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Sgt. Schoener, Artificer

Johann Wilhelm Schoener (recorded as Johann Wilhelm Schiner in the church record), my 5x great grandfather, was born on 3 December 1749 to Hans Jurg and Eva Margareth Schoener. He was baptized in the New Hanover Church with Johann Wilhelm Reichard and Matthias Hollenbach acting as his sponsors. His father died before his second birthday (Click here for the post about him). The most common spelling of his last name was Shener and appeared on the majority of documents.

In 1774 he married Elisabetha Klinger and started a family. His first child, John Jacob, was born on 18 September 1775.

Shortly thereafter, the American Revolution began and William joined the Berks County Militia. He held the rank of Sergeant and was also an artificer. Artificers were skilled artisans and mechanics who kept military equipment in good working order so the troops could operate effectively.

Reading was a prominent place for locating prisoners of war that were taken at different times in the course of prosecuting the Revolution. They comprised different nationalities, but principally English and Germans (Hessians). English prisoners arrived at Reading in February 1776 without any notice. They had been taken in Canada and brought their wives and children with them. Reading was already filled to capacity; not one house in the town was unoccupied. Many families had travelled there from Philadelphia, hoping the avoid the war. The addition of prisoners of war put a strain on lodging and provisions.

On 17 April 776, the officers, who were prisoners of war at Reading, were ordered to be removed to Lebanon and on 10 July, Congress ordered that the privates who were prisoners there should be removed to Lancaster. In September 1776, the conduct and late hours of the prisoners excited the citizens to such an extent that a meeting of the Committee of Berks County was called on 3 September and resolutions were adopted praying the Council of Safety to require the prisoners to disarm themselves and repair to their respective lodgings at a reasonable hour, 8 p. m., every evening.

On 26 December 1776, seven prisoners reached Reading, having been taken there from Northampton County. Their arrival induced James Read to address a letter to the Council of Safety on the next day, which was as follows : "Reading being the nearest place, we, who have already more prisoners, French and Scotch, than we have men at arms, (old and young together) in this place, shall have all the Tories that Northampton can find, whereby the ruin of this town is justly apprehended. Lancaster has Barracks, and neither that town, nor York, has any prisoners in it. But if the people of Northampton have their choice of three places, they will always send to the nearest of them. Thus Reading must be endangered, and at best burthened. Our prison is small, that of Lancaster large, and that town is three times as large as this. Pray, sir, let these things be immediately considered. We are distressed."

In 1776, Captain Conrad Geist's Company, of the 6th Battalion of County Militia, was detailed to guard the prisoners while in the Reading Jail from which they had attempted to break out. The company then conducted them from Reading to Lancaster. William either met or strengthen familial connections since also serving in the company as privates were his wife's uncle, Philip Klinger, and Conrad and Peter Fasig (Foesig), uncles of the woman his son John Jacob would marry.

Anticipating an early military encounter in New Jersey towards the close of 1776, Congress made extra efforts to collect troops, and in this behalf sent General Thomas Mifflin, of Pennsylvania, throughout the State to awaken the proper spirit of patriotism. Among the places visited was Reading. It is probable that the result of this appeal and meeting was the enlistment of three companies out of the battalion commanded by Colonel Henry Haller, and of which Gabriel Hiester was the Major. They were stationed at Newtown, in Bucks County, during January 1777 and were commanded by Captains George Will, John Diehl and Nicholas Scheffer. George Washington had his headquarters in Newtown after the Battle of Trenton, from 26 to 30 December 1776.

John Harris House, Washington's Headquarters, Newtown, PA

The Muster Roll of Captain John Diehl's Company of Major Hiester's Battalion of Militia of Berks County from 22 January 1777 listed Sergeant Shener.

After the war the men of Captain Conrad Geist's 1st Company, 4th Battalion, Berks County Militia were having trouble being paid for their services, and they along with Conrad signed a petition. William Shener's name appeared on that petition.

He spent the rest of his life in Reading and worked as a gunsmith, most likely using the skills that had earned him the position of artificer during the Revolution. He had at least seven sons, four of which survived to adulthood. He died on 19 October 1808. Elisabeth lived an additional 32 years, passing on 18 September 1840 at the age of 90.


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