Bartholomaeus Theiss
of
Sublette, Lee County IL

Contributed by George Theiss



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Bartholomeaus & Margaretha (Zilles) Theiss

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FROM THE BAPTISMAL REGISTER OF THE CATHOLIC PARISH OBERHILBERSHEIM DISTRICT BINGEN ON THE RHINE OF THE YEAR 1782 ON THE 14TH DAY OF OCTOBER WAS BAPTIZED IN NIEDERHILSHElM, BARTHOLOMAEUS THEYS, THE LEGITIMATE SON OF JACOBUS THEYS AND HIS LAWFUL WIFE GERTRUD IS. GODFATHER WAS BARTHOLOMAEUS THEYS."

Note in particular that Bartholomaeus' Godfather was "Bartholornaeus Theys." Therefore it would appear that this could be his uncle, Jacobus' brother, even if we have no record of Jacobus having a brother. The baptismal register indicates that Bartholomaeus baptized October 14, 1782 is not the first Bartholomaeus in the Petrus Theiss family.

Batholomaeus was age 21 when his father Joannes Jacobus died and he was age 34 when his mother Maria Gertrudis Schneider died. His mother lived 13 years after his father died.

At the age 30 Bartholomaeus in 1812 survived Napoleon's famous Retreat from Moscow. As a soldier at the age 001 Bartholomaeus fought with the Prussian army against Napoleon Bonaparte at Leipsiq in 1813 and again at Waterloo 1815 when he was age 33. He had won many honors for himself and later on was made one of Napoleon's bodyguards. He was a man of distinction with great will power and courage and therefore deserved all the credits bestowed on him. He was gifted in six languages: French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish and Slavonic dialects. He had perfect eyesight.

Bartholomaeus was age 37 on January 1, 1820 when he married Maria Josepha Margaretha Zilles. He was age 39 when his first child Margaretha Theiss was born January 15, 1821 and he was age 54 when his last child of seven Georgius (George) was born March 18, 1838.

March 9, 1846 at the age of 64 years and 5 months Bartholomaeus left his homeland with his wife Margaretha and their six children, to emigrate to the New World (America), arriving in mid-April in New York on the ship believed to be the Tallahassee. He and his family made a short stopover outside of Chicago but fInding the country more fruitful further west, they continued on and came to Sublette, Lee County, Illinois on May 5, 1846 where he made their permanent home in the Perkins Grove area.

Passport Number 636 dated March 9, 1846 issued at Darmstadt, Germany with the following physical description: Age 64 years; Height 72 (Hessen measurements); Hair: black-gray; Forehead: high; Eyebrows: black-gray; Eyes: blue; Nose: pointed; Mouth: medium; Beard: white; Chin: pointed; Face: long; Face color: pale; Special Marks: none; Signature of Traveler: (not signed).

In 1846 Bartholomaeus made a claim to 120 acres in Section 29 and Seetin 32 at $1.25 per acre where his sons Jacob, Joannes (John), Gottfried (Godfrey) and Georgius (George) subsequently lived. The first dwelling was a log cabin 15 x 32 and 12 feet high. He also bought 9 acres of forest land at $2.25 an acre.

At Niederhilbersheim, Germany, on October 1, 1872, Bartholomaeus Theiss was born, and here near the Rhine Falls, spent his youth. As he reached his manhood he accepted military service, little guessing how many years of life were to be spent amid the horrors of warfare, horse and sword the companions of his calling. He served with the armies of his native land for eight years in its various struggles against Napoleon before he was taken prisoner by the French. Napoleon reviewed his captives and asked each soldier his former profession or trade. When asked his profession, Bartholomaeus Theiss presented his sword and said, "This Sire." "We must take care of this man," was the comment of the commander. Bartholomaeus was transferred to other quarters and soon became a member of Napoleon's guard, a trusted soldier who served the master he idolized through his second campaign in Italy, Prussia, Austria and Russia.

The details of these wars may be better read from other pages. **Only a few personal incidents are recorded here. In 1805 the Battle of Gunsburgh was fought. "Prince Ferdinand hastened to defend Gunsburgh. General Mahler attacked him with the 59th Regiment." "This battle was a hand to hand, man to man conflict and the battle was most obstinate. Napoleon was so hard pressed he did not remove his boots for eight days and nights."

Bartholomaeus rode a splendid black charger. So long had man and horse been together that mutual understanding and devotion existed between the soldier and his mount. In the midst of the terrible saber fighting the right hand of the cavalryman was severly injured by a stroke of the enemy's sword. Instinctively recognizing his master's plight the noble animal plunged from side to side, backing out of the line of combat to a place of safety where the rider could wrap the injured hand in his neckerchief, wind the reins around the useless arm and firmly grasp his saber in his left hand. Then without command or guidance the horse tore into the thickest of the battle where the soldier fought with all his left handed might till his strength ebbed. Three times the unurged horse retreated till the rider recovered, then again charged into the fiercest fighting, carrying the wounded man safely in and out of battle till French victory ended the bloody encounter and the wound could be attended.

