Why was Pennsylvania founded as a colony

Germantown - Mülheim emigrants in America

A census in the USA in the early 1980s showed that around 60 million Americans describe themselves as of German descent. With a total population of around 280 million, this is an impressive 21 percent. Germans such as General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the piano maker Henry Steinway, the businessman Levi Strauss and the politician and former Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger have made significant contributions to the development and prosperity of the American nation. And the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, also has German roots. His ancestor was a certain Hans Nikolaus Eisenhauer, an immigrant from the Hessian Eiterbach, who himself was completely destitute and unknown. The surname in the Americanized version would then become world famous around 200 years later. Over the centuries the Eisenhauers became the Eisenhowers, Huber became Hoover and Falkner became Faulkner.

The establishment of the Pennsylvania colony

The first establishment established and preserved by Germans on American soil, Germantown, is located in the state of Pennsylvania and is closely linked to the name of the Englishman William Penn. He belonged to the "Society of Friends", better known as Quakers, and suffered from constant persecution in England as a follower of this religious sect. With the plight of his co-religionists in mind, Penn decided to build a refuge in the overseas colonies for all people who were persecuted in Europe because of their religious beliefs.

Even when Penn was looking for settlers for his first project, a settlement in New Jersey, he did not limit his advertising campaign to England. His travels also took him to the Netherlands and Germany, where he preached in various Rhenish Mennonite congregations in 1671 and 1677 and presented his vision of a better world. He also paid a visit to Mülheim in the hope of finding people willing to settle here for his project.

In 1681, Penn's vision was within reach. His father, Admiral Sir William Penn, had left his son a debt claim against the British Crown of £ 16,000 after his death. Instead of the money, William Penn got a piece of land in the New World from the English king, west of the Delaware River and large enough to carry out his planned project. It was a previously unpopulated, extremely wooded area, which was to be called "Pennsylvania" (Penn's woodland) in memory of Penn's father. On October 27, 1682, William Penn landed with twenty ships on the American coast and took possession of his land. Pennsylvania was inhabited by the Delaware Indians until then and so he decided to buy the land from them at a fair price in order to avoid confrontations with the natives. This led to the famous Shackamaxon Treaty on June 23, 1683, which ensured the young colony a peaceful future and largely spared it from Indian raids in the years to come.

The prerequisites for settlement by European emigrants were in place and so Penn set about promoting his newly founded colony in the Old World. Agents wandered from village to village and told of the paradisiacal living conditions on the other side of the Atlantic. You and the "Letters from America" ​​made America palatable as a refuge for people torn by war, poverty and the persecution of the faith.

The city of the Germans - Germantown

Franz Daniel Pastorius, a lawyer and polymath from the Franconian town of Sommerhausen, is considered to be the founder of the German settlement of North America. After his studies he made contact with pietistic circles in Frankfurt, founded the Frankfurt Society with some fellow believers and acquired 15,000 acres of farmland in Pennsylvania from William Penn as its agent and authorized representative. In 1683 he traveled via Krefeld to Rotterdam, where he set sail on June 6th on the ship "America" ​​to "escape the easy life and sins of Europe, temporal and eternal ruin". About eleven weeks later, on August 20, 1683, Pastorius landed in Philadelphia. The later capital of Pennsylvania consisted of only a few, modestly furnished log cabins. Pastorius followed the example of the settlers already living there and built a tiny wooden house, the windows of which he glued with oil-soaked paper because there was no glass. Following German custom, he put a slogan above the front door:

"My house is small, but good people like to see it, whoever is ungodly should stay away".

William Penn, who had arrived ten months earlier, was soon in close contact with the pious Pastorius and together they awaited the arrival of the first large German group of emigrants. This group of emigrants, a total of thirteen families from Krefeld, landed on October 6, 1683 on the Pennsylvania coast. They were predominantly Mennonites who were closely related to one another and practiced for the most part the same craft: linen weaving. Since Pastorius had only three families with him through his Frankfurt Society, he joined the Krefeld people and founded the town of Germantown with them, six miles from Philadelphia. This settlement is considered to be the nucleus of German settlement in America. Franz Daniel Pastorius wrote about this in the Common Place Book, the land register of the German congregation:

"We called the place Germanopolis (Germantown), some gave it the nickname Armen-Town. Workers and farmers are seriously most needed here, and I would like a dozen strong Tyroleans to knock down the thick oak trees, because it's all just a forest . "

Relations with the native Indians were good. They soon brought their trade goods to the settlers: fish, birds, deer skins as well as furs from beavers, otters and foxes. Sometimes they exchanged it "for drink", which probably means brandy. The later community order of Germantown regulated the distribution of alcohol, so that alcohol dependence never became a problem among the indigenous population there. Due to the fact that William Penn protected the Indians from alcohol and exploitative whites throughout Pennsylvania and strictly adhered to the land assignment treaties, this colony was largely spared from Indian raids.

