Wer war Kapitän Kühner?

A fork in the road near Sherrills Ford, facing southwest toward the old Kühner homestead and Ramsour’s Mill. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
“If you were in this area before Lake Norman, you’re kin.” — Paul Beatty (Duke Energy, 2017)

Of course, if you go back far enough, all humans (and indeed all life on Earth) are kin and descended from a common ancestor. But either I — and perhaps “all Keener’s [and the descendants of Keener’s] of Lincoln County” (North Carolina) — am directly descended from Captain Kühner, or I’m (we’re) not. And as Paul Beatty recently suggested, if your family was in the Catawba Valley before 1964 then you’re kinship to Captain Kühner can probably be established through some basic genealogical research. But who was Captain Kühner (Keener), and why does he matter today?

Abraham? — the “father of many”

In my first edition eBook, I identify the Tory Captain Kühner at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill as the German immigrant and son of the pioneer Casper (Gasper, Gaspen) — namely, Abraham Sr. I also identify Abraham’s five sons as John E. Sr, Jacob, William, Abraham Jr, and Martin (1756–1833), and I said that both John and Martin were Tories who were delivered to the Continental Army after Ramsour’s Mill as punishment for being with the British.

I further suggest that I — and perhaps “all Keener’s [and the descendants of Keener’s] of Lincoln County” — are descended from Abraham’s son, John E. Sr. I have yet to see any definitive evidence that contradicts my narrative, but I did not mention in my book that other genealogists (who spent more time in the scattered weeds of birth certificates, court documents, military pensions, church records, newspaper articles, local histories and folklore) came to different conclusions.

For example, Dr. J. E. Hodges — a veterinarian and former mayor (1920–21 and 1939–40) of my hometown who wrote a series of historical articles in the local newspapers in the 1940s and 50s — wrote definitively in the Newton Observer in 1950 that Captain Kühner could not have been Abraham. In his article (titled “Who was Captain Keener?”) he quoted (Patriot) General Joseph Graham who recounted, based on his own interviews with participants in the battle, that the wounded (Whig) Captain Daniel McKissick met Abraham who was on his way to the battle “about the time the firing ceased.” So was there another Tory Captain Keener who died from wounds he received in the battle? Or another Captain Keener who survived the battle, along with Abraham? I certainly can’t disprove either theory, but I have seen no definitive evidence to support it and remain skeptical.

“Who was this Tory Capt. Keener? Certainly not Abram, the avowed Tory, who was not in the battle and did not arrive till the fighting was over.” — Dr. J. E. Hodges

In my book’s narrative, the Kühner genealogy at (and after) the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill looks something like this…

Loyalists are red, Patriots are blue. The wives are all pink, but some guys are yellow (not sure) or Tar Heel blue (not around)…and “War of the Rebellion” grey too.

Elijah? — “my God is Yahweh”

Hodges further claims that John, Martin, and Abraham were all sons of Casper, and he adds an Elijah — apparently based on the folklore of the time. I think we have ample evidence to discount this genealogy.

The old pioneer, Gasper Keener, is said to have had four sons — John, Martin, Abraham, and Elijah, the first two Whigs, who served in the Continental Army. Abraham and Elijah being pronounced Tories. — Dr. J. E. Hodges

Hodges also claims that a Tory son of Casper died in a hay stack from wounds he received in battle. My step-grandmother’s narrative also included the Tory-died-in-a-“hay stack” theory but contradicted Hodges genealogy by claiming that Casper had only two sons. She agreed on the split allegiance between the Whigs and Tories, but in both of their narratives the Keener families of Lincoln County are descended from Patriots (Whigs).

Some years ago an elderly lady who was born and reared in the Keener community, and a woman of wonderful mind and memory, told me that a son of the pioneer was a Tory. Was wounded in Revolution, escaped at the time and lay for some time concealed in a hay stack where he was supplied with such necessities and comforts as his family could provide, but that he finally died from his wounds.
A few years later I met a lady, then living in New York, who was a direct descendent of Gasper Keener, and knew quite a bit of his family history. She told me she had she had always heard this story from her ancestors. — Dr. J. E. Hodges

Hodges further speculates that Elijah may have been Captain Keener and the one who died in the hay stack. As I have no evidence to suggest that Abraham Sr. even had a son named Elijah, it’s unlikely he was Captain Keener.

