Hailer Artefacts – Holding Pieces Of Family History Because I Asked

Jacob Hailer was a true pioneer of Waterloo County in Upper Canada (now Ontario).

A variety of records show that a 24-year old Jacob (also known as Johann Jacob Hailer) left his native Germany and arrived at Baltimore, Maryland in the United States on October 1, 1829. On board the ship that brought him to America, Jacob met Jacques Riehl, a 55-year old shoemaker from the then French Province of Alsace.

Jacob followed the Riehl family to Buffalo, New York in 1830 where Jacob married Jacques Riehl’s daughter Margaret.

Soon after the birth of their first child in 1831, a daughter they named Margaret, Jacob moved his family, following the difficult route of the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ settlers to Waterloo County. After spending their first year in a log house in an area called German Mills, Jacob purchased his first acre of land from Mennonite Bishop Benjamin Eby in 1833.

The land on which Jacob would build a home for his family and his workshop to conduct his wheelwright and furniture making business was in a place soon to be called Berlin (now Kitchener). Jacob’s home was reported to be only the fifth or sixth house constructed in the new town.

Significantly, several sources report that Jacob was the first German-born settler in the area. The few settlers prior to Jacob were born in America of German-born parents. As a pioneer, Jacob has long held a place of prominence in the history of Waterloo County and he was honoured as an inductee into the Region’s Hall of Fame. Jacob is also my wife’s 3X great grandfather.

Bleached Beech Tree Segment, inscribed by Louis H. Wagner in 1901

Jacob Hailer Bleached Wood “cut from a beech tree in the grove, behind the barn at the Breithaupt homestead”, inscribed by Jacob Hailer’s grandson Louis H. Wagner in 1901

The Waterloo Region Museum showcases the story and culture of the region with its strong German cultural heritage and manufacturing history.

I have visited the museum on a couple of occasions in the hope of seeing the Jacob Hailer artefacts that it might hold. Unfortunately, nothing was on exhibit. Most recently, I noted in the 2015 annual volume of the Waterloo Historical Society that the museum reported the donation of a Jacob Hailer made chair to its collection.

This prompted me to do something a bit on the edge of my personal comfort zone. I sent an email to Tom Reitz, the manager and curator of the museum, explained our family connection and asked if there was any way that we could have a chance to see the Jacob Hailer items that they hold. Without hesitation, Tom arranged an appointment for Ellen and I to visit the museum offices where he and his staff laid out a number of the pieces manufactured by Jacob Hailer.

Oil Lamp made by Jacob Hailer and donated to the Waterloo Region Museum by Hailer's grandson Rev. Louis H. Wagner

Oil Lamp made by Jacob Hailer and donated to the Waterloo Region Museum by Hailer’s grandson Rev. Louis H. Wagner who received as a gift from his grandmother Margaret (Riehl) Hailer in 1885

There is a special connected feeling when you can see and touch the objects that your ancestors made and treasured in their lives. That happiness was evident for Ellen as she held items once held by her great grandfather Rev. Louis Henry Wagner and made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer. Special genealogy moments are available sometimes just for the asking – and it helps to have a great museum curator and staff like Tom and the folks at the Waterloo Region Museum!

Ellen (Wagner) Hadden at the Waterloo Region Museum with a chair made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer in 1847

Ellen (Wagner) Hadden at the Waterloo Region Museum with a chair made by her 3X great grandfather Jacob Hailer in 1847

A good source for finding family artefacts is the Artefacts Canada website. The artefacts database is searchable but be aware that contributing institutions, like museums, provide updates to Artefacts Canada so the current listing may be out of date.

52 Ancestors: John Jacob (John Jacob) Hailer 1804-1882

I decided to stick with my wife Ellen’s family lineage this week, in part because I have a real fondness for the history of Waterloo County in Ontario, Canada and in part because the only true family artifact that we possess is one that belonged to this week’s subject Johann Jacob (or John Jacob) Hailer, Ellen’s third great grandfather. He is perhaps better known simply as Jacob Hailer.

