June 17, 2020

Frederick the Great once said, “Great things are achieved when we take great risks.” I first read that quote decades ago, more than 250 years after Frederick the Great spoke it. The words inspired me as if I were there when he said it. Turns out, through the magic of DNA testing, I was there, or at least a small part of me was.

My 6th great-grandfather, Wendell Essig, of the Canton of Berne, Switzerland, served as an Imperial Guard for Frederick the Great. I can’t help but wonder if it were those words that inspired my great-grandfather to leave for the new world in 1749. Frederick the Great also said “My people must drink beer,” so maybe it was the combination of the two.

Wendell Essig, along with 549 others left Rotterdam in July or August of 1749 on a ship called the Phoenix. John Mason was the shipmaster. They arrived in Philadelphia on September 15, 1749 and Wendell immediately took the oath of allegiance to the Province and State of Pennsylvania.

In 1754, Wendell had a son, Simon Essig, my 5th great-grandfather. Sometime before the revolutionary war started, Wendell sent Simon on an errand to a neighboring town. That afternoon, while Simon was away, his entire family was killed in an Indian raid, their family home burned to the ground while they were locked inside.

Sarah Essig

Suddenly orphaned, Simon was forced to live among strangers. It was during this time that Simon learned the blacksmith trade. He must have become rather good at it because he eventually shod horses for General Washington while fighting as a soldier in the battles of Princeton and Trenton.

About a year ago, before I even knew about Simon Essig, I was given a signed, first-edition of the book 1776, by David McCullough. Much to my surprise, I plowed through it in just a few days. After that, driven to quickly learn more, I read Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick, then George Washington’s Secret Six by Brian Kilmeade. I am hardly a history buff, but for some reason, those three books spoke to me.

After his service as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War, Simon married Juliana Schnarin from Heidelberg, Pennsylvania. Later they became the first settlers of Plain Township, Stark County, Ohio. They had 12 children, including my 4th great-grandfather, Adam Essig. Adam fought in the War of 1812 alongside two of his brothers.

Simon Essig died in 1852 at the ripe old age of 97, and like his father before him and his son after, he was the embodiment of Frederick the Greats quote, “Great things are achieved when we take great risks.” I can only imagine what it must have been like to hand General Washington the reigns of the horse he’d just shod for him.

Happy Father’s Day 2020.