Saturday, January 16, 2016

Yocum - a new Swedish name in a new country


1 Peter Jochimsson  2Johann “Jonas” Yocum,  3 John Yocum,  4 Mary Yocum,  5Margaret Bell ,  6 Isaiah Custer,   7 John William Custer,  8 Corda Bell Custer,  9 William Frederick Franklin, 10 Edna Bethel Franklin, 11 Judith Ann Hayward 

While researching the origins of the “Yocum” name, one discovers that it had its roots in ancient English history; however, 600 years later the name was re-created by Swedish immigrants living in America in the early 1600s. 

Among those immigrants was Olaf Petersson Stille, a "legend" featured  on this blog several months ago.  Although he hadn't exactly been run out of Sweden, he had often been a thorn in the side of Swedish authorities.  After several run-ins, one of which landed him in jail, he and his wife, Anetje, packed up their 2 children, several close relatives and what little they could take with them and sailed to America. After finally making land in the Delaware River port, they were able to find a place to build their home in "New Sweden", a community established by other Swedish immigrants on the Schuylkill River.  

As the years passed, most of the children of these settlers became assimilated into American culture and found reason to modify some of their parents' long-held traditions (but not their diet which included pickled herring, Swedish meatballs and limpa bread).  One of those treasured Swedish traditions was to give a newborn child the father's baptismal name as a middle name, followed by "son" or "dotter".  That name often became the child's surname  - making it almost impossible to track a family through the following generations.

With the marriage of Olaf's daughter, Ella Olafsdottor Stihl, to Peter Jochimsson (spelled with a hard J but pronounced Yocumson), Peter and Ella named their first son Peter Yocum - not Peter Petersson Jochimsson.  And, thus, the new name was born almost by accident in the mid-1600s which is still a family name today.
Governor William Penn
About 60 years after Olaf and Anetje had left their homeland for America, three of their ambitious grandsons decided to settle their families along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River in what would become Berks County, Pennsylvania.   

However, before supplicants could take possession of even a small portion of this rich land, they were required to follow the strict rules imposed by William Penn, one of England's best known Quakers who, after seeing his fellow Quakers suffer through deadly persecutions, became convinced that they needed to move to a new home where they could worship in peace. 

King Charles II
Fortunately King Charles II, the monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland owed the Penn family a great deal of money, thanks to a loan which had been  made to the monarchy years before.   Finally, after frequent and not always pleasant negotiations, the king agreed - in 1681 - to grant William Penn a huge amount of land in America, thus canceling out the debt.The new colony was named  "Pennsylvania" or “Penn's Wood” and in addition, Penn was able to take possession of what would become Delaware.

This well respected man had a powerful dream to turn his new acquisition into a "holy experiment," meaning that he intended to  give all people  - no matter their race or religion - the opportunity to live there in love and harmony - a Quaker requirement for those following that faith. Having many loose ends to tie up before he actually arrived in America, he appointed his cousin to convince colonists like the Yocums who were already living on the land that they would continue to be governed by their own leaders and laws.

Even the Indians, who had lived for hundreds of years in that same area, were offered the same deal, and that communication was often aided by the "Yocum boys" who were not only traders, but fluent in the Indian dialects.  The youngest of the three was Johann Jonas "Yocumb", my ancestor, who had started the process to attain 350 acres of rich land  in Amity township.  However, before he could be granted a patent by Governor William Penn, he had to have the boundaries surveyed and approved.  Penn and his heirs were the proprietors of this massive amount of land until the Revolutionary War brought an end to the proprietary period in Pennsylvania.

Douglassville Bridge
Mouns stone house
Even though more than 200 years have passed since the Yocums worked the land granted to them by William Penn, their heritage lives on and can be seen today.  For instance, when people cross the Douglassville Bridge spanning the Schuylkill River, they can spot an historic stone house built 300 years ago in 1716 by Jonas Yocum's' son-in-law, Mauns Jones, who was trusted to follow his father-in-law's wishes, and had been  named an executor of Jonas' will. 

Before signing that will, Jonas' son, John, had already preceded him in death. But that didn't stop Jonas from making sure that John's widow was amply provided for.  And unlike many people of that time, he even stated in the will that should his son's widow “give birth to a son",  he too would be granted a portion of the estate. The rest of his estate was to be equitably divided among his children after his death in December of 1760.  He was buried alongside his loved ones in the St. Gabriel Episcopal Church cemetery in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Even after Jonas' death, many of his family members continued to live in the area. One of them was Peter Petersson Yocum, who became an Indian trader and continued the family tradition begun by Jonas to act as interpreter for William Penn in the negotiation of  treaties with the Indian tribes.  In addition, he was among a group of settlers who filed a  petition to establish a new town on the west bank of the Delaware which was denied.