The Emigration form the Palatinate to North America from the 17th to the 20th Century


by Roland Paul

Looked upon as a "classical country of immigration" towards the end of the 17th century the Palatinate soon became a region of which the emigrants' trunk was a "significant symbol" of its situation, particularly in the 19th century.

Already at the beginning of the 18th century, the Palatine share on the German emigration was so large that the designation "Pfälzer" or "Palatine" soon became a current term that stood for all German-speaking immigrants.

The debarkation of 13 families from Krefeld in the port of Philadelphia in October 1683 and the foundation of Germantown under Franz Daniel Pastorius marked the beginning of the organized emigration of Germans to the North American continent. They followed the invitation of William Penn who had visited Germany a few years before. As the Pennsylvanian Historian Arthur Graeff wrote, "William Penn's invitation to the New World brought a new ray of hope to the hapless victims of religious persecutions and economic disasters which had been visited upon the people of the Rhine area for almost a century."

Already in the early seventies of the 17th century a group of Palatine Huguenots coming from France originally and first settled in the area of Speyer, Mannheim and Frankenthal emigrated to North America. Their settlement on the Hudson river in the English colony, the later state of New York, was called "New Paltz" after their immediate stop over.

But the next main wave of German emigration to North America did not follow until 1709 and 1710 after Queen Anne had invited Europeans to settle her colonies in North America. About 20, to 30,000 Germans, mainly called 'Palatines' went in these years to London in order to get a ship to America. The English government was not prepared for such a great number of immigrants. Not all of them could be shipped into the New World. A large number had to return, others were settled in Limerick County in Ireland.

Thousands of German emigrants followed their countrymen in the following decades to North America. In 1727 the newcomers were arriving in such great numbers that the English colonists in Pennsylvania were disturbed to see the steady flow of non English settlers pouring through the port of Philadelphia. In order to keep this movement under control, in 1727 the assembly passed a law that all "Palatines" be required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown. Between 1740 and 1756 there were 30.000 male adults who took the Oath of Allegiance. A real mass migration had started. For example in 1751 16 vessels brought 4 134 persons to the port of Philadelphia. Large parts of the Country of Pennsylvania as well as the Northern part of Maryland soon had a "thoroughly German character" as it is stated in a contemporary report. The British were soon afraid it would come to a predominance of the German element.
Benjamin Franklin for example said. "Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours ? Why should Pennsylvania founded by Englishmen suffer to become a colony of foreigners who shortly will be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of Anglifying them..."
The majority of the Palatine emigrants were farmers who frequently lived together in closed settlements so that their dialect was preserved to a very large extent. The so-called "Pennsylvania-Dutch", mixed with many English expressions is still alive today. In Lancaster and Berks County even church services are held in the Pennsylvania-German dialect.

Among those who emigrated to America in the 18th century in large numbers were the Mennonites, among them several hundred Amish people who had lived in the Alsace-Lorraine area and in the Palatinate before. In many cases the Mennonites were suspected as heretics by the civil servants and the clergy of the three authorized denominations of the German Empire and treated as second rate citizens. According to the promises of William Penn not only the Huguenots, Mennonites and Amish found an asylum in America. Also the members of other denominations and sects emigrated. The Moravians, called "Mährische Brüder" or "Herrenhuter" here, founded settlements in Bethlehem/Pennsylvania and in Salem/North Carolina. The Seven-Day-Baptists, the "Siebentäger-Gemeinschaft" founded Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, which became one of the most important German cultural and economic centers of Colonial North America. Johann Peter Müller from Alsenborn was for many years the prior of Ephrata Cloister and was "one of the most fascinating personalities of 18th century German emigration". During the War of Independence Ephrata Cloister and Johann Peter Miller supported Washington's troops after the battle of Brandywine in 1777 and therefore "helped to prepare the way for a free America".

