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One Melchior Ott or Two

One Melchior Ott or Two?

Copyright © 1999-2003 T. Mark James
Permission Notice at end


[This chapter is adapted and expanded from an article that appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of the Ott Family Newsletter, published by Cora Ott. For information on the newsletter, please contact Cora Ott at [email protected].]


Researchers of the Ott name in Orangeburgh, South Carolina, have generally assumed that the immigrant ancestor of this line was Melchior Ott. A man by this name was granted 350 acres of land (the typical allocation for a family of seven) on the Edisto River on 31 October 1735 [1]; in all likelihood this Melchior Ott was on the first shipload of Swiss immigrants that arrived in Charleston in July of that year [2]. Since no other Ott name appears in records related to Orangeburgh prior to 1749, it seems a reasonable assumption that Melchior was the ancestor of all Orangeburgh Otts.

The problem has always been that the Rev. Giessendanner, whose parish records provide our best source of information on the Orangeburgh area during the 1740s and 1750s, appears to have recorded two deaths for this man: one on 23 October 1755, the other on 9 March 1758. The following excerpts from the transcriptions of the Giessendanner record come from Dr. Lothar Tresp [3].

These two death entries have caused untold confusion among Ott researchers, in large part because of an error in the most widely-known transcription of the Giessendanner record, which is the one appearing in Alexander S. Salley’s History of Orangeburg County (published in 1898) [4]. In the 1755 death entry, Salley (or his transcriber) omits the words “the body of the said Melchior Ott”, so that we do not know who actually died. The original, however, clearly shows the name of the deceased in both entries: “Melchior Ott” in 1755, and “Melchior Oth” in 1758. (Ott, Oth, and Otth are variants of the same family name in Switzerland, even today.[5]) Until Dr. Tresp’s corrected version came out in the 1970s, the argument could be made (and often was [6]) that there was only one Melchior Ott in early Orangeburgh.

Thus we clearly have two deaths for Melchior Ott. We also have two immigrations. The first Melchior, as we have seen, arrived in 1735. The second Melchior appears in Council records for 31 July 1746 [7], which show that a Melchior Ott, his wife and five children were among 25 Swiss immigrants brought to South Carolina by Major Park Pepper from Havana, Cuba, where they had been detained by the Spanish for two years. This is very probably the same Melchior Ott who paid an emigration tax in Oberhasli district, Switzerland, in 1744 [8].

We also have two land grants, of 350 acres each, to Melchior Ott. The first grant, for land on the north fork of the Edisto River, was the one mentioned above, dated 31 October 1735, during the initial settlement of Orangeburgh. The second grant was dated 6 October 1752, for land on “Pork Swamp” in Berkley County [9].

Could all these records possibly relate to the same Melchior Ott, or were there two of them? If they were the same man, he must have gone back, with his entire family, to Switzerland shortly after acquiring his land in 1735, because on 15 May 1737 he paid a fee in the town of Guttannen, Oberhasli district [10]; he returned to South Carolina in 1746, and somehow wangled a second 350-acre land grant; and one of the deaths in the Giessendanner record must be an error. It would seem much more reasonable to assume that there were two immigrants, both named Melchior Ott, and both born (if we can believe the ages at death, as given by Giessendanner) in about 1698.

In 1994, Ott researcher Wayne Hilton went to Switzerland and, together with a local genealogist named John Hüppi, launched a search for the man or men named Melchior Ott. [11] The quest centered on the Oberhasli district, a mountainous region in the southern part of Canton Bern, where Ott families have lived at least since the sixteenth century. There, Hilton and Hüppi found not one but three Melchior Otts who could have emigrated to South Carolina.

One Melchior was born in 1691, the two others in early 1699. Two Melchoirs it’s unclear which two married in 1719, and the third in 1722; and the 1722 couple produced children whose names (Caspar, Hans, Peter, Ulrich) match those found in the Giessendanner register, and other records, for the second generation of Orangeburgh Otts. The Melchior who paid a fee in 1737 in Guttannen is probably the father of these children, since Guttannen is in the only parish in Oberhasli whose baptismal records were not lost during that period, and we see only one Melchior in that parish. Unfortunately, the other two Melchiors seem to have lived in Meiringen, the parish of the Oberhasli district whose baptismal registry for 1703 to 1732 has been lost. At any rate, Hilton and Hüppi have found no children from them.

