The Legend of John Nickolas Emerick
I found no record of John Nickolas Emerick paying taxes on any of the property credited to him. I found no property deeds recorded with the name of John Nickolas or John or John N. Emerick which could possibly be linked to the great estate said to exist.
I found no record of a company known as The Seven Sails Line or any registration of John Nickolas Emerick as a ship owner.
I found no record of any John Nickolas Emerick who was licensed to trade with Indians.
I did find a John Emerick who had lived in Germantown, OHIO who seemed to provide some details of the legend. He was unmarried, lived with his brother Christopher, and did own considerable land, 1000 + acres in Montgomery County, Ohio. He also had brothers William and Michael living in the same area. Michael is described as a "man of means". John and Christopher were known as musicians; they brought the first pipe organ to the area, their house was gathering point for all settlers, partially due to the music and the dances held there. The four brothers came to Ohio from Berks County, Pennsylvania. Both John and Christopher died in January 1837. They are buried in the old Lutheran Church Yard just south of Germantown.
I also found records of a John Emerick who had lived in Germantown, PENNSYLVANIA, who died 15 April 1813, at age 66, He died in his home, and was the brother of Baltus (sometimes Baltheus), and was buried in the Lutheran Cemetery in Philadelphia. His quite limited estate was probated in 1813.
At the turn of the century, A. F. Thompson was a lawyer practicing in Iowa. He organized an Emerick Association and worked for years in an attempt to establish a claim on the Astor estate. In 1903 he prepared a "EMERICK GENEALOGICAL CHART" to support his claim. Where he obtained his information is not known, I suspect from the "heirs." The chart has numerous errors, the greatest is to identify the children of John and Elizabeth (Lorish) Emerick as the children of Christopher Emerich and Elizabeth Michael. Lawyer Thompson considered this family to be the only rightful heirs, and claimed knowledge of a means to eliminate those who were not of this line.
John Emerick, husband of Elizabeth Lorish, referred to in the above paragraph is the son of Andrew, and grandson of Andreas, who came from Germany before 1759. They did pay taxes; are in the census reports; registered the deeds to their property and probated their wills in the county court houses; and baptized their children in Lutheran Churches just like good Germans should. They are also the ancestors of my mother, Frances Grace Emerick Brown.
A. F. Thompson resigned from the Emerick Estate case in 1906 and died soon after that. But before his death most "Emericks" in the nation had become aware of the great fortune left by John Nickolas Emerick. Research has shown that a large number of newspapers in the country printed at least one story on the subject, often with a local person identified as one of the heirs.
Family genealogy was also the subject of Miss Hattie E. Johnson of Walnut, Kansas, who compiled an "EMERICH FAMILY LINEAGE", "Genealogical Diagrams Showing the John Nickolas Emerich Heirs". It adds to the list of descendants, includes some new errors, but makes the same basic error as the Thompson chart. It is so similar to the Thompson chart that it must have been taken from it. The main difference is one of presentation, it is in loose leaf notebook form.
Around 1924 The Mississippi Valley Association of Emerich Heirs was organized. This seems to have been the first of many "Emerich Associations". The Mississippi Valley Association relationship with attorney Calvin I. Hoy of St. Louis, Missouri, began around 1926. Attorney Evan B. Lewis was somehow also an associate.
Interest in the legend grew with the value of assets supposedly included. Persons who traced ancestry to an 'Emerick' wrote numerous letters in an attempt to trace their lineage to the fabled John Nickolas. Much of that material has been carefully preserved, mostly as a family keepsake much as a old photograph is saved, but maybe with just a small hope that new evidence will be found or that the opposing parties will suddenly realize that they should do the right thing and distribute the "fortune" to the rightful heirs.
Other Emerick associations were formed, and there was conflict between the various groups. As time went on and there was no distribution of assets, other lawyers were contacted, and more correspondence was prepared, much of this correspondence will be found in the possession of a person who knows that his/her grand-father could not be wrong.
