Wednesday, February 16, 2011

German Palatines and Who Do You Think You Are?

Last Friday I watched the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are? This eposide followed country singer Tim McGraw's search for his family history. It turns out that Mr. McGraw has ancestors who were from an area of Germany that in the early 18th century was known as the Electoral Palatinate.

I too have ancestors that were German Palatines. Like Tim McGraw's ancestor, Jost Hite, my Palatine ancestors came from Germany via England to New York. However, unlike Jost Hite, my anestors remained in New York where most of the German Palatines were settled by the British around 1710.

The Electoral Palatinate was in southwestern Germany along the Rhine River. The Electoral Palatinate along with other regions in the area were plagued by wars between 1684 and 1714 that left the area impoverished. By 1709, families fled the region with almost 13,000 people arriving in England in a six-month period. The British government settled most in the British Isles but shipped nearly 3,000 Palatines to New York.

As mentioned in the Who Do You Think You Are episode last Friday, there were those in the British Colony of Carolina who were enticing people of this region of Germany with promise of free passage paid by the British Crown and free land in America. Although this may have prompted some families to leave Germany for England, I believe that the majority of families who fled were content to find a new life on the European side of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to Wikipedia, "agents working on behalf of the Colony of Carolina had promised the peasants around Frankfurt free passage to the plantations." I was somewhat suspicious of the story. What was the motive behind encouraging a large group of refugees to come to England with the expectation of support from the British government? Also, Frankfurt is not in the Electoral Palatinate region. It is in the region called Hesse.

The area from which most of the refugees came is also called the Palatinate of the Rhine, the Pfalz and the Lower Palatinate. It includes the cities of Heidelberg, Mainz, Speyer, Mannheim and Worms.

Spending the last few days doing some research, I found, as with many stories, there is a mixture of truth and fiction.
  • In 1709, the Whig party in England managed to pass an act that would allow Protestant immigrants to become naturalized by paying a small fee.
  • The winter of 1708-1709 was extremely harsh and resulted in crop failures in the German Palatine.
  • The Whig party established a charity to assist the "Poor Palatines."
  • The number of immigrants overhelmed the English.
  • Rev. Joshua Kocherthal published a pamphlet in 1706 in which he recommended the Carolina Colony as a possible site for German Palatine colonization.
The Swiss government at the same time was facing a similar issue with a large Protestant refugee population and was looking at British America as a possible solution. A Swiss adventurer, Lewis Mitchell, was appointed by the Canton of Berne to find land in America to which the Protestant refugees could be moved. Mitchell had explored potential sites in the Carolinas in America.

Another Swiss gentleman, a native of Berne, was residing in the Carolina Colony. Christopher DeGraffenried, while on a visit to London, met Lewis Mitchell. Together they devised a proposal and presented it to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina. On October 10, 1709, the Lord Proprietors entered into an agreement with Mitchell and DeGraffenreid that gave them access to 10,000 acres of land in what is now North Carolina.

When Queen Anne learned of DeGraffenreid's plan to settle Palatine families in the Carolina Colony, she saw this an opportunity to relocate some of the refugees in England to America. The number of Palantines that went to North Carolina from England differs in the various accounts. However, it seems that the condition of these 600-650 people was so weakened that almost half of them died before reaching the Carolina Colony.

From the accounts that I have read, some of the 600+ people who left England for the Carolinas included persecuted Protestants living in the Canton of Berne, Switzerland. The current name of the city near which the refugees settled is New Bern, North Carolina.

North Carolina Highway Historical Marker C-10


Sanford H. Cobb. The Story of the Palatines An Episode in Colonial History. New York & London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1897.

Lawrence N. Morgan. "Land Tenure in Proprietary North Carolina." The James Sprunt Historical Prublications 12.1 (1913): 41-64.

William Gilmore Simms. The History of South Carolina from Its First European Discovery to Its Erection into A Republic. New York: Richardson & Co., 1866.

L. L. Hendren. "DeGraffenreid and the Swiss and Palatinate Settlement of New Bern, N. C." An Annual Publication of Historical Papers Series IV. Durham, NC: Historical Society of Trinity College, 1900, 64-71.

No comments:

Post a Comment