Germanna Foundation Trustee Kristie Kendall wrote an article in The Piedmont Virginia magazine about the Peter Hitt house, which is under the stewardship of the Germanna Foundation:
A WINDOW THROUGH TIME
Driving through Fauquier County, I am often reminded of the strong German history in the area – signs for Rectortown off Route 17 north of Marshall, Holtzclaw Road near Warrenton and Fishback Mountain near The Plains – all subtle reminders that German roots run deep here. The Rectors, Holtzclaws, Fishbacks, and other families were part of a group of 42 people who settled at Fort Germanna in 1714 and were later named the Germanna “First Colony,” as they were the first organized group of German immigrants to settle in Virginia. Many other Germans came as part of the “Second Colony,” in 1717. And well into the 1730s, even more German immigrants came and settled near their relatives in Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, and Madison Counties.
A recently re-discovered historic property with a log house and cemetery along the Rappahannock River in western Fauquier County is beginning to teach us more about this early group of Germans that settled the area.
Nestled among groves of oak, poplar, and pine trees, just a few hundred feet north of the Rappahannock River is a small log house. At first look, the house appears to be just barely standing. Its western wall is bowing out and the stone chimney is crumbling from the weight of the failing wall. The logs have been removed from the northern façade of the house, leaving it open to the elements. I see window glass scattered on the ground in front of the house. I step inside.
The old pine floors creak and bow under my weight. I look up to see exposed beaded joists in the ceiling, which have never been covered up. H-hinges are still attached to the little door underneath the staircase. Rose head handmade nails support floor boards on the staircase. This house is older than I previously thought. Faint writing covers the walls – bushels of corn totaled, cords of wood cut– important reminders that this property was once a working farm.
One hundred yards from the house is a cemetery with a handful of fieldstones and crudely inscribed headstones. I study the stone marking the grave of Peter Hitt, a descendant of the early German group that arrived in Virginia in 1714. A crisp February day, the grass that envelops the cemetery in the spring and summer has since died and it is easy to see undulations in the earth. I crouch down to look at a clearly disturbed area near Peter’s grave that has a deep depression. There seems to be a rock that was pushed down into the earth. I run my fingers over the cold stone and begin to trace over the faint imprint of letters and numbers. It’s another headstone.
Peter Heite (Hitt), grandfather of the Peter Hitt buried in this cemetery, emigrated to Virginia along with his future wife, Ellsbeth Otterbach, and 40 other Germans in 1714, as part of the “First Colony.” They initially settled at Fort Germanna along the Rapidan River under the auspices of Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, who intended to use them for mining ventures. By early 1719, they moved to Germantown in Fauquier County (then part of Stafford County), along Licking Run near present-day Midland. Peter and Ellsbeth’s son, John Hitt, had a son named Peter, born between 1756 and 1760. Peter married Hannah James at Turkey Run Church near Warrenton in 1783, following his service in the Revolution.
Peter Hitt acquired a 200-acre lease in 1791 along the north bank of the Rappahannock River and west bank of Thumb Run, land which was owned by the heirs of Lord Fairfax at the time. His 200-acre lease first appears in the Fauquier County land tax books in 1799, when his property is valued at $4 per acre and his total land tax is $0.64. In 1802, Peter Hitt died and was buried just north of his home. Peter’s wife, Hannah James, remained on the property after his death.
From Peter Hitt’s 1803 property inventory and appraisal, we get a unique glimpse into the lives of the Hitt family on this property. In 1803, the family owned four horses, 15 head of cattle, 15 head of sheep, four calves, and 44 hogs. The animals, coupled with the presence of two scythes, various tools, a cutting box, cross cut saw, two flax wheels, and a woolen wheel on the inventory demonstrate a small agricultural operation on the farm. A grindstone, one still, and tubs and a series of gallon measures suggests that the family also ran a small distilling operation, as well. Inside the house, the family had two beds with furnishings, and two smaller bedsteads in the living area, along with two side stables, six stone jugs, one trunk, and a mirror. In the kitchen area, the family had various kitchen furniture, along with seven chairs, several pieces of earthenware, ten pewter plates, three pewter dishes, and two pewter basins with a soup spoon.
