1708 was a notable year for Maria Elizabeth Lucas, who was in her late teens or early twenties at the time. A terrible freeze lasting for four months destroyed the vineyards and trees in the Palatinate region of Europe. People and animals froze to death in this land already devastated by war. News came from England that free passage was being offered to persons wanting to go to America, and thousands of hopeful families fled there. Among them were Maria, her parents, Francois and Madeleine, and her six younger siblings.
Upon arrival in England, the family was devastated to learn that this rumor was untrue. They became stranded in London in a filthy refugee tent camp, struggling to keep from starving to death. Disease was rampant, and Maria’s mother as well as one of her younger sisters died during the year or so they lived at the camp.
Finally, they were able to secure passage to New York City in 1710 and settled in New Rochelle, a colony founded by French Huguenots in the late 1600s. There Maria met a fellow immigrant named Harmon Richman, a blacksmith, whom she married in 1712. They soon moved to Monmouth County, New Jersey and later settled in Salem County, also in New Jersey, where they purchased land and raised eleven children. They attended the Swedesboro Lutheran Church which is about 5 miles from where I live today.
Her eldest son, Jacob, married Catherina Mattson, a descendent of the Swedes who settled in this area in the 1640s. After Harmon died, Maria lived with Jacob, my fifth great-grandfather, and Catherina in a house which Jacob built in Monroeville in 1746. The house is still standing today, and I recently drove by the location where I saw a part of the modernized version from a distance and later grabbed a photo from Google maps.
From there I drove to Daretown to the Pilesgrove (now Pittsgrove) Presbyterian Church where Maria attended services with her son and his family. Walking through this cemetery in its incredible peacefulness, I was delighted to find her weathered tombstone and that of Jacob’s which was slightly behind hers and barely discernible. I reached out and touched them both. It was when I held my hand on the top of Maria’s for several seconds that tears came into my eyes and I felt a powerful connection to a woman I am proud to call my sixth great-grandmother.
I often feel connections to some of my ancestors that I learn about through my genealogy studies. Some I discover little about, but with others like Maria I am able to piece together significant portions of a life. More importantly, in the rare instances when I can walk the same streets as an ancestor did even over 250 years ago, the connection becomes undeniable.
Photo of Jacob Richman house taken over 100 years ago found on Ancestry.com and credited to Bonny Beth Elwell, author of “Upper Pittsgrove, Elmer and Pittsgrove.”
Top photo credit: Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/family_tree.html