Commentary: Three German Immigration Periods

Larry Pearce

This commentary on a series of essays written by A. Monroe Aurand (1895-1956) entitled Early Life of the Pennsylvania Germans is intended to clarify and focus Aurand’s general observations on and to our specific Swiss-German families. The six essays are:

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
The Derivation of Family Names

I will concentrate on the second, “Immigration Trends are Divided into Three General Periods.” It would be beneficial to the reader of this commentary to have first read our “Introduction: Bowman,” then all of the Aurand essays, and finally, having a printed copy of the second Aurand essay handy to refer to would allow for quick cross reference.

In researching, writing, and presenting what I call the German aspect of our general website E-GEN.INFO, the Miller and Krause associated families, I have been amazed at how the ancestors, no matter what religious persuasion or geographical orientation, have “come together” both literally and metaphorically as immigrants to America. For example, the Lutheran Millers and Shaffers, the German Reformed Zimmermans and Bowmans, and the Amish-Mennonite Speichers and Millers all came through Berks and Lancaster Counties in Eastern Pennsylvania. Eventually, certain “mergers” occurred. We believe at this time that, through marriage and perhaps other influences in the New World, several doctrinal conversions also took place. For example, some of the Somerset County Bowmans probably left the Mennonite church for the Reformed and later, when Susan married Dibert Miller, she no doubt became a Lutheran. The Lutherans also gained Annie Lee, an Amish girl, when she married Charles Krause. In the 1970’s, their descendant, my wife Susan Pearce, left the Lutheran faith to marry me, a former Presbyterian. We have settled in the Methodist tradition. How does this principle of what we may metaphorically call, when it comes to family trees, “branching,” or perhaps in this case “reverse branching,” apply to Aurand’s theory of the three immigration periods? It seems that the further back in history one goes, the more likely one will find commonality, less diversity. Yes, there were fewer people, but there were also narrow gateways at which researchers can still position themselves and make observations and offer theories. Surnames, nationalities,  ethnic origins, religious affiliations are all gateways. Aurand’s “Three Periods” is another important one.

Aurand correctly claims, “The pioneers arrived here in the main prior to the [American] Revolution.” His three waves of Swiss German immigration are as follows:

1. 1683-1710 – Swiss Mennonites founded Germantown, now a suburb of Philadelphia, at the invitation of William Penn. Our Wendel (or Wynand) Bauman (1685-1735) arrived probably between 1707 and 1710 on the Mary Hope. Earlier, 1694, Mary Zimmerman, wife of another Miller patriarch, Johann Jacob (1644-1693), who had died at sea, landed at Germantown. (Read about their harrowing voyage in “Introduction: Zimmerman”. Their son Jacob Christopher had a son named Arnold (1716-1803) who married Mary Engle (1719-1803). Most of that family is buried at Skippack Church, Philadelphia.) One of our Krause ancestors, Melchior Brenneman’s son, who carried the same name as his father, but is referred to as “Melchoir, the Pioneer,” settled in Lancaster County in 1709 and built a large estate there. (See “Introduction: Brenneman.“)

2. 1710-1727 – Immigration was gaining momentum and record keeping was improved. At this time we are unaware of any direct ancestors arriving then, but William Penn’s agents and the Commonwealth were encouraging settlements farther west, in Berks and Lancaster Counties.

3. 1727-1776 – The gates of immigration remained open until the start of the War for Independence when our Federal government, for security reasons, and the British, as a type of blockade, stopped free passage on the Atlantic. However, our Christian Millers were part of the first Old Order and Conservative Amish-Menonnites to arrive in eastern Pennsylvania from Germany. The Northkill settlement, just off present day Old US Rt. 22 in Berks County, is regarded as “the first organized Amish settlement in America” and was thriving by 1740. We believe that our (Christian) Millers, Speichers, Mishlers, and Mussers probably arrived around 1757. The 200-some families who resided there at its height are remembered today by a Pennsylvania Historical Commission marker. In the years after moving west and settling in Somerset County, many of these, our families, intermarried.

Aurand remarks, “The continental Mennonites, or Anabaptists, were like unto the English Quakers and Baptists.” I’m reminded of the hardships my Quaker Beard ancestors suffered at the hands of the Crown. (See “Introduction: Beard” and specifically The Book of Sufferings.) My Ambrose Austen of Kent (“Origins”) was a Baptist preacher and his daughter Susan married Richard Pearce of Wiltshire, a Methodist and non-conformist.