Hannah continued to live on the property following her husband’s death. She renewed Peter Hitt’s lease of 200 acres in 1840, once the property’s ownership passed from the Fairfax heirs to James Markham Marshall. Hannah died in 1846 and is buried next to Peter Hitt in the family cemetery.
In the decades following Hannah’s death, the property passed into the ownership of the Cromwell and Gore families. In 1872, Craven O. Gore and Thornton Cromwell jointly purchased a 184-acre tract of land, which overlapped with the 200-acre Hitt lease. Craven, along with wife Sarah Maddux and children lived in the former Hitt family’s log house and farmed the surrounding 91 acres along the Rappahannock River. Craven and Sarah’s sons John and Joshua remained on the farm with their respective families until sometime around 1918 or 1919.
Seemingly forgotten and abandoned, this small family cemetery was re-discovered in the early 2000s. In order to protect it, Russell Hitt, a distant relative of Peter Hitt, purchased the cemetery and adjacent parcel with the log house in 2006. In 2007, Russell gifted the cemetery parcel to the Germanna Foundation, a non-profit organization chartered in 1956 to preserve the heritage of the earliest organized settlements of Germans in colonial Virginia. In October 2017, the Hitt Foundation gave the adjacent parcel with the log house to the Germanna Foundation as well.
As a Hitt descendant myself, and a board member of the Germanna Foundation, I was thrilled by this generous gift from the Hitt family.
Research over the past year into the history of the cemetery and the log house has revealed a deeper and more complicated history. A Ground Penetrating Radar study found that this supposedly small family cemetery, with only a handful of grave markers, actually had 35 burials. Local experts visited the log house and located a number of early features in the building such as six panel doors with H-hinges, exposed beaded ceiling joists, handmade rose-headed nails, and original window casings. A dendrochronology (tree ring dating) of the logs in the house in the summer of 2018 revealed that the logs were from yellow pine trees felled in the spring of 1800. The one-and-a-half-story, four-room log house would have been completed before the winter of 1800.
Beginning in early January 2019, the Germanna Foundation took the first steps at rehabilitating the log cabin by doing preliminary stabilization and bracing of its elements. The long term plan for the Peter Hitt farm and cemetery is still being developed, but the foundation is investigating the best ways to preserve the historic cabin and make this property accessible to the public.
The Germanna Foundation
In addition to the recently acquired Hitt property in Fauquier, the Germanna Foundation owns several properties in the area where the First and Second Colony of Germans settled in Orange and Culpeper Counties:
- a 178-acre property in Orange County along the Rapidan River that houses the Fort Germanna Visitor Center and Siegen Forest with a variety of hiking trails and historic sites;
- a 58-acre Fort Germanna archaeological site that includes an active archaeological investigation to locate the site of the westernmost settlement in Britain’s large Virginia Colony in 1714; and
- a 19-acre property in Culpeper County near Stevensburg that includes the historic Georgian mansion known as Salubria (ca.1757).
The Fort Germanna site along the Rapidan River in Orange County, where we have an active archaeological investigation, gives us another incredible opportunity to learn about the lives of these subsequent generations of German immigrants who were pushing up against the next frontier in the late 18th century.
Ellis F. Hitt says
This is not the son of John Hitt. This Peter Hitt who married Hannah James is the son of Harmon Hitt.
Ellis F. Hitt says
Peter Heite (Hitt) and Elsbeth Otterbach Hitt first born son, John Hitt, was born in 1715. He married Mary Alexander. Their children included Martin Hitt, Aaron Hitt, and Susannah Hitt.
Mary Seekford says
Check out the Germanna Foundation Newsletter from the past and you will find the detailed story of how the cabin and cemetery were duscivered, The article was written by John Blankenbaker with permission from Phyllis Tanner Scott who discovered them both and later informed the Germanna Foundation. His artilcle was based on her article in the newsletter for the Fauquier Heritage Society at the time. It would have seemed relevant to your article to have included the full story of the discovery as recounted in Mr. Blankenbaker’s original version shortly after the discovery.
