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Early Life of the Pennsylvania Germans
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Pages (PDF): 25
Publication Date: -
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A short little book about the history of the Pennsylvania Germans. Chapters include, European Backgrounds Of The Germans Settled In Pennsylvania, Immigration Trends Are Divided Into Three General Periods, Pioneer Immigrants Were Farmers And Tradesmen, Language And Education At First Neglected, Then Promoted, Religious Groups Were Numerous Before The Revolution, and The Derivation Of Family Names Is Always Interesting.
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THE HISTORY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA GERMANS is a most interesting subject. It began more than three hundred years ago, and the end is not in sight.
One of many things to be remembered about the people called Pennsylvania Germans (or Dutch), is that they came here of their own free will from the Old World, and supported themselves without any help from what might be called the mother country.
Not so in other instances, viz: Spain was in Florida; France had a good chunk of Canada and Louisiana; Holland was in New York; England was firmly rooted in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; Sweden had a foothold in New Jersey, and the governments of those respective countries pushed the colonization ideas to the limit.
It has been estimated that before the Revolution there were 100,000 Germans and Swiss in Pennsylvania alone, with many others in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and New York.
The Germany of that day (the Germany still to be), was made up of a number of more or less loosely related independent principalities, etc., without a central government such as had England, Spain and France. Thus it was that these many thousands of pioneering people, the cream of her population, fell under the influence of other governments; the mother country did nothing toward colonizing. This policy of neglect was so unlike the Germany of a hundred years later.
Excuses have been offered, the main one being the demoralized condition of the country after the terrible religious and civil wars which were so common at that time in Europe. About half of the German-speaking people finally were merged with the peoples of Hungary and Bohemia, forming Austria, the other half being split up into small kingdoms, or principalities, etc.
The Reformation.--One of the real reasons for the original and almost spontaneous emigration to America goes back to the Reformation. It was after that upheaval that the Protestant movement grew ever stronger, until through its many clashes with other faiths and civil authorities, many of these believers in the new freedom of worship, cast longing eyes on the possibilities of the New World.
The German people who went through the Thirty Years’ war experienced all of the ravages that war can bring, since most of those old conflicts usually resulted in untold misery and suffering unto death. They did not have in those early days the all ‘round type of warfare that we now know, but history records the damage to the physical man, to his mind, and to Mother Earth.
Before the Thirty Years’ war the peasants enjoyed life about as well as any ordinary folk, for they had plenty of this world’s goods; they could store-by for the "rainy days" that might come--that surely did come.
Soon everything was to be destroyed--everything but the indomitable spirit of men and women. They, like people in our most recent war, lived in caves, in marshes, woods--everywhere but in houses, or barns. Destruction was so complete that it took two hundred years to rebuild as many houses as were destroyed, and as for the population, more than that many years to reach the same level.
The Palatinate.--Much of the population which we know as Pennsylvania German today, came from a section of Germany called the Palatinate. Its inhabitants were descended from a group of German tribes called the Rheinfranken, with an admixture of Alemanni.
There seems to be little doubt but that the farmers in the Palatinate section of Germany were the world’s best farmers. They were in their day, but their offspring in America are not such bad farmers by whatever method of comparison.
The great water-ways of Europe traversed their lands, and travelers said that they not only could farm well, but credited them with a reputation for keen wit, indomitable industry and a high degree of intelligence.
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