Here occurred an incident that taxes our credulity but is told because twice more it finds its place in the family story in time and place far removed. For generations of the Theiss family a charm had passed from father to the eldest daughter and from daughter to her first son. Now Bartholomaeus was the one person possessed of this amulet. He bound his wound in clean linen, nothing more, as the blood strangely ceased to flow when fust the soldier wrapped his hand in his neckerchief at the battle's edge. In an amazingly short time the wound was healed and only a thin white line remained in proof of this injury.

In all of his sixteen years of actual war, or in times of respite from actual hostilities and the eight years of closest service to Napoleon, no moment might have been more fateful than this oft pondered memory.

Bartholomaeus' memory of Napoleon's arrogant ride to this celebration of the victory was of an admiring guard standing attention while his Emperor mounted his horse and galloped forward, calling over his shoulder, "Follow me, you who can." Quickly mouting his horse the guard rode after, gained and reached the Tuileries in time to stand ready to receive the thrown reins as Napoleon dismounted. For this one moment master annd man faced each other apart from all others. In later years the soldier often wondered if he had done well, or if, in the minute of respectful attention and loyalty he had been moved to feel otherwise and use this unguarded moment to shoot the man to whom lives of others meant nothing, and saved men the suffering of the campaign of Russia and the horrors of retreat from Moscow, *** and what effect it might have had on the history of Europe. There was no answer. This remained ever but a memory - a thought - a question. The soldier truly loved the man for whom he had fought and suffered to the limit of human endurance.

"You weep at leaving your homeland when you are taking your husband and children with you" consoled the widowed half-sister, Francheska Schmitz, "Think of me, without husband and my eighteen children scattered over the whole world." She bade the happier family goodbye at the pier and saw them sail away. It was not without deep regret that the gently reared Frau Theiss (Margaretha Zilles) watched all she had known fade from view while the husband and sons expectantly faced a new world beyond the horizon. Margaretha (Theiss Lindstrom), too, departed with reluctance for she was leaving behind some unfulfilled romance, the details of which she never confided to her descendants.

One of the duties of the second mate was to assign passengers to their quarters so Margaret and Paul Lindstrom met almost as soon as the ship set sail. Paul loved Margaret almost from the moment he first beheld her. He could speak no German and she knew nothing of Swedish, Russian, Spanish, or English, in which languages the second mate could have conversed with her. Paul regarded the "eye language" as a universal way of speaking, understood by all youth. This was his only way of telling her of his love and to try to win her before the ship reached New York and she might be lost to him in her new surroundings while he must set sail almost at once on another voyage. The eye language must have been eloquently spoken by the sturdy blue eyed, curley haired, good natured officer, who made so strong an appeal to the beautiful girl that they came to an understanding before port was reached. Paul was given the address of a cousin, Martin Theiss, who resided at 99 1/2 Division St. New York City, with whom the family would stay until they could decide on the method of transportation to their destination. Eagerly Paul sought this cousin that he might tell his story in English and learn enough German to be able to ask Herr Theiss (Bartholomaeus) for the hand of his daughter. Confidently Paul asked the old gentleman ifhe could marry his daughter "for three months". The amused father willingly consented to the wedding in three months when Paul's voyage should be ended.

The Theiss family journeyed westward by wagon, first to Ottawa, Illinois and then north to Lee County. Here rich farm land was to be had from the government for one dollar and twenty-five cents ($1.25) per acre. The family settled near Perkins Grove. The father and sons selected their land, cut rails and piled them at right angles to mark their comers as was required and turned at once to building a dwelling for the family. These strong sons accomplished this and other preliminary tasks so the family was well establiished on American soil before the end of 1846.

Either during this same year (1846) or the following, a missionary heard of this Catholic family and traveled there on horseback, saying the first Mass for them in that locality. With commendable zeal, Mr. Theiss conceived the idea of building here a chapel where the itinerant missionary could minister to the slowly increasing Catholic colony. To a sum of money secured from friends in Germany they added their own scant savings and constructed the first frame church in 1853. With that German characteristic, as soon as the church was completed they felt the need of a Catholic school and with great sacrifices they erected a frame school house and also a frame dwelling for the teacher. The school was in continuous operation till Christmas day, 1870. A disastrous fire detroyed the teacher's house and the rectory.

"After the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad around 1853, a church was built at Sublette and general merchandise was available on Sundays. Thereafter all West Brooklyn residents as well as those of Sublette transferred to that parish and only the Theiss families were left to maintain the church and cemetery." (From the History of the Diocese of Rockford.) Five generations of the Theiss family are now buried in this private cemetery. (Assumed by Diocese of Rockford, Illinois in June 2002.)

