This article was written by Rachel Meyer, who writes: "Late last summer Rex Stevenson asked me to write a history of the Palatine immigration from information I had previously sent him to use on the Herkimer/ Montgomery Co. Page. This essay is a conglomoration of what I've read."
WHO WERE THE PALATINES?
The term "palatinate" or "palatine" comes from the title given a Roman official, "Palatine," who was sent by Caesar to govern the southwestern section of Germany after the conquest of Gaul in the first century. The Palatine immigrants came from area of the Palatinate on the Rhine River - a fertile land of beautiful fields of corn, orchards and vineyards. From the wandering tribes who had settled in Germany had developed civilized people of valor and integrity. These craftsmen, artisans, masons, weavers and farmers were distinguished by their industry and thrift. However, this garden spot in Europe became a war-torn, devastated Rhine Valley subject to the ravages of the religious and political wars of the 17th Century which reduced its people to destitution. From this destitution flowered an ability to endure even the most heart-rendering circumstances.
The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) began with an attempt to wipe out Protestantism in the Rhine Palatinate. The inhabitants were subjected over and over again to brutal and thorough pillage. The annihilation of the population was prevented because the residents fled from the armies at the rumor of approach, taking a few necessary belongings and what animals could be hastily driven away. The anguished population returned (sometimes years later) to their burned and pillaged farms and villages to eke out a wretched subsistence until the next campaign came that way.
The French army retreating across the Palatinate in 1674 inflicted terrible devastation. The Rhineland was reduced to a desert to prevent the enemy's army, when it should return in force, from finding anything on which to subsist. After a period of rebuilding, Louis XIV of France moved to take possession of the Palatinate, which caused a new war between France and the Allied Nations of Spain, England and Germany. The French army moved into the Palatinate to prevent it from becoming a source of supply for the allied armies. Fire was set to everything, every market place, every hamlet, every country seat - the grain fields were plowed under and the orchards cut down, castles and churches - all was destroyed. After a short reprieve the War of the Spanish Succession began. In 1704, the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene led the English, Dutch, Danes and Germans through the Rhineland to the battle of Blenheim. Three years later the French, under Villars, drove their opponents up the Rhine and occupied the country as conquerors.
Rumors of Eden Found in the New World
In 1706, Rev. Joshua Kocherthal, a Palatine Lutheran clergyman, made a trip to England to educate himself with the conditions in the English-American Colonies. Upon his return to the Palatinate he wrote a booklet on the attractive settlement possibilities in America which became very popular. It was written from the English records and claims of land agents and pertained particularly to the advantages of settlement in the Carolinas. In 1708 Rev. Kocherthal and fifty-four Palatines visited England and petitioned Queen Anne for their settlement in America. With support from the Queen, they sailed for New York in October 1708 on the ship "Globe," arriving in New York City after nine weeks at sea. The first Palatine settlement in New York was at the mouth of the Quassaick Creek, near present Newburgh, New York. Governor Lovelace, on behalf of the Queen, allotted 500 acres of land for church purposes, 200 acres for Rev. Kocherthal's family, and 50 acres to each additional person. However, no contract was signed before the Governor died on May 6, 1709. In order to secure permanent provision and financial aid to the colony, Rev. Kocherthal sailed for London in August 1709. When Rev. Kocherthal arrived in London in December 1709, he learned of the mass of his countrymen who had fled the devastation along the Rhine.
The Winter of 1708-09
Back in Germany, the Palatines had given up hope for peace and happiness in their homeland. The French ruler mandated that they become Catholics. The majority of Palatines were devout Lutherans and resisted this attempt to take away their religious freedom. The final blow was the excruciating winter of 1708-09 in which many perished because of the lack of shelter, clothing and food. This was the year that birds froze on the wing and all the rivers of northern Europe were ice bound until late in February. The fruit trees and grape vines were killed in spite of the usual warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Many of the towns had become so destitute that they were taken over by wolves roaming the nearby forests. William Penn of England had made two trips through the land trying to persuade the Palatines to immigrate to his new Province of Pennsylvania. Other English American agents of Colonial landlords also solicited immigrants for their overseas plantations in America. Their critical situation was discussed secretly in families and small groups, plans were finalized and the Germans began to act.
Queen Anne's agents had agreed that all who wished to leave the Palatinate and find their way down the Rhine to Rotterdam would be transported to England by English ships. The Queen felt it her Christian duty because the oppressed Palatines were of the same faith as her husband, Prince George of Denmark, who died in October 1708.
