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The Life of the German Settlers in Colonial Times

To take a  glimpse at the life of the early pioneers in America is certainly interesting.  It will be remembered that the British government purposely placed many of these Germans at the most exposed parts of the  "frontier," where their settlements would serve as outposts and as protection against the French and their Indian allies.  In this way the Germans in the valleys of the Mohawk, of the Susquehanna,  Shenandoah and Wyoming and at the Blue Mountains formed the vangard of civilization.

For their own safety's sake these settlers were compelled to place their log houses close together, so that in case of danger they could be better protected.  The intervals  between the houses were closed with palisades, ten or twelve feet high.  Sometimes these rude fortresses were surrounded by deep ditches.  In the center of the village  stood a very strong blockhouse, which served as a place of refuge in case of extreme danger.  It had mostly two or three stories, the upper projecting over the lower.  The heavy  walls were pierced by numerous loop-holes.  In greatly exposed villages there were three or four such strongholds at the corners of the village, so that the gunfire of the defenders could sweep in every direction.

The ever present danger compelled the settlers to keep constant guard.  Every man was obliged to perform  sentinel duty at times.  As soon as the scouts noticed any danger they gave signals, the meaning of which  was understood by all.  In case of siege, all men and boys had to hurry to their respective posts at the stockade.  The women assisted in loading guns, in casting bullets, in providing the men with food and  water, in taking care of the wounded, besides looking after the children and cattle.

As the very existence of the whole settlement depended upon preparedness, it was every man's duty to  keep his arms and ammunition in perfect condition and ready to be used at a moment's notice.  Skill in the use of weapons was highly valued and encouraged.  Even small boys were allowed to carry guns and  hunting-knives.  Bows and arrows and tomahawks they handled with an Indian's dexterity.  Racing, jumping, swimming, climbing, wrestling and all other physical exercises, the knowledge of which could be helpful in the hard struggle for existence, were encouraged.  Challenges for shooting and fighting-matches were  frequently exchanged between neighboring settlements, and when these contests were fought out, enthusiastic spectators were never wanting.

 As the population of Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries supported itself mainly by agriculture, naturally the majority of German emigrants consisted of farmers.  Of their splendid qualities the accounts of  many travellers and statesmen bear testimony.  When the famous French botanist Andr Michaux visited North America, he was surprised at the fine condition of the German farms.  In mentioning them he says:  "The superior culture of the fields and the better condition of the fences indicate that here are settlements of  Germans.  Everything breathes comfort and well-being, the reward of diligence and intelligent work.  These  Germans live under much better conditions than the American descendants of the English, Scotch and Irish;  they are not so much given to strong drink and have not that restless spirit, which frequently induces  settlers of other nationality to move, for the most trifling reasons, to distances of perhaps hundreds of miles in search of more fertile land."

In still more enthusiastic terms Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon general at the time of the Revolution, spoke after passing  through all the colonies.  In 1789 he published "An Account of the Manners of the German Inhabitants of Pennsylvania." In this classic little essay Rush, who has justly been called  the Tacitus of the German-Americans, enumerates the particulars, in which the German farmers differed from most of the others.  "In settling a tract of land they always  provide large and suitable accommodations for their horses and cattle, before they lay out much money in building a  house for themselves.  The first house is small and built of logs.  It generally lasts through the lifetime of the  first settler and hence, they have a saying, that a son should always begin his improvements, where his father left off."

 "They always prefer good land, or that land on which there are great meadows.  By giving attention to the  cultivation of grass, they often in a few years double the value of an old farm, and grow rich on farms, on which their predecessors, of whom they purchased them, had nearly starved."

 "In clearing new land they do not simply girdle or belt the trees, and leave them to perish in the ground, as  is the custom of their English or Irish neighbors; they generally cut them down and burn them.  Underbrush  and bushes they pull out by the roots.  The advantage is that the land is fit for cultivation the second year."

 "They feed their horses and cows well, thereby practicing economy, for such animals perform twice the  labor or yield twice the amount of the less well fed.  A German horse is known in every part of the state."

 "The German farmers are also great wood-economists.  They do not waste it in large fire-places, but burn it  in stoves, using about one-fourth to one-fifth as much.  Their houses are made very comfortable by these stoves, around which the family can get more equal chance than when burning their faces and freezing their  backs before open fire-places."

