History of the Palatine Emigration to America

Written and contributed by Kathryn Parker


Sources: 
(1) Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration, Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D., Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, Maryland, 1965.

Handbook of Church History, Vol. I, by Karl Baus, Herder and Herder, 1965


Conditions leading to Mass Emigration

At the end of the Thirty Years War and the latter part of the 17th century, the Palatinate was repeatedly the stamping ground of Louis XIVís armies. Their homes were burned by the warring, invading French. In 1674, the province was completely devastated. Moreover, protracted disputes among the neighboring princes, left over from the religious warfare of the early 17th century, gave rise to continuous armed conflict within local regions. In May 1707, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Marshall Villars crossed the Rhine and plundered and requisitioned freely from the citizens of the Palatinate leaving them bankrupt in every respect. The Palatinate was occupied in September of 1707 by the French as well. When the French left, the people were drained of supplies, resources and money. Constant invasions and occupations wiped out their many rivals and discouraged future rivals.

Following the occupations and invasions of the wars, the winter of 1708 was particularly harsh. From the beginning of October to March it was extremely cold. Many could not feed or warm their families because they were in such a weakened state financially, many did not have homes to shelter in, many died. Fruit trees and vines were frozen and killed by a blizzard in February 1709. The loss of the fruit crop was another blow from which they would not recover.

Germany was a land of regional princes during the 17th century. These princes were envious of the splendor of the French Court at Versailles and they wanted to emulate it. Starting in 1681 and continuing for the next 25 years, the German peasants were taxed for the luxuries of the rich and to finance the wars which destroyed their homes.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the Peace of Augsburg (1555) recognized three churches in Europe; Catholic, Lutheran and the Calvinist/Reformed church. These Acts dictated that the religion of the Ruler was the religion of the people. Although no formal charges of persecution are evident in the Palatinate, persecution in surrounding areas lead to emigration of others which stressed a drained environment and economy. France was also rift with religious persecution in the 1500 and 1600s. Many French traveled to the Rhine and Palatinate to escape it, becoming known then as German Palatines.

The hunger for land was another motivating factor for the Palatine emigration. As mentioned before, after resurrecting their homes and means of livelihood many times only to have it destroyed again, many became discouraged and did not try anymore. The desire to secure land for their support and to leave a heritage for their children did not diminish. The realization that they would have to emigrate to accomplish that goal made them willing to listen to British propaganda about the New World.


British Subsidy of Emigration

Politics in England and Englandís self-envisioned role as the protector of the Protestant Cause in Europe was a precursor to their subsidy of emigration from various parts of Europe.

The participants of the Protestant Reformation and the "reformers", Luther, Chambon, Calvin, broke forever with the papacy and the associate guilt that was prevalent in the Catholic ideology. These "reformers" "...claimed to bring at last the long-demanded reform, and separated all northern Europe and part of central Europe from the papacy."(1) The Protestant philosophy replaces the physical church as the central aspect of the church and man becomes the central figure in continuing the works of Christ on earth through acts of missionary. The introduction of Church history into the curriculum of the universities had begun in Germany. During the period of reconstruction after the Thirty Years War, many German Protestant Universities appointed chairs of ecclesiastical history to continue the spread of the Ďwordí of the Reformation. The presence of Protestantism and the deplorable conditions under which the Palatine peasants lived made for a fertile field for British manipulations.

In 1688, William and Mary of Orange took the throne from James II to curtail encroachments of Catholic France on the continent and further promote a Protestant presence there. During the same time, the aging Louis XIV of France was becoming more intolerant of Protestants and broke the Edict of Nantes which granted religious tolerance to French Protestants, persecuting them. The Huguenots fled to Germany, the New World and England. When William of Orange declared war on France in 1689, he invited the Huguenots to come to England. Queen Anne, whose husband was Prince George of Denmark and of German Lutheran stock, continued to encourage and give succor and aid to the Huguenots and other Protestants after Williamís reign ended. After the death of her beloved husband in 1708, she became even more interested and influential in the Palatine Cause. As a political ruler, Queen Anne was not unaware that by increasing the population of England, she would also increase its wealth and strength.

Queen Anne sponsored the first small Palatine emigration of 1708 to America, consisting of 41 people, 10 men, 10 women and 21 children. These were the families of Lorenz Schwisser, Michael Weigand, Henry Rennau, Jacob Weber, Andreas Volck, Jacob Pletal, Johannes Fischer, Melchior Gulch, Joshua Kocherthal. A single man, Isaac Turck (23 yrs. old) plus fourteen more people were added to the shipís list at the last minute. The fourteen were: Peter Rose & wife, Maria Wemarin and their daughter; Isaac Feber with wife and son; Daniel Fiere with his wife and two children; Herman Schuneman. On the voyage over, on the Globe, two more children were born. The ship landed in Flushing, Long Island, New York, and the passengers wintered there. In the spring, they were settled on land on the west side of the Hudson at the mouth of Quassaick Creek (Newburgh, NY) by Gov. Lovelace.