In 1928, The Emerick Heirs (Emerick vs. Astor) went to court. Knowing that this was in New York City, review of the New York Times for 1928 revealed the story. The 26 May 1928 issue of this newspaper described the Bill of Complaint filed in Federal Court on 25 May 1928. The 15 September 1928 issue reports on hearing held by Federal Judge Thomas D. Thacher, and the 7 December 1928 issue provides the ruling. Judge Thacher determined the alleged trust was in violation of the laws of New York and Pennsylvania and therefore was void. He also commented on the plaintiffs claim to be the heirs and descendants of Christopher and Valentine Emerick, and asking for the estate of John Nickolas Emerick, but never stating they were the heirs of John Nickolas Emerick. Judge Thacher said "They do not claim as heirs and descendants of John Nickolas Emerick, nor does it appear who his heirs and next of kin were". This ruling made unnecessary any determination by the court of family lineage. It is just as well. By that time, a national Emerick hysteria had taken place, with thousands of unrelated people claiming a share of the fortune.
The ruling by Judge Thacher did not end the matter. An appeal was addressed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, this court affirmed Judge Thacher's dismissal of the suit, the appeal was reported by the New York Times on 28 March 1930. The next action was a shift in geography and a suit filed in Portland, Oregon, against other Emericks! That suit was in the nature of a bill of discovery and asked the defendants to furnish certain items of evidence. It also failed.
The story of the wealthy John Nickolas Emerick, fur trader and associate of John Jacob Astor, became and still is, a subject with a large number of interested people in Germany. Thousands of Germans became convinced they would share in a fabulous fortune. The New York Times, on 10 January 1928 and again on 14 September 1929, reported on a case in German Courts, where a female German national was sentenced for fraud. I particularly enjoyed the description of the woman;
"Fraulein Kirchner, who was equipped with confidence, an inspiring exterior and persuasive forensic powers, ogled her way into the hearts of a score or more of legacy chasers:"
Of interest to this discussion are two books of "Emerick" genealogy. The first was written by Kenneth D. Haines, titled "BY THE NAME OF EMERICH, EMERICK, EMMERICH, EMRICH, EMRICK". Mr. Haines states he wrote a letter to the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York and they replied:
"Other inquiries are concerned with a similar claim in estates of other names - The Edwards Estate, The Horn Estate, The Aneke Estate, The Aneke Jans Bogardus Estate, The Emerich Estate, The Keyes Estate, The Roberts Estate, and many others. This office has been answering communications in regard to the fore-going estates for the past forty years. The title of Trinity Church to the Bogardus farm has been sustained by the courts time and time again. Litigation with regard to the other estates mentioned has either never been brought, or has been determined adversely to the claimants."
Mr. Haines also wrote to the Deputy Clerk of the Surrogate Court of the County of New York, and their reply was:
"In reply to your letter received May 8, 1963, I wish to inform you that we have no knowledge of the matters referred to in your communication. This so-called Emerick estate is a myth. This matter has been exploited for many years by publication of a book relating thereto. It has been thoroughly disproved that there is no such estate in this Court."
The second book is one of number written by Oran Emrich of Kansas City, Mo. titled "DESCENDANTS OF ANDREAS EMMERICH OF LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA", it documents the family of "Emericks" considered to be the rightful heirs by Lawyer Thompson. Oran states he found no evidence that John Nickolas Emerick, fur trader and partner of John Jacob Astor, ever existed.
Also worthy of mention is the "Emerick Family Newsletter" published quarterly by The Ohio Connection. This organization has been mentioned in the Emmerich web site.
The history of the fur trade in the United States has been well documented by historians and also by the personal memoirs of those involved.
I have reviewed many of the "history" books, and some of the actual business papers of the fur companies. The name of John Jacob Astor was often found. I never once found any reference to an Emerick. What did impress me was the volume of material in print and the high survival rate of the business papers of the many companies involved with the fur trade. It becomes readily apparent that the major players in this trade where all well known as were their activities and involvement. I also recognize that I will never review all of the available material. (Some references of possible general interest are: Mountain Men and The Fur Trade, by Leroy Hafen, 13 volumes: A Majority of Scoundrels by Don Berry; and The American Fur Trade of the Far West, by Hiram Martin Chittenden, 2 volumes.)
I have also seen documents which claim the partner of John Jacob Astor to be one John Emery. I have read the claim by the Olmsted family, owners of Deer Island, Maine, that the fortune of John Jacob Astor was based upon the treasure of Captain Kidd, the Pirate, taken from the island by Astor.
In conclusion, my research, conducted over many years, has never produced one piece of evidence which shows the existence of a John Nickolas Emerick as a participant in the fur trade, as a partner to John Jacob Astor, or as an owner of large amounts of property. I do recognize the existence of men with that name, and others with the name of Valentine, Andreas, and Christopher Emerick.
Willis L. Brown
15 May 1998
Last Update: 18May1998 Email: D.L.Emrick
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