The Benzel family in Germany has it's origins in the Neckar River Valley and the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) areas of Wuerttemberg dating back at least to the 1300's. The Benzel family of the Neckar-Schwarzwald area was a Knightly Family that was part of the Neckar-Schwarzwald Knight Order (or Canton) of the Swabian Circle. It's home base was Tubingen, Wuerttemberg. Five Cantons made up the Swabian Circle of Imperial Knights. A second Circle of Imperial Knights was based in Franconia. All total, there were an estimated 350 knightly families with a combined total of 1500 estates. Their direct Overlord was the Emperor.
The free Reichsritter (or Free Imperial Knights) arose during the 14th century from the fusion of Edelfrei (or Free Lords) and ministeriales families which had noble status. During the 1400's, the Free Imperial Knights organized into three unions and in 1577 into one "corpus" (or noble corporation).
The title of Reichsritter (Imperial Knight) came to an end in 1806 as a result of the confederation of the Rhein and the end of the Holy Roman Empire as a result of Napoleon's conquests.
The Imperial Knights possessions which were independent under the Emperor now became part of the of the territory of the high nobles whose territory they were surrounded. The Reichsritter then assumed the title of Freiherr or Baron.
There was another Ben(t)zel discovered in the records. This was (Count) Ben(t)zel, Sternau - Hohenau. This Count Ben(t)zel is connected to the areas of Hohenau (located in extreme eastern Bavaria) and Sternau which is today Sternowa located in the state of Pomerania Voivodeship in north central Poland. This area of Poland was under the control of the Teutonic Knights from the early 1300's to the 1450's and then again from 1600-1795 with the expansion of Brandenburg-Prussia. Prussia went from being a Duchy to a Kingdom in 1701. It is my belief that this Count Ben(t)zel Sternau-Hohenau came from Wuerttemberg to serve as a Teutonic Knight in these further removed areas.
This Bentzel (Sternau-Hohenau) family would reappear in the Wuettemberg records when Count Bentzel, Sternau-Hohenau married Maria Irmgard of Sturmfeder in 1939. Maria then took the name Grafin (Countess) Benzel-Sturmfeder-Horneck. Her son was Hannfried, Graf von Bentzel-Sturmfeder-Horneck.
Today, there is an estimated 700 to 1000 persons in Germany with the Benzel surname and 50 to 70 persons with the Bentzel surname. A very large concentration of both spellings exists in the Wuerttemberg area extending toward the area of Bad Kreuznach am Rhein.
Benzels from this area were part of the mass exodus of Germans from the Rhein Valley area to Philadelphia in the 1700's. Others would arrive to the United States during the mid 1800's and 1900's. The name has undergone anglicization from Benzel to Bensyl, to Pensyl and some to Bentzel. The later arrivals have kept Benzel.
Jacob Pensyl (b. abt. 1730), who settled in Northumberland Co., PA is known to have been from Wuerttemberg. He, according to family legend, is a son of Johannes Pensyl who settled in Northampton Co., PA. Other Bensyls and Bentzels who are quite possibly related reside in York Co., PA. The exact church records from a village in Germany have not been located. The 1880 census record for Leonard Pensyl in Northumberland Co., PA states that Leonard's father was from Wuerttemberg. His father was John Pensyl (b. 1767) who arrived as a child with his father Jacob Pensyl. They arrived in 1775. Johannes Pensyl (b. abt. 1705) of Northampton Co., PA arrived (1749) several years prior to Jacob's arrival.
Today in the United States, there is an estimated 637 individuals with the Pensyl spelling; 1535 Benzel; 612 Bentzel; 493 Bensel; 172 Pensel; and 147 Bensyl.
Ray Haupt (Aug. 2009)
Paternal Grandmother was a Pensyl
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