Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration
A British Government Redemptioner Project to Manufacture Naval Stores
by Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D.
Department of History
College of the City of New York
Published Philadelphia, 1937


Influenced by a robust mercantilism, full fifty years before the age of laissez-faire, the British government attempted an experiment in public operation of an industry in competition with private business. This experiment was neither scientifically planned nor deliberately undertaken. The British government had obligated itself by implication to support German immigrants. It had transported them and given them relief at public expense, thus establishing a precedent for state aided and controlled migration. The authorities imply sought under the spur of the drain on the treasury some way of recouping the unexpectedly heavy expenditures. How they tried to "kill two birds with one stone" by solving their naval stores problem as well, has been pointed out. From a rational point of view, the venture had everything to recommend it. It gave promise of providing England with a highly valued staple commodity from the northern continental colonies, comparable to the tobacco from Virginia and the sugar from the West Indies. The weakest part of the colonial frontier was also to be strengthened by the settlement. Of all these promises, only the last was actually realized, and that, indeed, over the opposition of the governor in charge of operations.

It remains to point out why this forgotten attempt at public operation of an industry failed, even before the days of prejudice against government operation of industry. The very haste with which the venture was decided upon and prepared were obstacles. Proper instruction by experts, definitely assigned to the work and given responsibility for it, was not insisted upon. Nevertheless, the venture might have muddled through to success, had financial support from England not ceased before it was well under way. The decisive influence of the Ministerial Revolution in England in 1711

Page 226: and the subsequent search for campaign material to win the next election as been emphasized. It would seem that such political considerations must be ruled out, if public operation of any industry is to succeed.

The naval stores project, however, was not a sheer failure. The British attempts to build up a naval stores industry in their colonies in America were effective in maintaining low prices for Swedish tar. Without the possibility of colonial competition the Swedish tar would have been obtainable only on most disadvantageous terms. Therefore, the British Navy Board played into the hands of the Swedish Company when it opposed the encouragement of colonial naval stores on the grounds that they were much more expensive than the products of the Baltic countries. Considering only the practical side of securing moderately priced naval stores, the colonial project would seem to have been reasonably successful.

The failure of the naval stores settlement spelled opportunity to the Palatines and indeed this too must be considered in explaining the lack of success with tar manufacturing. The Palatines were individualists, as most farmers are, and sought fertile lands for themselves and their posterity. The virgin lands of the frontier beckoned to these Old World farmers. They pushed the frontier before them as they moved into the Mohawk and Susquehanna Valleys. They prospered and many of their descendants still own the lands taken up by their ancestors in the eighteenth century. The dreams of these early pioneers have been realized.

More importance should be attached to the effect these migrations of 1708 and 1709 had in the Germanies. The reports of the good treatment received from the British government, which really was most benevolent under the stress of a war period, encouraged a steady stream of emigration. Kocherthal's pamphlet with its appendix, describing the aid extended to the immigrants, was one of the most influential of these works, encouraging emigration. To this groups must be added Simmendinger's little pamphlet, with its appendix

Page 227: of many pages of Palatine families happily settled in the "Land of Promise." Shortly after the latter publication appeared, about 1717, a steady stream of German redemptioners began to flow into Pennsylvania.

It has seemed advisable to point out that our colonial histories have overstressed Peter Kalm's casual explanation in accounting for the absence of German immigration to the colony of New York, while Pennsylvania felt itself so flooded by these people that it considered restricting the immigration to preserve the English character of the settlement. The real problem has been to explain why Germans settled in New York rather than why they continued to immigrate to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania of all the English colonies was the most publicized in Germany in the early eighteenth century. The Palatine immigrations of 1709 and 1710 to New York were diversions from the normal course of German immigration, made by the British government for it s own purposes, as this study has shown. No other English province was able to overcome the magnetic attraction of Pennsylvania for the Germans in the eighteenth Century.

This study further suggests that Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis of the frontier's influence on the European settlers should be understood not only as a creative but also as a selective process, for the frontier attracted only the independent, freedom-loving types of men. It also appears necessary to appreciate that there was much co-operation required in frontier life. Only the trappers and the rabid frontiersmen were as anti-social as Professor Turner described the pioneers. While his theory of the influence of the frontier on the rise of democracy in this country appears to be sound, it should be realized that in the colonial period it was the wealthy merchants and the landed proprietors who laid the basis for the American revolution by limiting the power of the Crown's representatives, the colonial governors. The frontier had little influence upon those privileged classes.

Return to opening page of book.

Copyright 1998, -- 2003. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.

Contents Introduction Links Home