The Palatines Flee
In the spring of 1709, thousands of Palatines floated down the Rhine, sneaking through the dark to small, open boats that carried them away from their homeland or walking north through Holland. The roads and fields which lay deep in snow were blackened by numerable men, women and children fleeing from their homes. It took about a month to make the trip from the barren Palatinate. The Hollanders along the route to Rotterdam, many of them distantly related, were also sympathetic and contributed generously in food, clothing and money. By June 1, 1709, about a thousand a week were arriving at Rotterdam. Many died, but enough survived the trip to fill the streets of Europe with lean and squalid beggars - those who had lost their vineyards and homes that nestled serenely among the picturesque hills on the Rhine.
By October 1709, the rush had ceased because both the Dutch and English authorities were unable to handle any more. Sources vary (one says that 32,468 Palatines went to England for transfer to America, another says that 13,000 reached London by mid-summer), but all agree that the numbers reached proportions never dreamed of by the planners of the exodus. The Palatine London Census of 1709 is a valuable source of information, however these lists record only about 6,000 names, less than half of the Palatines that reached London in the spring and summer of 1709.
Conditions in London
The families, or what remained of them, were herded into an encampment of vacant buildings, warehouses, barns and 1600 tents at Blackheath (the south side of the Thames River near London), and waited for six months for transport to America. Their existence became possibly worse than that which they had experienced back on the Rhine. At first, the English provided public charity, but this was not enough to sustain them. Bread prices rose to their highest price. The crowded conditions in the crude shelter made them ill. Nearly all were destitute and there were many children. The arrangements for their passage were delayed many months and continued support by the English government caused discontent among the English working classes.
Also visiting London in 1709 was a small group of Mohawk Indian Chiefs who were themselves objects of awe and wonderment in the British capital. The Mohawk Indians pitied the Palatines and offered to donate lands in America on which these destitute Palatines might begin life anew. The Queen greeted their offer with enthusiasm and decided to found a settlement there at her own expense. Her political advisors concurred with this plan, and suggested that certain Palatines be sent to the Province of New York where they might be useful to the British Kingdom, particularly in the production of Naval supplies and as a frontier against the French and Indians. At that time, it was also considered that the Palatines would inter-marry with the Indians on the frontier and their off-spring would be loyal to the crown. The Palatine youths, however, made very few of these alliances. The Board of Trade recommended that Her Majesty settle them on the Schoharie, a branch of the Mohawk, where there were great numbers of pines fit for the production of turpentine and tar, out of which rosin and pitch are made.
The Masses Divided
Some 2,000 Catholic Palatines were sent back to Germany because of an English law that allowed only Protestant settlers in English colonies in the New World. Records show that 3,498 persons were settled in Ireland, 650 were sent to the Carolinas. Some were sent to Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, others were absorbed by the British people, and it seems reasonable that a thousand must have died while encamped at Blackheath. One hundred fifty able bodied men, mostly Catholics, were enlisted in the British Army and sent to Portugal. They were good enough to be soldiers in the British Army, but not for settlement in the Colonies. Some Catholics found it convenient to change their religion. The Carolinas, New York and Jamaica had been considered as a destination for the final large group of Palatines. Queen Anne approved the plan to send approximately 3,000 of them to New York on January 11, 1710. They were under contract (the London Covenant of 1709) to manufacture naval stores an unspecified length of time, for which they were to receive transportation, subsistence, 5 pounds and 40 acres of land each when the project was finished. The contract was read to them in German and signed by the Palatines. Later, the terms of the contract were disputed by the Palatine settlers as being different from what they had originally agreed to. Also, violations by the English of the supplies and money allocated for the project caused more despair after their settlement in New York had been established.
Discrepancies in records do not give us a clear picture of the date the Palatines set sail for America. Some show they boarded the last week in December 1709, others say after January 20th. Once again, there were weeks of delay on the over-crowded vessels, waiting for British Man-of-War ships to be assigned as a convoy for the ten ships loaded with 2,814 Palatines. It is said they were held in the harbor another two or three months before actually sailing. Names of all ships in the convoy are not of record, but among them, were the "Lyon," the "Globe," the "Berkley Castle," the "Bedford," and the "Herbert."