Johann Jacob Hailer



Jacob began his life in Wilferdingen, Baden, Germany on December 20, 1804 and records indicate that he was baptized just three days on December 23, 1804. Jacob was the son of Christian Hailer and his wife Maria Barbara Zachmann. It’s possible that Jacob was not seen as a healthy baby so the need for a baptism as soon as possible. Perhaps the baptism occurred quickly with respect to the Christmas festivities.

In 1911, one of Jacob Hailer’s grandsons, William H. Breithaupt, who was also the first president of Waterloo Historical Society, wrote a book that includes the story of Jacob’s immigration to North America. In short, we know from passenger lists that Jacob Hailer, described on the list as being a “turner” by profession, arrived in the port of Baltimore, Maryland sometime between July 1st and October 1st, 1829. On board the ship that carried him across the Atlantic Ocean were members of the Riehl family, noted by William Breithaupt as being a father accompanying his son and daughter to the United States. Once in Baltimore, Jacob was introduced by the senior Riehl to another daughter Margaret and her younger brother who had sailed to the U.S. in 1828.

Jacob followed his new friends, the Riehls, when they moved to Buffalo, New York in 1830 where that same year, he married Margaret. Records show that Jacob and Margaret Hailer established a home across the river in Chippewa, Upper Canada (now Niagara Falls, Ontario) where their first child, a daughter they named Margaret was born in 1831. Just a few months after the child’s birth, they moved again, this time following the trail laid out over the previous three decades by various small waves of the group known as the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch.’ It was a long difficult journey on rough hewn roads, passing around and over swamps near present day Hamilton, Ontario, to reach Waterloo Township.

For their first year, the Hailers lived in a log house in German Mills, a tiny village located just north of the village of Doon. In 1833, Jacob Hailer purchased one acre of land, located at what is now the intersection of Scott Street and King Street East in central Kitchener, from Bishop Benjamin Eby. This was the same Benjamin Eby who suggested the name of Berlin for the town which beforehand had often been referred to as Ebytown due to five of the villages six houses being occupied by members of the Eby family.

Jacob immediately established a home for his family along with a woodworking shop in which he could ply his trade of manufacturing wooden furniture, including chairs, spinning wheels and lamp stands.

Jacob is described as a deeply religious man who was instrumental in establishing the Evangelical Association (sometimes referred to as the German Methodist) church in Canada. Jacob used his workshop as both a church meeting place and Sunday school. Travelling ministers would preach in the workshop and then stay in the house as guests of the Hailer family. It was through this that the Hailer’s eldest daughter Margaret met and married a young Rev. Jacob Wagner. The Hailer’s second eldest child, also a daughter, Catherine, married Jacob Wagner’s best friend Philip Ludwig ‘Louis’ Breithaupt.

In 1876, although there was no apparent milestone type of event, Jacob was presented with a monogrammed walking stick or cane. It is ivory handled with a gold band covering the joining of the handle to the wooden cane. On that gold band is inscribed “J.J.H. 1876.” We aren’t certain as to exactly how it happened, but that cane, once presented to Jacob Hailer has passed down through five generations of family hands to my wife, Jacob Hailer’s great-great-great granddaughter.

The ivory-handled grip of Johann Jacob Hailer’s cane, presented to him in 1876


Jacob was about 72 years of age when he received the presumed gift of his monogrammed cane. He would die six years later of “old age” on March 6, 1882 and be interred in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery. Years later Jacob, purported to be the first German to settle in the area currently renown for it’s German heritage and annual Oktoberfest, was inducted into the Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.

Johann ‘John’ Jacob Hailer with his cane, probably about 1880


Of course, it is only circumstantial evidence that the cane belonged to Jacob. It bears Jacob’s initials and has been passed down and retained by the family and, there are no other ancestors for whom those initials and timeframe fit. Could the cane have possibly belonged to someone else with the same initials and just by happenchance it fell into the Wagner family. The ‘clincher’ was finding a photograph, taken by photographer C. R. Lundy of Berlin, Ontario, probably about 1880, of Jacob posing with his beloved cane in hand. For Ellen, it makes holding her ancestor’s cane all the more a connection to her family’s history.