There are two important points here: One is that the children of this “Melchior of Guttannen” were born in a continuous stream from 1725 to 1738, making it unlikely that he zipped off to South Carolina in 1735 for some land. Second, the list of Guttannen children is missing one who is enumerated in the Giessendanner record: Jacob Ott, born circa 1725. Yet it was a Jacob Ott who inherited the Melchior Ott land grant of 1735 [12]. If the 1725 Jacob wasn’t born in Guttannen, then it would make most sense that he was the son of a different Melchior, from Meiringen, who immigrated in 1735 while his namesake in Guttannen was still having children.

Although the evidence is not conclusive, the best guess at present is that there were two immigrants with the same name:

If this is true, then which of our present Ott lines are descended from which Melchior? That is a messy question, and the rest of this article will attempt to answer it. (Those who don’t want to read this whole thing can find an outline summary of my “best guess” scenario here.) We shall also deal with two more Melchior Otts, of the second and third generation in Orangeburgh, whose records have caused some confusion.


Melchior of Meiringen

The parish of Meiringen, which at one time covered the entire district of Oberhasli, was split in 1713 into two parishes: the “lower parish” (or Meiringen proper) covering the towns of Meiringen, Hasliberg, Schattenhalb, and Innertkirchen; and the “upper parish” (also called Guttannen or Hasli im Grund), covering the towns of Guttannen and Gadmen.[13] The parish registers date back to 1543, but there are gaps here and there where volumes have been lost over time. The Reformed Church of that time recognized two sacraments baptism and marriage and these were recorded faithfully by the clergy. Other events, such as confirmations and deaths, received attention only from those clergy who felt like recording them.

The baptismal register for Meiringen that covers the period from 1703 to 1732 is lost. This gap is partially compensated by the split of the parish in 1713, because the baptismal register for the upper parish survives for this period.

Fortunately for us, the two Melchior Otts who died in 1755 and 1758 were both born in about 1698, if we can trust Rev. Giessendanner’s estimate of their ages, so they should both appear in the registers. Here is the family of the first one [14]:

The father, Hans Otth, died before June 1710, and his widow, Anna Im Dorff, remarried in 1711 to Hans Zenger. [15]

Even though the Meiringen parish covered all of Oberhasli at this time, we can deduce that this family probably lived in the lower part of the parish (Meiringen proper), because no children of Hans, Peter, Melchior, or Jacob appear in the surviving baptismal registry from the upper parish. Therefore, we shall refer to this Melchior Otth, son of Hans Otth and Anna Im Dorff, baptised on 16 February 1699, as “Melchior of Meiringen”.

By Swiss law, children had to be baptised within fourteen days of birth. [16] Although we can assume some leeway in the enforcement of this rule (especially in mountainous terrain such as the Bernese Alps, in February), it is likely that Melchior was born during January or early February 1699. John Hüppi’s transcription of dates uses the “new style” (where the year changes on 1 January); however, Switzerland at this time still used “old style” dates (where the year changed on 25 March). Therefore, on the original record, Melchior’s date of baptism would have shown 1698, or perhaps the combined form, “1698/9”.

The Melchior Otth born in 1691 was the son of Beat Otth and Catharina Fuhrer; their other children were Magdalena (1689), Anna (1692), and Elsbeth (1695). [17] Although we can probably discount this Melchior as an Orangeburgh immigrant on account of his age it’s unlikely that Rev. Giessendanner was as much as seven years off we should still mention him, because his presence confuses the data on marriages. Here are the three known marriages of men named Melchior Ott of this generation. [18] This is probably a complete list, because the marriage registers for all of Oberhasli since 1664 have survived.

The marriage registers give no indication of the parentage of the brides and grooms, so we don’t know which Melchior was which. According to John Hüppi, the average age for marriage for men was 27,[19] so one of the 1719 marriages was probably for the Melchior born in 1691. He suggests that if one of the Melchiors born in 1699 married in 1719, at age 20, then it was probably “Melchior of Meiringen”, the son of Hans Otth and Anna Im Dorff, his father having died and his mother remarried. The 1722 marriage, as we shall see, was very probably that of Melchior of Guttannen.

If Melchior of Meiringen married in 1719, which bride did he marry Anna Nägeli or Barbara Balmer? The records give us no clue. However, if I had to guess, I’d put my money on Anna Nägeli, for the simple reason that several members of the Nägeli family emigrated to Orangeburgh, South Carolina. Melchior’s presence there looks almost as if he tagged along with his in-laws.

