DOWN in the valley of the Rhine rolled a torrent of ragged men, women and children all summer long in the year 1709. Driven from house and home, waves of hungering people surged out of Germany, where feudal barons and petty princes were taking to themselves what was left by warring hordes in the incessant strife of Gaul and Teuton.
As that mass of misery floated in upon her, little Holland, diked against the sea, was like to be drowned beneath a human flood. Dutch couriers raced up the valley to stop it. As well might they have called a halt to a glacier. Glacier-like, the wretched multitude continued to descend, until Rotterdam had to find passage across the channel for perhaps fifteen thousand in the course of that one summer.
England opened warehouses and pitched tents on Blackheath for her unwelcome guests until she could pass them on to Ireland or ship them over the ocean. More than five hundred of them were sent to North Carolina in the company of some Allemanic Swiss, who gave us the now familiar name of Newbern, which they christened in memory of the capital of Switzerland. More than three thousand of the Palatines, so-called because they came from the Bavarian Palatinate, were landed in New York where they gave us the now historic name of Newburg.
For fourteen years those homeseeking Palatines wandered in the wilderness of New York. At last that human driftwood came to the head of a valley and floated down it. Behold in them some of the Pilgrim fathers and mothers of those thrifty and persistent folk, the "Pennsylvania Dutch."
Often it was more a spiritual than a bodily hunger that brought the Germans to America. And their promised land was Pennsylvania. When William Penn planned a New World refuge for his fellow Quakers in England and Ireland, he visited the Rhineland and invited the persecuted sects of Germany also to share in the asylum he was preparing for his own countrymen and his own sectarians.
A small band accepted Penn's invitation and came in 1683, the year after the coming of the founder himself. It settled at the edge of Philadelphia and the settlement was nicknamed Germantown by its English neighbors. For no German calls himself a German; he is a Deutscher.
Disciples of Menno Simon, or the Mennonites, who came to Pennsylvania in large numbers, were like the English Quakers in that they favored the simple life, the brotherhood of man and opposed war. Dunkers or Dunkards, who also were in the migration, agreed with the Mennonites in the main, but disagreed with their practice of baptism by sprinkling or pouring. Because they insisted on immersion, they were derided as dippers, or tunkers . . . dunkers.
The Dunker also disdained buttons as a sinful vanity (buttons used to be more ornate and ostentatious than nowadays). And the ban has only lately been lifted by some of the faithful. There still are many, even in this land of conformity and standardization, who testify to the austerity of the fathers. And those steadfast "Hook-and-Eye Dunkers" lift up their voices to lament the weak-kneedness of the "Button Dunkers."
The Moravians, so-called, but properly the Brethren's Unity, were another German variation of Quakerism or Puritanism that eagerly grasped Pennsylvania's outstretched hand of religious tolerance. This sect originated in Moravia, which is now a part of Czecho-Slovakia, and it was driven into Germany by the imperial Hapsburgs.
One day a young count, as he was bringing home his bride, saw some of his peasantry building a poor little church in a wood on his estate. He reined up merely in curiosity but he remained to pray with those humble Moravians. For befriending the proscribed sectarians and aiding some of them to escape to America, the chivalrous youth, Count Zinzendorf, got himself into hot water. Following the fugitives over the sea, he came to one of their settlements on the banks of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. Because it was Christmas Eve and the noble guest was lodged in a log house, which was also a stable, he christened the town Bethlehem.
Down that remarkable chain of beautiful, fruitful valleys which stretches from Bethlehem across Pennsylvania and Maryland and through Virginia to North Carolina, the stream of German migration poured. A twentieth-century wayfaring man can trace it by the well tilled farms and imposing barns that mark the course of that eighteenth-century movement of Germans and "Switzers." Their speech also bewrayeth their origin, "Pennsylvania Dutch" having withstood the assaults of two hundred years.
The Germans were the only independent nationality on the Atlantic shore of Europe that did not enter a claim for some part of the New World as its own. According to the Norse sagas, the Norwegians and Icelanders were the first comers. Then, but long afterward, came the Spaniards, followed by the Portuguese, the French, the British, the Dutch, the Swedes and the Danes. But while the western hemisphere thus was being cut up and the slices passed around, Germany missed her share because she was divided into hundreds of sovereignties and unable to obtain a breathing time between the wars that trampled her. Hence her valuable contribution to the making of the American people does not always receive full credit; it was not made in her own name but to the upbuilding of the colonies of another nation.
Nevertheless Pennsylvania remained culturally more German than English until the revolutionary era. More newspapers were printed in that language, and the German Bible was published three times in America before the first English version of it was produced in this country.
Unlike the English Puritans, the German dissenters did not let the devil have all the good things. They kept their Teutonic love of music. Their churches were famed for having the earliest and best pipe organs in the colonies, the best hymnals and the best choirs. The yearly Bach festival at Bethlehem, which remains the center of the Moravians, probably could not be produced by any other of the many racial strains in the American people.
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930