Ebenezer Witzel was the only male in his household, with his wife (whose name we do not learn until 1860 as Minerva) and three female children. They were still in Union in 1840, and had grown to five children, all females under the ages of fifteen.
We do not know what happened to the Ebenezer Witzel family in 1850. Maybe the census taker missed going by that family’s dwelling. But by 1860 and thereafter, the Ebenezer Witzel family was recorded in the new Fannin County (formed in 1854 from parts of Union and Gilmer).
Maybe I should call these early settlers whose names are listed in the 1834 census of Union County as “First Families.” In a sense, they were the first families to take up residence and carve out a living amidst the hills, valleys and ridges of Union.
Witzel is an unusual last name, one that catches the eye in a list like a county census. It is listed Witzel, Wetzel, Whitzell and other similar spellings. German in origin, it means a descendant from “Wizo”, a sort of slang name for “Wild Forest.” Could it mean, then, that the original Witzel immigrants to America came from the Black Forest of Germany? It is known that Johannes Geog Wetzel settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s and his descendants migrated from there to various states.
According to the 1860 census of Fannin County (where we find the Union County Ebenezer Witzel of the 1834 Union census) he was a farmer, owned his own land evaluated at $2, 500 and his monetary assets were $1,000.
He had been born, according to the 1860 census, in North Carolina, and his wife, Minerva, had been born in South Carolina. He was 53 years of age and she was 41. They had two children remaining at home in 1860—John, age 14, and Hulda (Oregon?), age 10.
Did the Witzel family move from Union County to Fannin County? Probably not. It is possible that they lived on the same land they owned in Union in the 1834 and 1840 census listings. Why they were not “found” in the 1850 census is a matter of speculation. In 1860 they were in Fannin, possibly on the farm they had occupied in Union.
Ebenezer and Minerva Witzel, one of the “first families” of Union lived in a section of the new Fannin County called Sugar Creek. There Ebenezer had established the first iron forge to operate in the new Fannin County. This writer does not know the date of the iron forge’s opening, but it is very likely that it was in operation first in Union County before Fannin was founded in 1854. The iron mill was a large trip-hammer forge weighing several hundred pounds. It was operated by water power from a dam Ebenezer had built on Sugar Creek.
There this enterprising man also established a sawmill, likewise operated by water power. The sawmill was of the old type called a sash saw and worked in a vertical up-and-down motion.
To show how the Civil War adversely affected private business, the 1870 census shows that Ebenezer Witzel’s property evaluation had gone down to $1,000 and his monetary assets to $800. The reduction was probably from several factors like the actual cessation of iron manufacture (his forge did not operate during the Civil War) and his saw mill, from the poor economy after the war, and from Witzel’s deeding portions of his farm to his children as they married and established their own homes.
By 1870, Margaret Witzel, Ebenezer’s mother, had come to live with Ebenezer and Minerva. It is interesting to note that this 83-year old lady, born in North Carolina, had her occupation listed as “knitting socks.” Making socks from wool in 1870 was an important element of in-home production.
Ebenezer Witzel, born in North Carolina in 1807, died in Fannin County in 1871. His body was laid to rest on his own land. His was the first burial in what is known today as the Curtis Family Cemetery just off Curtis Road in Fannin County. There his wife, Minerva, was also laid to rest when she died October 4, 1904. It is believed that an unmarked grave in the old Curtis Cemetery may be that of Ebenezer’s mother, Margaret Witzel. The Witzel property was bought by Richard Ivy Byrd Curtis and became known in later years as the Curtis homeplace and Curtis Cemetery.
I did not find any Witzel marriages listed in early Union County marriage records. Next door in Fannin County, however, some thirteen Witzel and Wetzel marriages are listed between the years of 1854 and 1901. These marriages are of descendants, children and grandchildren, of the early settlers Ebenezer and Minerva Witzel who made their way to Union before 1834.
c 2009 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 10, 2009 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.