Some family histories mention Gretchen Schmitts or Gertrude Schmitzer (or Schmitzner) as the wife of Melchior Ott, and the mother of some or all of the Otts of the second generation. According to Ruth Ott Wallis, the name Gertrude Schmitzner appears in the “Joel Ott Bible” (now apparently lost) as the wife of “the first Ott” whose own name, curiously, is not given. [20] Gretchen Schmitts can be found on the International Genealogical Index as the wife of a Melchior Ott who was born in Glarus, Switzerland, in 1686; they are the parents of John Frederick, Jacob, and Isaac Ott. Unfortunately, the source of this IGI record appears to have been John Henry Knight, whose information is often laughably bogus. Wayne Hilton, in his research in Switzerland, found a Melchior Oth born in Glarus on 19 October 1686, but his only marriage was to Sybilla Blumer, and he never left Switzerland; he died in Glarus at age 93. [21]

My guess would be that Gertrude Schmitzer fits into the picture much later than this. Although we would need to examine the Joel Ott Bible (if it still exists) in order to prove or disprove this, I would guess that, since Gertrude appears only in that Bible, she belongs to an ancestral line exclusive to Joel Ott perhaps his mother or grandmother. [22]

Because of the missing baptism registry, we have no proof of any children born to Melchior of Meiringen. However, assuming that we are correct in identifying him as the man who emigrated to South Carolina in 1735, we can look for clues among the records of Otts of the next generation in Orangeburgh. As we shall see, the surviving parish registers give us what is probably a complete list of the other Melchior’s children, so that any second-generation Otts not on that list are good candidates for the family of Melchior of Meiringen. Melchior of Meiringen’s 1735 land grant of 350 acres indicates a family of seven (the rule at that time was 50 acres per head), so he and his wife must have brought five children with them or possibly six, if his wife had already died by 1735.

Here is a summary of second-generation Otts who are not members of Melchior of Guttannen’s family (dealt with in the next section):

If any five of these second-generation Otts really were children of Melchior of Meiringen, then we have accounted for the family of seven who qualified Melchior for a 350-acre land grant. Only Jacob and Esther, however, show any real evidence of a link with Melchior of Meiringen. In the harsh conditions of the early years of the Orangeburgh settlement, it is not unlikely that one, two, or three of Melchior’s children died before reaching adulthood quite possibly including the eldest son, Hans, if he really existed.

One of the Melchior Otts married in 1747, and although the marriage notice in the Giessendanner record [35] gives no clue as to which Melchior this was, it is likely that this was Melchior of Guttannen, not Melchior of Meiringen. We shall discuss this marriage below.

Apart from this marriage and a single appearance at a baptism [36], the Giessendanner record shows no mention of the name Melchior Ott until the two deaths quoted above. (The baptism was of a granddaughter of Melchior of Guttannen, and so almost certainly did not involve Melchior of Meiringen.) A Melchior Ott signed a petition in support of Rev. Giessendanner in 1749, [37] but there is no clue as to which Melchior this was.

Of the two deaths of men named Melchior Ott, it was the first one, on 23 October 1755, that applies to Melchior of Meiringen. This is clear because the death notice in the Giessendanner record states that the decedent had “settled in the said Township in the year 1735”. This same record specifies that Melchior had been a weaver. Rev. Giessendanner rarely mentioned the occupations of the people in his parish records. One might assume that he did so in this case to distinguish this Melchior Ott, the weaver, from Melchior of Guttannen, who was, as far as we know, a farmer, and was still alive.

The land grant that Melchior Ott received in 1735 was located at the westernmost tip of Orangeburgh Township. [38] This grant (all 350 acres of it) was sold in 1786 by Jacob Ott [39], who was almost certainly Melchior’s grandson. In 1785 and 1786, Jacob Ott the timing suggests the same Jacob acquired land in the Cow Castle Swamp and Whitford Stage Swamp areas, east of the township. [40] This area is today known as Bowman, South Carolina, and is still home to Ott families. By 1788, Jacob Ott was involved in the establishment of the short-lived Frederician Church, [41] on what was then called Cattle Creek (southeast of Orangeburgh Township) and is today known as Branchville, another town where Ott families have lived as recently as the 1950s. The Jacob Ott on Cattle Creek may have been a different man from the Jacob Ott on Cow Castle Swamp, but if so, he also had links with Melchior of Meiringen: Another of the signatories of the Frederician Church charter was Frederick Knobel, brother-in-law of Melchior of Meiringen’s son Jacob.


Melchior of Guttannen

Guttannen was still part of the undivided Meiringen parish when the following family formed [42]:

Once again, in the “old style” of dates, Melchior would have been baptised (and born) in 1698. As we shall see, this family probably lived in the upper parish of Hasli im Grund, or Guttannen, since the Melchior who lived there named his first two children Magdalena and Caspar, presumably after his parents. Therefore, we shall refer to Melchior Ott, son of Caspar Ott and Magdalena Abbühl, baptised on 12 February 1699, as “Melchior of Guttannen”.

