Palatine Germans to New York in 1710: A Mass Migration
by Peter Ashby
Reproduced with the permission of the author.
The group of German immigrants who came from the Palatine region to New York became known as the Palatine Germans. Theirs is an interesting story of circumstance, bureaucratic bungling and personal determination. They would settle in New York, but another similar group settled in North Carolina. Many German communities in both states were populated by these immigrants.
The Palatine settlers of New York, as they became known, originated in the area of Germany along the Rhine River called the Palatinate, after the title of its ruler. The region includes Nassau, Weilburg and Braunfels. During the late 1600's, under the rule of Louis XIV of France, the region had suffered greatly. The Thirty Years War had concluded in 1648 and it devastated the region. In 1707 French troops marched through with orders to burn and kill, in an attempt to drive the Spanish out of this area that is now Germany. At the same time the Palatinate ruler was attempting to force his Protestant subjects into the Church of Rome. Land agents from England traveled through the area advertising the advantages of settlement in British North America.
After the bitter winter of 1708/9, 13,500 Palatines made the six week passage down the Rhine and its tributaries to Rotterdam, Holland. Another group had made the trip the year before, being well treated, during which they became British citizens under the Naturalization Act of 1708, passed specifically for their benefit. Word of their generous treatment encouraged the second group.
This second group did not fare as well. They camped outside Rotterdam from May of 1709 until October. They were transported from the Dutch port of Brielle to London, where they were supported by public and private charities and quartered in private homes, warehouses and army tents along the Thames. They began arriving in May and were still coming in July when the British restricted further immigration, stranding those who were still left behind in Rotterdam.
The refugees overloaded the British facilities in London. Some, mostly the Catholics, were returned to the Continent, others were sent to Ireland and a few stayed in England. Although the large camp stirred hostility among the locals, at least one observer described them as "innocent, laborious, peaceful, healthy and ingenuous people, who may be reckoned more a blessing than a burden to any nation where they shall settle."
The British government had no specific plans for the Palatines until that summer. The Royal Navy was having trouble acquiring adequate timber, tar and pitch to maintain their wooden ships, since the Swedish government had cut off their main supplier. The Navy convinced the government to use the Palatines to set up camps in the colonies to provide tar, thereby solving two problems at once and set up a contract with the Palatines requiring them to repay some of the expenses of their own transportation.
After an encampment of several months near London, while the government finished making up its mind exactly what to do with the unexpectedly large numbers of Palatines, arrangements were made to ship them to New York with Governor Hunter who was leaving to take up his new post in that province. Between December 25 and 29th over 2,800 Palatines were loaded on ten ships in the Thames to be carried to New York to establish tar making camps for the British Navy.... Red tape and shipping delays bedeviled the convoy and they would not leave England until April 10, 1710. The trip would take six months, the last ship would not arrive in New York harbor until August.
It was a bad trip! Many died even before they left England, one ship reporting the deaths of eighty children before leaving Portsmouth. Stormy weather in the Atlantic and crowded conditions made things miserable even for the survivors. Fifteen percent of the refugees died during the voyage but thirty babies were born to make up for their loss. The people of New York City did not appreciate their arrival. Rumored to be laden with disease, they did have typhus, the New York City council protested their arrival.
The population of New York City in 1710 was less than 5,000 and the city could not accommodate 2,500 newcomers. Therefore the Palatines were encamped in tents in New York harbor on Nutten's Island, now called Governor's Island. They remained in the tent camp until October and another 250 died that first summer. The British government during the summer had decided to set them up in two camps ninety miles up the Hudson River and in September had purchased 6,000 acres from Robert Livingston's manor on the east bank for that purpose. Livingston contracted to provide each person daily with one third of a loaf of bread and a quart of low grade "ship beer." Livingston was a friend of the Governor and a fellow Scotsman, and he and the Governor would later be accused of fraud concerning the project.
The government already owned 6,000 acres on the west bank of the river. The Palatines started to move in early October with 1,300 being sent to the area around the present Germantown (originally called "German Camp" and "East Camp,") where they were quartered in three villages: Queensbury, Annsbury and Huntertown. The trip that had taken eighteen months.
Other groups of refugees were sent to Saugerties and Kaatsbaan and 500 widows, old, weak, sick and orphans were left in New York City. Later groups of Palatines would emigrate to Pennsylvania where they were known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Palatines cleared the ground and built their own huts, which at first lacked fireplaces. Cooking was done in stone ovens out-of-doors. They were expected to raise their own food. As more permanent dwellings could be built of stone and logs, fireplaces, which were so important in winter, were made by attaching a stone chimney to the outside wall. Kitchen utensils were then acquired. Rocking chairs were the height of luxury and a prized possession in the colony. The earliest artificial light came from pitch pine knots and candles were scarce and expensive. Most settlers were up at dawn and in bed by dark. Deer skins replaced the clothing provided to the settlers as it wore out.
The Palatines had large families, often numbering close to twenty or more, but mortality was high, as evidenced by the large number of children who died young... women married young, often without the services of a preacher, who was usually an infrequent visitor. The diary of a local settler stated that "here the people lived for a few years without preacher, without government and generally in peace." The Palatines brought with them their almost devotional adherence to right and lawfulness.
The British were under the impression that the Palatines had contracted for seven years of what amounted to indentured servitude and that they would be employed at making tar until the profits paid for their expenses, transportation and settlement. They were to receive 40 acres after seven years. The Palatines had a different impression of their contract, which was explained to them in German back in England.
In May, 1711 there was a rebellion of some four hundred Palatines. They had formed a secret organization that intended to leave Livingston Manor before their servitude was up. They met with the Governor and stubbornly demanded their property rights as promised by the Queen, believing that their contract was not the same one explained to them in England. The Governor delayed making a decision until he was reinforced by a military detachment of 70 from Albany, which disarmed the Palatines and ended the rebellion.
In 1712 the tar making project collapsed, just at the end of the growing season. Suddenly the Palatines were left to their own scanty resources. Many elected to stay in the camps. Two groups moved overland into the Schoharie Valley, then an unsettled wilderness, where they founded eight encampments. Some of this group moved on to Pennsylvania. In 1715 another thirty families moved south from the Livingston Manor to found the town of Rhinebeck. Thus in fifteen years time the original Palatines were widely dispersed in the new land.
Rhinebeck, originally called Ryn Beek and Rein Beek, was founded in 1647 by a settler from the Rhine Valley named Beekman, but the town was not incorporated until 1834. The original settlers in the area were called Dutchers or Hollanders and the county of Dutchess would acquire its name from this group of Palatines, as did many other places in this part of New York. Germantown was originally known as "The Camp," the town did not officially become Germantown until 1788.
It would be interesting to hear a first hand account of anyone involved in this odyssey. Many Palatine Germans became naturalized as British citizens, taking advantage of the Naturalization Act of 1715, passed by the British in July of that year. The Act allowed naturalization for all foreign born inhabitants who would take the oath of Allegiance within nine months.
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Knittle, Walter Allen. Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration: a British Government Redemptioner Project to Manufacture Naval Stores. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1937.
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