Jacob Rasnick....the true story
Jacob Rasnick was born on December 17, 1752 in the tiny, tiny village of Irsingen, Gerolfingen near the Gunzenhausen area of Bavaria. His true name was Johann Jacob Rierschneck and he was the second child of his parents Johann Georg Rierschneck and Anna Schwanzer.
When Jacob was born, Georg and Anna already had an older daughter, twenty month old Anna Catharina, who had also been born in Irsingen. They appear to have been very poor, moving from place to place in order to find work. At the time of Jacob’s birth Georg was working as a farm hand in Irsingen, and Anna was working there as a maid servant.
These are the only evidences of Jacob’s family in Irsingen. It appears that sometime after the children were born, they continued to migrate to find work. We next find a 1786 entry listing Georg Rierschneck as a farmer in the town of Deffersdorf, about twenty miles to the north.
Where the family was after 1752 until they appear out of nowhere in 1786 is not known. Even more of a mystery is how Georg, a farm hand, and Anna, a maid servant, would have been able to rise up and acquire some substantial farm in less than one generation. One explanation is that Jacob and Catharina’s mother, Anna Schwanzer, may have died early, and that Georg’s wife, listed in Deffersdorf as Anna Maria, was his second wife. It may have been that through her they were able to acquire the farm.
In any event, it seems that Georg and his family must have been living somewhere around that area, which was in the Waizendorf District of Ansbach, in the German state of Bayern (Bavaria), as early as 1777, because that is where twenty four year old Jacob was living with his parents at the time of his entry into military service early that year.
Family tradition is that he was threshing wheat when seized by military officers. Failing to secure his release, his mother gave him a German Bible for use in the far-away land.
History reveals that during Jacob’s time, the ruler of Ansbach regularly conscripted all able bodied men of a certain age into military service. Because the state was facing bankruptcy in 1776, the ruler agreed to rent his soldiers out to the King of England to help fight against the rebellious colonists during the American Revolutionary War. Even with this being the case, it does not preclude the possibility of force being involved, and regardless of how he was pressed into service, Jacob was one of those chosen to go.
He entered military service as a private in the Ansbach Regiment, Company 1, a musketeer, under the command of Colonel Friedrich Ludwig Albrecht von Eyb. On March 3, 1777, he was among 2,500 men from the Ansbach-Bayreuth Regiments who marched down the road out of Ansbach amid many tears and weeping by the people, leaving the city and his family behind - never to see them again.
The troops arrived in Holland, and on March 25, 1777 they marched onto the great square at the castle in the city of Nijmegen, where Jacob was No. 84 to take the oath of allegiance to King George III of Great Britain. A few days later he went aboard an English transport ship, probably the "Friendship", and sailed off into the North Sea towards England.
After a harrowing trip by sea, Jacob first set foot on American soil about eight weeks after leaving home, arriving in New York Harbor in early June of 1777.
Upon arrival, he was immediately thrust into battle. He continued to fight for more than four years, participating in the battles at Philadelphia, Newport, Springfield and finally at Yorktown. When Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington's army in Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781, the British and the "Hessian" troops were taken prisoner. Ansbach muster rolls list Jacob among these prisoners, as “Jean Rierschneck”. This is because the documents were written in French, which was the diplomatic language of the day, and Jean was the French equivalent of the German name Johann.
On October 21, 1781, Jacob and his fellow prisoners broke camp and left Yorktown around three o'clock in the afternoon, escorted by the Virginia militia under the command of General Robert Lawson. Thus began Jacob’s march into captivity. They camped that night under the open sky in a meadow.
On November 1, 1781, they waded through the Rappahannock River - most crossed in bare feet, in very cold water that was up to their thighs.
On November 2, 1781, still soaked from the day before, they marched through a cold rain.
On November 3, 1781, in the evening after a long march, they noticed the so-called "Blue Mountains".
On November 4, 1781, they arrived at the Shenandoah River, where they were again made to wade barefoot across the swift, ice cold water which was up to their chests in places. This crossing lasted about a quarter of an hour and caused all kinds of sickness.
The prisoners arrived at Winchester, Virginia on November 5, 1781. They were housed at the New Frederick Barracks in miserable, wretched conditions. Because they were met with such poor conditions, the prisoners were given much freedom and allowed to go into the city for work and for food. Many of the residents there spoke German and were descendants of German families and were quite favorably disposed to them.