Unlike the case of Melchior of Meiringen (whose children’s baptismal records are lost), we have some good clues as to which of the three Melchior marriages applies to Melchior of Guttannen. This is because the baptismal records show the birth names of both parents; Swiss women did not change their names at marriage. Melchior Ott married Margreth von Bergen in Hasli im Grund parish on 23 November 1722 [43]. Their children, as shown in the Hasli im Grund parish register [44], were:

Obviously this cannot be the family of the Melchior who arrived in South Carolina with a family of seven in July 1735, because they baptised Peter in Switzerland six weeks later. In any event, the Oberhasli Amtsrechnung (official accounts of the Oberhasli district) show a fee paid on 15 May 1737 by “Melchior Ott living in Guttannen” [45].

A Margreth von Bergen died on 7 April 1742 in Hasli im Grund parish [46]. There is no proof that she was the wife of Melchior of Guttannen, but it would make sense: Her death may have been the incident that first caused Melchior to consider emigrating. On 18 March 1744, “Melcher Oth” paid an emigration tax of 39 pounds, 13 shillings and four pence [47]. According to Dr. Julian Kelly, the tax was imposed, in order to discourage emigration, on money or property taken out of the country, and amounted to ten percent of the value taken. [48] This suggests that Melchior of Guttannen’s portable wealth amounted to approximately 400 pounds not bad for an upcountry peasant. He was therefore not fleeing poverty when he left Switzerland.

On his way to South Carolina in 1744, the ship carrying Melchior and his family was captured by the Spanish and taken to Havana. The name of the ship does not appear in the records, but its captain was named Abercrombie, and it was said to have been carrying “260 or 300 Germans”. [49] Most of the passengers seem to have been allowed to continue their journey, but some, including Melchior of Guttannen and his family, were not. Hans Neigler, from Oberhasli, visited Orangeburgh in 1753, and later reported to Swiss authorities that “he had run across Melchior Oth, with whom he talked about the family of Moisi Schäppli. Oth had formerly fallen into Spanish imprisonment and had lain in shackles and chains for 23 months.” [50]

Melchior and his family were rescued from captivity in 1746 by one Major Park Pepper, who himself had been taken prisoner earlier that year, but managed to bribe or otherwise curry favor with his captors. He offered to take the remaining prisoners under a flag of truce to their destinations, which were New Providence (Bahamas) and Carolina. On 31 July 1746, he appeared before the Council in Charleston and told his story [51], requesting and obtaining reimbursement for his expenses. “Melchior Otte” with a wife and five children are among the passengers listed in the Council Journal for that day.

Melchior may have left Guttannen with a fair amount of money, but he seems to have arrived penniless in Orangeburgh. This is evidenced by the fact that he was unable to obtain a land grant for his family of seven until 6 October 1752, more than six years after his arrival. Such a long delay suggests that he and his family had to sell themselves into servitude for a period of time in order to work off some serious debts. Other passengers on Major Pepper’s flag of truce seem to have faced a similar difficulty. John Steigler, for example, did not obtain his land grant until 2 March 1750. [52]

One piece of this puzzle does not fit, however. If Melchior of Guttannen’s first wife, Margreth von Bergen, died in 1742, why was he listed with a wife and five children in 1746? No second marriage for this Melchior was recorded in the Hasli im Grund or Meiringen parish registers, which are presumably complete for this period, at least for marriages. Might the Margreth von Bergen who died in 1742 have been someone else of that name? Or could Melchior have developed a liaison during his long captivity? To me, it seems more likely that the Council clerk made an error, listing “and wife” without checking, or perhaps mistaking Melchior’s eldest daughter, Magdalena (then 21), for a young wife. [53]

Melchior Ott and Margreth von Bergen had six children. If the Council record is correct and Melchior arrived in South Carolina with a wife and five children, which child didn’t come? Caspar, Peter, Hans (John), and Ulrich are all attested in the Giessendanner records of the 1750s. Magdalena, the only girl, might have died or been married off before or during the arduous journey, although there is no record of a marriage of Magdalena Ott in Oberhasli. The son Melchior might also have remained in Switzerland; we’ll deal with that issue later.

My guess, however, is that all six children came to America, and that the clerk erred in listing a wife for Melchior. My main reason for believing this is the marriage of a Melchior Ott to Anna Barbara Zänger, née Straumann, on 19 February 1747 [54].

Anna Barbara Straumann had married Simon Zänger on 3 November 1737 [55]. Simon had at least one child, Barbara, who inherited her father’s land; therefore, he had no sons who survived to adulthood. Simon Zänger died sometime between late 1742 [56] and early 1747, when his widow married Melchior Ott. Witnesses to the marriage were Peter Maurer Senior and Junior, Heinrich and Jacob Horger, Hans Huber, and Heinrich and Jacob Straumann.

