People say America is a melting pot. But I think of it more like a stew. All the different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds come together and swim around in a common pot. In a stew, you can still see and taste the individual ingredients, but the sauce is a combination of all of them blended together.
Our American culture is a sauce that is formed by all the different immigrant ingredients that have been thrown into the pot over the years and centuries. But we can also see the different cultures and backgrounds reflected in specific ways in America; we can trace some of the tastes that we find in the stew to the ingredients that are still visible today.
Each of us individually is a result of a mixture of backgrounds too. Some of us are more homogeneous than others. Most of us are mutts.
The majority of my ancestors were Quaker–at least since Quakerism began around 1650. Most are from the British Isles or Germany, with a few French Huguenots thrown in for good measure. But there are some outliers in my family tree. A few strands of my family’s history don’t fit with the others.
One unique branch of my family tree is the Kinsey family (a.k.a. Kuntzi, Kuentzi, Kinzie, Kintzi and any variety of other spellings). My three-times-great grandmother, Mary Kinsey (1814-1857), was a member of the German Baptist Brethren church–the Dunkers. Her ancestors are the only I know of in my family tree who came from Switzerland.
Mary’s great-great grandfather, Christian Kintsy was born around 1700. He emigrated from near Bern, Switzerland in 1734. Christian came to Pennsylvania and settled on 100 acres in the Oley district of Philadelphia, which is now part of Berks County. William Penn’s colony probably appealed to Christian for its religious toleration. Although it’s not entirely clear what religious background Kintsy came from, it’s likely he had experienced oppression for his beliefs in Switzerland.
Pennsylvania was full of a diverse mix of ethnic and religious elements. English Quakers, French Huguenots and Germans from a variety of different religious backgrounds had flooded into Pennsylvania in the early 1700s in search of religious freedom. When Count Zinzendorf came to Pennsylvania to reconcile the various German-speaking sects that had settled there, he brought together individuals from different backgrounds. A gathering hosted by Zinzendorf in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1742 was attended by fifty people, most of whom identified themselves with one or another of the German sects–Tunker, Lutheran, German Reformed, Mennonite or Moravian. Christian Kintsy wrote no affiliation next to his name.
There’s little question that Christian Kintsy was a part of the German Baptist Brethren church. Several groups of German Baptist Brethren were migrating from Germany and Switzerland in the 1720s and 1730s. In all likelihood, he was a member of this Brethren movement even before arriving in Pennsylvania. Once there, his name is listed in the records of the Oley congregation. His son David was later a minister in this same congregation and his son Christian was a trustee.
Christian’s great-great grandson Samuel Kinsey was the first editor of the German Baptist Brethren serial called the Vindicator. This newspaper became the voice of the Old Order Brethren when the church split in 1880. The Old Order Brethren were determined to maintain older traditions in the face of a changing society. The majority of German Baptist Brethren became the Church of the Brethren. A progressive minority became the Brethren Church.
Mary was a member of the German Baptist Brethren church when she married my three-times-great grandfather Henry Harris on May 3, 1832. He came from a long line of Quakers. I haven’t figured out which church–if either–they ended up in. It’s entirely possible that their marriage to each other made them outcasts in their own churches.
Their son Lewis Kinsey Harris married a staunch Quaker and re-entered the Quaker fold. My family remained Quaker until the 1960s, when they left that church to become Presbyterians (another denomination that is represented in my family tree).
I grew up Presbyterian and knew of my Quaker heritage. But when my wife and I chose a church in the town we ended up in, it turned out to be Brethren (although part of the Grace Brethren Fellowship, a group that resulted from another later split in the Brethren Church). In fact, today I am a Grace Brethren minister and have been for almost thirteen years.
My three-times-great grandmother Mary’s brother Lewis was a minister in the German Baptist Brethren church. A nineteenth-century history said of him: “His natural abilities enabled him to attain a high degree of efficiency in his ministerial work. He traveled and preached much among the different congregations of his church…His hospitality was unstinted and he was very liberal in answering the demands of charity…He was a good man and a good citizen and was held in the highest esteem by his church, his friends and his neighbors.”
What a wonderful legacy. I hope a good portion of the ingredients of this part of my family shape the flavor of my own personal stew.