During the War of Independence only a minority of the Palatines supported the British side. Most of these "Loyalists" fled to Nova Scotia" in Canada. The majority of the Palatines fought energetically for the Union and the final break with the British Crown and many Palatines formed Volunteer Riflemen Corps.
Side by side with these Palatines, soldiers of the Regiment "Royal Deux Ponts" fought among the French auxiliary troops commanded by the Comte de Rochambeau. All these soldiers came from the duchy of Zweibrücken. An officer of this regiment, which played a decisive role at the important battle of Yorktown in 1781, Baron von Closen wrote in his diary: "The fertility of the country, the climate, the manners of the inhabitants, the German language, which in this part of Pennsylvania is more frequently spoken than English, the way to plough the fields, to build houses, all this reminds me of my beloved home-country, and although I have travelled more than 1800 miles from there in search of adventures, I almost believe, to be true, to have been transported suddenly into the center of our beautiful Palatinate..."

After 1770, especially after the outbreak of the War of Independence, the German emigration to America stopped. The Palatines turned to new destinations: to Prussia, Russia and Austria-Hungary where Frederick the Great, Cathrin the Great and empress Maria Theresia invited people to settle.

While the Palatinate as well as the whole region west of the Rhine river was a part of France between 1797 and 1814 only a few America-emigrants can be found. Only after the end of the Napoleonic era, after the Palatinate became a part of the Kingdom of Bavaria, the emigration to the United States started again.
After climatic unheavels in the years 1816 and 1817, crop failures and famines, when a great number of bakers had to stop baking because there was no flour and when "the poor people tried to appease their hunger with green fodder from the fields or even with herbs and roots" (Weidmann) about 15,000 inhabitants from the Baden-Palatine-Alsatian area emigrated to America.
In the 1830s thousands followed the invitation of the new Brazilian Emperor Pedro I. and emigrated to Southern Brazil.
At the beginning of the 1830s, especially after the "Hambacher Fest", the meeting at the Hambach castle near Neustadt, the first voluntary mass demonstration in German history, thousands emigrated to North America. The liberal journalist Georg Friedrich Kolb of Speyer wrote in 1833: "An emigration from these areas to America had already taken place previously, but most of the time it was a single phenomenon, mainly valid for the poor who did not know how to support themselves any more. But now there was a change. Well-to-do, wealthy, and even rich people left their fatherland in masses. They did not have to dissipate any worries over food, they did not flee because of a pursuit of their inner judge; the bitter pain which was expressed in view of the loss of their dear fatherland could not stop them, they faced the terrible cholera right away , but - they rushed towards the Land of Freedom that should take the place which the former Palatinate could no longer hold."

One of this prominent emigrants of this period Theodor Hilgard, judge at the court of Appeal in Zweibrücken justified his decision to emigrate as follows: "I became convinced clearly that a large family such as mine would not find a suitable domaine nor would thrive happily in a small and close land, one afflicted moreover with unnatural conditions, such as the Bavarian Rhein Palatinate. And that on the other hand the great American union, however, with its vast area, its free institutions and its uncalculable future would offer every human force the freest and greates space in which to move about...It was also my fervent desire that my descendants - especially the latter ones who would call America the land of their birth - would come to the great happiness existent with a strong and proud sense of nationalism, a feeling which will always be denied the German as long as his homeland continues to be so miserably torn apart, and without which, true and meritorious civil happiness is not conceivable, much less a love of the homeland which is alive, prevailing and predominating above all."

As many of his friends and relatives Hilgard settled in Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois, on the right bank of the Mississippi. Belleville soon was called the "German Athens" in America as many of the emigrants influenced highly the cultural, social und political life in this community. As Belleville also the City of St. Louis nearby became an important meeting place of a good many emigrants, then as well as later, of the "Forty-Eighters" like the famous German revolutionary Friedrich Hecker.

In the course of the German Revolution of 1848/49 many participants fled to Switzerland, France but mainly to the United States. Foremost the leaders of the Palatine Revolt which took place in Kaiserslautern in May and June 1849, among them Joseph Martin Reichard and Nikolaus Schmitt, who were sentenced to death in absentia, chose to flee overseas and did not see their homeland again. Many of them built up a reputation as journalists, lawyers, politicians and officers in the Civil War. With great interest these "Forty-Eighters" continued to observe the politcal events in Germany which was reflected in comments published in German-language newspapers in the United States and in many letters.

The factors which underlay the increase of emigration in the second third of the last century were not primarily political but above all of an economic and social nature. The population figure increased considerably in the first decades of the 19th century. The traditional division of the estate or inheritance ruined many productive farms and caused the number of landowners and small and tiny farms to increase considerably. The fast population growth and the liberalization of the commercial working regulations resulted in an inundation of skilled craftsmen. Many families of farmers and craftsmen had to live under the existence minimum.