Julian Kelly [57] believes that it was Melchior of Meiringen who married Anna Barbara, and there is some evidence to support this. Simon Zänger seems to have arrived in Orangeburgh at the same time (1735), and perhaps on the same ship, as Melchior of Meiringen, and also perhaps Heinrich Horger, one of the witnesses. Simon Zänger was a witness to the marriage of Margaret Negely; recall that Melchior of Meiringen may have married Anna Nägeli. Finally, Melchior of Guttannen was listed as having a wife in July 1746, making a remarriage in February 1747 unlikely.

As we have seen, however, the mention of a wife may have been a clerical error. In any event, the link between the Zänger/Straumann family and that of Melchior of Guttannen seems even stronger than that with the family of Melchior of Meiringen. Mary Elizabeth “Stroman” was a sponsor at the baptism of one of Melchior of Guttannen’s grandchildren in 1759 [58]. Earlier that year, Simon Zänger’s daughter Barbara (who by that time had married John Geiger) sold the land that she had inherited from her father to John and Ulrich Ott, sons of Melchior of Guttannen. [59] To me, it makes more sense that Melchior of Guttannen arrived as a widower in 1746, married Anna Barbara, widow of Simon Zänger, in 1747, and that her daughter Barbara later sold Simon’s land to her step-brothers John and Ulrich.

The Council Journal [60] shows that Melchior finally applied for land on 8 February 1751:

The family mentioned in this petition would have been Melchior himself, his second wife Anna Barbara, four of his sons, and his step-daughter Barbara Zänger. His daughter Magdalena, by now 27 years old, was certainly married off (assuming that she survived this long). One son is missing too: perhaps Caspar, who was to marry two months later, or more likely Melchior, who does not appear in the Giessendanner records and might have married, died, or been left behind; we’ll deal with him below. The 1752 land grant was still in the possession of Melchior of Guttannen’s eldest son, Caspar, in 1776, because Caspar sold the land to David Rumph in an indenture dated 9 May of that year. [61] The land in question was on Poke Swamp, in the far south of Orangeburgh District (well south of the township), on the border with Charleston District. [62]

Since we have identified the death record of 23 October 1755 as that of Melchior of Meiringen, we may conclude that the other death of a Melchior Ott, dated 9 March 1758, was that of Melchior of Guttannen. His widow Anna Barbara died a year later. [63]

Here is an outline of what happened to the children of Melchior of Guttannen:

Magdalena Ott, baptised 12 March 1725 [64]: A Magdalena Ott received confirmation in the parish of Hasli im Grund on Easter Sunday, 1741 [65]. Our Magdalena would have been fifteen years old at the time, a normal age for confirmation. Nothing is known of her in America; it is not certain that she came at all. It is my guess (only) that she came to America, was mistaken by the Council clerk for her father’s wife, and died or married during the early years in Orangeburgh.

Caspar Ott, baptised 7 January 1728 [66]: Caspar signed the Giessendanner petition in 1749 [67]; he witnessed marriages in 1749 and 1750 and a baptism in 1756 [68]. He married Maria Stehely, daughter of Hans George Steheli and Maria Linder, on 19 December 1752 [69]. Their children as recorded in the Giessendanner records were Margaret (29 September 1753 [70]), Hans George (4 June 1755 [71]), Maria (8 April 1757 [72]), and Mary Elizabeth (4 August 1759 [73], who may have married Jacob Ott born 1755). In 1769 he was awarded 400 acres of land in the Caw Caw Swamp area of Orangeburgh [74], indicating that he and Maria had five children by that date the rule by that time being 100 acres for a head of household and 50 for each other family member. Census records of 1790 show a Gasper Ott Junr living next door to Gasper Ott Senr [75], suggesting that the fifth child was named Caspar (or Gasper) and was born during the 1760s. That same census shows two more males, both over 16, living with Gasper Senr. My guess is that they are Peter (born about 1770) and Jacob (born 1774); the evidence for the latter is somewhat better than for the former. Neither Gasper Senior nor his widow appears on the 1800 census, so they both probably died during the 1790s.

Melchior Ott, baptised 12 March 1730 [76]: It is plausible, but by no means certain, that he came to America with his father. We’ll deal with his turgid case below.

