The Wessels in America

by Doris Warden Redding

First Generation – Johann Heinrich Wessel

Johann Heinrich Wessel was probably born between 1790 and 1810. He married a Maria Elizabeth ____? from Hanover, Germany. Her birth date is listed as 1810 on her tombstone.  

Johann and Elizabeth entered America through New York City. Their eldest son, in the 1870 Census for Lawrence County, Ohio, lists his birthplace as New York. His death certificate gives his birthday as 29 December 1832.  

By the early 1830s, the eastern city newspapers of New York, Philadelphia, etc., were raving that the dream of every man of an enterprising nature was to go to the Golden West – Cincinnati. This was also the dream of Johann, who Americanized his name to John Henry.           

A possible companion of the Wessels on their journey west may have been the Minard family. George Minard is listed as being born in 1812 in New York. George’s daughter Laura Minard married John Wessel, Jr. When the travelers reached the Ohio River, they would embark on a boat trip down the river to Cincinnati, using the Ohio and Erie canal routes to reach the Over the Rhine District, a German settlement of Cincinnati (Cincinnati Historical Society).  

The trip to Cincinnati was made in 1833 or early 1834 as we find in the 1850 Hamilton County, Ohio Census, 10th Ward of Cincinnati.  

Journal No. 7 Lawrence County Common Please Court, pg. 260

June 4, 1850 A Declaration of Intent to be Naturalized

John Henry Wisser*, a citizen and subject of the Kingdom of Prussia makes this declaration that it is bonifide, his intention to become a citizen of the United States of America and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, State of Sovereignty whatsoever and particularly to Fredrick William of who the said John Henry Wisser is now a subject.  

His name appears correctly when he took the oath while being naturalized on October 3, 1853 (Lawrence County Journal, pg. 221)  

I could not find his occupation at the furnaces (he worked at the Etna Furnace and before that the Hecla Furnace – in the iron furnace in Lawrence County, Ohio) but on May 11, 1860, his widow gave five bonds of $200 each as guardian of his minor heirs. The fact that she was able to give bonds totaling $1,000 seems to indicate that he was a man of substance. He is buried in the Etna Cemetery, officiated by Rev. FA Graetz, who organized the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Elizabeth Township in 1854, but no tombstone was found for him.  

Maria Elizabeth, John Henry’s widow, was appointed guardian of the five minor children. According to the Ohio law at the time, the natural mother could well have posted bond, Section VII provided that a guardian would give bond in double the probable expenses of maintaining and educating a minor during one year Section X states “when the same person shall be appointed guardian of several such persons shalll execute a separate bond as guardian for each minor.”  

The five minor children were:




Making their birth year

Catherine Louise


May 25, 1860


John Henry, Jr.


June 5, 1860




July 2, 1860


Catherine Elizabeth


April 15, 1860


John Frederick


Nov. 3, 1860



The family remained in the Etna Furnace area, Elizabeth Township, Lawrence County, Ohio, until about 1875, when married daughters moved elsewhere. Catherine Louise married Henry Eilert, son of Conrad Eilert, who was a witness tot he posting of bond for the five children. Catherine and Henry moved to Stendal, Indiana. Catherine Elizabeth moved to Wellston, Ohio, with her husband, James Minard.  

The mother followed to Stendal, Indiana when Catherine Louise died young (Catherine Elizabeth also died young) to raise her grandchildren. Stendal, located in Pike County, southwestern Indiana, was a completely isolated German farming community. Many former German families from Lawrence County, Ohio, had already made a mass exodus to Stendal. They build St. Peter’s Lutheran Day School, it being a rare privilege to attend this school because the teachers were the pastors with much more educational training than the public school teachers. To go along with the school, they built St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.  

Maria Elizabeth Wessel died Dec. 13, 1894. She and the Eilerts are buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Stendal, Indiana.  

The Second Generation — Fredric Henry Wessel

Fredric Henry Wessel was a man of two different names and birthdates. He gave his name as Fred Henry Wessel, born 3 Nov 1857, but on his guardianship papers his mother gave his name as John Frederick Wessel, born 3 Nov 1854 – regardless, he is the same man.  

He was born in the Etna Furnace region and spent his early years there with his mother. On April 10, 1876, he married Caroline Rightmire, born April 25, 1854. She was the daughter of William and Catherine Rightmire.  

Fredric and Caroline had three children, two of which died in infancy. Murta, a daughter, died Aug. 18, 1877. Elmer, a son, died Dec. 18, 1885. Norman Lester Wessel, born June 9, 1881, survived to the age of 77. After being married only 10 years, Caroline died, too. She died March 1, 1886. All were buried in the South Webster Cemetery.  

Fredric remarried on Aug. 11, 1887 to Loouisa A. Siech, daughter of Fred Siech of Rubyville, Ohio. By the time of the 1900 census, they were living on E. 8th Street in Portsmouth, Ohio, with three of their four daughters in the household.  

Fredrica Wessel, born in 1891, Mayme, born in 1892, Lenora, born in 1895. Their oldest daughter, Grace, born in 1888, and her stepbrother, Norman, are listed as spending the summers in Rubyville at the home of Louisa’s parents.  

By trade, Fred was a carpenter and built two adjacent homes on E. 8th Street in Portsmouth. He rented one out. The one he built for himself had a high foundation to avoid the Ohio River floods. He didn’t escape the flood of 1913, though. They had to move upstairs and sit it out. He also helped build the roller coaster for Millbrook Park in New Boston.  

Fred seemed to be a caring man and concerned for the welfare of others. He and his wife adopted Carl Vincent Holt, a neighbor’s baby, when the mother was dying of burns. Louisa believed that the mother was trying to tell her to take care of her baby.  

The streetcar trolley ran in front of their house and Fred always had a big crock of water, cool for drinking, for the motormen. He also let people wait in front of his house for the trolley instead of having to walk down to the corner.  

By 1902, Fred was a member of the Portsmouth Police Department until he retired as a sergeant in 1920. A few years later, the entire block that the Wessel family lived on, along with the East End viaduct, was sold to the Norfolk and Western Railway. Nothing remains to show that it was once a residential area.  

Fred and Louisa spent their last years in Daytona Beach, Florida, seeking relief for Louisa’s asthma. This was already the home of a daughter, Fredora, and her family.  

When dying, Louisa was brought back to Portsmouth. Her legs had become gangrenous but she refused to have them amputated. She died July 26, 1927. Fred died March 6, 1931. Both are buried in the Long Run U.B. Cemetery.  

Third Generation – Norman Lester Wessel

Norman Lester Wessel was born 9 June 1881 in Sciotoville, Ohio, to Fred and Caroline Wessel. Norman and Amanda Willis, daughter of Hugh Willis and Harriet Stratton, were married 3 March 1909 in their new home at 1526 Grandview Avenue in Portsmouth. Norman worked as a fireman for a few years when they still used horses to cart around the water. Most of his life he worked in a brickyard.  

He and his family later lived in Sciotoville, Ohio, on Blue Run Road. Their eleven children remained in Scioto County, Ohio, except for Ivan, who lived in Idaho Falls, IDAHO.  


* Misspelled by the court clerk.