"The Germans live frugally in regard to diet, furniture and dress.  They eat sparingly of boiled meat, but use  large quantities of all kinds of vegetables.  They use few distilled spirits (whiskey and rum), preferring cider,  beer, wine, and simple water.  In their homespun garments they are likewise economical.  When they use  European articles of dress, they prefer those of best quality and highest price.  They are afraid to get into debt, and seldom purchase anything without paying cash for it."

 "Kitchen gardening the Germans introduced altogether.  Their gardens contain useful vegetables at every  season of the year.  Pennsylvania is indebted to the Germans for the principal part of her knowledge of  horticulture.  The work of the gardens is generally done by the women of the family.  Hired help is procured  only in harvest time.  The favorable influence of agriculture, as conducted by the Germans, in extending the  most happiness, is manifested by the joy expressed at the birth of a child.  No dread of poverty or distrust of Providence from an increasing family depress the spirits of this industrious and frugal people."

"In their children they produce not only the habits of labor but a loveof it."

 "When a young man asks the consent of his father to marry the girl of his choice he does not inquire so much whether she be rich or poor, or whether she possess any personal or mental accomplishments, but  whether she be industrious, and acquainted with the duties of.a good housewife."

Ennumerating other good qualities of the Germans, Rush says: - "They are no strangers to the virtue of  hospitality.  The hungry or benighted traveller is always sure to find a hearty welcome under their roofs.  They are extremely kind and friendly as neighbors."

 As stated in former chapters, there were also among the German immigrants many mechanics, who found everywhere remunerative work for their skill and reliability.  The conditions, prevailing in the Colonies, were  very favorable, as the practice of the different professions was not, as in Europe, restricted by the rules of  guilds.  Such corporations had not yet been started.  In fact, they were impossible, as in the thinly settled  and very extensive colonies all had to rely upon their own abilities.  As in the solitude of the wilderness the  farmer had of necessity to be a "Jack of all trades," so in the villages and cities such craftsmen were most  welcome, who could be helpful in many different ways.  As Gottlieb Mittelberger, a German teacher visiting  Pennsylvania in 1750, stated in one of his letters: "No profession is restrained by the laws of guilds.  Every  one can make his living according to his choice.  He may carry on ten different trades, and nobody will hinder him."

A splendid type of such many-sided men was Christopher Saur, the famous printer at Germantown.  Of him Pastorius speaks in his notes: "He is a very ingenious man, who learned about thirty different professions  without the help of an instructor.  He came here as a tailor; but now he is a printer, apothecary, surgeon,  botanist, watchmaker, carpenter, bookbinder and newspaper man.  He made all his tools for printing; he also makes paper, wire, lead, etc."

 Such ingenious craftsmen were the very first in starting many industries in America, which flourish to-day.  The earliest iron-works on record were operated by miners from Siegen, Germany, who on invitation of  Governor Spotswood established a settlement Germanna at the Rapidan River in Virginia in 1714.  Two years later Thomas Ruetter or Rutter from Germantown, PA, founded the first ironworks in Pennsylvania at the Matawny Creek, Berks County.  The first hammer-works and smelting furnaces were constructed in 1750 by JohannesHuber .  His furnace, located in Lancaster County, Pa., bore the inscription:

"Johann Huber ist der erste deutsche Mann
Der das Eisenwerk vollfiihren kann."

 In 1757 he sold his works to a German Baron, Friedrich Wilhelmvon Stiegel, a genuine "captain of industry."

 Engaging large numbers of German smiths and other workmen, he started the town of Mannheim, where he made iron stoves, wagons and many other things.

 Perhaps the greatest of all American industrials of the I 8th century was Peter Hasenclever, born in 1716 in  Remscheid, a city in Rhenish Prussia, famous for her iron-industry.  Having been informed, that North America was rich in iron and forests and that the English government was compelled to import annually  more than 40,000 tons of rod-iron, he submitted plans to work these mines and, by manufacturing rod-iron, make England independent of other countries.  As his propositions were favored, he emigrated to New York  in 1765 and established numerous smelting and stamping works, forges and other factories in the neighborhood of the German Flats in the Mohawk Valley.  From his native home he imported 550 miners and  smiths, for whom he built 200 houses.  By damming several creeks he provided cheap and constant water power; by constructing good roads and bridges he also procured means for communication.

