Franz Daniel Pastorins and the Settlers of Germantown
What Plymouth Rock is to
Anglo-Americans, Germantown is to Americans of German descent: a spot consecrated by history, a spot where every American should stand with uncovered head!
At Plymouth Rock we cherish the memory of the Puritan
Pilgrims; in Germantown that of those pious Mennonites, who, after their arrival in Philadelphia, broke ground for the first permanent German settlement in North America.
There is no chapter in our colonial
history, which in general interest and elevating character surpasses the story of that little town, which to-day is one of the suburbs of William Penn's famous "City of Brotherly Love." Like the Puritans, the
Mennonites, followers of the reformer Menno Simon, had been subjected to so many restrictions and persecution, that they gladly accepted the invitation of Penn, to settle in his American domain. The first group of
Mennonites, which crossed the ocean, came from Crefeld, a city of the lower Rhine. Numbering 33 persons, they landed, after a voyage of 73 days in the good ship "Concord," in Philadelphia October 6,
1683. They were received by William Penn and Franz Daniel Pastorius, a young lawyer from Frankfort on the Main, who had hurried to America in advance of the Mennonites, in order to prepare everything for
The first problem was to select a suitable location for the future town of the Mennonites. After due search they decided upon a tract near the Schuylkill River, two hours above Philadelphia.
Here they broke ground on October 24.
For the first year the life of the settlers was but one continuous struggle against the vast wilderness, whose depths no white man had ever penetrated. Trees of enormous
size, hundreds of years old, and almost impenetrable brushwood had to be removed to win a clearing for the little houses. The trials of the settlers, who by occupation were weavers and not accustomed to hard work,
were often so great, that it took the combined persuasion of Pastorius and Penn, to encourage the Mennonites to persist in the bitter fight against the cruel wilderness. But when at last the work was done,
Germantown was well worth looking at. A street 60 feet wide and planted with peach-trees on both sides, divided the village in two parts. Every house was surrounded by a three-acre garden, in whose virgin
soil flowers and vegetables grew in such abundance, that the settlers raised not only enough for their own use, but were also able to provide the market of Philadelphia.
Special care was given to the cultivation of
flax and grapevine. The flax was of importance, as the Mennonites continued in their profession as weavers with such success, that the linen and other woven goods from Germantown became famous for quality.
As the inhabitants of Germantown came from the Rhine, their hearts were open to blissful enjoyment of life, and wine was appreciated as the means to drive away all grief and sorrow. Before long the windows and
entrances of the houses were surrounded by heavy grapevines.
Certainly it was a happy idea, when Pastorius, in designing an official seal for the town, selected the clover, the leaves of which were to represent the
grapevine, the flax blossom and the weavers' shuttle. These were surrounded by the Latin motto: "Vinum, Linum et Textrinum" (Vine, Linen and Weaving). With this he indicated, that culture of the
grapes, flax-growing and the textile industries were the principal occupations in Germantown. At the same time it indicated the mission of the German in America, to promote agriculture, manufacture and enjoyment
Happy hours these German Pilgrims must have had in Germantown, when at eventide, after the day's work had been done, they sat on the benches by the doors, listening to the cooing of the doves, and enjoying
the fragrant odor of the manifold flowers, the seeds of which they had brought with them from their native home.
While attending to their daily work, the inhabitants of Germantown did not neglect their intellectual
life. Pastorius, this true shepherd of his flock, was its center. He established a school and arranged also an evening class, in which he imparted freely of his great wisdom to all who were eager to enrich
When Germantown was incorporated as a town, Pastorius was of course elected its first burgomaster. How deeply rooted in his heart was the love of his old Fatherland and his countrymen, is
indicated by a "Greeting to Posterity," which he wrote on the first page of the "Grund- und Lagerbuch," the first official document of Germantown. Translated from the Latin it reads as follows:
"Hail Posterity! Hail to you, future generations in Germanopolis! May you never forget that your ancestors, of their own free will, left the beloved land, which bore and nourished
them - ah ! for those hearths and homes I -to live the rest of their days in the forests of Pennsylvania, in the lonely wilderness, with less care and anxiety, but still after the German fashion, like
brothers. May you also learn, how arduous a task it was, after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, to plant the German race in this part of North America. And, dear descendants, where we have set an example of
righteousness, follow our footsteps! But where we have turned from the straight and narrow path, forgive usl May the perils which we encountered, make you wisel Farewell, Posterity! Farewell, my German
Kin! Farewell, forever and ever!"
Undoubtedly Pastorius was also the author of a document, by which the inhabitant of Germantown set an everlasting monument to themselves.
The importation of negro slaves from Africa to America had been
practised by the English and Dutch since the 16th century. Slaves were sold to the English colonies without disapproval of the Puritans and Quakers, who claimed to be defenders of human rights. The Germans,
however, who had suffered so much in their own fatherland, regarded in just appreciation of the personal rights of others the traffic in human flesh as a heavy crime against the teachings of Christ. For this
reason they drew up on February 18, 1688, a protest against slavery, the first ever written in any language. This remarkable document reads as follows:
"This is to ye Monthly Meeting held at Richard Warrel's. These are the reasons why we are against the traffick of men Body, as followeth: Is there any that would be done or handled at
this manner? to be sold or made a slave for all the time of his life? How fearfull and fainthearted are many on sea when they see a strange vessel, being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken
and sold for slaves into Turckey. Now what is this better done as Turcks doe? Yea rather is it worse for them, which say they are Christians; for we hear that ye most part of such Negers are brought
hither against their will and consent; and that many of them are stollen. Now, tho' they are black, we cannot conceive there is more liberty to have them slaves, as it is to have other white ones. There
is a saying, that we shall doe to all men, like as we will be done our selves; making no difference of what generation, descent or colour they are. And those who steal or robb men, and those who buy or
purchase them, are they not all alike? Here is liberty of conscience, which is right and reasonable; here ought to be likewise liberty of ye body, except of evildoers, which is another case. But to bring
men hither, or to robb and sell them against their will, we stand against. In Europe there are many oppressed for conscience sake; and here there are those oppressed which are of a black colour. And we,
who know that men must not commit adultery, some doe commit adultery in others, separating wifes from their husbands and giving them to others; and some sell the children of those poor creatures to other men.
