German Migration, Settlement/Town-Building, German Political Culture and Naturalization


The German Migration

Fogelman breaks down the German migration into colonial Pennsylvania into three waves [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement and Political Culture, 1717-1775 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996). What is important to me is the reader be alerted that “the Germans” described in the Pennsylvania colonial period, are not at all the Germans that will arrive in American a hundred or more years later in the 1840’s to 1920’s.

It is my best sense that the impact of the Germans on Pennsylvania and its economy, policy system and political culture was greater than that of the Scots-Irish, despite the Scots-Irish impact/ disruption during, and after, the American Revolution. Partly, this is because the Germans on the whole were more likely to settle, and stay in Pennsylvania, where more Scots-Irish were prone to pack up and move on. The Germans were integrated into the Quaker political culture, as we shall argue shortly, while the Scots-Irish, surprisingly, remained culturally distinct. Contemporary America has many “political cultures (nations if you prefer), but Pennsylvania will be homeland for one (Midlands), and formative to others (Woodward’s Greater Appalachian) and our Deep South. Say it another way, the reader might be sensitive to the outsized role these two groups played in our history.

Also another warning: Germany did not exist as a nation until 1870, and German-speaking in colonial times can mean many things, including not speaking German. Dutch is not German, nor is Finnish, nor is Swiss. Scandinavians are frequently smushed into German for all sorts of reasons. My Palatine Coan family came from western Rhineland Germany through Amsterdam,  London, and New York City, finally stopping in New York’s Long Island Hamptons–to become, of all things, whalers; other Coans went South (there is a Coan River in Virginia), still others to Maine, not of their own will, they were “bound”.


The first wave (1683 to 1709) was as much a Penn marketing derivative as a genuine need to escape religious persecution and economic desperation. Germans and Swiss along the French border were victims of almost continual warfare and invasion by kings and countries fighting in the name of religion. In these lands both Calvinism, Ana-Baptists and Pietism which was a Lutheran derivative that emphasized individual piety, a rejection of formalism and organized religion and individual life of Christian living. Pietists like Quakers rejected formal doctrine, and while each had their own definition of the “Inner Light”, the pronounced toleration of Quakers for diversity, their emphasis on freedom of religion attracted many Pietist sympathizers.

It was the Pietists who victim of Quakerism’s missionary impulse that were attracted to Pennsylvania. Both Fox and Penn himself conducted extensive personal missions to these geographies previous to 1680. Penn wasted little opportunity to plug his Holy Experiment to Pietistic groups, both in personal attraction campaigns and promotional materials. They were included, if they had the means, into his First Purchasers settlement campaign. The settlement of Germantown Pennsylvania (discussed in a previous module) was a direct result of this recruitment of German Pietists. Their numbers were not very significant (Fogelman estimates about 300 (p. 5), compared to the Third Wave, their impact on both the larger Midlands culture, and the subsequent recruitment magnet they became they were fundamental to the opening of Pennsylvania to German immigration. At the very least, Penn’s willingness to let them settle in their own homogeneous German-speaking and German-led religious/political leadership was an unequivocal beacon, a sort of behavioral Statute of Liberty that marked Pennsylvania as unique and distinct.

That beacon of liberty and opportunity wasted little time in attracting a second German wave that, officially at least, began in 1709 and while the Queen Anne’s War waged, attracted Palatine refugees, settled by Great Britain in New York and North Carolina. The first groups, Swiss driven by an agricultural disaster in 1709, fled to Pennsylvania, and later about 1713-4 Palatines from New York arrived. Of the latter, the story of the Palatines bears retelling. About 2400 folk settled in New York and 650 in New Bern North Carolina. [999} Most Palatines were “settled” in the Hudson Valley, bound to cut trees for masts and planks for British warship. For various reasons, including the draft for Queen Anne’s War and complicated relations with neighboring Indian tribes, a few left, traveled through New Jersey, and settled in Berks County Pennsylvania in the spring of 1723–in no small measure because of Germantown.

In 1714 Jost Hite bought 150 acres in areas outside of Germantown, built a grist mill (and likely owned slaves).In 1728, Indian attacks raised considerable havoc to the area, and with other Germans Hite formed a land development company. In 1731 he led a group of Germans down the Wagon Road eventually reaching the lower Shenandoah in Virginia. Receiving a land grant from the House of Burgesses, a grant which was recognized by his legal landlord Lord Fairfax. Jost Hite, a Palatine, 1718 settler of Pennsylvania, was a founder in opening up the Shenandoah to Germans (1731). Hite formed a Virginia land development company and through that company brokered German family transactions in the Shenandoah–becoming in our terms a colonial era economic developer.

