Woods | Early German Immigrants
| Years of the Great Migration
& Indian War | German Settlers
in the Shenandoah Valley
Title page | Revolution
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.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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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