Christoph von Graffenried, 1st Baron of Bernberg

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Christoph von Graffenried
Baron of Bernberg
PredecessorNew creation
SuccessorAnton Tscharner de Graffenried,
2nd Baron of Bernberg
Born15 November 1661
Worb Castle,
Bern, Switzerland
Died1743 (aged 82)
Regina Tscharner
(m. 1684)
FatherAnton von Graffenried,
Lord of Worb
MotherCatherine von Graffenried

Christoph von Graffenried, 1st Baron of Bernberg, also known as Christoph de Graffenried, (15 November 1661 – 1743) was a British peer from Switzerland who founded New Bern, Carolina, in 1710. Today, he is best known for his memoir, Relation of My American Project (c. 1716), which recounts his life as the Baron of Bernburg and Landgrave of Carolina.[1]

Early life[edit]

Worb Castle, Von Graffenried's ancestral home and place of birth

Von Graffenried was born on 15 November 1661 in the village of Worb near Bern, Switzerland. He was the son of Anton von Graffenried and Catherine Jenner. His father was lord of Worb and a minor government official. Christoph studied at the universities in Heidelberg and Leyden and then visited England around 1680. While in England he came to know John Colleton and other Lords Proprietors of Carolina. In 1683 he returned home and married Regina Tscharner, with whom he had thirteen children.[2][3]

New Bern colony[edit]

As his family grew, Von Graffenried found that his salary as a local government official and income from his estate were insufficient to cover expenses and growing debts. Around 1708, he became acquainted with the explorer-adventurer Franz Ludwig Michel who persuaded him to join an initiative to mine American silver deposits and establish a colony of Swiss refugees who were either poor or religiously persecuted. In 1709, Von Graffenried met with his former contacts in England and the Lords Proprietors of Carolina granted the Swiss venture 19,000 acres along the Neuse and Trent rivers in Carolina, including 5,000 acres purchased by Von Graffenried himself. As a significant landowner, Von Graffenried was named a “Landgrave of Carolina" and was later granted the provinical title, "Baron of Bernburg.” In addition, Queen Anne provided £4,000 to pay for the transportation of 100 German Palantine families that had fled to England to escape the War of the Spanish Succession.[4]

In January, 1710, Von Graffenried sent 650 Palatine settlers to Carolina under the leadership of John Lawson, the provincial surveyor general. Lawson had recently returned from Carolina in order to publish his book, A Voyage to Carolina. Lawson was knowledgeable of the country and promised to guide the settlers to the best sites for their communities. Their voyage was hindered by a series of winter storms and it was thirteen weeks before they landed in Virginia and then proceeded overland to Carolina. Hardship and disease took a heavy toll on the group and half of the original 650 colonists died before reaching their destination.[5][6]

In July, Von Graffenried sailed with a contingent of about 150 Swiss colonists. Their crossing was relatively uneventful and after landing at Hampton, Virginia, in September, he joined Michel and Lawson in the Neuse-Trent area. He quickly laid out a town at the fork of the Trent and Neuse Rivers and christened it New Bern. When a local tribe complained that the land belonged to them, Graffenreid negotiated a settlement and purchased the site of the new town from the tribe. The craftsmen in the group were assigned to the town while the farmers were given 250-acre plots in the outlying areas up the Trent River.[7][8]

Despite a quick start to their settlement, the colonists were in desperate need of food and other supplies. The deputy governor of North Carolina was supposed to provide funds to purchase what was needed but a religious and political dispute between factions in the Carolina government meant that no money was forthcoming. Von Graffenried appealed unsuccessfully to the lords proprietors, other investors, and the colonial legislature for support. In the summer of 1711, an outbreak of yellow fever hit the colony and several settlers died, including two Swiss servants in Von Graffenried's household.[9]

Artist's depiction of the capture and trial of Von Graffenried and John Lawson by Tuscarora Indians in 1711

