Joseph Kissel Farm

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Lancaster, New Yorkmap
Surnames/tags: Kissel Nuwer
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Joseph Kissel by Michael Nuwer
August 30, 2020

John Nuwer and Catherine (Kieffer) Nuwer had four sons. Their second son was John, Jr. He was born in 1849 and married his first wife, Francis Kissel, in 1874.

Francis Kissel was born in Lancaster on February 2, 1855. Her baptismal record can be found in the microfilm files for St. Mary’s church. Francis’ father was Joseph Kissel, who was born in France—most likely in Alsace—in 1821 or 1822. Joseph Kissel was about the same age as John Nuwer, Sr. (born 1819), Frank Nuwer (born 1823), and John Kieffer, Jr. (born 1822).

Joseph Kissel operated a small farm in Lancaster. The history of his farm is an informative contrast for other farms in the Nuwer family tree that I have written about. On July 25, 1854 Joseph Kissel purchased ten acres of land, which included a dwelling, in lot number 49 on Schwartz Road. The following map identifies the location of this property. Lot 49 was in the southeast part of Lancaster, an area that was formerly included in the Buffalo Creek Indian reservation.[1]

Image 1: Southeast Lancaster

Joseph Kissel’s farm was found in the 1855 Agricultural Census of New York. It was listed as a ten-acre property valued at $250. The farm had one milk cow and one hog. No commercial products were produced in the census year. The Census reported no grain, no hay, no dairy products produced for sale. [2]

Five years later, when the 1860 Agricultural Census was taken, Joseph Kissel’s ten-acre farm reported two milk cows and three hogs. Commercial crops were produced in 1860, including ten bushels of corn, four bushels of peas, 100 bushels of potatoes and one ton of hay. The farm’s dairy produced 300 pounds of butter. Interestingly, no work horses or oxen were reported for this farm. [3]

Most Alsatians (and southern Germans) who immigrated to Erie County in the 1830s and 1840s and who made their living as farmers acquired more land in their new home than they had in the villages they left. Agriculture in northern Alsace was essentially subsistence farming. Families did not produce for commercial markets, instead they consumed the products they produced. The farms were typically very small. The well-to-do families owned more than 20 acres of land, but most families owned only 5 to 15 acres. When a family left Alsace for the United States they traveled on their own resources and therefore they sold their land to fund the journey. Many families were able to liquidate their land at a price enabling them to cross the sea and to buy a larger farm in America. Joseph Kissel’s ten-acre farm, however, was no larger than the average middle-class farm found in Alsace.

Between 1860 and 1865 Joseph Kissel added some land to his farm, but it was only an addition of five acres. Although a deed was not found for this addition, the 1865 Census of Agriculture reported fifteen acres of land for Joseph Kissel’s farm and the five-acre parcel was included in the deed of sale when Joseph Kissel’s farm was sold after his death. After farming in Erie County more than ten years, Joseph Kissel’s farm was still no larger than an average Alsatian farm. [4]

Joseph Kissel was not found in the 1870 U.S. Census of Agriculture nor the 1875 New York Census of Agriculture. In the 1880 Census of Agriculture Joseph Kissel was still working the same 15 acres of land. In the fields, he used two work horses to produce five tons of hay from four acres of land. Additionally, he harvested one acre of rye, two acres of corn, two acres of potatoes, three acres of barley, and five acres of oats. His dairy used three milk cows and two other cows which were pastured on seven acres of land. This operation produced three calves (two of which were sold), 380 pounds of butter, and buttermilk which was used to feed two hogs. In addition, the farm produced 215 dozen eggs from eighteen chickens and 35 bushels of apples from twenty apple trees.

