Family Circle 14

A family history site: Chasing My Own Tale

VIDEO: “German Migration: Settlement and Culture in Colonial America”

VIDEO: “German Migration: Settlement and Culture in Colonial America” by Dr. Aaron Fogleman

Fascinating history discussion by Dr. Aaron Fogleman, Professor, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. Art in Clay Symposium, April 15-16, 2011 at Old Salem Museums & Gardens.

Below are some notes I took as we watched:

Most of the 18th century German immigration came from the middle and Upper Rhine region. (Note: this rings true of the Fredericks) Professor told a story of 3 young mn who “snuck out” of Wurttemberg area, saying “large migrations out to Colonial America from 1743 on. These young men traveled from the Necker River, down the Rhine, to the port of Rotterdam. This was the classic 18th century immigration route.

From there, they would cross the English Channel to a port on the Isle of Man. (Looking at a map, it appears that the Isle of Man and Germany are about 662 miles, straight over England, as the crow flies. Assuming the ship had to go south, then around, in the English  Channel, this extends the trip time.) The voyagers would rest a few days on the Isle – if their passage was paid – and cross the Atlantic to Pennsylvania.

More often than not, however, the travelers would spend weeks waiting in Rotterdam; many who ran out of money had no choice but to agree to become indentured servants for several years in the Colonies, in exchange for passage.

Once aboard the ship, it would take a miserable 8-10 weeks to travel to their destination. The Professor mentioned a young man whose journal-ling gave insight into his experiences throughout the journey and afterwards. “Gottleib Middlebelgum” (sp) described conditions below deck where the travelers were assigned. Most were not allowed to venture above deck as the seas were rough. Dehydration, sea sickness, fevers, dysentery, squalor and tight quarters with no privacy were standard. Professor stated that one out of 25 voyagers, or 4%,  were dead by the end of their ordeal. The year 1752 was the peak period of German immigration.

Finally, when they reached the shores of the Colonies, and in our case, Pennsylvania, each male over the age of 16 years was required to march in columns of 2 to the Courthouse on Market Street. While the rest of the family waited aboard, the men were required to swear an oath of loyalty to King George. Those who had paid their passage were free to go. Meanwhile, the indentured servants waited for the masters who had agreed to pay their debts in exchange for specified lengths of service. Depending on their skill level, their age, and their health, this could be anywhere from 2-10 years of unpaid labor and servitude.

Many families were split up. Both men and women were assigned tasks to pay off their debt. During the time of servitude, none could marry or be given in marriage. At the end of this arrangement, they were required to pay heavy taxes called “freedom dues”. This was not the only financial burden; they were heavily taxed throughout the entire ordeal.

Most of the German emigrants were also Serfs, as Serfdom was prevalent in the homeland. You were “lipe-eiden” (sp), meaning, “your body was owned by the Lord”. One had to be manumitted in order to get permission to leave the realm of the Lord. This was all part of a complicated web of traditional rites and privileges. The Lords controlled the right of all movements of subjects.

In spite of these hardships, indentured servitude was important to migration, labor relations, and the development in the Colonies. For the individual, however, this must have been difficult. Many letters were sent home to family describing appalling conditions and experiences, and warning against any who were considering following them.

For many years, the German language was commonly spoken. Books, newspapers, magazines from home and an active political perspective created an unique ethnic cultural social network within the immigrant circles. Many stayed within the Philadelphia community, but eventually more people moved out to the enclaves. The Lutheran or German Reform Church was always the center of the community, however. There were a few radical piathous migrations, including the Morovians, Amish, and Mennonites, of which was only less than 10% of the total population, about 5,000 Germans. The great majority were Lutherans or Calvinists, with a few Catholics and Jews.

 The majority of the newly built churches had no regular ministers to care for their Lutheran and Reform flock. In their absence, a strong lay ministry developed, unheard of in the old country. This new leadership recognized the need for preserving ethnic values from the old country.

Who made it? Professor explains two factors in their success. #1, Come with money. A scant few did and were very successful. #2, Follow a collective strategy. “Sticking together” began in the villages in Germany; there was collective action against Lords. Once in the Colonies, they practiced ethnic politics; they pursued group policies and not individual ideas.

After arriving in Pennsylvania, most moved only once; they didn’t wander from their initial home here. Those few who did move, according to the Professor, were peddlers or itinerant preachers. The Delaware and Susquehanna Valley afforded them the opportunity to grow into a community of stable ethics. That lasted well into the 1830’s when English became the primary language of the community at large. Children born in Pennsylvania spoke German primarily, but were bilingual, until the 1830’s.

The affect of “Greater Pennsylvania”, as the area was called, had an economic relationship as far south as Piedmont, North Carolina. Another group of ethnic Germans from Switzerland settled in Newberry, North Carolina. A few Germans migrated through Charleston, South Carolina.

By 1776, fifteen Lutheran and twelve German Reform churches dotted the North Carolina landscape. The first Lutheran full-time minister was serving in 1773, and in 1770 the Reform church has its first minister.

Most of the immigrants arrived with craftsman skills as well as farming knowledge. The homeland afforded only tiny plots of land, not enough to make a livlihood, and it became necessary to develop unique crafts to sell. These skills brought with them were valuable in the new country.

The Professor noted two distinct trails of German migration. First was the “Great Wagon Road” of Shenandoah Valley. The alternative was to commute east of Blue Ridge Mountains, where they didn’t have to traverse mountains. However, the multiple crossings of vast rivers caused many a heartache.

Of the thousands of documented travelers, it is estimated that about 250 were Moravians. A few travel dairies are in the possession of the Professor. One journal, that of 16-year-old Salome Marva, describes her journey to North Carolina. The journal was published by the Professor in the “Journal of Pennsylvania History”.  Salome left Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in a party of 12 girls ages 13-17 years, four single women, and one preacher and his wife. They loaded up their 1 wagon and 9 horses, and exchanged tearful goodbyes before starting their journey. All along the way, they were harassed by crowds of gawking men, who cracked jokes, exhibited their talents under the influence of alcohol, and at one point, attempted to kidnap a few of the young girls. Thankfully, some in the crowd became cavaliers, rescuing the girls at the moment of peril. To Salome’s relief, they all made it to their destination.

This was an interesting discussion on the probable experiences of our German-American emigrants who came during the Colonial period of the 18th century.

german map migration


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