German Patriots
in the
Revolutionary War

Establishment of Pennsylvania
Penn's Woods | Early German Immigrants | Years of the Great Migration
French & Indian War | German Settlers in the Shenandoah Valley

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Most of the German immigrants who came to America prior to the American Revolution were from a large region along the Rhine River known as the Rheinland Palatinate. Those that arrived at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were typically referred to as "Palatines." In later years, immigrants from Germany became known "Dutchmen," or for those in Pennsylvania, "Pennsylvania Dutch" --a corruption of the name of their nationality and language, Duetsch. As early as 1726, German families began to migrate south to Lord Baltimore's Maryland and Western Virginia. By the time of the Revolutionary War, many citizens of German descent were first, second and third-generation Americans. During the Revolutionary War half of the soldiers and full a third of the officers from Pennsylvania --the most populated colony-- were German-Americans.

Penn's Woods
On March 4, 1681 thirty-six year old William Penn received a charter from King Charles II of England that led to a grant of 47 million acres north of the Maryland border and west of the Delaware River. The charter was granted in return for a debt of £16,000 owed the estate of his father, Admiral William Penn, by the Royal Stuart family. Young Penn had joined the Quaker religious movement about 1666 and was one of its most adamant and articulate supporters --publishing forty-two books and pamphlets and being imprisoned four times.

Penn had gained the support of Prince James, Duke of York, in his quest for the grant in the British Colony in America, which he saw as a sanctuary for the Quaker "Society of Friends" with 80,000 members in England by 1680. In 1682 he drew up a "Frame of Government" for his land in "Penn's Woods" that was based on the idea of individual liberty for its citizens. Contrary to English Law, dissent was a uniquely granted civil right and persecution was a crime. Penn's "Forty laws" had explicit guarantees of freedom of worship, strict observation of the Sabbath, protection of property, education of children, trial by jury and many other rights we Americans now take for granted.

Promotional materials were written and distributed, offering plots of 500 acres of land for £20, an amount within reach of a large percentage of the British population. By 1682 Penn had sold 500,000 acres to the "First Purchasers" at half-price, raising the enormous sum of £10,000. By 1685 about 8,000 Quakers from England, Wales and Ireland had immigrated to Pennsylvania. Penn's province became known as a "Holy Experiment."

Early German Immigrants
Funds to support the new province were obtained by selling land to immigrants, so Penn undertook a major effort to appeal to thousands of Germans from the Rheinland Palatinate to come to Pennsylvania, with the promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to own their own land. He wanted to populate the land with productive farmers and the towns with skilled artisans. From an earlier journey to Holland and Germany, he had first-hand knowledge of the desperate situations of his fellow Christians as far up the Rhine as Mannheim. The message Penn brought was an answer to prayer to the masses of people along the Rhine who had suffered for centuries from the wars fought by the ruling dukes, princes, emperors and archbishops in their homeland. Penn's pamphlets promised an exciting adventure to all, with a government in which "the people and governor have a legislative power, so that no law can be made, nor money raised, but by the people's consent."

The invitation for Germans to join Penn's colony was first taken up by Mennonites gathered near Frankfurt in 1684. With encouragement from a Mennonite leader who had gone ahead to Pennsylvania, they answered the call for weavers, vintners, coopers and other artisans to come and bring farm implements and a variety of household items with them. Soon, northwest of the newly established town of Philadelphia, these immigrants established their own town "we called Germantown. . . in a very fine and fertile district." For those who couldn't afford the journey, work was available to pay their passage and they were guaranteed at least fifty acres of land after completing their time as indentured servants. To the poor people from the Middle and Lower Rhine, this was an unbelievable opportunity.

Germans that came to Pennsylvania were primarily Protestants. Lutheran and Reformed congregations soon began to construct fine churches in Philadelphia, Germantown and surrounding towns. Member of small religious sects typically met in their homes. Skilled printers and bookbinders produced numerous German language tracts, almanacs, newspapers and the German Bible. By 1701 the Germans were known to be "prosperous freemen of the province."