Hite’s original Pennsylvania house became Washington’s HQ during the 1777 Battle of Germantown; today it is a National Historic Museum, the Pennypacker Mansion. A young sixteen year old Virginia surveyor records in his diary that he spent the night in John Hite’s home. Hite’s tale is an example of the Palatine Pennsylvania phase of German migration, but it also, perhaps more importantly alerts the reader to the issue of “chain migration”. Early colonial migrants could, and did, “settle down” relatively permanently in one location. Many others, including Germans remained mobile throughout their lifetime. It also vividly demonstrates the “Forest Gump-like” small world that was mid-eighteenth century America  [99]

It is the Third Wave that we are most interested. Fogleman estimates about 80,000 Germans arrived between 1717 and 1775. The third wave were motivated more by economic opportunity, not religious persecution or dislocated by war or pestilence. For most land ownership was the most tangible expression of both personal liberty and economic opportunity. They arrived in families as well as singly.  The migrants were, in aggregate economically bimodal. A sizeable element of the German migrants had access to a limited discretionary wealth, in the form of disposable case, access to loans from their families in Germany, or assistance in some form by American-settled Germans of previous periods.

The larger segment did not; these were likely to become candidates for indenture. If able the great majority headed into the hinterland in search of land for yeoman farming. A goodly number did disperse into today’s central Pennsylvania, up to the Lehigh Valley and an considerably enlarged Berks County. The great majority, however, passed into southeastern hinterland counties bordering on Maryland, and as the land filled up, continued on their way into Maryland and by the 1730’s into Virginia Shenandoah and points south. By 1760, Fogleman cites about 50,000 Germans lived in his “Greater Pennsylvania area.

Despite the overlap in time of settlement and geography, Scots-Irish and Germans sorted themselves out into more or less homogenous settlements. This, BTW, was not unique to Pennsylvania, or to Germans/Scots-Irish. By 1790, 72 percent of the white population of Lancaster County was ethnic German, as well as Berks and Dauphin Counties; Northampton was 63 percent, York 49, and Philadelphia hinterland formed into Montgomery County in 1784 was about 57 percent German [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys, p.81.Earlier German immigrants settled throughout the original core Quaker counties, into New Jersey across the River, and were buyers of the land offered by land dealers such as Logan, and other Quaker elites. Good land was quickly purchased, land became very expensive (which was noted in German correspondence of the period) and that pushed migration out to the southwestern and central hinterlands–which by the 1760’s were themselves filling up.

By the 1770’s a network of predominantly German settlements (transformed into a community with German schools and churches)  ranged in a more or less contiguous swatch from Philadelphia’s hinterland, straight through southwestern Pennsylvania, through western Maryland, and into the northern Virginia Shenandoah Valley. A less contiguous swatch ran into North Carolina and into Georgia. As one might expect due to the complexity of cohort growth, family inheritance succession, success and failure in farming, and network of families, German mobility over time and geography did develop.

In short, a desire to settle near other German-speaking peoples … played an important role in shaping settlement patterns. Many late-arriving immigrants did move to the farthest boundaries of Greater Pennsylvania, but many others stayed in the older areas of settlement. Most settled in, or near, commercial centers and county seats, but with exceptions in Philadelphia, Germantown, and other nearby areas, they did so only if the areas were largely German commercial centers and county seats …[accordingly] similar customs and ways of life should not be overlooked as a factor shaping how and where the Germans settled [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys, p. 86.

The German (usually Lutheran) Church played an important and socially meaningful role in German communities of this period. By 1776, the 126 Pennsylvania Lutheran parishes the focal points of hinterland German settlements. Building the church was a first order priority, and the church (much like “good school districts” today) were an important aspect in the selection of the community for future German residents. Even without a formal church, church functions were held in private residences. German Calvinists (the Reformed) added another 123 Reformed congregations in a German-settled community. Highly valuing their language, culture, literature, and the customs of the home country, these churches and congregations often developed their own school systems in these communities. Fogleman’s research concluded that these institutions in German settlements led to a pattern of some individual mobility throughout the German swatch in a household’s early years in America–but when the community was chosen became “stable ethnics rather than mobile individualists” as Scots-Irish were predisposed. Once established, a German household set down roots and made long-term commitments to their geography of residence.

