Keener Ubering: Another Weidner first in the Catawba Valley of North Carolina

Original Weidner tombstones on display at the Catawba County Museum of History. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner, 2017.

My genealogy and local history research requires frequent trips to visit various libraries, museums, and cemeteries in the area and to talk with people in my family and community. So I recently decided to follow the lead of a friend who signed up with Uber and Lyft as a driver. It seemed like a great way to meet more of my neighbors (and local visitors) and maybe even pay for the gas I’m burning on all these trips.

Snip: A. Nixon in The Lincoln County News, June 10, 1910 — Newspapers.com.

It’s also an opportunity to experience (albeit in a limited way) working in a field that several generations of my family have worked in, including my father and uncle who retired from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (and a cousin who still works for the DOT). My great-grandfather was also involved in transportation and even tried (unsuccessfully) to go into the aviation business after the Wright Brothers made North Carolina “first in flight.”

Around the turn of the 20th Century, George Washington Keener ran the livery stable in my hometown. He charged $1 for a trip from Maiden to Newton in a buggy with a driver. Uber will get you there today in the $10 range, depending on the mileage between your pick-up location and your destination — but don’t forget to tip your driver! And if you aren’t signed up for Uber already and want to give it a try, use my promo code (WILLIAMK13503UE) for a quick free trip or discount.

Information about the Weidner tombstones by the Catawba County Historical Association.

My first Uber fare was from Conover to Viewmont (10.91 miles) for $15. It involved, interestingly enough, picking up a Weidner (Wettener, Whitner or Whitener) descendant who had been golfing and boating with a friend for the day.

The Weidner family is believed to be the first permanent European settlers in the Catawba Valley. So it was quite fitting for me to drive a Weidner descendant home from the lake for my first Uber fare. We had a nice conversation about our families and local history during our short ride.

I am somewhat surprised that there are as many Uber (and some Lyft) riders (and at least a handful of drivers) in Catawba County as there are. There’s certainly no surge pricing in this area, but there is a small but fairly steady stream of fares throughout the day and most evenings. And the few fares I’ve had so far say they use these services frequently in the area and seldom have trouble getting a ride. Who knew? Anyway, back to the Weidner family and their connection to my family…

“Sank (Alexander?) Bortman, a son John Willhelm, Born: March 31, 1743, Sponsors: Casper Kuhner, George Weidner” — “Records of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Pennsylvania 1741–1831", translated by Frederick S. Welser (Page 8, as quoted by Dorothy Keener Sprinkle)

As noted in the first edition of my eBook, the connection between Casper Kühner (Keener) and George “Henry” Weidner (Whitener) apparently goes back to at least 1743 when they sponsored the baptism of John Bortman’s son at St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Pennsylvania.

Casper was 37 years older than George Heinrich “Henry” Weidner (1717–1792), and they were probably related long before Lewis Keener (a descendant of Casper) married Henry’s granddaughter — Anna “Annie” Summerow, the daughter of Elizabeth “Betsy” Weidner and Henry Summerour — in Lincoln County (1840).

Snip: The Lincoln Courier. May 17, 1895 — DigitalNC.org.

Henry came to the New World aboard the Molly in 1741, three years after Casper arrived aboard the Thistle in 1738 — “The Year of Destroying Angles.” Henry is said by some to be “the first white man in western North Carolina” (DAR) — ignoring Juan Pardo (in 1567). He spent time exploring the Carolina backcountry during the early 1740s, “trapping and hunting, accompanied at first only with his long rifle and dog.” He eventually settled there and received a land grant in Lincoln County in 1750. Henry is said to have inspired and guided other German families “to settle the area near the forks in what is now Catawba County and Lincoln County” (Robin S. Wilson).

The Keener family followed Henry to the Carolina backcountry along with the Hoke, Conrad, Reinhardt, Anthony, Fry, Forney, Raach, Ramsuer, Doyle, Bost, Shuford, Summerow, Dellinger, Sigmon, Yoder and other families. Casper received a land grant from King George II in 1752, just after Benjamin Franklin infamously worried about these “swarthy” Germans “swarm[ing]” into Pennsylvania who were too “stupid” to learn English and two years before Franklin first published his well-known “Join, Or Die” cartoon.

“It has been customary among all civilized people since the world was created, to build monuments to perpetuate the memories of the noble dead, and celebrate great events in the world’s history…It has been over one hundred and fifty years since Henry Weidner first discovered yonder beautiful river, the South fork of the Catawba river. When he came here, he found a race of people far different from the present occupants of this county. They built no monuments, and there is scarcely a trace left where they once lived. except a few arrow-heads and stone axes. They have fled before the face of civilization; they have followed the setting sun and have only stopped in their Westward march by being driven back by the waves of the Pacific Ocean. They were pushed back by the Anglo-Saxon, the highest developed type of the human race…When Henry Weidner crossed the Catawba River at Sherrill’s Ford, he was in the country of the Catawba Indians…The name of the great Catawba is an Indian name, and means ‘Catfish river.’”
 — M. L McCorkle, The Newton Enterprise (June 8, 1894).

Among the “corrupt officials, high taxes, debt and fickle weather” of the unsettled North Carolina backcountry these early settlers fought the Catawba and Cherokee people over land.

“Traditional history tells us much about the diabolical Indian massacre of Abram Mull and children, near Henry Weidner’s house about the year 1752. When Mrs. Mull returned from hunting the cows, and saw the Indians at the house, she ran in post haste and informed Henry Weidner of the fact. He gathered up his family and fled for the cane break to a large cleft of rock near the bank of Henry’s Fork river.” —X.Y.Z. in The Newton Enterprise (May 8, 1896)

And their sons and grandsons participated in the first American civil war — on both sides

“…[S]ettlers came hoping to find the security and prosperity that would allow them to live free of other men’s control. To the people who chose to migrate, the Carolina backcountry appeared to be an especially likely place to find this prosperity and independence. The region had a reputation for being wonderfully rich and well suited for farming, and fine land was said to be inexpensive and easily attained. Promoters of immigration to North Carolina spread word of this charmed country in Europe and the other North American colonies, and they compared the interior favorably to colonies where land was more difficult to obtain. The settlers who arrived in the mid-eighteenth century came believing the backcountry would afford them stability and contentment. As a future leader of the Regulation put it in the 1750s, they came expecting to build a ‘second Pennsylvania.’” — Denson, A. (1995). Diversity, Religion, and the North Carolina Regulators. The North Carolina Historical Review, 72(1), 30–53. JSTOR

You can read more about the Weidner family here and more about my family both on this blog and in my eBook. I’ll have more to say about my Uber and Lyft driving experiences and some thoughts on Uber-Gate and the ride sharing industry in general in future posts, but for now I want to congratulate the Weidner family on another first in the Catawba Valley — Keener Ubering! :)

For more information about these early German settlers in the Catawba Valley and their descendants, check out my first edition eBook. And don’t forget to tip your Uber or Lyft driver!

Available via Amazon.com and the Kindle Store.
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