Hans Ott, baptised 2 November 1732 [77]: “John” Ott first appears as a witness to baptisms in 1754, 1758, 1759 (twice), and 1760 [78]; at the last two of these, he is godfather to his nieces Mary Elizabeth Ott (Caspar’s daughter) and Elizabeth Ott (Ulrich’s child). On 27 March 1759, John and his brother Ulrich purchased land from their step-sister Barbara Zänger Geiger [79]; the home on that land was thereafter known as “John and Ulrich Ott’s fort”. (1759 was in the midst of the French and Indian War, in which both John and Ulrich Ott served as privates in Captain Lewis Golsen’s company.[80]) The fort was located in the northern part of Orangeburgh Township. [81] One baptism and two burials took place at the “fort” in 1760. [82] No marriage is known for John. Later land, military, and census records are confused between him and John Frederick Ott (or Ox), a 1750 immigrant who was probably not related to either of the Melchiors. [83] Martin Ott, another probably unrelated immigrant to Sumter District on the other side of the Santee River from Orangeburgh, also had a son named John, who died in 1770. [84]

Peter Ott, baptised 28 August 1735 [85]: Peter petitioned for land in 1755 and received 50 acres, the allotment for a single man. [86] He was one of the witnesses to John and Ulrich Ott’s purchase of the land for their “fort” in 1759. [87] He married Anna Magdalena Tapp (or Top), daughter perhaps of Killian Tapp, or perhaps of Johann Julius Tapp. [88] The marriage took place no earlier than 1757, because Magdalena Tapp was still single then [89]; she had died by 1765, when Peter sold the land she had inherited from her grandfather, Christian “Top”. [90] Gasper Ott was a witness to this transaction. In 1771, Peter received 350 acres of land on Beaver Creek in the Caw Caw Swamp area, adjacent to his brother Caspar [91]; the 350 acres suggests a family of six. A Peter Ott sold provisions to the Revolutionary troops, [92] and appears on a jury list for 1779. [93] Nothing more is known of him or any children; no Peter Ott appears on the 1790 census (although two younger ones show up in 1800).

Ulrich Ott, baptised 27 July 1738 [94]: As the youngest son, Ulrich does not appear in the Giessendanner record until near its end (1759 and 1760). He attended a baptism in 1759, [95] and his daughter Elizabeth was baptised on 17 April 1760. [96] (Elizabeth later married Frederick Snell.[97]) Ulrich’s wife’s name is listed as just Barbara; we have no clue as to her parentage. Ulrich and Barbara’s marriage does not appear in the Giessendanner record, but this might not be unusual, since Giessendanner’s marriage entries after 15 February 1756 seem to have been lost. During the French and Indian War, Ulrich served (with his brother John) in Captain Lewis Golsen’s company. [98] A son, William, is attested in an 1806 deed of gift in which William disposes of land that “devolved upon the said William Ott after the demise of his father Ulrich Ott.” [99] William’s Bible shows that he was born on 20 May 1766. [100] “Ulbrick” Ott received 200 acres of land in 1772, [101] indicating that he had a family of three at that time; with two children known to have survived to adulthood, perhaps wife Barbara had died by 1772. On the other hand, a Barbara Ott appears on the 1790 census for Orangeburgh with two males over 16 and two other females, suggesting a larger family. [102] During the Revolutionary War, Ulrich served in a Loyalist militia under Captain Henry Giessendanner. [103]

Barbara Zänger (stepdaughter), born about1730, probably in Oberhasli, Switzerland [104]: A Simon Zänger left the Oberhasli district in 1735 with wife and child, bound for Carolina. [105] Barbara was probably that child; or she could conceivably have been the issue of Simon’s later marriage to Anna Barbara Straumann (although no such child appears in the Giessendanner record). In any event, Barbara Zänger was Simon’s only surviving heir after Anna Barbara died on 21 March 1759, because she (Barbara) came into full possession of Simon’s 1735 land grant and sold it six days later to her step-brothers, John and Ulrich Ott. [106] It’s a good guess that John and Ulrich were already living on that land, which had been more or less in the family since Anna Barbara’s remarriage to Melchior of Guttannen. Barbara Zänger married John Geiger sometime before the 1759 transaction. [107] A John Geiger was found guilty of murder during the “Weberite heresy” trials of 1761, but was reprieved. [108] It is likely, but not certain, this was the same John Geiger; apparently, four men in Orangeburgh could have gone by that name at the time. [109]