The economic crises of the forties and fifties had a particularly lasting influence on the social situation of the population. The "Lack of food years" of 1841/42 effected an enormous rise of the local poor-relief expenses in numerous towns here in the Western and Northern part of the Palatinate. But especially the crop failures and the resulting famines in the years 1846/47 and 1853/54 were of serious consequences. Because of the failure of the grain and potato harvest, the prices of the urgently needed basic foods, potatoes and bread, rose faster than those of butter and meat, which can be read in the weekly market reports of Kaiserslautern for example.

Most emigrants from the Palatinate came to a certain level of prosperity after some years in the United States, but there were also many to whom happiness was denied. Some, about 5 percent of the emigrants, even returned home to Germany disappointed. There were also some who reached a fairytale career as for example Heinrich Hilgard-Villard (Henry Villard), the so-called "King of the Railways" born in Speyer in 1835, who built the Northern Pacific Railroad and who always remembered his Palatine homeland in the form of generous endowments; Carl David Weber, born 1814 in Steinwenden became one of California's most important pioneers and founded the City of Stockton; Oscar Salomon Strauss, born in Otterberg in 1850, became the first Jewish cabinet member in American history; his family also owned "Macy's", for a long time one of the largest department stores in the U.S., beside "May's" and "Gimbels". The May Company in Denver was founded by David May of Oberhausen near Landstuhl who grew up in Kaiserslautern, and Gimbels was founded by an emigrant from Biedesheim in the Northern Palatinate. John H. Heinz whose family came from Kallstadt on the Wine Road established the famous Heinz Ketchup factory in Pittsburgh.

All those in their later lives wealthy emigrants left their homeland with only little money. Some of them wanted to avoid the military service, others had no luck in their business like Johann Gottfried Cullmann of Frankweiler who founded the City of Cullman in Alabama. He invited people from his homeland to settle in his new city.

The majority of the Palatine emigrants were attracted by so-called "pull"-factors in the immigration country such as the publication of favorable settlement conditions, to a large degree also the news on the discovery of gold in California and above all the optimistic description of America in many private letters.

With the increasing industrialization in the second part of the 19th century the migration of the rural population into the cities grew. The overseas emigration decreased in the 1860s and 70s for the benefit of the industrial centers of Mannheim-Ludwigshafen, Kaiserslautern and at the Saar region. But in the 1880s, after the American economy could record an enormous boom the number of emigrants shot up once more again.

While in the second third of the 19th century most of the land-searching Palatine emigrants found a new home in the fertile regions of the Middle Western States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin or partly continued their trip in the course of the westward movement, the new immigrants preferred now to settle in the industrial cities of the United States. In New York, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Dayton, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee the numbers of Palatine emigrants were so strong that even Palatine associations were formed there like the "Rheinpfälzer Volksfest Verein New York", the "Pfälzer Bund, St. Louis", the "Pfälzer Casino, Philadelphia", the "Barbarossa Club Kaiserslautern, New York", the "Otterberger Club New York", the "Rehborner Männerchor", later also the "Club der Jettenbacher" and the "Club der Mackenbacher" in New York. The last two I mentioned were founded by the famous travelling musicians, well known in America as the "Little German Bands". The members of these bands mainly came from the Kaiserslautern and Kusel region of the Palatinate. In New York the Voelcker brothers of Edenkoben published a Palatine newspaper, the "Pfälzer in Amerika" from 1884 to 1917.

After the First World War, in the course of the economic crisis of the twenties again hundreds of men and women from the Palatinate emigrated annually to America. The number of emigrants in that part of Bavaria was above the average for the German Emipire.
In spite of the restrictive emigration laws of the United States thousands of German Jews could save their lives by emigrating to the United States after 1933. About 1.500 persecuted Jewish women, men and children from the Palatinate found a refuge in Northern America.

The 1982 census showed that 29 percent of the US-Americans considered themselves as at least partly of German descent. Only 24 percent Americans said they are predominantly Irish and 23 percent considered themselves as mainly of English origin. That means about 52 Million Americans have German ancestors. Some Million Americans can find their origins in the Palatinate among those who left this region in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century in order find a better life overseas.