1809 – Karl Franz Paul Ammann

Karl Franz Paul Ammann was born September 19, 1809 in Küssnacht, Canton Schwyz, Switzerland to Josef Kaspar Karl Augustin Ammann and Maria Franziska Wyss.

1816 – Maria Anna Sidler

Maria Anna Sidler was born September 3, 1816 in Küssnacht to Josef Sidler and Appollonnia Trutmann.


Today, the town of Küssnacht is known as Küssnacht am Rigi. It is not far from Lucerne on Lake Lucerne. (This is not to be confused with another town with a similar name: Küsnacht in Canton Zürich on Lake Zürich.) Küssnacht means “Kissing Night.”

Küssnacht is famous as the place where Wilhelm (William) Tell, the hero of Swiss legend, was active about 500 years earlier. Around 1308, Tell refused to recognize the authority of the Habsburg local governor/bailiff/sheriff Hermann Gessler and won his freedom by shooting an apple on his son Walter’s head. He later killed Gessler with his crossbow in an area around Küssnacht known as Hohlen Gasse (Hollow Lane).

Karl Ammann and Maria Sidler

The Ammanns and the Sidlers were two of the bürger (burgher) families in Küssnacht. The term “bürger” refers to a citizen of a medieval city (burg) and one who is often part of the mercantile class. Both families have a coat of arms dating from the 1400s.

Canton Schwyz

The canton of Schwyz is located in central Switzerland. About three quarters of the total area is considered productive land. Most of the land is hilly rather than mountainous, making it suitable for agriculture.

The Schwyz canton was one of the original founders of Switzerland in 1291. In that year Schwyz joined with two other cantons located on the shores of Lake Lucerne ( Vierwaldstättersee) to form a confederation of resistance. They were prompted to do this by the death of the German Emperor, Rudolf of Habsburg, because they feared that his successor might try to take away the rights and freedoms they had been granted and impose an outside governor.

Schwyz took the leadership in the confederation early on. By 1320 the name of the canton was applied to the whole of the confederation. It was only in 1803, however, that the name Schweiz as derived from the canton of Schwyz became the official name of Switzerland. The flag of Switzerland is derived from the banner of Schwyz.

The official language in Canton Schwyz is German, although the people speak the Swiss German dialect of central Switzerland. The majority are Roman Catholic.

1835 – marriage

Karl Franz Paul Ammann married Maria Anna Sidler on September 21, 1835 in Kussnacht, Canton Schwyz, Switzerland,

Karl and Maria Ammann had eleven children: eight children in Kussnacht, Canton Schwyz, Switzerland and three more after arriving in the United States. Those born in Switzerland were:

  • Maria Anna Ammann, born on April 22, 1836, seven months after their wedding
  • Anna Maria Josepha Regina Ammann, born March 23, 1837
  • Josef Karl Ammann, born June 14, 1838
  • Blasius Karl Ammann, born September 5, 1839; died October 1, 1839
  • Josef Ammann, born June 20, 1841; died on August 29, 1841
  • Josef Ammann, born September 20, 1842
  • Luisa Ammann, born September 24, 1843
  • Josef Gotfried Ammann, born September 28, 1846

Two sons, Blasius and Josef, died in infancy. The remaining six children emigrated with their parents to the United States.

Their second child, Anna Maria Josepha Regina Ammann, known as Maria or Mary, was christened the same day she was born (March 23, 1837) at St. Peter and Paul Catholic church in Küssnacht. Her godparents were Peter Sidler and Anna Maria Ehler.

1847 – emigration

Karl and Mary Ammann and their six surviving children emigrated to the United States in 1847. They settled in the town of Highland, Illinois.

We don’t know their exact reason for leaving their homeland, but what we do know is that there were both significant hardships and significant economic incentives to leave Switzerland in the 1840s and 1850s and travel to the United States.

For many people, living conditions were very difficult. Poverty, hunger and lack of employment were impacted by population growth and famine. Hundreds of thousands of Swiss were forced to leave their homeland during the nineteenth century. Most emigrants went to North America, but Swiss colonies were established all over the world. In particular there were waves of emigration in 1816-1817, 1845-1855 and 1880-1885. Karl and Marria Ammann were part of the second wave in 1847.

Local governing councils in the cantons gave people a financial incentive to emigrate—typically 400 Swiss francs (6 months wages for a working man)—in order to have fewer mouths to feed during a period of economic recession. The money was given to the emigrants on the condition that they never returned to Europe. If they ever returned to their native land, they were obliged to reimburse it, along with annual interest at 4%, calculated from the day of departure. 

Advertisements appeared regularly in Swiss newspapers, placed by travel agencies catering to the demand for emigration. The more reliable of these agencies offered organized crossings of the Atlantic from Le Havre for 80-100 Swiss francs, depending on the number of passengers. Food on board cost about 40 Swiss francs, and typically consisted of biscuits, flour, butter, ham, salt, potatoes and vinegar. With this the emigrants prepared their own meals. In addition, there was the cost of overland transport in a diligence (a fast French stage coach) to Le Havre (about 60 Swiss francs) and food for the 4 or 5 days spent on the coach.