Melchior Ott of the Second Generation

South Carolina quitrent records show a quitrent tax paid by a “Melchior Roat” in 1760, 1768, and 1769, the last with the notation that “This name is Ott.” [110] The quitrents were for a 300-acre plot; therefore, they cannot be referring to either of the grants for the senior immigrant Melchiors, both of which were for 350 acres (and remained at that size at least until 1776 for Melchior of Guttannen, and 1786 for Melchior of Meiringen). The Melchior Ott who paid these quitrents cannot have been either of our two senior Melchiors, because as we have seen, both were dead by 1758. In 1770, Melchior Ott paid his quitrent on 300 acres again, plus one for 100 acres “New Grant 1759 Bounty” for his wife Sibella Catherine Schellinger. [111] This Melchior seems to have died by 1771, because in that year the quitrent for “Melchior Ott’s estate” was paid by “Jacob his son”; Isabella Catherine Schellinger’s quitrent was paid by “ditto his wife”. Then in 1772, the quitrent was again paid on the 300 acres of Melchior Ott’s estate, with the notation “Heird by Jacob & Abraham Ott”. [112]

If this younger Melchior had a son who was old enough to pay his deceased father’s quitrent in 1771, then he must have married no later than the mid-1750s. Yet his wife received a land grant in her own name in 1759; this suggests that Sibella Catherine Schellinger might not have been young Jacob’s mother, but a second wife. There was a spare Jacob (i.e. one for whom we have no easy accounting) on the 1790 census for Orangeburgh. [113] This may have been the same Jacob listed as the younger Melchior’s son in 1771.

The 1772 entry shows a probable second son Albraham. There were probably other children of this second-generation Melchior Ott as well, because his 300-acre land grant implies a family of five or six. [114] There is no surviving petition or plat for the land, but we know that it must have been before the 1760 quitrent was paid on it. At a minimum, therefore, the younger Melchior seems to have had three children during the 1750s.

Who was this younger Melchior, and in which Ott family does he fit? Melchior of Guttannen had a son named Melchior (baptised 12 March 1730 in Hasli im Grund parish, Switzerland [115]); and it is quite possible that Melchior of Meiringen had a son of that name too, although we cannot prove it one way or the other because of the lost Meiringen baptismal register for that period. A Melchior Ott appears at the baptism of Margaret Ott, daughter of Caspar Ott and Maria Stehely, on 11 December 1753. [116] Although this might have been the child’s grandfather, Melchior of Guttannen, it could also have been her uncle, Melchior born 1730. (The grandfather would appear to be the more likely Melchior, since the baptism took place at the home of Mary Stehely, the child’s maternal grandmother.) No other entry in the Giessendanner record could possibly apply to the younger Melchior.

Could this Melchior Ott have been the son of Melchior of Guttannen, born in 1730? That would seem to be one likely explanation. The “spare Jacob” on the 1790 census is enumerated in a neighborhood that is part of the Caw Caw Swamp area of Orangeburgh, a place populated with several known descendants of Melchior of Guttannen. [117] If this spare Jacob really was the son of our younger Melchior, his neighborhood suggests a Guttannen link.

On the other hand, we must consider the likelihood that the other immigrant Melchior, of Meiringen, might also have named a son after himself. The fact that the younger Melchior appears to have named his own sons Jacob and Abraham points to a link with Melchior of Meiringen, among whose descendants these names were popular. (There is only one Jacob, and no Abraham, among Melchior of Guttannen’s known or probable descendants.)

There is some evidence to support the idea that Melchior, son of Melchior of Guttannen, never left Switzerland. For one thing, as we have seen, the Council Journal reports that Melchior of Guttannen brought only five of his six children to South Carolina. For another, the head count of seven in Melchior of Guttannen’s family at the time of his 1752 land grant is harder to explain if the younger Melchior is still with him. Finally, a death record in Hasli im Grund parish, Switzerland, shows that a Melchior Oth, age 51, died on 10 November 1781. [118] The age matches our Melchior of Guttannen’s son, and for what it’s worth, the next closest Melchior Ott of that parish was born in 1726. Of course, the 1781 death could have been for someone born in Meiringen parish, whose 1730 births are lost with the missing baptismal register.

Why would Melchior of Guttannen have left a fourteen-year-old son in Switzerland when he embarked for America in 1744? Perhaps the son refused to emigrate, and ran off. Curiously, on 16 November 1749, a girl named Ita Fahner in the parish of Meiringen gave birth to an illegitimate child, and declared that the father was a man named “Menk Otth” from the Grund. [119] John Hüppi believes that Menk may have been a local nickname for Melchior. Menk Otth denied paternity of the child, but was legally declared its father on 3 August 1750. A possible picture thus emerges of a rebellious youth who ran off at age fourteen, then, at nineteen, got a girl pregnant. The baby boy was given the name of Caspar Otth named, perhaps, for Menk’s oldest brother?