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"Anecdotes Related By Bartholomaeus Theiss Regarding His Service In The Army" Napoleon and Bartholomaeus, as Napoleon's bodyguard, fled the English Army and boarded an English ship. Bartholomaeus says that he and Napoleon hid in empty salt barrels aboard the ship in one ofthe harbors after the defeat of the French Army. He said the English found Napoleon but did not check the barrels where he was hiding. (Napoleon hiding in a salt barrel is mentioned in some ofthe books written about Napoleon). Bartholomaeus hid in the salt barrel to a port near London where he managed to escape into the city. He said he thought he was going to starve to death since he had no English money with him and did not speak the English language. He said it took him three months to find a way back to the Rhineland.

"Bartholomaeus In Vienna"

Bartholomaeus tells about Napoleon having the streets of the city square in Vienna sprinkled with salt and they rode a sleigh around the city square in celebration of the victory which at that time was the defeat of Austria by Napoleon's French Army.

"Battle With The Turks"

Bartholomaeus tells about a battle between the French and the Turkish Armies facing one another in a prelude to battle. Editor's comment: (The best I can find in history books is a battle may have taken place in Alexandria, Egypt where Napoleon had landed with some troops and faced the occupiers of that country at that time.) As the Turkish troops faced the French troops Bartholomaeus says he unwisely yelled: "Which one of you wants your mustache cut off?" With that several of the mounted enemy rushed toward his horse and he feels he probably would have been slain if it wasn't for the fact that the opposing horses were trained to charge toward each other. On this occasion, his ear was almost severed but he survived as his horse rushed into the fray.

"The Escape From Russia"

Bartholomaeus said he spoke to Napoleon at one point in Moscow that there were great treasures to be had in Moscow and Napoleon said there's only one treasure to be saved now and that's our lives. They made immediate plans for withdrawal. Napoleon said he was taking the route they came, which was back through Poland, but he would release him to take a more southern route with a group to try to get to Hungary and Austria. Bartholomaeus said they had daily skirmishes with Russian Army troops. During the journey, a terrible blizzard hit his group with blinding snow and to a depth that made it impossible to flee. He decided to shoot his horse which was floundering in the blizzard and cleaned out the carcass into

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Beginning in America -1846

The first log cabin home of Bartholomaeus Theiss was built on a small hill in the flat land of Sublette, Illinois. On July 26, 1847 his daughter Margaretha married Paul Lindstrom, a carpenter, and he later built a modern home for his in-laws near the location of the original cabin. George B. Theiss born January 6t\ 1858 was the son of Joannes (John) Theiss and grandson ofBartholomaeus and was the last child born in the cabin before it was dismantled and the family moved into their new home.

Bartholomaeus' children married and settled on original land grants in the township of Sublette to which they added acreage buying more land from the government. The first six years they hauled their grain to Chicago in wagons pulled by teams of oxen. When they neared the Fox River at Aurora where they had to cross, they learned to unhitch the oxen half a mile before because the oxen broke into a fast run toward the river damaging the wagons and destroying the grain.

After six years, they were able to travel to Peru, Illinois to sell their grain directly to buyers using barges on the Illinois River downstream to the Mississippi River which was passable to New Orleans. In about 1853 the railroad came to the village of Sublette and thereafter shipping was by railroad which has since been closed and the rails removed.

When Bartholomaeus left Germany he said he didn't want his sons to be soldiers for as many years as he was and wanted to get them to America because he could foresee years of struggles in the territories of the German Duchies, France, Austria, and Hungary. This vision was accurate because the wars continued throughout Europe at regular intervals.

Children of Bartholomaeus Theiss

Margaretha Theiss 15 January 1821 - 11 September 1901
George Theiss 18 February 1822 - 1827
Jacob Theiss 25 July 1823 - 20 September 1893
John Theiss 7 December 1825 - 9 January 1899
Godfred Theiss 12 April 1830 - 11 January 1909
George Theiss 23 March 1838 - 17 January 1923

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From the Dixon Telegraph - May 1951 - Centennital Issue
Bartholomai Theiss came to Sublette in the year 1846 with his wife, four sons and two daughters. For many years he had served under Napoleon Bonaparte in the latter's campaigns in Italy, Prussia, Austria and Russia. he had won such distinction that he was made one of the great Napoleon's bodyguards. He is the only soldier who served under Napoleon to be buried in Lee County.

Members of the Theiss family built the first Catholic church in Sublette, now known as St. Marys church. Both the church and the adjoining cemetery are kept beautiful to this very day by the descendant sof the original Theiss family.

Paul Lindstrom, another old settler of Sublette, came here iwth Bartholomai Theiss. He was a splendid carpenter. He built the Bartholomai Theiss home which gave him a tremendous reputation. It was he who built the Catholic church, the interior finish of which always has been made so interesting. All the beautiful carving about the finish, particularly the altar, was done by kim with an ordinary pocket knife.

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