The "War of Spanish Succession", one of Europe's many wars of the time, ended with the "Peace of Utrecht." in 1713. When King Louis IV armies passed through the Palatinate they had orders to leave large swathes of destruction. His burning of numerous villages in 1707 led to the first great exodus of thousands of poor Palatines to America. During the reign of Queen Anne of England (1702-1714), she was sympathetic to the plight of the German States and thousands of Palatines responded to the queen's offer of British protection. The immigrants gathered in a large tent city near London, which so appalled both the Germans and English that the queen decided they should move to the British Colonies in America, where they might be of some value to the Empire. By 1714, --when a German Hanoverian became King George I of England-- the majority of German refugees had begun to head directly to Pennsylvania. Detailed immigration records were not kept in the Philadelphia port during these years.

Years of the Great Migration
In the spring of each year, immigrants heading for America began to gather at Rotterdam, a busy seaport located in the large flat delta of the Rhine. To maximize their profits, captains of ships bound for Philadelphia would load as much human cargo as they could get on board. After a typical voyage of six to ten weeks, the new arrivals disembarked to search for land where they could establish their farms, while artisans and shopkeepers sought towns where they could establish their trades. Many were in debt to the Captain and paid their passage by becoming indentured servants for a period of years. The more fortunate ones were met by friends and relatives at the wharves.

By 1727 there was fear among the English-speaking citizenry that the Germans would soon engulf the province. The Philadelphia port authorities began to collect a 40-shilling (£2) head tax on all aliens. Also for the first time, new arrivals had to declare their good faith by an oath of allegiance to the king and the proprietor:

 "We Subscribers, Natives and late Inhabitants of the Palatinate upon the Rhine River & Places adjacent ... will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his present MAJESTY, KING GEORGE THE SECOND, and his Successors, Kings of Great Britain, and will be faithful to the Proprietor of this Province: and will demean ourselves peacefully ... and strictly observe and conform to the Laws of England and of this Province."

These signed declarations --many of which have been preserved-- contain lists of male passengers over the age of sixteen. This wonderful source of genealogical information has been published as facsimiles of the original script and as transcriptions by German-American scholars.

In 1730 a pastor in Rotterdam, Holland estimated that "15,000 Reformed confessors of the Palatinate" had settled in Pennsylvania. Later research indicates that estimate was too low, perhaps sufficing as an absolute minimum. Glowing reports sent to friends and relatives back home elicited a continual flow of landless farmers and rural labors --many of whom were younger sons with no birthright in their respective family-- willing to take the risks of a journey to America. The peak immigration years occurred from 1749 to 1754. During this six year period, no less than seventeen thousand Germans arrived in the port. In 1749, the busiest year, twenty-one ships carrying approximately six thousand "Palatines" disembarked at Philadelphia.

In 1751 Benjamin Franklin, concerned that the Germans would never learn the English language, suggested it was time to spread the Pennsylvania Dutch throughout the province where they would have to use English in their transactions. He was concerned that Pennsylvania must "Anglify" the Germans before they "Germanize" Pennsylvania. In 1755 a bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Council to limit the importation of Palatines was seen by the governor as being inhumane, and after it was passed he vetoed it.

In 1766, before a committee of the British House of Commons, Franklin expressed his feelings regarding the Palatines best when he described them as:

"A people who brought with them the greatest of all wealth; industry, integrity and character that had been superimposed and developed by years of suffering and persecution."

Like many immigrant refugees escaping religious persecution in Europe --such as the Puritans, Quakers, Mennonites and Huguenots-- the Palatines conferred upon their new country blessings which it could not afford to refuse.

Pennsylvania Germans support the French and Indian War
The first major war fought by the British on American soil was the French and Indian War [1754-1763] which became one of the theatres of a great worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War [1756-1763]. Colonel George Washington gained his first reputation as an officer in this war, commanding Virginia militia troops. One of Washington's fellow officers was Thomas Gage, who commanded the British regulars. Fighting under General Edward Braddock in July 1755 in their first major battle with the French and their Indian allies, the British and American forces suffered a major defeat near Fort Duquesne -- and Braddock lost his life. In November 1758, after a series of other defeats in the Great Lakes area, General John Forbes led British troops back to the western frontier of Pennsylvania and forced the French to abandon their fort at the confluence of streams that form the Ohio River.