Aurand is sarcastic at times: “As we know, the politicians and ruling families of England and the continents always found it convenient to have some sort of ‘religion’ handy, for emergencies, if not motivating principles of their lives.” But, he offers new insights and information about our ancestors, saying, “In 1694, an interesting band of mystics settled on the banks of the Wissahickon [Germantown].” What is he referring to? Apparently, and we don’t believe this includes any of our families, about 40 German immigrants came “to await the coming of the Lord, believing He would appear here probably where they elected to sojourn, on or about the turn of the century.” Furthermore, he says, they built an astronomical tower to climb and watch for the signs of the Second Coming.

At times Aurand causes us to smile with understanding: “Of the Swiss Mennonites, it is said that they were, if anything, quite ‘stubborn.’ By that is meant, they would refuse to bear arms for the State, and it seemed that wars were conducted then, as now, for the benefit of the few–the propaganda philosophy being that ‘the majority are to reap the rewards.'”

According to Aurand, many of the Swiss Mennonites were forced out of their native lands or imprisoned for what today seems like quite unusual laws. One of our early Speichers saw the inside of the prison at Thun, according to a family internet source, for “praying in a group.” Apparently, the canton church wanted only prayers to be offered by individuals. But, whether forced to go temporarily to Alsace or Germany, they would return to the land of the Alps and Emmmental Valley when possible. Aurand claims that some of the “trouble makers” were forced into Holland, the various governments thinking then that they would be “deported” to America. He continues: “In 1711, the Mennonites of Bern got a break–they were permitted to sell property, take their families with them with free passage down the Rhine–if they would promise never to return.”

We question his date of 1711 because he then refers to the 1710 trek of Rev. Hans Herr, with whom our Bowmans sailed, to Germantown and eventually the Pequa Settlement in present day Lancaster.

The essayist’s humor continues: “In 1717. the numbers [of immigrants] seemed to alarm the authorities [in PA], who were afraid there would be too many Germans here, eventually leading to a preponderance of the wrong kinds of people, so far as the authorities were concerned.”

Another interesting thing to me, the “amateur researcher” to whom Aurand refers, is that as record keeping improved into the Third Period, the Captain’s List included names of vessels, ports of departure, dates of arrival, and importantly, the names of all passengers over age 16. Women of that day hadn’t been taught to write even their names, so they generally weren’t included. However, even some of the men couldn’t write either and simply marked an “X” on the list next to their name.

After 1754, the beginning of the French and Indian War, no indication of religion, Protestant or Catholic, was included on the ships’ lists. We assume, with the French being Catholic, that this was to avoid even a hint of allegiance to one side or the other by the supposedly neutral Swiss.

As a student of the Amish culture and practices, I’ve always considered the idea of these successful farmers seeking and knowing limestone-rich land a myth. Aurand, however, states boldly, “Wherever there was limestone or black walnut trees, there you would soon find some Germans either farming, or setting up a home prior to turning the soil, for they liked limestone. This for the reason it made fine stone for building homes and churches, as well as lime for fertilizer. Walnut trees growing in healthy stands were also a good sign of fertility of the soil.”

Aurand’s closing sentiment certainly captures the faith and philosophy of our Swiss German ancestors. As the immigrations were temporarily halted with the start of the Revolution, he points to our Amish-Mennonites, saying that if they didn’t fight with guns and bullets, they “fought with the plow.” He explains: “Those who did not fight were self-sustaining and self-sufficient, and their effort at farming and making warm clothing no little [sacrifice] in making a revolution of the people and American independence indeed.”

Most of our families came to Somerset county shortly after the Ft. Stanwix treaty with the Indians (1784). Virtually all of the names in our drop-down menus, except perhaps the Krauses, who came in the mid 19th century, arrived west of the Northern Appalachians in the late 18th century. Aurand refers to our Somerset County Amish relatives who continued on to Ohio and beyond,  while remembering our families who stayed here by asking, “People in those states to the west of us probably feel that they are ‘Westerners,’ but would it be improper to say that they are in a large sense ‘Western Pennsylvania Germans?’ or ‘Pennsylvania Germans in the West?'”

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