The arrival of the Mülheimers

A few years before the group emigrations began, a Mülheimer named Heinrich Frey immigrated to the area of ​​the later colony of Pennsylvania in 1675 and settled near the Delaware River. The next Mülheimers came as a group in 1684, a total of 17 people, and settled in Germantown, which the Pastorius had just founded. More emigrants from Mülheim followed, but only a few of them achieved wealth and prestige. Even the acquisition of real estate was not financially possible for all emigrants. In an overview of the house owners in Germantown from 1689 you can find the brothers Wiggart and Gerhard Levering, Wilhelm Rettinghaus and his son Klaus, Dirck (van) Kolck, Wiegard Frey, Jakob Jansen, Heinrich Buchholz, Jan Duden and Änneke (Enneke) from Mülheim ) Klostermann.

The only woman among the Mülheim landowners was the not incapable daughter of Jan Klostermann and his wife Änneke von Rensheim. Änneke Klostermann - leaving her parents and brother Heinrich behind - came to Germantown with the first Mülheim emigrant group in 1684 and gained a certain fame by marrying the founding father of the German colony Franz Daniel Pastorius four years later on November 6, 1688 . Franz Daniel Pastorius and Änneke Klostermann's marriage resulted in two children: Johann Samuel, born in 1690, and Heinrich, born in 1692. Their descendants and the family name Pastorius can still be traced back to the United States.

In addition to his professional obligations as the organizer of the young congregation, Franz Daniel Pastorius was mainly active as a writer. His personal diary, the so-called "beehive" (beehive), should give posterity an impression of life in Germantown. Pastorius also wrote a school book on English grammar and numerous articles on legal, scientific, historical, agricultural, medical and theological topics. He also filled several volumes with poems, philosophical considerations and sayings. Pastorius wrote a lot in Latin, spoke several languages ​​and owned an extensive library. Actually a lawyer by study, he was one of the most learned and probably most pious men in Pennsylvania.

His pious and philanthropic outlook became clear again and again, for example in April 1688 when he and some fellow believers formulated a protest in Germantown against the slave trade and the keeping of slaves in America. Implementation by the legislative assemblies was a long time coming, but this written protest note was symbolic: A German settler had led the first resistance to slavery on American soil.

The growth of Germantown

With numerous newcomers, the parish of Germantown grew continuously, but still remained manageable. A single street sixty feet wide ran through the settlement, Main Street (later Germantown Avenue), bordered on both sides by peach trees. Along this street, to the west and east, were all the houses, most of them with large vegetable and flower gardens.

In August 1689, Germantown was granted town charter by William Penn, which allowed the residents to regulate their administrative affairs independently from now on. Pastorius was offered the office of mayor. In addition, a city council was elected, which soon passed the first municipal code. Trials took place every six weeks, with most of the lawsuits relating to land sales and cattle roaming free. Drunkenness was an occasional offense, as was street clutter or abuse in public. One of the settlers went to jail for five days for betting that he could smoke a hundred pipes of tobacco in a day. One recognizes the peacefulness of life. Until the incorporation of Germantown into the city of Philadelphia in 1707, the German community recorded no serious crimes. For comparison: at the same time four citizens were convicted of murder and hanged in a nearby English settlement.

Wilhelm Rettinghaus

Probably the best-known emigrant from Mülheim was Wilhelm Rettinghaus (also Rettinghausen, Rittinghausen, Rittenhausen, Dutch: Rüddinghuysen or English: Rittenhouse). This man, born in Broich in 1644 as the son of Georg Rettinghaus and Maria Hagerhoff, completed a four-year apprenticeship in papermaking at the Vorster paper mill in Broich. During this time he was in contact with the local pastor Undereyck and through him found access to pietistic circles. Since religious sects were not tolerated by the sovereign and their followers were persecuted, Rettinghaus finally emigrated to Amsterdam via Arnhem. In the Netherlands he found his future wife Geertruid Kersten Pieters, whom he married in 1665 in Leonen, Holland. A year later, on June 15, 1666, his son Klaus was born in Amsterdam, four years later, in 1670, his daughter Elisabeth and finally in 1674 his son Gerhard. On June 23, 1678, Rettinghaus obtained Dutch citizenship.

