(exerpt from: "Nicolaus Henckell the Hessian" by Douglas B. MacDonald, 2009)
Have you heard the story about . . . ?
Many stories have been passed down through the family from generation to generation. And of course we realize that once something has been put in writing, whether true or false, it tends to take on a life of its own. Sometimes such stories or items become quoted as if they were prime sources themselves. Even prime source records may sometimes vary when compared with each other. For example, birth dates on tombstones or from census documents are usually less reliable than birth or baptism records from church documents because the date of recording is more distant from the event of record. For the same reason, birth dates from infant baptism records are more accurate than those from adult baptisms. Conflicting sources must always be evaluated. But which of the many stories from family tradition should we now consider fiction?
Great Old Ages - Not Fiction, but Exaggerated
The great old ages of some of Nicholas and Elizabeth’s children born in PEI contain errors. These came from an article in the Examiner of 1 March 1880, written a few weeks after daughter Catherine had died. Even the questionnaire answered by William Jenkins in old age contains an error in the year of his own birth. He could not possibly have been born in PEI in 1783, because his parents did not arrive on the Island until 1787. And to this day, no church source has ever been found which records either birth or baptism for any of their children born on the Island. Let’s look at the details.
The Examiner said “Nicholas Jenking [sic] the father died at 76. His wife 75, John Jenkins 90, George accidently killed 51, Susannah is still alive aged 100, William died at 92, Nicholas 90, Catherine 91, James still alive aged 88, Henry died at 81, Elizabeth 86 and Leanor 72.” But what should it be?
In order in which the names appeared in the article:
Nicholas Sr. was born 28 March 1755 and died 15 July 1823, so would have been 68, not 76.
Elizabeth, his wife, birth date unknown, died 29 July 1823, less than two weeks after Nicholas. She was probably not 7 years older than her husband, and if actually one year younger than Nicholas as the article shows, she would have been 67, not 75. Also, if she had been 75, she would have been born about 1748, and given birth to their last child Magdalene (Laney or Leanor) at about age 50, which is considered unlikely. She was probably born about 1756.
John George Jenkins, born 13 May 1784 in Treysa and died 20 June 1866, so would have been 82, not 90.
George, born in PEI but date unknown, was accidently killed 30 October 1836, but if age 51 at the time would have been born about 1785 when the family was still living in Germany. He was more probably born about 1789, so would have died aged 47, not 51. Remember, too, that the article was written about 43 years after he died, so his age was probably off.
Susannah, born 18 December 1785 in Treysa, died 14 May 1884, so would have been 94 in 1880, not 100.
William was born about 1787, so could have been 92 if he had died shortly before the article appeared, and if he had been born shortly after the family arrived in PEI, and his age is considered possible.
Nicholas Jr. was probably born about 1790, so when he died in 1877 he would have been about 87, not 90.
Catherine was probably born about 1791 and died 10 February 1880, so would have been 88, not 91.
James was probably born about 1792 and died 24 Feb 1887, so could have been 88 when the article appeared. If so, he would have died age 95.
Henry was born about 1788 and died about 1870, so could have been 81.
Elizabeth was born about 1793 and died in 1858, so would have been about 63, not 86, but would have been born about 86 years before the article, possibly explaining the number used.
Magdalene (Laney or Leanor) was born about 1798, died in 1858, so would have been about 60, not 72.
Nicholas was born in Hanover, Germany - Fiction
We now know from church records that Nicholas Jenkins was born Nicolaus Henckell on 28 March 1755 in Treysa, Germany to Johann Hermann Henckel and Anna Elisabeth Otto. He was baptized 31 March 1755, and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, Treysa in 1769 at the age of 14.
The Surname Change Was Suggested by a Minister - Fiction
The story persists that Nicholas anglicized his surname to Jenkins at the suggestion of Rev. Dr. Louis Charles
Jenkins, Minister at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Charlottetown, PEI. However, Rev. Jenkins wasn’t born until 1797 in England, and the "Weekly Examiner" of 21 Nov 1884 says he didn’t emigrate to the Island until about 1820. Nicholas would have been 65 years old by that time, and have been an Island resident for 33 years. The earliest record of Rev. L. C. Jenkins having to do with any of Nicholas’ descendants is the baptism of grandson John Jenkins, son of James and Margaret, who was baptized 9 December 1829, some six years after Nicholas died. Meanwhile, Nicholas Junior was using the Jenkins surname at least by May 1809 when his name appears on a land transaction.
Nicholas Was Married Twice - Fiction
Nothing has been found to back up the tradition that Nicholas had two wives, the first being an Edwards from the Channel Islands or the Isles of Scilly, the second one being the widow Baum. The Edwards connection comes through a son and daughter of Nicholas. It was Nicholas Jr. who married Mary Edwards, and his sister Magdalene (Laney) who married Richard Edwards, their parents being James Edwards and Dobson McBriar, whose family came from the Isles of Scilly off the southwest tip of Cornwall, England. We also know that while in America, 28 year old Nicolaus Henckell was married 27 July 1783 to Betsey [Elizabeth] Robinson in the Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, Long Island, NY by Rev. Matthias Burnet. A few weeks later, on 15 August 1783, the soldiers of the Regiment von Knyphausen sailed from New York for Germany, Nicolaus and his new bride among them, and after two months they arrived back in Ziegenhain on 16 October 1783. It was only about 5 km from there to his hometown of Treysa.
Elizabeth Pfluger Married Lt. Col. Baum - Fiction
Nothing has been found to date to back up the idea that Nicholas’ wife Elizabeth had been previously married to a German soldier surnamed Baum. She most certainly was never married to Lt. Col. Frederick Baum who was killed in the Battle of Bennington in Aug 1777. This is backed up by court records in Germany where Lt. Col. Baum’s widow, mistress and daughters fought over his estate, with no mention of a wife or child in America. And it is therefore also certain that Nicholas was never married to anyone with either the maiden or married surname of Pfluger, as this name came from a brother-in-law of the Lt. Col.