoboro, Maine (originally the Broad Bay colony of German settlers).4 They lived in Stirlington Plantation until after its incorporation as the town of Union in 1786, eventually settling in the part of Barrettstown Plantation which later became Hope, and later still was set off to Appleton.

Andreas became Andrew, and over the years the Suchfort surname evolved through Suchforth and Suckforth to the present-day Sukeforth. Andrew and Catherine raised a small horde of Suchforths and Suckforths (anywhere from six to a baker's dozen, depending on the source you consult5), who in turn produced at least 26 little Suckforths and Sukeforths (and four Newberts – two of Andrew's daughters married two Newbert brothers, their first cousins). Succeeding generations were equally prolific, and by the time Andrew died (ca 1840-18506), Knox County and the surrounding area was swarming with Sukeforths.

In particular, Andrew's son Robert married Polly Miller7 (another descendant of the Broad Bay Germans), and one of their ten children was Simon Sukeforth. Simon married Jane Miller8 (again a Broad Bay descendant and very possibly Simon's first cousin); they had eight children, one of whom, Sarah, married Silas Kirk (week 2) and became my great-grandmother.

Thus it was that my brother had discovered our one-eighth German heritage, as well as our kinship to pretty much every Sukeforth in the entire United States; the name appears to be unique in origin. While the majority of Andrew's descendants stayed in Maine (particularly in Knox and surrounding counties) for several generations, an intrepid few migrated to Massachusetts, Minnesota, Colorado, and California, initiating offshoots of the Sukeforth clan in those then-distant parts. Today, I can be virtually certain that anyone named Sukeforth, anywhere in the U.S., is my fourth or fifth cousin, or perhaps second or third once or twice removed.

And it all began with one captured Hessian mercenary...

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. Royce W. Miller, ed. and comp., Register of Deaths, Appleton, Maine, 6th ed., (Appleton, Maine: Appleton Historical  Society, 1999, updated 2001), p. 183; Marshall Kenneth Kirk, "Tentative Pedigree of Sarah C. Sukeforth", 10 Jun 1990, papers of Marshall K. Kirk, privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Miller states the birth year and lists the place as Hesse-Cassel, Germany. The pedigree chart lists the place of birth as Völkerode, Hannover, Germany. Neither gives a source for the information.
  2. Royce W. Miller and Elmer E. Light, History of Burkettville (Appleton, Maine: Appleton Historical  Society, 1996), p. 36; digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 Jun 2012).
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Wilford W. Whitaker and Gary T. Horlacher, Broad Bay Pioneers (Rockport, Maine: Picton Press, 1998), p. 490. 
  5. Miller and Light, p. 37, list six sons but no daughters. Miller, Register of Deaths, p. 183, lists eight sons (omitting one of the six given by Miller and Light, but adding three more) and four daughters. Whitaker and Horlacher, pp. 603-4, list four sons, five daughters, and four children of unspecified gender. My own analysis of the census records, together with the other sources, appears to verify five sons (two are only tentatively identified by name) and three daughters. The broad span of nearly 25 years for the children's birth dates means that several of the male Sukeforths born in the early 1800s could be either Andrew's youngest sons, or his grandsons by his eldest sons.
  6. Whitaker and Horlacher, p. 603.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Maine, Death Records, 1617-1922,” database and digital images, ( : accessed 31 Oct 2013), Sarah C. Kirke, 1905; lists Sarah's parents as Simon "Lukeforth" and Jane Miller.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I'm one of those Sukeforths. I knew that our coming to America was by way of Andreas Suchfort being captured as a Hessian soldier and electing to stay, but came across this looking for more details. Thanks for compiling this piece of our common ancestory!

Larry M said...

Lucius M Sukeforth lived in my home in Nevada City, California from 1880-1920; he came with a brother E.G.

Larry M said...

Lucius M Sukeforth lived in my home in Nevada City, California from 1880-1920; he came with a brother E.G.