Conrad Ritter / Rutter:  Pennsylvania Pioneer

The Traditional History

In the late 1920's, descendants of Conrad Rutter began holding annual reunions in the Lancaster area, organizing under the banner of The Conrad Rutter Family Reunion Association of America. The first meeting of the association was held in Lancaster County on August 6th, 1927.

John Parmer, a fellow Rutter genealogist and descendant, provides the following recollection: "Around 1928 Caleb Rutter organized the first gathering of the local descendants of Conrad. When I was a little boy in the 1930's we attended a number of the Rutter reunions in the county. For children and adults alike they were happy affairs, with old acquaintances and friends mingling in one of the local parks. This Rutter association was active up through the early 1950's, with several hundred people attending those annual reunions."

In 1930 the association erected a memorial marker for Conrad Rutter that remains standing on the site of the original farm, near where Conrad's house was believed to have stood. The bronze marker, set in a stone base, reads as follows:

CONRAD RUTTER
PIONEER GRANDSIRE
Born in Cleves, Duchy of Westphalan
Prussia, Sept. 25th, 1651, cooper by trade
Came to America in 1683
Was one of the thirteen original
Families of settlers of the
Present site of Germantown, Phila.
Located here on a grant of
588 acres of land in 1716
Died April, 1737
Erected by the
Conrad Rutter Family Reunion Association
Of America. Organized Aug. 5th 1927
Unveiled August 1930
"AMERICANS SINCE 1683"

Much of the information about Conrad Rutter that appears on the marker seems to have originated from "The Biographical Annals of Lancaster County," published in 1903 by J. H. Beers & Co. This is a collection of biographical sketches of prominent Lancaster County residents and their pioneer ancestors. (Information on Conrad Rutter is found primarily in the sketches on Amos Rutter and the Douglas Family, but Conrad is also mentioned in the sections on John McNeal Rutter, Walter Baer Weidler M.D., and Jacob A. Bair.)

While there are some inconsistencies, the key biographical elements are largely similar between the various sketches, leading one to believe that the information came from a single earlier source. In fact, one sketch includes quotes from a J. Watson Ellmaker, born 1840 in Lancaster, who was a Rutter descendant and local historian. It is said that Ellmaker came into possession of valuable correspondence of his forbearers, and genealogical notes created by Ellmaker that relate to the Rutter family can be found at the Lancaster County Historical Society. For this reason, it is believed Ellmaker's research served as a primary source of the information included in the Biographical Annals and on the memorial plaque. Over time, this information was copied into other genealogical records and became the accepted history for Conrad Rutter's life and origins.

A summary of the information on Conrad Rutter provided in the Biographical Annals is shown below:

  1. Born in Rhenish Prussia (the Rhine Province, which at the time included the Duchy of Cleves)

  2. Immigrated to England in 1682 in order to escape religious persecution and the French war.

  3. Married Jane Douglas, who was of Scottish extraction, while residing in England. Jane was reportedly Conrad's second wife, and was related to Archibald, Andrew and James Douglas, who also settled in Lancaster Co., PA.

  4. Some sources say son Joseph was born in England. Eldest son Andrew is widely reported to have been born before Conrad left Germany.

  5. Sailed to America in 1683 on the ship "America" in company with the thirteen families who, under the leadership of Daniel Pastorius, founded the village of Germantown outside of Philadelphia.

  6. Remained in Germantown until 1689, when he removed to Montgomery Co., PA, near present-day Pottstown, where he took up land, improved it, and made his home. Eldest son Andrew inherited the farm and remained in Montgomery when Conrad and the rest of the family resettled in Lancaster.

  7. Moved to Chester County (present day Lancaster County) around 1720, taking up 588 acres near the Douglas family. One source says he temporarily lived in Salisbury Township before settling in Leacock Township.

Various deeds, wills and other documents prove that Conrad settled on his 588-acre farm in Lancaster before 1730. However, most of the rest of the traditional history depicted on the memorial plaque and in the Biographical Annals concerning Conrad's life before his arrival in Lancaster has proven to be inaccurate, the result of an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. There were actually two men of similar name living in Pennsylvania at this time: Conrad Rutter of Lancaster County, and another Conrad Rutters, who lived in Germantown, near Philadelphia. The Germantown Conrad originally went by the name Backer or Bacher when he first came to Pennsylvania, but later assumed the name Rutters. The two have been thought to be one and the same person, but careful research has now shown otherwise.

