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German Migration to North America

Originally posted in ROOTS-L by Melissa Alexander" on Apr 8, 1998.

In the book "In Search of Your German Roots" (Genealogical Publishing Co, Inc. Baltimore, MD 1987) Angus Baxter gives several reasons for German immigration to North America.

According to him, the first mass entry of German colonists was in 1683 to Germantown, PA. (It totaled 13 families) German settlement really commenced with the arrival of the "Palatines" in 1709 and their settlement in the colony of New York. This Palatine applies to the people from the Palatinate area of the Rhineland, but also includes people from Baden, Byern, Elsass, Hessen, and Wurttemberg. According to Baxter, there were a number of reasons for the great migrations: poor crops, bad winters, heavy taxes, military service, religious persecution and, most of all, the devastation caused by the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and subsequent invasions of the Rhineland by France in 1673, 1688, and 1707.

The winter of 1708-09 was the worst in Europe in more than a century. The intense cold started in Oct and cont. to end of Apr-destroying the grape vines and fruit trees in SW Germany. The disaster was total and the future without hope. Contemporary accounts claimed "birds died in the air and spittle leaving the mouth was ice before it reached the ground."

By 1708 the "Palatines" started to arrive in London, via Rotterdam, and in 1709 over 30,000 arrived between May and October. They went to England planning to immediately move on to PA and the Carolinas. These colonies had people talking up the good land and low taxes. William Penn paid several visits to the Rhineland and in 1681 leaflets were distributed offering land in PA at the price of 2 English pounds for 100 acres. The English government blew hot and cold on supporting this, according to Baxter. Some of the colonists objected to the large numbers of Germans. The Brits responded by also arranging for settlements to the Caribbean, England and Ireland. Immigration began to taper off towards the end of the 18th century because of the industrialization of Germany.

Then, by 1818 one bad harvest followed another, the Napoleonic Wars had taken their toll and religious disputes within the Lutheran Church had led to disruptions of life. This second wave was from Bayern and Wurtemmberg, and later from Hessen, Thuringen, and Westpreussen. The reduction of farm size through generational sub-division aggravated things further. By 1840 all Germanic areas were contributing to the mass migration, although SW German was still highest, in part because of the family connections already established.

Many settled in the US after a brief stay in Canada (Mennonite settlers, especially, had a great deal of movement backward and forwards across the unsupervised border). The two main German settlements in Canada were Ontario and Nova Scotia. According to Baxter, many German settlers in Canada maintained close family and religious ties with their relatives in PA and MD. By mid 1830's immigrants to "Berlin, Canada" were from all parts of Germany: Baden, Bayern, Hessen-Darmstadt, Elsass-Lothrington, Holstein, Mecklenburg, Wurrtemberg, and from the German settled areas of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. No single religious group predominated.


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