So far as he is concerned, this Elijah Keener from this time completely fades out of the picture. No one seems to have ever heard of an descendents [sic] that might have been his, so he was obviously a single man. — Dr. J. E. Hodges

Martin? — the Roman God of War, Martin of Tours

Ann Keener, another well-known local historian and genealogist in Lincoln County, later wrote a commentary on Hodges’ 1950 article suggesting that Martin (born 1756) —a son of Abraham (not Casper)— was probably Captain Keener. She claims Casper had only one son and lists Abraham’s other sons as Jacob, John E, and Abraham Jr. (as I do), but she does not include a William. I claim in my eBook that Casper had two sons by different wives — Abraham with Anna Barbara, and Peter with Maria Agneti Bender (who I identify as his first wife).

Ann also identifies John as the Keener direct paternal ancestor of “all Keener’s [and the descendants of Keener’s] of Lincoln County.” She notes that Martin had “most of his property confiscated” for his Tory activities and later served as a Whig in Baileys Militia Company “at or near the end of the war” (consistent with my narrative). She further states that Martin survived the American Revolution and moved to Buncombe County (as of the 1820 census) but states she found no church or court records for any Elijah.

“He that forgets and forgives most…is the best citizen.” — Christopher Gadson to General Francis Marion, Nov. 17, 1782 (Rebecca Brannon, 2016).

Why do I think Abraham was Captain Keener?

I’m skeptical of Ann’s claim that Martin was the Tory Captain Keener who survived the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill primary because of this note in the October 1786 court order in the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in Lincoln County that sentenced Abraham for participating in the battle:

Selecting older men to serve as leaders was a common practice in both armies. Although Abraham was in his sixties, there is evidence that he participated in the bloody battle at Ramsour’s Mill on June 20, 1780.
Possible grave site of Abraham Kühner at the Kühner-Schramm Family Cemetery. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).

Martin would have been only 24 years old for the battle, and his father is identified as a leader. Martin’s name is not explicitly mentioned in any referenced records about the battle — nor is there any mention of an Elijah. However, the 63 year-old Abraham is mentioned by multiple sources — including the earliest and most reliable account of the battle by Joseph Graham as well as this 1786 court order in Lincoln County sentencing him and others “to meet and lay off a road from Beaties [sic] Ford to Lincolnton.” Still, I have an open mind and would welcome new evidence on this question that Dr. Hodges first addressed in the Newton Observer in 1950. As Karl Popper once said, and I quote in my book, “History is affected by discoveries we will make in the future.”

Other open questions about which little is known…

Joseph Graham’s account of the battle indicates that Abraham arrived “[a]bout the time the firing ceased” as part of a party of “ten of the Tories.” Were 35-year-old son John and 24-year-old Martin part of Abraham’s party? Were they perhaps two of the “several of them knowing Captain M’Kissick, [who] insulted him and would have used him ill, but for Abram Keener, Sr., one of his neighbors, who protected and took him prisoner.” Where there any Cherokee or African American slaves in their party, or any other members of the Keener family? Was the young 18-year old Peter Shrum or his 56-year-old father — Johann Nikolas Schramm — also in Abraham’s party or at Ramsour’s Mill on that foggy summer solstice morning in 1780?

“What the mind can’t remember, the blood can’t forget.” — Unknown (Nadia Dean, 2014)
John E. Keener Sr. grave site at the Kühner-Schramm Family Cemetery. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
“History is affected by discoveries we will make in the future.” — Karl Popper
Peter Shrum grave site at the Kühner-Schramm Family Cemetery. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).

And…so what, who cares?

I’ll be expanding on this question — and the civil war killing field of the Amerikanische Revolution in Lincolnton, N.C. — in the second edition of my book, but if I’m right then “all Keener’s [and the descendants of Keener’s] of Lincoln County” (North Carolina) are probably descended from Captain Abraham Keener — as is Andrew Jackson Kenner (a descendant of Abraham Jr.) who is buried in the Kenner Cemetery located next to the gift shop and visitors’ center at Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, KY. And so are many other Keener descendants in various communities across the United States who, like I once did, may think they are descended from a pure klan of Patriot blood (given later service in the Continental Army by both John and Martin*) — which is misleading in a fundamentally important way that sheds some light on the deep partisan divisions in the Carolina Backcountry in 1780 that has been forgotten by too many of us for far too long now.

*But apparently not by Abraham Jr, Jacob, or William.

By Carole McGranahan. American Ethnologist (27 April 2017).

THUS: To understand the Kühner (Keener) family’s involvement in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill or our current (national and local) politics in many ways, I think we need to focus on Abraham, Martin, and John, truth and reconciliation, and avoiding the mistakes of our past.

Available via Amazon.com and the Kindle Store, with corrections, updates, and additional information online.