THE HISTORY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA GERMANS is a most interesting subject. It began more than three hundred years ago, and the end is not in sight. One of many things to be remembered about the people called Pennsylvania Germans (or Dutch), is that they came here of their own free will from the Old World, and supported themselves without any help from what might be called the mother country. Not so in other instances, viz: Spain was in Florida; France had a good chunk of Canada and Louisiana; Holland was in New York; England was firmly rooted in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Sweden had a foothold in New Jersey, and the governments of those respective countries pushed the colonization ideas to the limit. It has been estimated that before the Revolution there were 100,000 Germans and Swiss in Pennsylvania alone, with many others in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and New York. The Germany of that day (the Germany still to be), was made up of a number of more or less loosely related independent principalities, etc., without a central government such as had England, Spain and France. Thus it was that these many thousands of pioneering people, the cream of her population, fell under the influence of other governments; the mother country did nothing toward colonizing. This policy of neglect was so unlike the Germany of a hundred years later. Excuses have been offered, the main one being the demoralized condition of the country after the terrible religious and civil wars which were so common at that time in Europe. About half of the German-speaking people finally were merged with the peoples of Hungary and Bohemia, forming Austria, the other half being split up into small kingdoms, or principalities, etc. The Reformation.--One of the real reasons for the original and almost spontaneous emigration to America goes back to the Reformation. It was after that upheaval that the Protestant movement grew ever stronger, until through its many clashes with other faiths and civil authorities, many of these believers in the new freedom of worship, cast longing eyes on the possibilities of the New World.
The German people who went through the Thirty Years' war experienced all of the ravages that war can bring, since most of those old conflicts usually resulted in untold misery and suffering unto death. They did not have in those early days the all ‘round type of warfare that we now know, but history records the damage to the physical man, to his mind, and to Mother Earth . Before the Thirty Years' war the peasants enjoyed life about as well as any ordinary folk, for they had plenty of this world's goods; they could store-by for the "rainy days" that might come--that surely did come. Soon everything was to be destroyed--everything but the indomitable spirit of men and women. They, like people in our most recent war, lived in caves, in marshes, woods--everywhere but in houses, or barns. Destruction was so complete that it took two hundred years to rebuild as many houses as were destroyed, and as for the population, more than that many years to reach the same level.
The Palatinate: Much of the population which we know as Pennsylvania German today, came from a section of Germany called the Palatinate. Its inhabitants were descended from a group of German tribes called the Rheinfranken, with an admixture of Alemanni. There seems to be little doubt but that the farmers in the Palatinate section of Germany were the world's best farmers. They were in their day, but their offspring in America are not such bad farmers by whatever method of comparison. The great water-ways of Europe traversed their lands, and travelers said that they not only could farm well, but credited them with a reputation for keen wit, indomitable industry and a high degree of intelligence.
About three hundred years ago, during the years 1635-36 there was great suffering and misery due to the wars and famine. The eating of grass and roots, even cannibalism, was noted. Another "peace" came along in 1649, at Westphalia, and the map was settled to the satisfaction (supposedly) of three faiths--Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed. This was of short duration for the Palatinate had became as desolate as the desert. But nature would have her way, and again farms produced, people built new houses, and church memberships grew. Under Karl Ludwig, the Mennonites, who had heretofore been outrageously oppressed, were given freedom of worship. These people knew how to farm, and before long there was prosperity in the land.
War Between France and Holland: In 1674-75 war between France and Holland brought destruction again to the Palatinate. Again in 1685 to 1689 more devastation for these poor unfortunates, who were always caught in civil or religious embroilments that were so bitter and destructive as to stagger the imagination; or, to compare it with the latest tortures we know of, we need but look at the bestial butchery of World War II. This is fresh in mind, and must picture what had happened long before. That is war!
It was at this time (1685) that Lutherans and Reformed were pretty much at loggerheads, and much blood had been spilt. This went on for some time, and it pleased the Catholics, no end. There was little left of the Protestant church in the Palatinate after the cessation of the wars between France and Germany, ending with a peace treaty at Ryswick in 1697. Most of the property of the Protestant churches was taken over by the State, or more specifically the Catholic church. Protestants were tolerated, more or less, but they enjoyed little rights in the matter of church property, and were compelled to bend the knee at the passing of the Host.