Conditions on board the ships became unbearable: foul air, vermin, little sunlight and exercise, wormy biscuits and unsanitary drinking water soon caused many on board to fall ill. Eighty deaths were reported in one ship and a hundred sick in another before leaving England. The Palatine ships soon became ravaged with fever, typhus and other ailments, which with almost no provision for elementary sanitation, caused the death of a great number of emigrants. The voyage to America in 1710 was a long, rigorous experience. It is recorded that 446 out of the original 2814 died en-voyage and another 250 shortly after arrival. The ship "Herbert" ran aground on Block Island at the eastern end of Long Island Sound and burned with loss of life and most of its supplies. Whittier immortalized the wreck of the "Herbert" in a poem, "The Palatine."
Imagine, if you can, the joy felt by these voyagers at the site of America on the horizon. Around June 10, 1710, after a harrowing sea voyage, nine ships crowded with emigrants began arriving at the port of New York. Onboard among many sea-weary, broken families was an orphaned boy named Chrysler, who became the paternal ancestor of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of Chrysler Motors Corporation. Many of the 74 orphans and some children whose parents survived were ordered apprenticed among the colonists, which continued the long series of wrongs that befell the Palatine immigrants. Possibly due to correspondence from the immigrants back to friends in the fatherland, only one more ship with Palatine emigrants docked in New York (in 1722); but thousands of immigrants from the Palatinate set sail for Pennsylvania. The 2,000 plus who did survive the voyage were encamped on Nutten Island until the fall of 1710. About 400 (mostly widows, single women and children) remained in New York City where they built a German Lutheran Church adjacent to the spot where Old Trinity Church now stands. It had been a long journey in search of the promised land, but continued disillusionment and hardship were to be their future.
The New York Frontier
Governor Hunter decided (or...was persuaded by Robert Livingston) that their location in the frontier of New York should not be along the Mohawk River. Instead, Hunter purchased a tract of 6000 acres on the Hudson River from Robert Livingston, which became known as Livingston Manor. In October, 1900 able-bodied Palatines were moved 92 miles up the Hudson River, to Livingston Manor on the west side of the Hudson, and to East Camp directly across the river. The settlers built rough huts and cabins to stave off the winter months. Conrad Weiser reported in his diary that the cooking was done in large outside community stone ovens. House furniture, tables and chairs were carved out of the forest timber. The assignment to each family of such a small plot of ground (7 acres) seemed like an insult to these men who had been among the best farmers in Europe.
About 100,000 trees were barked during the summer of 1711 and 200 barrels of tar were extracted from the 100,000 trees felled. It was a small amount for the number of trees and of poor quality. By the spring of 1712, the project was failing because of the lack of appropriation from the government, and the poor yield of tar and turpentine from the pine trees. Cessation of work and subsistence was announced in the summer of 1712, and the immigrants were left on their own. After the death of Queen Anne, the Palatines became a political football in British policy. The Palatines were abandoned, without their promised rewards, over a project that failed because of circumstances beyond their own control.
Because of the approaching winter, the settlers were forced to act quickly. About 30 families purchased land from Henry Beekman (Beekman's Landing near present day Rhinebeck) and prospered within a few years. Those who stayed at Livingston Manor and East Camp suffered to the point of boiling grass and eating leaves from the trees to survive the winter of 1712-13. (Finally in 1725, after a new governor had been appointed, 63 families received title deeds to the lands they occupied at Livingston Manor.) Some families moved to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City. Fifty families purchased land for $300 Spanish money from the Mohawk Indians to make a permanent settlement on about 10,000 acres in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. In the spring of 1713, an additional 150 families moved from the Hudson to the Schoharie. Later moves were made in winter, often packing their belongings on sleds and pushing their way through the snow over the mountains to establish their dorfs, the last being Kniskernsdorf which was settled about 1729. These dorfs were in a row, about 2 miles apart, similar to the closeness of their villages in the fatherland.
