‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’

Courtesy Stadtarchiv Mannheim

[Author’s note: This series, on the German origin of the Boucher family of Baltimore, began here.]

With regard to my great-great-great-grandfather Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Esprit Boucher (bp. 1799), I feel on firm ground in ascribing some finds on Ancestry.com to him, although the fate of his second daughter and identity of his second wife remain tantalizing and elusive.

It seems clear that Wilhelm (often E. William) Boucher of Braunschweig [Brunswick] in Niedersachsen [Lower Saxony] was baptized in Braunschweig 15 March 1799, the third son of Gabriel Boucher and Marie Esprit Messager to be baptized there.[1] On 18 April 1821 he was living in Mannheim, Baden,[2] and there on 23 January 1822 he married Johanna Sophie Friederike Förstner, the eldest child[3] of Johann Heinrich Förstner (1768–1825) and Johanna Elisabeth Hoffmann (1772–1850).

According to an 1842 document, as well as his own notes from 1881,[4] the eldest child of Wilhelm and Sophie was born in Hannover, the capital city of that kingdom (ruled in 1822 by King George IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland), and – following the 1842 document – named Gabriel Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Boucher. He was my great-great-grandfather, known in America as William Boucher Jr. (1822–1899), but often denoted William Esprit Boucher or William Esperance Boucher Jr.

Perhaps there were other children born to the peripatetic Wilhelm and Sophie between 1822 and 1828, but the next one appears to have been Marie Elise Sophie Boucher, who was born 19 and baptized at Sondershausen on 25 June 1828; at that date Sondershausen was part of the principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, ruled by Prince Günther Friedrich Karl I. Like her elder brother, Marie Elise Sophie’s names honored senior family members: her paternal grandmother (Marie Esprit Messager), her maternal grandmother (Johanna Elisabeth Hoffmann), and her mother Sophie. But this child died the same day she was baptized, and was buried at Sondershausen on 27 June 1828.[5]

A third child arrived in 1830: Marie Eugenie Elise Boucher, born 30 December and baptized at Salza in Saxony 10 February 1831;[6] if she was baptized where she was born Marie was a subject of the Duke of Anhalt.

See the transcription below. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

At this point, Sophie disappears from the records. When we next encounter Wilhelm Boucher, it is with a new wife (Wilhelmine, born ca. 1819) and his daughter Marie (aged 9 in 1839), arriving in Baltimore, Maryland.[7] The database places this arrival, on an unnamed ship, in December 1839, but on 25 November 1839 Wilhelm was already in Baltimore:[8]

Be it remembered that on the day of the date hereof personally appeared in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States in and for the Maryland District Wilhelm Boucher, a native of Brunswick and at present residing in the City of Baltimore, who made oath on the Holy Evangelical [Bible] of Almighty God that it is bona fide his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce former allegiance and fidelity to every foreign Prince Potentate State and sovereignty whatever and particularly all allegiance and fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick.

So even at age 40, after frequent moves (Braunschweig–Mannheim–Sondershausen–Anhalt, at the very least), Wilhelm remained a subject of the Duke of Brunswick; at the same date, his son William Jr. was a subject of the new King of Hanover, Ernst I.

I fear that Marie Boucher did not long survive, as in the 1840 Federal Census her father’s household in Baltimore consisted of just one other person, a female aged between 20 and 30.[9] The 1850 Federal Census lists Wm. Boucher, 52, musical instrument-maker, living in Baltimore’s Third Ward with his wife Wilhelmina, 31, also a native of Germany, and their children Ferdinand, 9, Edwd., 7, and Adela, 1, all born in Maryland.[10]

As for my great-great-grandfather, who would marry his first wife in Baltimore in 1846 and make his life in Maryland, why was he late in coming to America? I suspect it has something to do with that document in Mannheim in 1842: at some point, he went to live with his maternal grandmother (whose husband died in 1825 and whose remaining children had all died by the decade of the 1830s), until, in 1845, he followed his father, stepmother, and younger sister to the New World. He made at least one return to Germany, but after 1850 the focus of his family life was firmly in the United States.

Postscript: It seems just possible, given the dates, that William Boucher Jr. of Baltimore is the Herr Wilhelm Boucher seen in New York in December 1845 and February 1846. Vera Brodsky Lawrence’s Strong on Music notes the formation of a German Opera Company at Palmo’s Theatre during the fall of 1845: “The [company’s] singers, some appearing for the first time in the United States, might very well have been have been engaged (or enticed) to join the enterprise by Madame [Antoinette] Otto, who had only recently returned from a trip to Germany. [Herr] William (or Wilhelm) Boucher, from the opera in ‘Berlin, Darmstadt, Mannheim, etc.,’ [was] the primo tenore…” The company’s run, from 8–15 December 1845, was universally applauded – but a financial failure. On 7 February 1846, Wilhelm Boucher gave a concert at the Apollo Theatre; it had evidently been postponed from an earlier date. [11] Finally, my great-great-grandfather William Boucher Jr. married Mary Agnes O’Brien in Baltimore on 20 October 1846 – so the dates could work![12]


[1] Germany, Select Births and Baptisms, 1558–1898 [database on-line].

[2] Mannheim, Germany, Family Registers, 1760–1900 [database on-line].

[3] Ibid.

[4] See “Boucher Gleanings.”

[5] Thuringia, Germany, Selected Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1549–1876 [database on-line].

[6] Saxony and Thuringia, Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1591–1875 [database on-line].

[7] Wilhelm Boucher, 40, a “flower dealer” [sic for flour dealer?] born in Germany, arrived in Baltimore with his wife Wilhelmina, 20, and daughter Maria, 9 (Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820–1964 [database on-line]).

[8] Maryland, Federal Naturalization Records, 1795–1931 [database on-line].

[9] 1840 Federal Census, M704_159, p. 274.

[10] 1850 Federal Census, M432_282, p. 301.

[11] Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Strong on Music: The New York Music Scene in the Days of George Templeton Strong (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 1: 319, 320, 403.

[12] Maryland, Compiled Marriages, 1655–1850 [database on-line].

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

5 thoughts on “‘All fidelity to the Duke of Brunswick’

  1. I wonder if the naming practices were similar to those in other Catholic countries where Mary or Marie was the first name given although the female might be called by the second name?

    1. I think so, Carol, although the second Marie seems to have gone by that name rather than either one of her middle names. (And the women in Sophie’s family were usually named Johanna, followed by the name by which she would be known: Johanna Sophie Friederike, for instance.)

  2. Scott, I also have family coming from Germany to Baltimore about this time… why? Were they sponsored or motivated by something? Surname Decker (Americanized?)

    1. I don’t have an answer, Susan, although in my family’s case it looks like both the Bouchers and the O’Briens came to Baltimore via New York — Mary Agnes (O’Brien) Boucher was born in New York City, I think. As to why the Bouchers went to Baltimore and stayed put — having been fairly peripatetic in Europe — I don’t know!

      Of course I should add that the children of Wilhelm Boucher’s second marriage kept moving west, some ending up in Utah — so perhaps there was a general family wanderlust!

  3. “…a subject of the new King of Hanover, Ernst I” Historical note. George I was king of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover. His successors retained both titles. (George III became King of Hanover in 1814 in the reorganization of Europe after the defeat of Napoleon.) When WIlliam IV died, Victoria succeeded to the crown of the UK but Ernest Augustus succeeded to the crown of Hanover because the Salic Law was in force in Hanover. The crown could not be inherited by or through a woman.

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