Clippers crossed the Atlantic in less than 20 days, making the crossing far less of an ordeal than for the earlier pioneers. In 1857, the agency of André Zwilchenbart at Basle advertised regular packet-boat sailings for New York, and 3-mast American ships sailing to New Orleans. 33 years later, in 1880, the same agency advertised steamship passages to North America, Canada and South America.

Groups of people from the same canton tended to travel together. Many towns, particularly in the Americas, are named after the cantons from which their founders came. Highland, Illinois is part of Helvetia Township in Madison County.

Highland, Illinois

Highland is a city in Madison County, Illinois about 32 miles east of St. Louis. As the oldest and largest Swiss settlement in Illinois, Highland attracted some 1,500 Swiss settlers and at one point was home to more Swiss immigrants than any other U.S. city.

Old image of Highland, Illinois

In April 1831, Kaspar (Caspar) Köpfli, together with his son Solomon and friend Joseph Suppiger, led fourteen German-speaking settlers from the Köpfli and Suppiger families to America to establish a Swiss settlement in the western United States. Köpfli (1774-1854), a well-to-do doctor from Sursee, Canton Lucerne, saw Europe’s problems as being caused by overpopulation, and decided to establish a settlement in the United States so that Swiss families could start a new, more hopeful life.

The trip from Switzerland to Paris took sixteen days. Seven more weeks were required to sail from France to New York, and another month was spent to cross the country from New York to St. Louis. After reaching St. Louis, they began the search for farm land. On a trip through Illinois, they were attracted to an area called Looking Glass Prairie and decided to settle there. They purchased 1,000 acres at $2.70 an acre and founded the township of New Switzerland. The township was soon renamed Helvetia, the Latin name for their Swiss homeland. In 1833, seventeen more emigrants arrived from Sursee, and in 1835 about fifty more came.

On October 15, 1836, the town of Highland was founded to serve the farms of the township. The site was selected by Solomon Köpfli, Joseph Suppiger, and James Semple, then speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. In honor of Semple, who was of Scottish heritage, the town was named after the Highlands of Scotland rather than the Alpine region of Switzerland. The name Highland seems a bit incongruous on the flat prairie of Southern Illinois.

At the time, the area of Helvetia Township was isolated. No road to St. Louis had yet been constructed. Everything needed for daily life was brought across the prairie in carts drawn by oxen. Streams had to forded. The first homes were rude log cabins.

On August 22, 1840, sixty-eight new settlers arrived from Canton Graubünden. By 1841, the population had grown to 120. In 1843, the first settlers arrived from French-speaking regions of Switzerland.

Karl and Maria Ammann arrived four years later.

After they arrived in Highland, Karl and Maria had three more children:

  • Carl Ammann, born on January 23, 1848
  • John Ammann, born on September 8, 1850
  • Adolph Ammann, born on October 23, 1853

The three boys were most likely baptized at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Highland. Just three months after Adolph’s birth, Maria Sidler Ammann was dead.

1854 – Maria’s death

Maria Anna Sidler died January 24, 1854 in Highland, Madison County, Illinois. She left behind eight surviving children: Maria Anna (17), Anna Maria (16), Josef (11), Luisa (10), Josef Gotfried (7), Carl (6), John (3), and Adolph (3 months). Her funeral was at St. Paul’s Catholic Church and she was buried in the Highland City Cemetary.

1856 – Jacob Beer and Mary Ammann

On February 15, 1856, Mary Ammann married Jacob Beer in Madison County just two years after his arrival in Highland from Switzerland. The marriage was performed by Ad Glock, a justice of the peace. Jacob was 41, Mary was 20. (See Jacob Beer and Mary Ammann.)

Jacob Martin Beer was born Giachen Martin Beer in the village of Surrein, Kreis Disentis (Disentis county) in Val Tujetsch (the Tujetsch or Tavetsch Valley) at the far western end of Canton Graubünden, Switzerland on March 18, 1814. His name was registered at birth as Jacobus Martinus Beer.

Jacob was the fifth of nine children born to Martin Liberat Beer (born on January 26, 1770) and Onna Maria Nescha Decurtins (born on March 21, 1783). (See Martin Beer and Nesscha Decurtins.)

The Port of New York passenger lists show Jacob Beer arriving in New York on February 27, 1854. His age was 39. He sailed from Le Havre, France on a ship named Le Havre captained by A. B. Mulford. He was listed simply as a farmer from Switzerland—one among many farmers who were traveling on the ship. He traveled in steerage. From New York City, Jacob Beer traveled to Highland in Madison County, Illinois.

1876 – Karl’s death

Karl Franz Paul Ammann died November 9, 1876 in Highland, Madison County, Illinois. The information that we have indicates he was buried the same day in the Highland City Cemetary.