Guy Zimmerman says
This is an excellent article. Is this the original house from the 1714 settlement? It would be interesting to have a map of the First and Second Colonies’s original houses and how many are still in existence. I know that the Christopher Zimmerman house from the Second Colony still stands.
Diane Weaver says
I am a descendent of Tilman Weaver. I am interested in the Hitts because there was at least one intermarriage in the early generations between the Weavers and the Hitts. Both families were part of the first Germanna Colony and had shared the arduous journey from Germany in that group. More relevant to me though is that, coincidentally, I played in the Country Haze band for years in the DC area with guitar player/vocalist Earl Hitt, a descendant of Peter Hitt. It’s really a small world!
Ellis Hitt says
Tilman Weaver’s daughter Mary Ann Weaver married Harmon Hitt, my 3rd Great-Grandfather, who was a son of Peter Hitt (Heite), the 1714 immigrant.
Carolyn Hitt says
I am wanting to find out about Embrey Hitt who passed away in Henderson County Texas about 1961 to 1963. Who was his grandfather and how was he related to Peter Heite, the 1714 immigrant?
Ellis Hitt says
Embry Howard Hitt died in Dallas 30 Nov 1961. His father was Peter Carter Hitt who was born in South Carolina 15 September 1818 and died in Mississippi 25 Feb 1907. I am working on finding which of the South Carolina Hitt families he is descended from. Harmon Hitt who was Peter Heite/Hitt’s son had a son John who moved to Edgefield, SC and died there in 1824. I’ll let you know when I make the connection to the South Carolina family Peter Carter Hitt is descended from.
[email protected] says
Thank you so much Ellis for the reply. If I an correct.. have found information to show the same Peter Carter Hitt mentioned above, ( married Parthenia Scroggins) was the son of Thomas Hitt born about 1774 South Carolina. Thomas Hitt’s parents were Peter Hitt 1745 Farquier,Virginia.and Mary Hitt about 1749 Alabama.This Peter Hitt’s parants were Joseph Hitt 1717 Germana farquier, Virginia married 1740 Mary Kuntz (or) Coons.. born about 1720. Joseph Hitt was the son of Peter (Heite) Hitt B 1683 Rehbak,Nassau-Siegen D-1772. Again, this is just some info I came across and yet to know for sure it is 100%….Carolyn Hitt granddaughter of Embrey Hitt…..I have seen my grandfather’s name spelled with and without the “E”
Joan Allison says
Are you the cousin of my mother, Joanne?
Ellis Hitt says
I have Thomas in my work as the son of Peter Hitt, the son of Joseph Hitt whose father was the immigrant Peter Heite/Hitt. I have Thomas date of birth in 1772 and death om 1831 in Laurens, Laurens, SC. I can’t find his spouse so I couldn’t connect Peter Carter Hitt with his father. You have helped fill in part of the missing link.
I wonder if somebody could verify the parentage of the Peter Hitt in this article. He is named as son of John and grandson of Peter Heite (Heide)(Hitt). I thought he was Harmon’s son? I’m also trying to figure out if Henry Hitt b. 1799 was the son of this Peter. There is a lot of confusing and unverified information on ancestry.com, but none of it points to John as this Peter’s father. Thanks for any assistance anyone can provide! I have recently discovered I’m a Hitt descendant. ~Lindsay Hitt Passmore
Bro. David Hitt, Sr. says
My Name is Bro. David Hitt, Sr., (John David Hitt, Sr.).
The Peter Hitt (Heite) who moved to America in 1714 is my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather – this was a great site, loved the article (and posts) and the pictures were way cool!
If you would like to talk Hitt History, just email me, I would love to talk with you!
THANKS for this site, Lord Bless!
Linda Mary Thank says
Will of Peter Hitt.
March 23, 1772, Fauquier Co., VA. Probated July 27, 1772,Will Book I, p. 200.
“Last will and Testament of Peter Hitt, in the name of God, Amen, this 23rd day of march in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two; I, Peter Hitt of the County of Fauquier, being weak of body, but of perfect mind and memory, Thanks be to God for it, do make and ordain this my last will and Testament: That is to say I give and devise in the following manner and form:
Imprimis: I give and bequest to Elizabeth, my beloved wife, all of my estate to use during her natural life.