Melchior Ott of the Third Generation

On the 1790 census, a Melchior Ott appears with two females and one slave in his household. [120] He never appears again (although the 1810 census shows a “Malachi Ott” in Columbia, [121] who could conceivably be the same person). It is unlikely that this is our second-generation Melchior, because the latter vanishes from the quitrent rolls after 1770, implying his death in 1770 or 1771. He is probably a third-generation Melchior, a grandson of either Melchior of Meiringen or Melchior of Guttannen, and possibly a son of the second-generation Melchior. His neighborhood is that same Caw Caw Swamp area where the “spare Jacob” of that census (perhaps Melchior’s brother?) is found; this neighborhood indicates a connection to the family of Melchior of Guttannen.

If, however, both Melchior of Meiringen and Melchior of Guttannen had sons named Melchior, then the Melchior of the 1790 census could have been the one who didn’t die in 1771. It would be odd that there should be no sign of this man prior to 1790, but the possibility remains that there might have been two Melchiors of the second generation, just as there were two in the first.


Conclusion: The Descent of the Otts

The present article has had two purposes: straightening out the references to the two immigrants named Melchior Ott, and attempting to determine which Melchior is the ancestor of each of the various Ott families who can trace their ancestry to Orangeburgh, South Carolina. In the absence of early Orangeburgh probate and court records, destroyed during the Civil War, it is difficult to describe with any confidence the lineages involved. What we have left is an argument based largely on land plats and geographic proximity. Let us now review what we know about the geographic distribution of the early Otts.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, the families of the two Melchiors seem to have crossed from one side of Orangeburgh Township to the other. The grandchildren of Melchior of Meiringen, whose 1735 land grant occupied the western tip of the township, found themselves to the east and southeast of the township after Jacob Ott sold the original grant in 1786. Their descendants still live in those areas (Bowman and Branchville, South Carolina) today. As for Melchior of Guttannen, whose 1752 grant on Poke Swamp was well to the south of the township, his children all wound up in the Caw Caw area to the north. The move north was initiated by his sons John and Ulrich Ott, who purchased their stepsister’s land in 1759 for their “fort”; by the early 1770s, sons Caspar and Peter were living in the area too, and in 1776, the Poke Swamp land was sold. Descendants of this family still live to the north of Orangeburgh, in present-day St Matthews, Calhoun County, South Carolina.

In the early nineteenth century, some Ott families began to leave South Carolina for other southern states. Today the Orangeburgh Ott diaspora can be found from Florida to California and beyond. Nearly all of these migrant Otts can claim an Orangeburgh ancestor named Jacob Ott. Unfortunately, there were at least nine men in early Orangeburgh who went by that name. A separate article on that subject attempts to disentangle them; for our present purposes, we can summarize the results of that study as follows:

The above generalizations are, of course, imperfect. We cannot be sure, for example, that some of Melchior of Guttannen’s descendants did not remain around Poke Swamp where Melchior obtained his 1752 land grant. Poke Swamp is close enough to Branchville, South Carolina, for any such Guttannen remnant to be confused with Melchior of Meiringen’s descendants in the area. We are also ignoring the “non-Melchior” immigrants: Martin Ott, on the other side of the Santee River from Orangeburgh; and John Frederick Ot (or Ox), whose records may be confused with those of John Ott, son of Melchior of Guttannen. Finally, the second-generation Melchior had, as we have seen, at least two sons who remain unaccounted for. We don’t know which senior Melchior the younger Melchior was descended from if either.

A similar caution must be affixed to the neat summary of migrations given above. We have listed only three of the most consequential migrations; surely there were others, and not only from South Carolina. For example, some of the Alabama Otts continued their migrations westward, so that we have some Meiringen descendants as well as Guttannen ones in Louisiana and, especially, Texas. The city of Columbus, Georgia, holds members of both the Branchville (Meiringen) and St Matthews (Guttannen) Ott clans. A man named Siberia Ott moved from Albany County, New York, to Aiken, South Carolina, around the time of the Civil War; a Pennsylvanian named Jacob Ott appears on the 1860 census for Biloxi, Mississippi; another Pennsylvanian, a Union soldier named Henry Clay Ott, married an Alabama girl and raised a large family in Jackson County, Alabama; and several German and Austrian Ott families came to New Orleans and to Georgia during the nineteenth century.

Our Ott migrants have chosen many destinations. Very often these localities have been luckier than Orangeburgh was, in terms of the survival of genealogical records. Therefore, further study of each family will usually provide sufficient clues to allow us to plug that family, with at least some degree of confidence, into either the Meiringen tree or the Guttannen tree.

[ Main Ott Page | Melchior Page | Jacob Page | Millionaire Page | Siberia Page | Bibliography | Notes ]


Copyright © 1999-2003 T. Mark James
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Melchior Page revision 3.01, last updated on 19 December 2003.

Please send all comments to Mark James at [email protected].