Oh! doe consider well this things, you who doe it; if you would be done at this manner? and if it is done according to Christianity? You surpass Holland and Germany in this thing. This makes an ill
report in all those countries of Europe, where they hear off, that ye Quackers doe here handel men like they handel there ye cattel. And for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither, and who
shall maintains this your cause or plaid for it? Truly we can not do so, except you shall inform us better hereoff, that Christians have liberty to practise this things. Pray! What thing on the
world can be done worse towards us, then if men should robb or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries, separating housbands from their wifes and children. Being now this is not done at that
manner, we will be done at, therefore we contradict and are against this traffick of menbody. And we who profess that it is not lawful to steal, must likewise avoid to purchase such things as are stollen but
rather help to stop this robbing and stealing if possible; and such men ought to be delivered out of ye hands of ye Robbers and sett free as well as in Europe. Then is Pennsylvania to have a good report,
instead it hath now a bad one for this sacke in other countries. Especially whereas ye Europeans are desirous to know in what manner ye Quackers doe rule in their Province; and most of them doe look upon us
with an envious eye. But if this is done well, what shall we say is done evill?
If once these slaves (which they say are so wicked and stubborn men) should joint themselves, fight for their freedom and
handel their masters and mastrisses as they did handel them before, will these masters and mastrisses tacke the sword at hand and warr against these poor slaves, like we are able to believe, some will not refuse to
doe? Or have these Negers not as much right to fight for their freedom, as you have to keep them slaves?
Now consider well this thing, if it is good or bad? and in case you find it to be good to handel these
blacks at that manner, we desire and require you hereby lovingly, that you may inform us here in, which at this time never was done, that Christians have such a liberty to do so, to the end we shall be satisfied in
this point, and satisfie lickewise our good friends and acquaintances in our natif country, to whose it is a terrour or fairfull thing that men should be handeld so in Pennsilvania.
This is from our Meeting at
Germantown held ye 18. of the 2. month 1688. to be delivered to the monthly meeting at Richard Warrel's.
derick op de graeff
Francis Daniell Pastorius
Abraham op Den graeff."
This protest was submitted at several meetings of the Quakers, who, however, found the
question too important to take action upon, since this question stood in intimate relation with other affairs. The document, set up by the humble inhabitants of Germantown, however, compelled the Quakers to
think. Becoming aware that the traffic in human beings did not harmonize with Christian religion, they introduced in 1711 "an act to prevent the importation of Negroes and Indians into the province," and
later on they declared against slave trade. But as the Government found such laws inadmissible, the question dragged along, until 150 years later this black spot on the escutcheon of the United States was
Pastorius, the noble leader of Germantown, departed this life about Christmas of 1719, much deplored by his many friends, who, like William Penn, respected him as "an upright and courageous, moderate
and wise man, a shining example to his countrymen."
A few years after Pastorius' death another remarkable person made Germantown his home: Christoph Saur, a native of Westphalia. Being a
printer, he published here in 1739 the first newspaper in German type, and also in 1743 the first German Bible in America. This antedated, by forty years, the printing of any other Bible in America, in another
European language. Besides Saur published numerous other volumes, among them many textbooks for schools. To him is due also the founding of the Germantown Academy, which still exists.
Germantown deserves credit also as the place, where Wilhelm Rittenhaus established in 1690 the first paper mill in America. So the name of Germantown is connected with many events of great importance in
American history. No one who intends to give a true idea of the origin and development of American culture, can omit to mention Germantown and its founders.
The great success of the Mennonites inspired many
other German sectarians to follow their example and emigrate to the Western hemisphere. Among them were the Tunker or Dunkards, whose cloister Ephrata in Pennsylvania became famous as a seat of learning. It
had its own printing press, paper mill and book bindery, and published in 1749 the "Märtyrer Spiegel," a folio volume of 1514 pages, the greatest literary undertaking of the American colonies.
Furthermore, there were the Herrnhuter or Moravians, the founders of Bethlehem, Nazareth and other settlements in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Many of these Moravians devoted themselves to missionary work among the
Indians: Some of these devout emissaries, for instance Christian Friedrich Post, Johann Heckewelder and David Zeisberger performed most valuable work among the Delawares, Mohicans and other tribes.
The Salzburgers, driven from their homes in the Alps in 1731, established in Georgia a flourishing colony, named Ebenezer. Other German sectarians founded Zoar and Harmony in Ohio, Economy in
Pennsylvania, Bethel and Aurora in Missouri, Amana in Iowa, and other colonies, many of which created world-wide attention because of their successful application of communistic ideas.
Source: Rudolf Cronau's German Achievements in Amerika