Centuries of Swiss Hiestands in a Land Cooperative
Dr. Peter Ziegler (Zürich, Switzerland) and Dr. Wayne Haston (Pennsylvania, USA), Co-Authors
(Including significant research data from Kent Douglas Hiestand)
"Early Swiss Hiestands" Series
German Language Version of this Article
Sometime in the late Middle Ages, some families on the south shore of Lake Zürich apparently marked off a large tract of land and agreed to collectively claim ownership of the land, as well as the rights to cooperatively manage its use. That agreement may have even occurred before family names (surnames) were generally adopted by families. No beginning date of that agreement exists today, nor do we have a record of the original details of the agreement. But, amazingly, the cooperative arrangement continues to bind together some of their Swiss Richterswiler descendants to this day.
Thus, some of our Swiss Hiestand relatives have been comrades in a Swiss allmend (or cooperative) since at least 1564, but probably much earlier. Whether or not our Hiestand ancestors were original members of that agreement, we do not know. But Hiestands do appear on the oldest existing membership list of what we now know as the Allmendkorporation. That’s approaching at least 500 years (but probably much more) of cooperation with other Swiss families around a section of land on the mountainside south of Lake Zürich, above the village (now city) of Richterswil.
Some families, such as some branches of Hiestands, had hereditary rights to the Allmend land. These branches were able to trace their lineages back to ancestors who may have been part of the original group who established the Allmend, or at least very early members. Other families became members by purchasing rights to use the land. But there was no official distinction made between the two classes, meaning the “bought in” families had the same rights and duties as the hereditary families.
The climate and the soil on the Richterswil mountain are not conducive grain cultivation. However, the precipitation-rich pre-Alpine region is excellent for cattle breeding and pasture farming. So the users of the Allmend land generally shifted to livestock farming until the end of the 18th century. Beginning in 1704, comrades who practiced non-farming professions and did not keep livestock were paid an annual sum of money instead of their use of the land. Some farmers chose to use some of the Allmendkorporation’s good land for planting, instead of running cattle on the land. In the early 1800s, grazing became prohibited altogether. Over the years, the corporation has found numerous ways to produce revenue through the use of the land.
The Nouns Cooperative and Allmend Defined
As a noun, the term cooperative refers to a jointly owned enterprise engaging in the production or distribution of goods or the supplying of services, operated by its members for their mutual benefit, typically organized by consumers or farmers. -Dictionary.com
For example, you have may have heard of a Farmers’ Co-op (Cooperative). There are more than 2,100 agricultural co-ops in the United States with more than two million members.
In German, the word allmend translates to common in English, but generally refers to common land. An allmend is a cooperative based upon common land–that is, multiple families share the ownership of (with its responsibilities for and benefits from) a common tract or tracts of land.
Timeline of Hiestand Participation in the Allmend Richterswil
1391 Document Mentions the Allmend in the Samstagern Area
Samstagern is located about a half mile northwest of Lake Hütten.
As early as the 15th Century, we know that there were already several Hiestand farms in that general area.
Geschlechterrodel, a 16-page Paper Booklet
The first known list of persons and families from Richterswil who were entitled to use the Erlen-Allmend dates from 1564. It is the Geschlechterrodel, a 16-page paper booklet measuring 11.5 x 33 centimeters in a parchment envelope.
The second part of the Rodel lists the old families who inherited the Allmendrecht from their “ancestors” and did not buy it. These are 43 men from the following 16 families: Bachmann 1; Eschmann 4; Fox 1; Tanner 1; Hensler 1; Hiestand 4; Hotz 1; Leemann 1; Lüthi 2; Schneider 3; Strickler 8; Suter 1; Tanner 8; Wild 4; Wymann 2; Carpenter 1.
This list of names of 69 comrades was recorded on May 13, 1564, in the presence of Thoman Bachmann, Rudolf Tanner, Galli Zimmermann, Hans Hänsler, Rudolf Strickler, Christian Tanner, Jakob Hiestand “and other good gsellen.”
The second Heinrich Hiestand on the list below was “at the Schürli,” which was west of Samstagern.
His name was marked out, which probably indicates he had died or had left the Allmend.
1808 - The Richterswil Allmend Survey
Approximately 306 Acres or 124 Hectares.
Number of Hiestands in the Allmendkorporation from 1820 through 2007
Reasons for the decrease in Allmendkorporation membership: 1. Decrease in number of children born to families, 2. Some comrades died without leaving male descendants, and 3. Increased mobility led many to renounce joining the Allmendkorporation.