Beginning the Voyage

The Palatines built rafts of logs to sail down the Rhine to Rotterdam. This was a voyage that would take them 4 - 6 weeks. There were fees and tolls to be paid, but often they were provided with food and money and clothing by pious countrymen. They worried constantly about being stopped and detained or turned back by the authorities. While waiting for the English ship/sloop, one such vessel was the H.M.S. Drake, to cross the North Sea and English Channel, they camped outside of Rotterdam. The encampment outside Rotterdam was miserable. The shacks they made, covered with reeds, were the only shelter they had from the elements. The Burogmaster of Rotterdam took pity on them and appropriated 750 guilders for distribution among the destitute. Meanwhile, The British government employed three Anabaptist Dutch merchants, Hendrik van Toren, Jan van Gent and John Suderman, to supervise the loading and sailing of the emigrants to England. The Palatines arrived in increasing numbers in Holland at the rate of nearly a thousand per week. On June 14, 1709, James Dayrolle, British resident at the Hague, informed London that if the British government continued to give bounty to the Palatines and encourage their migration, half of Germany would be on their doorstep. The immigrants were coming so fast it was impossible to care for them. So the British tried to turn back many Palatines, especially the Catholics, and by late July refused to honor their commitments to support the German arrivals. Many of those arriving, if not sent back, made their way to England by private charitable contribution or at their own expense. These people would most likely not have been catalogued so no record of their passage, except possibly a passenger list would exist. The Palatines would arrive in London and await a ship to cross the Atlantic in Blackheath settlement. The British government issued 1,600 tents for their use at encampments formed at Blackheath, Greenwich and Kensington, Tower Ditch and other areas. The Palatines arriving in England beginning in May 1709 continued to have problems sustaining themselves. Some Palatines made small wooden toys to sell; some were reduced to begging, a task usually carried out by the married women. Many children born in the encampments died. Marriages and baptisms taking place in the encampments are registered at St. Nicholas Church in England. The longer the Palatines waited in England, the worse their condition became. They had to depend on alms and charity to survive. At first, the people of London were sympathetic, but as time went on the poor of London regarded them as competition for food and reduced the scale of their wages. Shopkeepers feared that their wares would not be sold with the continued presence of the unenfranchised Palatines. Mobs of people began attacking the Palatines with axes, hammers and scythes. The upper classes became alienated from them, fearing they were spreading disease and fever. Even Juries were prejudiced against them. To alleviate the situation, the government began to ship groups of Germans back to Germany, many were sent to other parts of England where they were made day laborers and swineherds. Others were dispatched to Ireland, the Americas and British held Caribbean islands. The disbursement of the Palatines depended on British evaluation of the need to expand a Protestant presence in the British domain.


Ireland Settlement

In 1709, 794 families were sent to Ireland to strengthen the Protestant presence there since it was feared that the Irish would strive to return the Stuart James III to the throne of England. Once there, the Palatines employed themselves very industriously in raising flax and hemp. The were met with hostility by Catholic Ireland, but the accession of George I (1714) to the throne increased the governments disposition to look after them so Catholic opposition had little effect upon them. In 1745, John Wesley visited the settlements and found that the Palatines did not have Pastors to minister to them. Wesley provided them with Pastors, thereby many Germans became Methodist. This motivated Irelandís Palatines to emigrate to America to expand the Methodist influence there. In 1760, five or six families including Philip Embury and his cousin Barbara Heck to come to New York and in 1766 founded the Methodist Church of the United States. Meanwhile, in Ireland, assimilation into Irish culture was taking place. By 1830, although the older generation still clung to their language and customs, the younger were marrying into Irish families. By 1934, the German language had disappeared in the old settlements. The Irish reportedly found all Palatines and in particular the women to be hardworking helpmates to the core.


South Carolina

In 1709, 40 or 50 families were disbursed to South Carolina. Over half were lost from disease and sickness aboard ship. The contract they entered into with the British government was feudal in nature which did little to encourage long term loyalty with the Palatines and many families stole away into the night after a few months. Those that remained at the settlement of New Bern were subjected to numerous Indian attacks. The settlement at New Bern did not prosper and eventually the Palatines that remained were left to their own devices.


New York

The British had been concerned for many years prior to 1709 about a foreign monopoly in naval stores which was controlled by the Swiss. England was hearing about boat loads of tar and pitch sailing down the Hudson to New York City from Edward Randolph, Surveyer General of Customs in the United States. The chief obstacle to Englandís use of the New York State resources was labor. Thus it was decided to contract with the Palatines to provide that labor and remove them from England. It was proposed by the Gov. Elect of NY, Robert Hunter to send them to New York specifically to be used in the manufacture of naval stores, i.e. tar and pitch, from the pines of the Hudson Valley. It was also acknowledged that a strong Palatine presence in the new world would act as a buffer against the French in Canada and strengthen the Protestant cause in British America. A contract was made between the Germans and the English government. The Germans would work until the expenses for their journey were repaid, then they would be given 40 acres of land, free from taxes and quit rents for 7 years. Ten to Eleven ships were chartered in April of 1710, holding about 3300 people total. One of them to cross the Atlantic was the "Lyon". It would take an average of 8-10 weeks to cross in favorable weather and three months or longer in adverse weather. Some 500 persons died on the Lyon voyage over as their conditions were miserable. They were crowded together, suffered from vermin and poor sanitation, and subsisted on unhealthy food. Typhus was rampant. Of the 13,000 Germans who had made it the England, only a fourth of those made it to New York