The Fruits of Their Labors
One historian reports that for many years Palatines arrived in Philadelphia and traveled to the Hudson, Schoharie and Mohawk Valleys to join friends and relatives who had preceded them into the frontier. Over the years, there continued to be disputes of land ownership which caused families to move their homes again. By 1721, about one third of them had gone into the Mohawk Valley, some had moved their belongings and cattle a distance of many miles to the Tulpehocken region of Pennsylvania, others had settled in Hunterdon Co., New Jersey, and some remained in Schoharie. By the second planting season the corn produced so well in the virgin soil from the seed that the Indians had given them that they never were in dire straits for food again. Their clothing was made from the skins of deer, until they grew flax and made linen, or raised sheep and made woolen cloth. They wore buckskin moccasins before shoe leather was available. It is doubtful if there was a tannery or a shoemaker in the Schoharie Valley before the Revolution. Their interior lighting came from the fireplace and pitch pine knots and years later from tallow dips. Conrad Weiser wrote in his diary: "Here the people lived for years without a preacher, without government, generally in peace. Each did what he thought was right."
The Dutch and English settlers erroneously regarded the Palatines as ignorant. This was doubtless due to the fact that for three generations after settlement, the Palatines did not use the English language and kept much to themselves. In almost every business deal they had with the English and Dutch they felt they had been unjustly tricked and wanted no dealings with them. The English language, and the English legal procedure, were obstacles to their relations for years. By causing turmoil over the ownership of lands, the government tried to force the Palatines out into the frontier as a first line of defense against the French and the Indians. The Palatines accepted their roll as a front-line defense in order to hold title to land so that they would be able to support themselves and own land to leave for their children.
The Palatine descendants for three generations retained many individualistic traits. Even in the clearing of forested land they did not girdle the trees and leave them to die and for burning the next year as was done by most other pioneers, but cut them down and burned the brush and trees the first year, thus making the ground available for cultivation the second year. They gave better care and housing to their domestic animals in winter than other pioneer groups. They built mammoth Conestoga freight wagons to take their products to market, which required four and six horses to draw. They built larger and better barns, sometimes better than their houses, and kept higher and better fences along their land. The first objective was to become freeholders. Few of them ever lived in rented houses.
The Palatines and their descendants set great store on keeping a farm in the family for generations. Wherever they turned the sod, the grist and sawmills ground and groaned, and the wilderness soon became a fertile field. The Palatine farmers were very much influenced in planting time by the moon, a custom that they had brought over from the Palatinate. Planting, they said, was better done in the waxing than in the waning of the moon. The moon, according to their custom, in the sign of the twins, made the best time for sowing. Even butchering of swine was carefully planned with reference to the mysterious influences of the moon. Their gardens were cared for by the women. In harvest time the women forsook their gardens, dairy and spinning wheels and helped their fathers, brothers and husbands in the fields. Their woodworking mechanics produced utensils that were not only useful but works of art. The wooden butter bowl and ladle, the grain cradle, the barley fork, and the wooden hand rake were among those utensils. The Palatine farmers were among the first to dispense with the sickle and use the long wooden-fingered grain cradle in the harvesting of wheat, rye, barley and oats. It was a great improvement over the sickle. Then there were the wooden spinning wheels of the homemakers, which were made by their carpenters.
The Palatine communities had their good times and frolics, within limits, without any legalistic or religious scruples about enjoying themselves. In religious matters they were not as fanatical as some other peoples, however colorful their folklore may have been. They loved music, sports and singing. They drank hot buttered rum and wine at harvest time, Christmas, New Years and at weddings. Also after funerals, when the relatives came from a long distance, they often repaired to the home of the deceased and drank wine that had been saved for years for such occasion. The clergy had considerable trouble over a long period of time in breaking up this European custom.
Until grist mills were built, they cracked their corn Indian fashion, in a hollowed-out stump with a stone pestle suspended from a sapling and operated like a pump handle. The first bread was baked in a covered kettle hung in the fireplace and later in large outside stone and clay ovens. The virtue of such bread excelled modern baking for the reason that all the elements of the wheat or corn were retained.
The Palatines and their descendants were strong individualists as seen in their long struggle against feudalistic policies. Yet they had a large amount of idealism in their make-up, inherited from their religion, literature and music. They have furnished a good example of the humbler virtues of citizenship including respect for the law and the prompt discharge of their business obligations. Wherever they settled the communities became known for their observance of law and order. Mrs. Anne McVicar Grant, who spent some time on the New York frontier near the end of the French and Indian War, wrote in her "Memoirs of an American Lady": "The subdued and contented spirit, the simple and primitive manners, the frugal and industrial habits of these genuine sufferers for conscience sake, make them an acquisition to any society which received them, and a most suitable leaven among the inhabitants of this Province."
Last Updated: 6/15/97
Copyright © 1997 Rachel Meyer/ Martha S. Magill
All Rights Reserved.