Image 2: Southeast Lancaster

The land and building of this farm were valued at $1,500 while the livestock was valued at $300. The money value of all the products sold was only $350. This is how we know Joseph Kissel was a commercial farmer, even though he owned only 15 acres of land. In 1880, Joseph Kissel had been working this farm for 25 years. It had started small and it remained small the entire time. To offer a comparison, in 1880 Joseph’s son-in-law John Nuwer, Jr. was working 84 acres of land which was valued at $6,000 and his dairy used eight milk cows. The products sold were very similar—hay, barley, corn, oats, wheat, potatoes, apples, eggs, hogs, and calves—but these products had a money value of $1,193, which was more than three times greater than the products produced on Joseph Kissel’s farm. John Nuwer, Jr.’s father and uncles (Frank Nuwer and John Kieffer, Jr.) operated even larger farms and like Joseph Kissel, they were immigrants of the same age. [5]

In May 1884 Joseph Kissel added 19 acres of land to his farm. The land was directly north of and adjacent to his 15-acre farm. This land was purchased from his stepson, Louis Armbrust. Louis had acquired the land from Christian Heller in January 1866. His deed identifies the property as two parcels, one containing ten acres of land and the second containing nine acres. After owning this land about 22-year Louis Armbrust sold it to his stepfather. Joseph Kissel was about 63 years old when he purchased this property in 1884. He paid Louis Armbrust $800 for the land and took out a mortgage to finance the purchase. Joseph Kissel died on September 3, 1892, a bit more than eight years after purchasing this land from Louis Armbrust. [6]

Joseph Kissel’s Last Will and Testament gave his wife, Mary, the right to use his farm “during her natural life,” but Mary Kissel had predeceased her husband. She died May 12, 1890. Joseph Kissel’s surviving “heirs and next of kin” as listed in court records included his son Henry Kissel and his daughter Lena (Kissel) Hickel. His daughter Francis (Kissel) Nuwer had died in 1889 and so her seven children were entitled to Francis’ share of the estate and listed as heirs. In addition, Joseph Kissel’s four stepchildren—Mary Ambruster, Elizabeth Ambruster, Joseph Ambruster, and Louis Ambruster—were listed as “legatees” and heirs. [7]

Image 3: Heirs of Joseph Kissel. Henry Kissel is the Petitioner.

Joseph Kissel’s Last Will gave his farm to his son Henry Kissel on the condition that Henry paid $200 to his sister Lena, $100 to Francis’ children to be divided among themselves, and $25 to each of the four Ambruster children. [8]

Henry Kissel did not, however, make these payments because he did not inherit his father’s farm. Joseph Kissel had mortgaged his farm, and the mortgage owner sued the estate for repayment. As a result, the farm was sold at auction on October 19, 1896 for the sum of $1,107. This amount paid the $800 mortgage plus the interest and court costs but left little to cover the remaining $400 in obligations to Joseph Kissel’s heirs.

After emigrating from France, Joseph Kissel worked a very small farm which generated a small income for his family. After his death, the deed of sale described each of the four parcels of land he had owned. The original ten acres purchased in 1854, the five acres purchased in the early 1860s, and the two parcels purchased from Louis Ambrust in 1884. Joseph Kissel was in his early 30s when he purchased his original ten-acre farm and his early 40s when he added five acres of land. Although this farm produced a low income, he continued to work these 15 acres until he was in his early 60s. When he died his estate was in debt and there was almost no surplus for his children to inherit. [9]

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  1. Erie County deeds, July 25, 1854
  2. Agricultural Census of New York, 1855, Lancaster, New York, (line #27)
  3. U. S. Agricultural Census, 1860, Lancaster, New York, page 9, line 9
  4. Agriculture Census of New York, 1865, Lancaster, New York, (line #38)
  5. U.S. Census of Agriculture, 1880, Lancaster, New York. Joseph Kissel was found on page number 9, microfilm image number 14 while John Nuwer, Jr. was on page number 15, microfilm image number 20.
  6. Louis Armbrust to Joseph Kissel, May 3, 1884
    Christian Heller to Louis Armbrust, Jan 23, 1866
  7. Petition for Probate of Will, July 21, 1892
  8. Last Will and Testament of Joseph Kissel, September 11, 1889
  9. Erie County deeds, October 19, 1896,

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