This high level of stability … facilitated the maintenance of village and extended family networks that were so crucial in getting many [future] immigrants settled and established within the rural ethnic enclaves as well as the cities and towns of Greater Pennsylvania. Religion and ethnicity played important and mutually supportive roles in establishing the character and identify of the Reformed and Lutheran majority in the fledgling, scattered church communities [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys, p. 99.

That this ethnic/religious solidarity could cement itself so permanently to a cluster of geographies is today evident in the Pennsylvania settlements of the more pietist Germans: Amish Moravians, Mennonites, Dunkers and others. These Germans arrived in groups at different times during the Third Phase  (1685 Germantown was an early precursor), but a large block arrived in the 1749-54 period. Pietist utopian-mission communities were founded in several states; several were financed by their missionary organizations (Mennonites and Moravians, especially). Unlike most Germans during this phase, economic opportunity was their prime motivation, not establishing a religious utopia in the New World. As any tourist probably knows, in Pennsylvania the Amish, an offspring from Anabaptist-Mennonite Protestant wing, came initially to Berks County , but under attack from Indians moved to Lancaster County (a second wave decades later went to other states such as Ohio and Illinois. In the 20th Century the Amish founded new settlements in several states including New York).

Pietist Germans are not especially noted for founding urban centers that became a large city, but Bethlehem PA certainly falls into that category. Founded as a church-owned landed community, it was restricted to Moravians until 1850 (although a French Huguenot cluster also resided in the area). In Northampton County, Bethlehem and nearby Nazareth were founded in the early 1740’s. While the Amish isolated themselves in clusters of individual yeoman farm households in the hinterland, the Moravians (about 850 of whom settled in Pennsylvania), with an aristocratic heritage going back to the 16th Century Czech Hussite Rebellion, were of a different bent. Having access to funds to finance land purchase and infrastructure and travel, Moravians bypassed the Redemptionist indentured trap, and settled on expensive but prime land with river access. Their strong pacificivist beliefs fitted well into Pennsylvania Quaker mentality–and politics.

the Moravians became skillful in debt-financing to cover the expenses of their expanding worldwide network of closed communities … which included the construction of thriving industries and centers of commerce. Moravians placed heavy emphasis on education and literacy … and on university education for its clergy …They played an important role in an ecumenical movement that developed among radical pietist in Pennsylvania during the 1730’s and 1740’s. … They maintained good relationships with the Lutheran Church” [but in Bethlehem their missionary impulse which included conversion of Lutherans created serious tension]  [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys, p. 118.

Although pietists were probably less than five percent of the Pennsylvania German migration. They too engaged in a mini-sort, settling disproportionately in Northampton and Berks Counties, moving in later years into Chester, Lancaster and York. As Fogleman develops in his case study of the pietists, they developed their own style of farming, and commercial businesses. Overlapping with a communitarian life-style, and distinctive people attraction strategy as well. While these communities may be a subject with which few are interested, it is in these outliers one can see more obviously what is more subtly occurring in the mainstream communities. The German migration is creating small enclaves, villages, and towns each with their distinctive personalities, economic base, and political culture–in short we can more easily see why cities, and states are inherently different from each other, in small ways but which aggregated form a stylistically different process for making of policy and politics.

This stability held important implications not only for the development of a German political subculture, but that this German subculture overlapped values and politics with the Quaker subculture–or more precisely with its political elite.  Unlike the Scots-Irish whose culture was profoundly different from the Quaker and German, and whose personal mobility and individualism were so pronounced that the exit option was their preferred recourse. The German-Quaker subcultures developed over time into a loose but interwoven sharing of interests and values with the Quakers that led in time to a synergistic common culture, the Midlands.

Like every story in the development of colonial Pennsylvania, the bottom-line of that convergence was the dynamics between the Penn Proprietary and its Quaker-led General Assembly opposition. The struggle between those two opposing forces produced two, arguably three, climatic breakpoints in the early 1740’s, the middle 170’s and the late 1740’s-early 1750’s. In each of these political-cultural breakpoints, the Germans were deeply involved. The nature of their involvement offers insight into the course of their migration and settlement into Pennsylvania, and the jelling of their own particularistic American German political culture.

