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by Benjamin Granade Koonce, Jr.


According to family tradition and early colonial records, the Koonce family of Jones and Onslow counties, In Eastern North Carolina, originated in the Palatinate, the region along the upper Rhine River in southern Germany which supplied a large portion of the Swiss and German colonists who founded the town of New Bern in 1710 under the leadership of Baron Christopher DeGraffenried. The immediate founder of the family in North Carolina was John Koonce/Cunitz, who was born in 1675 and who died in1711 during the Tuscarora War. The name John Cunitz appears on a list of Palatines and other emigrants who arrived at Walworth, England, from Rotterdam, Holland, on May 27, 1709. This list includes John Cunitz, a Roman Catholic, thirty-three years of age; his wife; two sons, fifteen and five years of age; and a daughter, one year of age.

John Cunitz was among the group of approximately 600 Palatines who in January 1710 left Gravesend, England, for North Carolina and who were followed soon afterwards by Baron DeGraffenried and about 1,500 Swiss. Although he survived the hardships of a voyage which cost lives of over half his fellow passengers, John Cunitz reached America only to encounter worse misfortunes. Arriving in Virginia in April 1710 after a three-months passage, he and the other surviving Palatines went overland to North Carolina, stopping several days in the Albemarle region, and thence proceeded through an all but unsettled wilderness and under conditions of great hardship to the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers, where, after the arrival of DeGraffenried and the Swiss colonists later in the year, they helped to establish the town of New Bern. After settling on plantations allotted to them along the Neuse and Trent rivers and their tributaries, they lived prosperously until September of the following year, when the various tribes of the Tuscarora Indians, aroused by the encroachments of the white settlers, combined to lay waste a wide area of Bath County (then including Craven and adjoining precincts) and succeeded in massacring a large portion of the colonists, including one-third of the Swiss and Palatines at New Bern. Among the latter was John Cunitz, who, according to an early family Bible record, "was killed in battle by Tuscarora Indians at Core Creek on September 23rd A. D. 1711, Age 36 yrs." In the following year, his name appears in an official record of claims paid to persons in Craven Precinct in consequence of militia service rendered by themselves or their testators, intestates, or assignors, during the Tuscarora War.

GEORGE KOONCE (1704-1778)

Apparently only one member of John Koonce's family, a son, George Koonce, born April 6, 1704--survived the Indian massacre. In the early family record already referred to, he is said to have been the "sole surviving child of John Cunitz"; and in the minutes of the Craven Precinct Court for January 21, 1712/13,he along with George Kornegay, another surviving Palatine, is listed as one of the two orphans placed under the guardianship of Captain Jacob Miller, a Palatine colonist who served as one of the earliest magistrates and presiding justices of the Craven County Court: "Whereas Jacob Miller, Esquire, declared to ye Court yt he, ye aforesaid Jacob Miller, Esquire, hath in his keeping two orphan children, Viz., Geo. Kneegee / Kornegay/ and Geo. Conis /Koonce/ and it is ordered yt ye said Jacob Miller, Esquire, teaches ye said orphans to read and write before ye said orphans arrive to ye age of twenty-one years old. Ordered it be recorded and it is recorded."

Left an orphan in a strange land at the early age of seven, George Koonce was undoubtedly fortunate in being reared in the household of Capt. Jacob Miller, a man of recognized principles, piety, and education. From the time of his arrival in the colony in 1710, Miller took an active role in the affairs and problems of his fellow colonists. He was one of the twelve assistants chosen by Baron DeGraffenried to govern the settlement at New Bern, and after DeGraffenried's departure for Switzerland in 1713 he was an acknowledged spokesman for the interests of the Swiss and Palatines, being regarded as such by Governor Pollock, who refers to him in his will (1722) in connection with the disputed land claims of the colonists at New Bern. Since Captain Miller was a presiding justice of the Craven Court, his plantation at Green Spring, on the south side of the Neuse, was frequently the meeting place of the court sessions. As a captain in the Craven Militia, he also performed the important duty of protecting the colonists from future attacks by the Indians.

Accumulating a large personal fortune in the new world, he declared in his will that he, "Jacob Miller, of ye Palatinate Country, being in new land," wished it "known openly that ye Lord God in North Carolina in America brought me here and blest me with worldly goods." Captain Miller died in 1732, and in his will he designated George Koonce as one of the administrators of the inheritance of his youngest daughter, Catherine Miller. George Koonce's close connection with the Miller family is evident not only in this position of trust but also in subsequent ties of marriage between the Koonce and Miller families. How long he remained in Captain Miller's household is not known. In 1720, while still a minor, he was a tithable in the household of Jacob Sheets, Esq., another prominent Palatine, who later married Captain Miller's daughter, Civilla, widow of John Martin Franck, a young Lutheran schoolmaster who accompanied the DeGraffenried colony to New Bern in 1710 and served as a vestryman and magistrate in Craven Precinct and later as a member of the Colonial Assembly.

