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The Comming of the Palatines

Of all the German states which suffered from the terrors of the Thirty Years' War and  the raids of the French, the Palatinate fared worst.  During the first catastrophe one hundred and forty-seven towns and villages were wiped out of existence, so that nothing remained but their almost forgotten  names.  Everything which escaped the ravages of that dreadful war, was destroyed by the soldiers of the "most Christian King" Louis XIV. of France.  In utter despair, the few thousand survivors of  the carnage and plundering resolved to give up their homes and emigrate to any country, where they would be free from the terrors of war.

The first Palatines to  emigrate were 55 Lutherans.  Under the leadership of their minister, Josua von Kocherthal, they arrived in New York in the winter of 1708.  Upon the western shore of the Hudson they established a settlement,  which they called Neuburg, from which the present city of Newburgh takes its name. -

In the following year the Rhine became the scene of an extraordinary event.  Vast fleets of boats and rafts glided down the  river, all crowded with unhappy people, who carried their few belongings with them in bundles and boxes.

How many thousand persons there were, is not exactly known.  Estimates vary from 15,000 to 30,000.   The fugitives went to Holland and from there to London, to beg the British government for transportation to America.  Several thousand were sent to Ireland; several hundred to Virginia, Carolina and New England,  and more than 3,000 to New York.  The latter embarked in ten vessels in January, 1710.

The voyage across the ocean took several months; the last boat did not arrive in New York before July.  Accommodations  and food on the vessels were so poor that 470 of the emigrants perished during the trip; 250 more died on Governor's Island, where the Palatines were kept in quarantine for many weeks without any apparent reason.

 Furthermore, the government, instead of granting the Palatines the same privileges that other,emigrants received, treated them as serfs, who ought to make good by their labor for everything the government had done for  them.  So the Palatines were settled along the shores of the Hudson, where we now find Germantown and Saugerties.  Here they were forced to raise hemp for cordage, and to manufacture tar and pitch, so that the  government would no longer be obliged to buy these much-needed objects for ship-building from other countries.

Unfortunately, the contract for supplying the Palatines with all necessities of life was given to Robert  Livingston, a perfect type of those disreputable men, who came to America only to get rich quickly.  In Albany he had been made Town Clerk and Secretary for Indian Affairs.  Later on to these offices were  added those of Collector of Excise and Quit Rents, Clerk of Peace and Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas.  A born grafter, he associated himself secretly with the famous pirate Captain Kidd, and thereby added  greatly to his fortune.

When in 1701 he could not account for large sums, said to have passed through his hands, he was deprived of his offices and his estates were confiscated.  However, upon going to London he  obtained from the Queen a restoration of his offices, returned to New York in 1709, became, through bribery, a member of Assembly and secured a repeal of the act confiscating his estates.

Such was the history of the  gentleman, into whose care the unfortunate Palatines were given.  Naturally, they fared badly.  While they almost starved to death, the bills, handed by Livingston to the government, ran to enormous  sums.  From November 10, 1710, to September, 1712, they amounted to 76,000 pounds sterlingl

During the severe winter of 1712-13 the distress of the Palatines became unbearable.  They had neither food nor  clothing.  Suffering from hunger and cold, their clamor became so heartrending that the Indians, who dwelt in the neighborhood, came to their assistance, and presented them with a stretch of land in the valley of  the Schoharie River, whereto the Palatines might emigrate.

Seeing no other course before them, the Palatines resolved to escape to this place.  They started in March, 1713.  As no roads existed and deep snow  covered the ground, the trip was exhausting.  The fugitives had neither wagons nor animals for the transportation of the sick, the aged, the women and children.  All belongings had to be carried upon the  back.  And, of course, there was nothing to eat.  If the Indians had not helped, the Palatines would certainly have perished.

Hardly ever were settlements started under greater difficulties than these in the  Schoharie Valley.  Rough logs furnished the material for the huts.  Clothes were made from the skins of wild animals.  As no one possessed a plough, the settlers were obliged to dig furrows into the  ground with their knives.  They then sowed the only bushel of wheat they had bought in Schenectady with their last money.  As they had no mill, the first harvest was crushed between stones.