Exclusion from the Palatinate: Up to this time many Huguenots, Walloons, and Swiss Mennonites had found their way into the Palatinate; now they were driven from the land; some went to Prussia, others to Holland, and some to America. Inasmuch as the conditions brought about by the warring civil and church leaders extended to Zweibrücken and Würtemberg, and others in the vicinity of the Palatinate, the inhabitants of those parts started the trek to other parts and lands. Switzerland was a country which was spared the horrors of the several wars. It received oppressed peoples, churchmen, and others, from neighboring borders. But not everything was milk and honey in little Switzerland. Until the French Revolution Switzerland was little better than an aristocracy, with the offices in the hands of the same families for generations. Menial services of all sorts, high taxes, and other complaints gave impetus to the idea among the persecuted that if there could be freedom to worship as they pleased elsewhere, there they would go.
Mennonite Beginnings: Much of the background of the Mennonite movement is to be traced directly to Switzerland. This movement was active back in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and records indicate attempts to root these people out because of their refusal to bear arms, a trait they adhere to today with all the tenacity they can command. The government in time of war can make Mennonite and Amish boys rake leaves, but can't get them to bear arms! One student reaches the conclusion that the Amish and Mennonite roots go back to the days of the early Christians who sought haven in the catacombs at Rome. The Reformed churchmen didn't like the Mennonites from the beginning, and many of the latter were subjected to persecution of all sorts, some being sold as galley slaves to the Turks. Mennonite communities had existed in the Palatinate since 1527, and to these places like-believers in Switzerland would flee across frontiers; by 1671 a considerable emigration took place when seven hundred persons left their native home to settle on the banks of the Rhine.
We are now approaching the time when these early Mennonite settlers in the Palatinate and the newcomers agreed to help their compatriots in Switzerland who left there in after years--willingly, or otherwise. They finally found themselves under such a heavy yoke that they decided on a large movement of their people to America, and the settlement at Pequea, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, resulted. Zürich and Berne, in Switzerland, published decrees forbidding emigration, the latter city rescinding a policy previously planned, for a Swiss colony to settle in Georgia. Subsequently some Germanic people did come to America, through Georgia, and up through the Carolinas. The main reasons for emigration from Europe to America, by the Germans, motivated and included also the Huguenots; the latter got into this picture by reason of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, by Louis XIV, in France, in 1685, when many of France's most substantial citizens went to Holland, Germany and Switzerland, all in fear of their lives.
In connection with the subject of enforced slavery it may be noted that Huguenots from France were likewise sold as galley slaves. In 1896, Henry S. Dotterer, editor of "Historical Notes Relating to the Pennsylvania Reformed Church," was making some researches in the archives of Dortrecht, Holland. Here he discovered a printed list of Huguenot galley slaves who had been released by the order of Louis XIV of France, on condition that they leave the realm. There was another list of many who were not so lucky. This list numbers 39,336 names of Huguenots who were not released! And this is but a fraction of those who were enslaved. Historians, almost with one accord, agree that this exodus caused such a severe blow to the economic, religious and other forms of expression common to man, to the country of France, that it finally led to the first Revolution. The depriving of her people of the right to worship as they pleased caused France a mortal blow from which she never recovered.
Penn Advocates Emigration: William Penn traveled in Germany, and his pamphlets describing his "Holy Experiment" (published in English, Dutch and German), were scattered in large numbers in parts of Holland and Germany. Queen Anne and her "Golden Book" caused a flood of Palatines to proceed to London in 1709. From this movement developed the settlements about the Schoharie and Mohawk in New York, and later the Tulpehocken, in Berks county, Pennsylvania. In addition to stirring up of interest by Penn and others, once the early arrivals were here, they sent some capable person back to the Fatherland every so often, to tell others of this new land of great opportunity. Likewise, the ship-owners lost no time in noting the increase in their profits, and they sent out agents to intrigue more and more people to sail the great Atlantic, often making statements about the easy life in Pennsylvania that were far from the truth. These Germanic people, the Swiss and Huguenot elements, constitute the people who, generally speaking, came to America's shores before the Revolution, or before 1800. They form the back-bone of what are called "the Pennsylvania Germans," or "Dutch." Social and literary groups require heredity in their organization to be based on immigrant arrivals before the year 1800. Those Germans who came soon after that year have been well assimilated, but after that date new arrivals are not counted as being from the same parts of Germany, nor with the same general characteristics and aspirations. Later arrivals found more room in cities to the West, and they contributed nothing to the art, culture, or customs of Lancaster and the many other counties in Pennsylvania settled by those who arrived on the earlier dates.