History From America's Most Famous Valleys
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
Some Forty years ago a country clergyman serving parishes in Schoharie and Saugerties developed an interest in their German backgrounds. There in upstate New York he found German names, German customs and remnants of German speech. The Reverend Sanford H. Cobb had a deep concern for backgrounds--witness his Rise of Religious Liberty in American--and he set about to write The Story of the Palatines, which he published in 1897. He made no great pretense to scholarship, as such would be esteemed today, and confined his reading apparently, to accounts in the English language and, among these, to very little source material. An anyone might infer, his work was sketchy and superficial, however well intentioned, and yet, surprising as it may seem, it has remained from that day to this our only extended general narrative on the Palatine migration from the Rhine Valley through England to America.
In Mr. Cobb's day our colonial history, so far as it proceeded from the universities, concerned itself largely with the slow manufacture of states. The techniques of the historical seminar had not been applied to population and excerpt for some attention to the Dutch, there was comparatively little apprehension of the various stocks outside the English making up about a third of the nation which declared its independence in 1776. Had the Germans come earlier, had their records all been written in a language which most American historians readily understood, had they settled in New England near those centers where for a long time most history was written or, particularly, had they founded a whole and separate colony, the story would have been different. Forty years ago, it is true, there were several accounts of one phase or another of the Palatine migration, but they were by Germans and in German, as though the Palatines and their descendants were merely Germans abroad, exiles from the Fatherland. But a century before that it should have been realized that they were as much Americans as those whose ancestors had come from Devonshire or Norfolk. Even their names were becoming naturalized: Werner had become Warner, Benker had become Banker, Schneider had become Snyder, Leyer had become Lawyer, etc., to say nothing of straight translations. Today only in Pennsylvania is there any considerable group of the German colonial stock which remains primarily German in speech and culture; most of the old German blood has been intermingled and most of the old culture has been thoroughly merged in what we call American culture. Where could one find more typical American careers than those suggested by the names of Wanamaker and Rockefeller?
Instead of this being a reason for neglecting the peculiarly German elements in our colonial life, it is a reason for studying them with increasing thoroughness. If the culture which they represented has lost its clear identity, if it is hidden in the general mass, its contribution has been more essential. If the Germans have become somewhat English in social habit, then the English have become somewhat German. All this is a factor in making the American temper what it is.
Dr. Knittle's book is significant not only as the first thorough study of the first large German immigration. It may possibly be contended that it is the first thorough study of colonial immigration of any kind. This is not to say that the general subject has been neglected; it has had almost constant attention. But much of it has had to be developed by ingenious inference, for in scarcely any case except that of the Palatines has there been at hand a full record of the motives, the process and the experience of the migration. The phrase "at hand" must not be understood, however, as meaning that the record had been accumulated and arranged. The accounts in the invaluable Documents relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, of course, have been accessible everywhere, and more recently Todd and Goebel's edition of Christoph von Graffenried's Account of the Founding of New Bern and the British Calendar of State Papers Colonial; Pennsylvania Germans have dug out Rhineland background; and there have been fragments published here and there in historical magazines. These which had satisfied others were merely introductory exercises for Dr. Knittle's driving zeal. As will appear in this notes, he went over the German materials again, combed the manuscripts in the Public Record Office, the British Museum and the private collections in the great houses of England, made his way through a maze of eighteenth-century periodicals and pamphlets, and visited Ireland to discover the remaining influence of Palatine settlement. No such thorough and intensive study had previously been made.
As this book is published American political sentiment is divided on the question of planned economy. Can the government determine what kind of production is desirable? If so, can it wisely organize and direct that production? Should the government produce its own materials? Is government enterprise likely to face betrayal by the private interests of cooperating contractors? Can the government fuse its ancient function of relief with such planned production? The Resettlement Administration, which is now attempting this fusion, may or may not be a success, may or may not be temporary. With all the various factors involved, historical analogies are treacherous and there is no desire to force them. But our situation makes especially interesting a study of planned productions and charitable resettlement seen in long perspective.
Any write is tempted to magnify the influence of his subject and in no field has this been more prevalent that in that of the history of social groups. With a scholar's honesty Dr. Knittle has conquered this temptation; however much he may have increased our knowledge of the Palatine immigrants, he has steadfastly avoided extravagant claims for their influence. He has even challenged and reduced claims previously thought to be established. For example, it has usually been stated that the Palatines' disgust for the treatment they had received in New York was an important factor in diverting subsequent German settlement from that province into Pennsylvania. By cool analysis the present author reveals how untenable is this thesis. He has been ready to throw out the dramatic and picturesque when clouded with doubt or founded on error. He cites the "interesting legend" set forth by his predecessors which had it that the five Mohawk Indians taken by Peter Schuyler to London were so grieved by the plight of the Palatines, then encamped on Blackheath, that they gave the Schoharie Valley to the queen on consideration that she would bestow it upon the emigrants; then he points out that the Palatines sailed from London before the Indians sailed from Boston, that four of the five Indians were not sachems and had no authority to grant Mohawk lands and that these lands were subsequently ceded at Albany to the province with no reference to the Palatines. Though eschewing partisanship he is quick to repel unwarranted aspersions on the group, and disposes of Archdeacon Cunningham's contention that the Palatines' success in Ireland was explained by the unnecessary favor of their subsidy by showing that the subsidy was necessary to establish them but that their individual prosperity came chiefly from their frugality and competence. Three examples out of innumerable such cases may assure the reader that he is in the hands of an alert and thoughtful scholar.
The appendices listing about 12,000 names of Palatines who embarked from the homeland might strike some as of slight historical worth. But these lists, carefully compiled for the firs time in the Public Record Office and elsewhere, are an event for genealogists. The baffling difficulty at the head of every family history in this country is to establish the exact date when the American progenitors reached these shores. Here is filled for the first time the gap in German immigration lists between that of the Pastorius settlement in 1683 and those covering the years 1717--1818 published recently by Strassburger and Hinke for the Pennsylvania-German Society.
History is never written finally. New materials are exhumed; new interpretations spring from new experience and new curiosities. But Dr. Knittle's Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration is not likely to be superseded for many long years. It covers a stirring group adventure, a well-defined and significant experiment in political economy and a contribution to the making of a nation; it covers this complex enterprise with thoroughness and sympathy and presents its record with insight, force and clarity.
Dixon Ryan Fox
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