In so many words, the dream of the German immigrant for his/her own land grew increasingly more complicated as more and more immigrants poured in each and every year, seemingly without any end. They had little choice to enter into the conflict between the Proprietorship and the General Assembly led by the so-called Quaker Party and its powerful speaker and oligarchic committee chairs. To meaningfully enter into that conflict they had to become eligible voters. The first requirement, land ownership, required being defined as a freeman. German immigrants who had entered into a indenture contract (a goodly number as we shall discover) could not own land until the terms of the indenture had been satisfied, and the individual released. For those who could avoid indenture (i.e. they came with some wealth or got the support of family (usually) waiting for them at the pier hinterland land ownership was possible. Normally, one contents oneself with buying sufficient property to qualify for the franchise. Property voting requirements were easily met in the hinterland (but not in land-constrained Philadelphia); rather the real problem, a unique problem for the non-English citizen immigrant Germans, was they had to be naturalized as American citizens. It was the politics of naturalization that proved to be the key source of conflict with the Penn Proprietary. The process of naturalization might be an eye-opener for contemporary Americans who frequently belief citizenship in these times was automatic. It was not.

Naturalization Also

Naturalization was dependent upon English law; colonial Pennsylvanians were after all citizens of England. After the Palatine affair caused repeal of the 1708 Foreign Protestants Naturalization Act in 1712, naturalization came early on to an immigrant German upon his reaching Philadelphia. On the arrival of the immigrant ship at the pier [99] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775  (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), p. 132., males over 16 years of age were called to a meeting on deck by the ship’s captain. The immigrants were then introduced to city officials who explained the process.

If the immigrant had possession of a passport–usually a requirement for travel, they also had to possess a reference letter from their Protestant minister in Germany to be allowed to process further. Once compliance with this was ascertained, immigrants were allowed off ship and were “marched” straight to the courthouse {on today’s Market Street between Second and Third Streets) where they appeared before two clerks for separate processing. For those who had paid the ship captain for travel, they went into one line to swear their allegiance to the Crown (oath). At that point they were naturalized citizens and free to go their own way.

The second line was for those who had to enter into indenture to pay for the travel and secure release from the ship. At that point the individual met merchants and individuals who were willing to pay for the travel through indenture. The immigrant and merchant/indenture owner would then negotiate the terms of the indenture. If agreed to the individual was the property of the indenture provider and free of the ship’s captain. If not he returned to the ship. Then the captain would become a larger player in the indenture process. Indenture varied with sex, age and by individual, usually service was for four to seven years. No naturalization, no citizenship, no landowning rights, no voting.

The majority of German immigrants went through the second line. Even if they arrived as early as 1723, they would not start the process until the early 1730’s. Those that were able to proceed through the first line, however, got the head start. They could purchase land, could set up a business, enter into apprenticeship, and once they complied with the residence/property requirement, could vote as naturalized citizens.

In 1740 that changed. The English 1740 Naturalization Act set aside all colonial systems of naturalization, and required of all non-English immigrants seven years of American residence before being awarded naturalization and at that time swearing loyalty to the King (or an oath for Quakers) was administered. It was the period between 1740 and 1770 that most Germans arrived in Pennsylvania, and so after 1740 a large and growing backlog of immigrant Germans accumulated awaiting settlement of the residential requirement before becoming naturalized citizens.  After 1740, naturalization of former indentured servants would have occurred in increasing volume, and more and more Germans would be positioned to achieve their dream, and able to exercise their franchise if necessary to obtain it.

It would therefore be little surprise to anybody that after 1748 or so, all German immigrants that first arrived in 1740-1 would be eligible for naturalization and potentiality many would apply for citizenship/voting, creating a sudden impact in the balance between Penn and the Quaker Party. A steady flow of naturalized Germans would enter the voting rolls after 1750. The matter would be further compounded as due to economics, more and more post 1750 German immigrants were required to sign indenture agreements. On the other hand, by the 1750’s a number of early German immigrants who for whatever reason had been able to obtain a relatively unfettered naturalization and citizenship, or had long since served out their indenture, were in a position to be of assistance to the German newcomers.

Indeed, in free-flowing entrepreneurial Philadelphia a noticeable number of German entrepreneurs had become wealthy merchants, and even ship-owners. By this time a prot0 German political culture had developed, and the past array of German immigrants had made their peace with Quakers, the Quaker Party, and Pennsylvania politics. Want more balls in the air? In 1740 we start the Great Awakening, with its huge impact on Quakers and English Protestants–but much less so on German immigrants. The Enlightenment, not at all congruent with the Great Awakening, was in full flower. We don’t realize it today but there is a lot going on during the decades of each side of mid-18th century–of course not like today, whose turbulence is so , well, “modern”.

As the reader might suspect, this German immigration story will become much more interesting during the 1740’s and quite interesting during the 1750’s.

Be patient, please. That story will shortly be told, but there is another story, more subtle, but quite important to our history that will play out in the 1720’s and 1730’s. That story sets the stage for a play whose third act is the American Revolution.