 Within a few years the establishment grew to a most promising seat of industry, with all prospects for a bright future.  But unfortunately the English partners of Hasenclever, living in London, were dishonest  people.  Leading a very luxurious life, they burdened the establishment with such heavy debts, that Hasenciever, in spite of all efforts, was unable to prevent its bankruptcy.  To save his good name he went to  England and instituted proceedings against his partners.  The lawsuit dragged along for twenty years, but was decided after Hasenclever's death in favor of his heirs, to whom the accused party had to pay one  million Thalers indemnity.

Another enterprising German of the ]8th century was Johann Jacob Faesch, owner of the Mount Hope  forges.  During the war for independence he supplied the American army with large quantities of cannon and ammunition.  Other Germans furnished her with splendid guns, with which the Minute Men worked  great havoc in British lines.  The bored rifles in particular, made by German gunsmiths in Lancaster, PA, were highly prized in all colonies.

 The first glass-factory was started in 1738 near Salem, N. J., by Kaspar Wüster, a native of Heidelberg.  His  name became corrupted to Wistar.  That the manufacture of glass was exclusively in the hands of Germans, is proved by a letter of Lord Sheffield, who, in writing about the glassworks of Pennsylvania and New  Jersey, said: "Hitherto these manufactures have been carried on by German workmen."

 The inhabitants of Germantown were noted for their splendid textile fabrics.  Germans were also the pioneers  in the manufacture of felt, hats, leather wares, watches, bells, and many other things.  As early as 1730 German mechanics in America began to make musical instruments.  In the year mentioned Heinrich Neering of New York built the first organ for the Trinity community.  And in 1775 Johann Behrent constructed the first pianoforte in America.

 Besides these farmers, craftsmen, artisans and industrials there were also many German merchants, for whom Dr. Rush also expressed appreciation.  In his booklet he says: "The genius of the Germans is,  however, not confined to agriculture and the mechanical arts.  As merchants they are candid and punctual.  The Bank of North America bears witness to their fidelity in all pecuniary transactions."

These merchants traded in spices, drygoods, hardwares, agricultural tools, books, musical instruments,  clothes and many other things.  The larger cities had also German apothecaries and inns, as for instance in Philadelphia "The King of Prussia," "The Black Eagle" and "The Golden Lamb."

Furthermore, there were also a number of German printers, who, like Christoph Saur and Peter Zenger,  published newspapers, calendars and books in German as well as in English.  Benjamin Franklin states, that of the six printing houses in Pennsylvania four were German or half German, while only two were entirely  English.  He mentions also, that the Germans imported many books from abroad.

They also had their own ministers and teachers.  A pamphlet, printed in 1755 in Pennsylvania, states: "The  Germans have schools and meeting houses in almost every township thro' the province, and have more churches and other places of worship in the city of Philadelphia itself than those of all other persuasions  together."

In view of all these facts there can be no doubt, that the Germans, living in the colonies, were a very useful  and valuable element, well deserving the high esteem, extended to them by all fair-minded people.  Concluding his essay about his German fellow-citizens Dr. Rush said:

 "Citizens of the United States, learn from the German inhabitants of Pennsylvania, to prize knowledge and industry in agriculture and manufacture, as the basis of domestic happiness and national prosperity.

Legislatures of the United States, learn from the wealth and independence of the German inhabitants of  Pennsylvania, to encourage by example and laws the republican virtues of industry and economy.  They are the onlypillars which can support the present constitution of the United States.

 Legislators of Pennsylvania, learn from the history of your German fellow-citizens, that you possess an inexhaustible treasure in the bosom of the State, in their manners and arts.  Do not contend against their  prejudice in favor of their language.  It will be the channel through wich the knowledge and discoveries of  the wisest nation in Europe may be conveyed to our country.  Invite them to share in the power and offices of government: it will be a bond of union in principle and conduct between them, and those of their  enlightened fellow citizens, who are descended from other nations.  Above all, cherish with peculiar tenderness those sects among them who hold war to be unlawful.  Relieve them from the oppression of  absurd and unnecessary military laws.  Protect them as the repositories of truth of the gospel, which has existed in every age of the church, and which must spread over every part of the world.  Perhaps those  German sects among us (here are meant the Mennonites, Moravians and Tunkers), who refuse to bear arms for the purpose of shedding human blood, may be preserved by divine providence as the centre of a circle,  which shall gradually embrace all nations of the earth in a perpetual treaty of friendship and peace."

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