He maintained contact with the Mennonite community in Amsterdam and met agents of the Quaker William Penn, who made the acquisition of land in Pennsylvania palatable to him. He decided to emigrate, boarded a ship with his family and reached the port of New York, presumably in 1687. Rettinghaus came to Pennsylvania and Germantown by land, where he settled. In addition to a property on Main Street of the community, he and three partners purchased a piece of land located on a small tributary of Wissahickon Creek, just outside Germantown. Together with his English partners William Bradford, Robert Turner and Thomas Tresse, he built a paper mill there - America's first paper mill.

One of the co-owners of the mill, William Bradford, a trained printer, moved to New York soon after and set up his own printing company there. The paper was supplied by Wilhelm Rettinghaus's paper mill. A contract between Rettinghaus and Bradford dated September 24, 1797 was signed on paper with the watermark "WR" (for Wilhelm Rettinghaus). The paper business was good, also due to the lack of competition. Rettinghaus, who now called himself William Rittenhouse, had meanwhile taken on his son Klaus (English: Nicholas) as a partner. Together they gradually paid off the other shareholders in the paper mill, so that in 1705 the mill was finally family-owned.

A flood in 1701 caused considerable damage and destroyed large parts of the paper mill, but William Rittenhouse unexpectedly received financial reconstruction aid from William Penn, the governor of the Colony of Pennsylvania. He found that "such men must be given help" and so construction could begin in 1702 in the immediate vicinity of the destroyed mill - at what would later be called Paper Mill Creek.

Papermaking flourished. In addition to the Bradford print shop in New York, the nearby metropolis of Philadelphia and Germantown themselves were soon supplied with paper. After the death of William Rittenhouse on February 17, 1708, the family business was continued by his sons Klaus (Nicholas) and Gerhard (Garrett). The company's founder, William Rittenhouse, did not live to see the publication of the "American Weekly Mercury", the first local newspaper, printed on paper from the Rittenhouse paper mill in 1719.

The Pennsylvania Germans

Not all German emigrants achieved property and prosperity like the Rittenhouse family. In addition to farmers and artisans, who were very welcome in Pennsylvania and who could make their fortune here, there were also numerous unskilled and dispossessed among the immigrants. Many were "redemptionists", i.e. emigrants who had to work their crossing for years with individual farmers and were often shamelessly exploited there.

In the mid-18th century, Germans made up about a third of the population of Pennsylvania, so many English settlers were concerned about the growing German influence. The politician and statesman Benjamin Franklin expressed fear that the English-born settlers would soon be in the minority. In fact, even the Pennsylvania Parliament had debated the introduction of German as the second official language in that colony, with the vote count resulting in a stalemate, leading to the final adjournment of the issue.

The growing together of the American nation

In the course of time, many immigrant Germans adapted to the English, changed their German first names and surnames and allowed themselves to be naturalized, i.e. they took British citizenship and swore an oath on the English king (including Wilhelm Rettinghaus and his son Klaus im Year 1691).

Important posts in the public service were soon no longer reserved for the descendants of English immigrants. On April 4, 1792, immediately after the founding of the American state, David Rittenhouse, a great-grandson of the German immigrant Wilhelm Rettinghaus, was appointed by President George Washington as the first mint director of the state mint based in Philadelphia. Rittenhouse, a highly respected man as president of the American Philosophical Society and professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, was thus responsible for issuing the first official US coins.

German customs gradually mingled with those of other nations and enriched American culture. The festively decorated Christmas tree and the figure of Nikolaus (Santa Claus), derived from the Low German Sinterklaas, are of German origin, as are the Easter eggs and the Easter bunny. And the Americans also owe their kindergarten to a German immigrant. Margarethe Schurz, wife of the 1848 revolutionary Carl Schurz, founded the first of its kind in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin, and thus, like so many other Germans, made her contribution to America's cultural melting pot.

(Abridged version of "Germantown - Mülheim emigrants in America" ​​by Jens Roepstorff, in: Mülheimer Jahrbuch 2005, pp. 215-222)