Like Captain Miller, Jacob Sheets was a justice of the Craven Court and a leading spokesman for the interests of the Swiss and Palatines. It was presumably at his plantation on Trent River that George Koonce lived until he came of age in 1725. About this time he married, and by 1730 he had settled on a plantation on the east side of Great Chinquapin Creek, on the north side of Trent River, in what is now Jones County. This land, consisting of 250 acres, was deeded to him by John Martin Franck, to whom it was granted as part of a 1,021 acre patent by the Lords Proprietors in 1711. In a document of 1751, George Koonce claimed that he had "paid His Majesty's rents" on this property "for these twenty years past." The locality in which George Koonce settled, embracing the area north and south of the Trent River which in 1778 became part of Jones County, was by 1740 a focal point of settlement by many of the original Swiss and Palatine colonists at New Bern or their descendants.

The earliest and largest grantee of land in this area was John Martin Frank, son-in-law of Captain Jacob Miller, who deeded the plantation on Chinquapin Creek to George Koonce. By a series of grants between 1711 and 1725, he accumulated an estate of over 20,000 acres, a portion of which, lying south of the Trent River between Cypress Creek and Tuckahoe Creek, was known as "New Germany." Other Swiss or Palatine names appearing in the records after 1740--names long familiar in Jones County and linked by generations of inter-marriage are those of Simmons, Granade, Kincey, Isler, Kornegay, Shelfer, Rhem, Miller and Bender. Most of these names, including that of George Koonce, appear on a list of persons who subscribed to the building of a church to be known as the "Palatine Church" or "High German Chapel." This document, dated August 2, 1740, directs that the church is to be constructed on the south side of Trent River in Craven County, presumably in the vicinity of what was later known as Chinquapin Chapel in Jones County:

Whereas, we the subscribers, have agreed and concluded to build one house of worship or a chapel on Trent River in Craven County, in the province of North Carolina, out of one stock of cattle which a certain person hath willed and given for the same purpose for the use of the Palatines or Germans, now we, the subscribers hereof have chosen and elected Mr. Jacob Sheets, John Simmons, John Kinsey and Peter Remm, for to build the same church or chapel for the use of the High Germans and the Church of England, and the same chapel is to be built on the south side of Trent River between the Ferry and John Kinsey's plantation, and the same chapel is to be 30 feet long and 20 feet wide and 12 feet high, and furthermore we do give unto the above Jacob Sheets, John Simmons, Peter Remm, and John Kinsey, full power and authority to build same chapel or church, and the name or title of the same church or chapel is to be called the Palatine Church or the High German Chapel, as witness our seals, the second day of August, 1740.

This document is signed by Jacob Sheets, John Martin Franck, John Letcher Miller, George Kornegay, George Koonce, and twenty others.

George Koonce lived on his plantation on the north side of Trent River and on the east side of Chinquapin Creek until his death on January 28, 1778, at the age of seventy-three. In Craven County records he is referred to as "planter," and he appears to have increased his holdings of land in the vicinity Chinquapin Creek. Before his death he deeded land to three of his sons. On February 14, 1767, he gave to George Koonce, Jr. land on the north side of Chinquapin Creek at the mouth of Small Branch "in consideration of the love and good will which I have and do bear my son, George Koonce." On the same date he gave to his son Michael Koonce a tract "lying on the north side of Chinquapin Creek, running to a small branch and along it," and joining the lands given to his son George Koonce, Jr. On April 4, 1767, "George Koonce, of Craven County, Planter," for one hundred pounds in proclamation money, devised to Jacob Koonce, also of Craven County, a plantation located on the north side of Trent River and on the east side of Chinquapin Creek, "the plantation the said George Koonce now lives on," adjoining the lines of Michael Koonce and George Koonce, Jr.

Besides the above mentioned sons --George, Jr., Michael and Jacob--George Koonce had four other sons: John Koonce, the oldest who patented land adjacent to that of his father in 1748; Tobias Koonce. Christian Koonce and Daniel Koonce. Four of these sons--John, George, Jr., Tobias and Michael--are included in a muster of Craven County militia for the years 1754-1756.All of the children except Tobias, whose will is dated 1771,survived their father; and the names of all except Daniel (perhaps a minor at this time) appear on the first Tax List of Jones County in 1779. George Koonce was also survived by his wife, Mary Koonce, who is mentioned in her husband's will, along with Christian and Daniel, the two youngest sons, and Michael Koonce, one of his father's executors. The will, recorded in the Craven County Court House and dated May 1, 1772, reads as follows:

NORTH CAROLINA CRAVEN COUNTY -In the name of God, Amen, I George Koonce of the County aforesaid, being very sick and weak in body but blessed be God of sound mind and memory, do make and ordain this my last will and testament in manner and form following. IMPRIMIS. My will and desire first of all is that after my decease my body be buried in a Christian like, decent manner and form at the discretion of my executors hereafter named, and as to the worldly goods which it hath pleased God to bestow on me, I do dispose of them as follows.

ITEM. I give and leave to my son Christian Koonce one feather bed and furniture to him and his heirs forever.

ITEM. I give and leave to my son Daniel Koonce to him and his heirs forever one feather bed and furniture.

ITEM. I also give to my beloved wife, Mary Koonce, all of my other real estate and personal estate during the time she continues my widow or lives unmarried and after marriage or decease, to be equally divided between my two sons Christian and Daniel Koonce.

And I do hereby nominate and appoint my beloved sons Michael Koonce and Christian Koonce my whole and sole executors of this my will and testament. In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and official seal this first day of May in the year of our Lord 1772.

Signed, sealed, and published in presence of William Lavender, Jacob Koonce, Martha Koonce



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