Note first that Conrad of Lancaster was typically referred to as Ritter or Ridder in German/Dutch records, and sometimes as Rutter in English records, but never as Rutters. On the other hand, Conrad of Germantown was usually referred to as Rutters in German/Dutch records (occasionally with an umlaut over the "u"), and sometimes as Rutter in English records, but never as Ritter

It is well established that Conrad Backer / Rutters was a poor Quaker living in Germantown in the early 1730’s, the same time when Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster was already seated on his 588-acre farm in Lancaster. Meeting notes from Abbington Quaker meetings around 1708-1714 include multiple requests for financial assistance on behalf of Cunrad Rutters, “a poor Friend” and yeoman living in Germantown, whose wife was named Anne.[i] Subsequent records clearly show that Conrad Backer / Rutters was forced repeatedly to mortgage his two tracts of Germantown land (one containing 29-2/3 acres and the other 18-3/4 acres) for money.[ii] The last such mortgage was executed in 1731, when, as previously noted, Conrad Ritter / Rutter and sons were already busy clearing their extensive 588-acre farm in Lancaster.

Likewise, the traditional history concerning the birth date and place of origin for Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster is clearly mistaken. This misinformation also arises from the same case of mistaken identity with Conrad Backer / Rutters of Germantown. The date of Sept. 25, 1651, is actually the birth date of Daniel Pastorius, the leader of the original Germantown settlers, who Conrad Backer / Rutters accompanied to America. Moreover, letters from Pastorius indicate that Conrad Backer / Rutters was “a young lad” in 1683 when the party immigrated. [iii] This would put his birth date around the year 1670 or earlier.

We don’t have a certain birth date for Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster. But we know that his children came of adult age in the 1720’s. Thus we can extrapolate backwards to estimate that his children were likely born between 1700 – 1710, and that Conrad himself was probably born around 1675. This makes it highly improbable that he immigrated to London in 1682, as the tradition asserts, and even less likely that he already had one son at the time, that he got married for the second time, and that he produced a second son while residing in London.  

Additionally, the reference to “Cleves” as the birth place for Conrad Ritter / Rutter almost certainly arose from the same mistaken association with Pastorius and the original thirteen families who founded Germantown. It is well known that many of the original Germantown settlers did originate from the Duchy of Cleves, situated west of the Rhine in the modern-day German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. However, there is no evidence that Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster was born there. Nor is there even any evidence that Conrad Backer / Rutters of Germantown was born there. Instead, Pastorius’ letters make it clear that Conrad Backer / Rutters was Dutch, and that he joined Pastorius as part of a group of personal servants hired in London on the trip over to the Americas.[iv] Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster, on the other hand, is almost certainly German, based on his close association with other German families in Lancaster and beforehand. While he may be from the Rhine region of Germany (the origin of many of the German immigrants in the early 1700’s), there is absolutely no evidence that he came specifically from Cleves. This assumption must have arisen from his mistaken association with Conrad Backer / Rutter and the original 13 families of Germantown.

In light of the information above and the details provided in the following pages, the traditional history concerning Conrad Rutter’s life prior to arriving in America must be abandoned. Likewise, the stories of his living in Germantown and Montgomery County before settling in Lancaster are almost certainly a case of mistaken identity with Conrad Backer / Rutters. If that is true, where did Conrad Ritter / Rutter of Lancaster come from? The evidence directs us to a place called Bohemia Manor in Cecil County, Maryland.

Go to next section:  Live in Cecil County, MD

Read more about Conrad Backer / Rutters of Germantown.


 

[i] Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA; Abbington monthly meeting records for meeting dates 2/26/1708, 10/28/1713 and 4/27/1714 (microfilm)

[ii] Pennsylvania Historical Society, Philadelphia, PA; Pennsylvania Deed Book E, Vol. 7, pg. 248-50 and pg. 262-264, also Deed Book F, Vol. 5, pg. 323-325 (microfilm)

[iii] Dr. Naaman H. Keyser, C. Henry Kain, John Palmer Garber and Horace F. McCann, History of Old Germantown (Germantown, PA: Horace F. McCann, 1907), pg. 30

[iv] Michael Dexter Learned, The Life of Francis Daniel Pastorius: The Founder of Germantown (Philadelphia: William J. Campbell, 1908), pg 111