Meanwhile, relations between colonists and Indians in the region continued to deteriorate. The Indians resented the steady encroachment of Europeans on their territory and felt abused in their trading deals with the settlers. Perhaps their greatest grievance was the native slave trade that flourished in the frontier regions--Indian children in particular were kidnapped and sold into slavery by white slave traders. Von Graffenried's new colony was not a specific target of this resentment and in later years, Von Graffenried would insist that he treated the Indians justly.[10]

Von Graffenried was apparently unaware of how seriously relations with the Tuscarora had deteriorated. In September, 1711, he and John Lawson began an exploratory journey up the Neuse. They hoped the river might provide a route for trade with Virginia. The trip was planned to last about two weeks and they brought along two Black servants and two Indian guides. The route took the group through the heart of Tuscarora territory. The natives captured Von Graffenried, Lawson, and their Black servants and subjected Von Graffenried and Lawson to a lengthy series of trials. Eventually, it was decided they were both guilty of crimes against the Tuscarora people and should be killed. Von Graffenried defended himself, saying that he had no part in any quarrels with the Indians and that he was under the protection of the Queen of England who would surely avenge his death. Ultimately, the Tuscarora spared Von Graffenried but killed Lawson. The manner of his death is unknown.[11]

In negotiations with Indian tribes on Virginia's border, Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia interceded on behalf of Von Graffenried and demanded his release. Von Graffenried was freed after six weeks of captivity. When he finally reached New Bern, he found it abandoned and in flames.[12]

Journey to the Shenandoah Valley[edit]

In 1712 Von Graffenried contracted French-Canadian guide and surveyor Martin Chartier to take him to Sugarloaf Mountain[13] and then to the Shenandoah Valley, where they visited Massanutten Mountain, the supposed site of silver ore which the baron hoped to mine, however they found no evidence of any ore.[14]

Later life[edit]

Memorial window in Worb Church

Having lost his fortune, Von Graffenried returned penniless in 1714 to Worb, Switzerland. He sold his part in Carolina to Thomas Pollock for 800 pounds. Von Graffenried soon wrote a book entitled Relation of My American Project. In it, he included several documents, among them a letter written to the governor of Carolina and a layout of the settlement of New Bern.

In 1731, after the death of a brother, the Oberherr von Worb, [Christoph's father] Anton secured and sold to Christoph the management of the estate which went with the office, reserving for himself the revenues of the office. The management of the estate was not very lucrative, but the father thought he had made a rather generous expiation for his previous treatment. Next, when Anton became Mayor of Murton he wanted a representative in Iverton; and although Christoph did not relish the place, still to please his wife he ran for it and was elected. In 1730 at Anton's death the estate of Worb came to Christoph without encumbrance, and he held it till 1740, when he retired in favor of his sons. Three years later he died and was buried in the choir of the Church at Worb, ending a life the last years of which, while uneventful, were not unpleasant.

Personal life[edit]

On 25 April 1684 Von Graffenried married Regina Tscharner (1665–1731). Tscharner also came from an accomplished and respected family, her father, Beat Ludwig, having been a member of the Assembly and her grandfather, Samuel, having been the Governor and Mayor of Chillon. The Graffenrieds had four sons and seven daughters. In 1702, Von Graffenried acquired the office of Governor of Yverdon.


  1. ^ Colonial Records of North Carolina. n.d. pp. 985–986. LCCN 01006807. OCLC 2864657 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Snapp 2000
  3. ^ Graffenried 1924
  4. ^ Snapp 2000
  5. ^ Dill 1945 Part 2
  6. ^ Snapp 2000
  7. ^ Dill 1986
  8. ^ Dill 1945 Part 2
  9. ^ Dill 1945 Part 3
  10. ^ Dill 1945 Part 3
  11. ^ Dill 1945 Part 3
  12. ^ Dill 1986
  13. ^ Graffenried 1924
  14. ^ Kemper, Charles E. (1933). "The Massanutten Mountains". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 30 (1): 61–62. JSTOR 4243865 – via JSTOR.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Regnal titles
New creation Baron of Bernberg
Succeeded by
Anton Tscharner de Graffenried
New creation Landgrave of Carolina
Preceded by
Anton von Graffenried
Lord of Worb
Succeeded by
Franz Ludwig von Graffenried