For the next three months, the Ansbachers wintered at Winchester. On January 28, 1782 they started the march to the Hessian Barracks, Frederick, Maryland, which was a distance of about forty miles. They arrived, tired and completely exhausted, at sundown on January 31, 1782. They stayed there in Maryland for one year, three and a half months, until leaving on May 13, 1783. They were then marched through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with the troops ultimately ending up in Long Island on May 27, 1783. The Germans stayed there another couple of months until finally, on August 6, 1783, they boarded ships for the long journey home, however Jacob was not on board.
Because he had already deemed this new land a good place to live, and had determined not to return home with his fellow captives to an uncertain future back in Germany, when the opportunity for escape presented itself sometime before June of 1783, he seized it.
He made his way into the Shenandoah Valley along the main migratory route known as the Great Wagon Road, and just a few months after his escape appeared at the farm of John Counts and his wife Mary Magdalena. On February 25, 1784, Jacob married their daughter, Mary “Mollie” Counts, born c. 1764. They were married by the Elder John Koontz, famous Baptist minister, who preached at the Mill Creek Church, and it is likely that the ceremony was performed there. The ancestry of Mollie’s father and mother remains a mystery, however it is known that John Counts was of German descent and he and his wife went on to become the parents of the very important pioneer Counts family in SW Virginia.
In 1789, Jacob moved his family to Russell County, settling in Glade Hollow, only a few miles from the place where Mollie’s parents later settled. Here Jacob and Mollie raised their nine children and became vital citizens in the county. But before leaving Shenandoah County, Jacob left us a gift. He signed his name, in German, to a legal document that still exists today.
Much important information about Jacob Rasnick’s life after he arrived in Russell County can be gleaned from the Personal Property Tax Lists and Analysis of Russell County Census contained in "Descendants of Jacob Rasnake (Hessian)" by Frieda Patrick Davison, and the new 2019 report "Johann Jacob Rührschneck (Rierschneck, Rasnic, Rasnick or Rasnake)" by Frieda Patrick Davison.
Jacob Rasnick died in December of 1826 at the age of 74. His will was probated in Russell County, Virginia on January 2, 1827 and is dated November 24, 1826.
Mollie died a few years later, around 1834. Both Jacob and Mollie are buried on their home place in Glade Hollow where a memorial, dedicated by their descendants on October 16, 1977 honors these early pioneers. It reads as follows:
In fond memory of Jacob & Mollie Counts Rasnick,
Hessian Revolutionary War Soldier, and the parents of
all Rasnicks, Rasnakes, Rasnics.
Their children were: John, Jacob Jr,. Elijah, Margaret,
Lazarus, Mary, Nancy, Jonas & Christina
Through traditional research and modern scientific testing, we now know that the German farm lad and “Hessian” soldier Jacob Rierschneck was the same person as the American Pioneer and father of our family, Jacob Rasnick.
His name appears on Shenandoah and Russell County tax lists and court documents under various spellings, including: Reversnuck, Rosenake, Raresnake, Rearsnake, Raresnick, Raversnuck, and Reversnuk, but the most common spelling variations used by the family today are Rasnake, Rasnick and Rasnic. No matter how it’s spelled, all who originate out of SW Virginia and bear these names are part of the same family and descendants of our ancestor, Jacob Rasnick.
A very special thanks to all those who have helped us in the journey to find out the true story of our ancestor, especially to our cousins and fellow Rasnake researchers Frieda Patrick Davison, Lynn Rasnake Thompson, and Harriet Ellen Rasnick; to the late “Hessian” expert and historian, John Merz; to Ansbach-Bayreuth researchers Horst Lochner and Jochen Seidel; to researchers Kevin Lett and Roger Nixon; to DNA donors and supporters Charles Rasnick, John S. Rasnick, Christian Ruehrschneck, Donald Potter; to early Rasnick researchers, the late Effie Rasnick, and the late Judge E. J. and Hetty Sutherland; to William and Toy Sutherland; and to Sabine Schleichert, our talented and devoted researcher in Germany who never gave up in the face of a very difficult search, and who delivered to us more family treasures than we ever though possible; and to all the members of The Jacob Rasnick Project for their continued support and generous donations. Thanks to you all.