The New York City Council protested their arrival in the City, and fearing shipboard diseases, forced them to be contained in quarantine on Nutterís Island. At Nutterís Island, now Governorís Island, a system of Justice was needed so the Government appointed one of the Palatine passengers, John Conrad Weiser, to administer it and settle disputes. Disease, scarce food & sickness reduced the population leaving many widows and orphans. Part of the contract between Englandís Queen Anne and the Palatines included a clause that prevented them from becoming a financial burden. Orphaned children would be apprenticed out to tradesmen or farmers or as domestics. Widows, with children, were left behind in the cities to be placed for employment when the other Palatines were moved upstate because they would be little use in the labors required by the contract with the Government.

Gov. Hunter entered into a contract with Robert Livingston to purchase a tract of 6, 000 acres on the east side of the Hudson for the purpose of settling the Palatines there. On October 7, 1710, the able families were moved out to Livingston Manor. The Patroon gave them lots to build cabins and his overseer to help guide them because they had no experience building homes from logs. The lots were 40í x 50í, small compared to the 40 acres they were promised for their labors. The acreage was withheld on the basis that they must first do the labor and earn it. At the settlement on the Patroonís land, a leader was chosen. John Conrad Weiser filled this function as well and while meeting with the Patroon about his concerns of food and supplies for the Palatines, he was told that five towns were to be established per Gov. Hunter. Three of these on the East bank of the Hudson and two on the West bank. Queensbury, Annsbury and Haysbury were towns on the east bank, Elizabeth Town, George Town and New Town were villages created on the west bank. Some of the Palatines that remained in NYC eventually made their way to New Jersey and settled there.

The Palatines in what was to become Greene County grew increasing dissatisfied with their status and strongly demanded their rights under the contract. Their rebellion was put down by the Governor, who disarmed the Germans and put them under the command of overseers and a Court of Palatine Commissioners, who treated them as the Queens hired servants.

In the US, a war between England and France raged, mostly in and around Canada. This caused the Palatines much anxiety, fearful that their condition in Europe would repeat itself here. Many in the settlements were expecting to be conscripted for military service. Since they were unhappy with the way the terms of the contract were administered and felt that by fighting on Englandís side against the French, which they were disposed to do anyway, that they would have more influence to affect the changes they wanted. So, some 300 of them volunteered to go fight in 1711.

Meanwhile in England, the political structure changed. The Whigs, who largely supported and sponsored the Palatine settlements were superseded in office by the Tories who disparaged the 1709er project and Gov. Hunter lost financial backing for the project. In September 1712, he withdrew his subsistences to the Palatines. After all the British promises, they were left to suffer their own fate. A record of their plight was written by Johann Friederich Hager, the Reformed German clergyman sent to minister them, in a letter dated July 6, 1713 he writes:

...the misery of these poor Palatines I every day behold
has thrown me into such a fit of melancholy that I much fear a sickness. There has been great famine among them this winter, and does hold on still, in so much that they boil grass and the ch. eat the leaves of the trees. Such amongst have most suffered of the hunger as are advanced in years and too weak to go out laborering. I have seen old men and women crie that it should have almost moved a stone. I am almost resined with this people. I have given bread out of my own mouth to many a one of these, not being able to behold their extreme want. Where I live, there are two old people that before I could be informed of the necessitous condition, have for a whole week together had nothing but Welsh turnips, which they did only scrape and eat without salt or fat or bread; they are in a miserable state, with no hope of alteration....

Having been left to their own resources, the more adverturous stole away in late 1712 to the Schoharie Valley, John Conrad Weiser among them. They were not permitted to bring their tools with them, so they fashioned substitutes: branches of a tree for a haymaking fork, a shovel from a hollowed-out log-end, etc. By the time of their naturalization in 1715, the 1709ers were spread out over colonial New York. About this time, Ulrich Simmendinger began gathering family data concerning his compatriots which he would publish when he returned to Germany in 1717.

The adventures of the Schoharie Palatines can be gleaned from readily available sources, as well as, the adventures of the Palatines who migrated to New Jersey. Some excellent sources are John P. Dern, Albany Protocol, and Simon Hart and Harry J. Kreiderís Lutheran Church in NY and NJ 1722-1760.

NOTE: Available documents including the Livingstonís contract to Victual the Palatines, and can be found in the Documentary History of the State of New York. A record of Livingstonís voyage over on the "Charity" is available at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY.


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