Colonel Henry Bouquet, a Swiss Soldier of Fortune, was second in command to Forbes with a regiment that consisted primarily of Pennsylvania German recruits. About fifteen hundred Virginian troops were commanded by Colonels George Washington and William Byrd. Forbes took the liberty of naming the site "Pittsbourgh." In very bad health, Forbes returned to Philadelphia, where he died on March 11, 1759. Soon afterwards Bouquet took command, established his headquarters at Fort Bedford, and directed the work of moving troops and supplies. His men began construction of a road from Fort Ligonier to Pittsburgh and it was completed by the end of October. As soon as sufficient provisions had been forwarded, reinforcements were sent to man these outposts. A fort was ordered to be built at Pittsburgh to maintain "the undisputed possession of the Ohio." Fort Pitt was ready for occupancy in March 1760 and was fully completed in the fall of 1761.

Waggoners were solicited at the request of Colonel Bouquet to haul forage for the horses being used by his troops in Western Pennsylvania. For example, an appeal was published in August of 1759 in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania newspaper by Edward Shippen for "Oats and Spelts to be carried to Fort Bedford for the Use of his Majesty's Horses carrying Provisions from thence to Forts Legonier & Pittsburg." Fort Bedford had been constructed as a key fortification along the military path known as Forbes Road and served as the staging area for General Forbes' successful campaign. The advertisement by Shippen was written in both English and German, a standard format for the bi-weekly, bilingual paper, "Lancasterishe Zeitung & Lancaster Gazette." Many of the men who responded were German farmers with their horses, mules and wagons.

Throughout these critical years in the history of Colonial America, Lancaster, Pennsylvania served as a depot for the storage and distribution of war materiel. The residents of this bustling borough were primarily English and German immigrants. Wagons, troops and supplies were assembled here for both the Braddock and Forbes expeditions. A constant train of provisions and storage wagons, as well as droves of "Beeves," passed through the borough en route to the western battlefields. Muskets, bayonets, powder, shot, lead and flints were sent by wagon from Philadelphia and stored in the Lancaster courthouse.

German Settlers in the Shenandoah Valley
German --and German-speaking Swiss-- immigrants became the first settlers west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1726, when they crossed the Potomac River a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Shenandoah River and settled the community of Mechlenburg --now the town of Shepherdstown, WV. Most of the early settlers in the valley were of German and Scotch-Irish descent. They established towns along the river and on their farms they raised crops of rye, oats, corn and wheat. Many of the German herdsmen raised cattle for markets as far away as Philadelphia. Quakers established a colony on the Opequon River near Winchester. The valley was large enough and fertile enough for Lutheran, German Reformed, Quaker, Mennonite, Dunkard, and Presbyterian congregations to worship in a land free of the persecution they had suffered in their native countries. It was reported in 1760 that about 20,000 settlers, though lacking many conveniences of the time, were living there "in a common state of sociability."

Soon after the end of the French and Indian War, many more Pennsylvanians moved south to Frederick County, Maryland and the large and sparsely settled Virginia frontier in and around the Shenandoah Valley. They were encouraged by the Proclamation of 1763, in which King George III set aside the vast region west of the Allegheny Mountains for the native Indians, leaving the "Great Valley of Virginia" --its popular name? open for more settlement.

When the call came a few years later during the Revolutionary War, no citizens in Colonial America surpassed those in the Great Valley in willingness to take up arms against the British. For example, in Berkeley County, Virginia over half of the men served one or more terms in the Continental Army. Valley soldiers marched north to join Washington, east to oust Dunmore, southwest to fight Cherokees, and west to stalk Shawnees. No less than seven officers from the region became Continental generals.

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