Item: I give to my son, John Hitt, my Negro woman Judy and my Negro boy George.
Item: I give and bequeath to my son, Joseph Hitt, my Negro man called “Young Tom”.
Item: I give and bequeath to my son, Harman Hitt, my Negro girl Hannah and my Negro man called “Old Tom”.
Item: I give and bequeath to my son, Peter Hitt, my Negro boy called by the name Ben.
Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter, Mary Rector, one hundred acres of land, being the plantatin where I now live, and my Negro boy named Moses.
Item: I give to my son, Henry Hitt, one hundred pounds cash, which is all he is to have of my estate.
Item: My will and desire is that after the decease of my wife, that all my estate not herein mentioned be sold to the highest bidder, and the money arising there from be equally divided among all my children hereafter named: That is to say, John, Joseph, Harman, Peter, and Mary, and lastly, I do nominate and appoint my two eldest sons, Harman Hitt and Joseph Hitt, executors of this my Last Will and Testament.
In witness I have hereunto set my hand and seal the day and year above written.”
In the presence of:
Joseph Taylor Signed
John Morgan Peter Hitt
2. H.C. Groome, FAUQUIER DURING THE PROPRIETORSHIP, 1927. Printed by Old Domion Press, Richmond, Virginia, Page 130. The proved date of Peter HItt’s will was July 27, 1772.
PERSONAL NOTE: Harmon Hitt in this family is my 6th Great-Grandfather.
William H Hitt says
Linda, this Will is a wonderful find. It shows what was the greatest value to the pioneers was the people that made their lives bearable in those frontier days. Their slaves were their enablers. I think it would be wonderful if Germanna could recognize (maybe generally)and give credit to descendants of those people who were critical to life in America. It’s the fair thing to do.
Morgan Sykes says
I agree, and this is what I have seen on Ancestry.com and why I have been confused when I see Peter Hitt (Heite) as my 7th Great Grandfather but not having a son John who would be my 6th. Now, I am still trying to figure things out, as I have Peter Hitt (Heite): Col John Hitt: John Hitt Jr.: John Day Hitt: John R. Hitt….
It seems like A lot of John’s, but we move then to William Pitt Hitt, Edward I Hitt, and my grandmother was Mary Eloise Hitt.
Does that sound correct to anyone?!
Mari Frith says
Hello Germanna family.
I am challenged with a puzzle wherein there is a Charles Kemper, descendant of John Kemper and Ann Weaver. John Kemper (#16) is third son of Johannes Kemper (#7) and Elizabeth Otterbach. (not to be confused with John Peter (#14) (1st son). John Kemper’s son Charles had a son in 1778. His name is William Kemper (#241). . According to Willis Kemper’s History of the Kempers in Germanna, this same Charles (#77) was an Ensign in the Revolutionary War. This Charles Kemper #77 is not to be confused with Charles (#54) a first son to John Peter Kemper (#14). Charles first volunteered in 1777. His son was born in 1778 when at that time his father John paid high price for a servant named John Ridley to substitute him for his commitment of a three year enlistment. I am seeking more information about Charles. Was his replacement John Ridley, the servant, an Afro American slave? Who was the mother of Charles’ son William? Could she have been a slave? In my research I cannot find a record of her. My subsequent dilemma is that this same ‘Charles’ (#77), son of John (#16) sought a pension for his time in the Army, which included later enlistments and his appointment as Ensign. It is later understood and documented that his wife (after the birth of William) is a Susanna Mauzy, and she applied for his pension. This is a puzzle. I welcome input.
Mari Frith says
Oh, and Post Script of my (Mari Frith) comment is that the last generation of my paragraph, the son named William Kemper, son of the Revolutionary War veteran Charles Kemper….he married first a Sarah Hitt. Then after a large number of children with her, he married a Sarah Sally Hitt, and then again had several children, one of which is my 2nd great grandfather. Hence – any with Hitt family information would be helpful. Also, my 2nd great grandfather Reverend Reuben Allen Kemper married a Rosamund Hitt. Thank you all.
Janelle J Holmes says
Peter Heite and Peter Hitt are not the same person, neither is Peter Heide. This has been proven. They married different women