Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Germans in Colonial Times

The Germans in Colonial Times. (1901) Lucy Forney Bittinger.

Determined to learn more about the folkways of the German and Swiss immigrants who probably included some of my ancestors in America, I purchased this book at a genealogy conference and took it with me to read while car maintenance was performed.

Most of my information these days arrives online as I graze points of particular interest, and I hoped this book on what sounds like a dry topic would hold my interest for an hour or so. As it turns out, I didn’t want to put it down. The next day I continued through it between chores, as unable to put it down for long as I would have been with a good mystery. 

People with the North Carolina ancestors so common in this area often don’t realize many of those Carolinians originated in the area of central Europe that became unified in 1871 as Germany. In some cases the ancestors migrated through Pennsylvania and traveled the Great Wagon Road south into the Alleghenies and the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Would I find clues in this book to help me locate immigrant ancestors? Certainly I found unexpected food for thought that no history class ever provided in such rich detail. The first chapter is “Conditions in Germany Which Led to Emigration.” 

The Germans who survived more than a century of warfare from the early 1500s through the 1600s lived in a ravaged, diseased environment. Bittinger details the hardships under kings and princes who denied prosperity and exacted harsh penalties for resistance to accepting their beliefs. She tells of Mennonites from Switzerland as well as the Palatines of the Rhineland, Moravians, Schwenkfelders, Dunkers, Brethren – all aliens among the English in the colonies.

Sea journeys also are described. Emigrants must have wondered if they had jumped from frying pan to fire!

“[T]he first emigration of Germans to America in 1683 was influenced by purely religious motives and not at all by social conditions,” Bittinger says. Later emigration starting about 1709 did relate to social conditions. A hard winter left areas with “ragged, miserable Germans” heading to the Low Countries, then England. While these countries had some sympathy for the refugees, they could ill afford the cost of taking care of them. 

What happens next is told in the stories of individuals and groups as they arrive also in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and the southern colonies. Communities profiled as they develop include Germantown, Schoharie, Tulpehocken, Ephrata, Hagar’s Town, Shenandoah, Frederica, Purrysburg, Waldoboro, Orangeburg, Gnadenhutten and others. The narrative continues through the Revolutionary War with German connections to George Washington, Moll Pitcher and the Hessians. 

This book is indexed and has a chronology as well as a bibliography. It is held by some Evergreen Indiana libraries as well as the Indiana University Library at Bloomington. Full text of various editions also is available for free download online at archive.org, openlibrary.org, books.google.com and possibly other locations and can be viewed on Ancestry Library Edition or Ancestry.com. The search inside the book works better on some efiles than others. Let us know if you find this book helpful in your research.

- Charlotte

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