After toiling for  several years, the Palatines, never giving up hope, began to look for a better future, when suddenly came the news, that the governor had ceded their land to some speculators, among them Livingston, with whom the  Palatines must come to an agreement.  That the land had been given to the Palatines by the Indians, and that by the right of first settlement they had an indisputable claim, the governor would not  acknowledge.  Furious about their escape, he molested the Palatines so persistently that the majority decided to move again.  Several hundred quitted the inhospitable colony of New York forever, and went to  Pennsylvania.  Others moved to the valley of the Mohawk River, occupying a strip of land which was donated to them by the Mohawk Indians.

The first settlement there became known as the German Flats.  But in  the course of time the Palatines founded many other villages and towns, some of which betray their German origin by their names, as Mannheim, Oppenheim, Frankfort, Palatine, Herkimer, Palatine Bridge, New Paltz Landing  and Palatine Church. -

The Palatines who had been brought to Carolina, Virginia and New England also founded numerous villages and towns, whose original German names, however, became so distorted later, that to-day  they can hardly be recognized. -

Through a strange irony of fate the Palatines, who had emigrated from Germany to escape the brutalities of the French, were compelled to again face the same enemies in America.   It was during the years 1754 to 1763, when the French, assisted by their Indian allies, the Ottawas, Hurons, Miamis, Shawnees and Illinois, made frequent raids from Canada and the Ohio Valley on the settlements of the  Palatines, who in fact had been placed by the government as outposts on the frontier against the French and Indians.

In assisting the Germans in the defense of the frontier the government was always so tardy that the  Germans often resorted to drastic demonstrations to compel the authorities to do their duty.  In November, 1755, when the Palatine settlements in Pennsylvania had been raided, several hundred Germans marched to  Philadelphia, to demand measures of defense.  They brought with them a number of bodies of friends murdered, mutilated and scalped, and displayed them at the doors of the assembly hall.  This gruesome  exhibition created great sensation, yet the government did not call the militia before spring of the next year for the protection of the suffering settlements.  Many members of this militia were Palatines.   They were also largely represented among the "Royal Americans,'. a regiment of 4000 Germans of Pennsylvania and Maryland, which under the able command of Henry Bouquet, a native of Switzerland, in the wars  against the French and Indians won a glorious record.

Out of the ranks of the Palatine colonists came many vigorous men, who gained renown in American history.  As for instance Konrad Weiser, Peter Zenger, and Nicholas Herchheimer, who, like all their countrymen, ierved this country devotedly in timeei of peace, and gladly gave their lives for it in times of war.

Their descendants, reinforced by large numbers of  Palatines, who arrived during the 18th and 19th centuries, number at present many hundred thousands, a valuable army of diligent, industrious and contented people.  Where energy and persistence are needed, where  experience, mechanical or artistic abilities are required, the Palatines take no second place.  We find them engaged in all trades, in the fields, the orchards and vineyards, and always devoted to the place which  gives them support.  None of their beautiful farms in the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys, or in Pennsylvania, ever had to be abandoned because of exhausted soil, as was the case with so many thousands of Yankee-farms  in the New England States.  Like all other German immigrants that settled inAmerica, the Palatines took great care to uphold and increase the fruitfulness of their farms, and the good name and credit of  their business, in order that they might pass them on to their children and grandchildren as valuable inheritances.

Besides their diligence and industriousness, the Palatines in America have also preserved their  genuine Rhenish cheerfulness, their love for poetry, music and song.  Some of their poets rank among the best our country has produced.  Their singing-societies are of the first order, while their festivals  are brimful of harmless fun and rejoicing.

What virtues they brought with them from the Fatherland they have preserved and transmitted with great success and to their own honor from generation to generation.  And  so the Palatines will live in the history of America; and future generations will celebrate the great influx of the Palatines in 1710 as an event which became a blessing to this nation.

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