Skippack Historical Society

FAU Libraries. "Emma Lazarus". Webpage by FAU Libraries. URL: Last updated 15 July 2002.

Lazarus, Emma. "The New Colossus". (11/2004)

Ruth, John L. "Maintaining the Right Fellowship" (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald P., 1984) 86-110

The Pennsylvania Gazette, October 5, 1732, in "Old Time News" PR, I (Dec.1894) 60. Quoted in Ruth 109.

Ziegler, Gertrude. "The Ziegler Family and Related Families in Pennsylvania". C.Campbell Printing: Zelienople, Pa. 1978. P77-78.


Mennonite Persecution & Migration to America

Decades before the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, people were fleeing Europe for the new world. The period during the late 1600's and well into the 1700's saw tens of thousands of migrants leaving to seek peace, freedom, and opportunity to build a better life. Many were fleeing tyranny and persecution from religion. Many settlers were quite poor when they arrived. The abusive conditions of their homeland did not offer an opportunity to improve their quality of life.

Decades before the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, people were fleeing Europe for the new world. The period during the late 1600's and well into the 1700's saw tens of thousands of migrants leaving to seek peace, freedom, and opportunity to build a better life. Many were fleeing tyranny and persecution from religion. Many settlers were quite poor when they arrived. The abusive conditions of their homeland did not offer an opportunity to improve their quality of life.

Settlers to Pennsylvania and other colonies included persecuted people of Germany, then known as the Palatine, and Switzerland. The Palatinate was governed by "Duches", the regional authority ruling over their land on which Mennonites and other people lived and worked. The people of these regions, primarily of the Mennonite faith, had limited rights and freedoms to do what they pleased. They were restricted and heavily taxed by the government and the local landlords. For example, if they purchased rights to a property, the previous owner could later reverse the sale.

We include the following as it may be interesting and informative to the reader. It is an account of the struggle of immigrants to America as well illustrated by author John Ruth in his work titled "Maintaining the Right Fellowship". It gives clear insight to understand the conditions forcing migration and the measures taken, although minimal, to try to alleviate the migration and assist the suffering migrants.

An especially tumultuous year was 1709. This was one of the early years that saw a wave of emigrants from the German Palatinate traveling down the Rhine River to Rotterdam. Ships leaving the port of Rotterdam traveled to London. From London they hoped to find passage on ships to the new world. Arriving in Rotterdam, a group of Mennonites was said to have been so poor that they had brought hardly enough necessary clothing, much less money for the fare to London or the journey over the Atlantic. (Ruth 86) By late April, 852 Palatines were sent to England. The emigrants were arriving to the city of London in such large groups that more than 1,200 were sent in May with another 4,000 to follow less than a month later. The authorities in Rotterdam were becoming concerned at the size and cost of this human wave.

In London, crowds of British would gather to look at the poor Palatines or tease the Catholic emigrants traveling with them. As the flow of migrants remained uncontrolled, Queen Anne went to hear firsthand their reasons for emigrating from the Palatinate. A collection was legislated to accept donations. Officials debated about where to ship or how to employ the emigrants, with 1,000 arriving per week. (Ruth 87) Quakers in London, who interviewed them, found that their reason for leaving Germany was due to poverty and harsh conditions. The migrants had hoped the Queen would pay their fare to Carolina or Pennsylvania, claiming that they read books promising this. (Ruth 88)

By fall 1709, the refugee migrants arriving in London from Rotterdam were nearing 13,000. The government of Rotterdam sent two messengers up the Rhine River towards the Palatinate to stop any immigrants headed in their direction. By letting them know of the difficulties and payment of their return fares to the Palatinate, the two men believed that a thousand people may have turned around by their effort. But even after this, 1,100 more left the port of Rotterdam for London. The British government was now disgusted with this uncontrolled migration and was shipping back subsequent arrivals. A royal declaration was sent to the Continent warning that any who might still travel should turn around as they would find it useless, or that they should be able to support themselves. The campaign was effective, the groups of migrants reluctantly stopped coming. (Ruth 89)

In Switzerland, terrible persecution was also building. The Canton of Bern, Switzerland deported Anabaptists (including Mennonites), about the year 1710. (Ruth 89) A whole boatload of Mennonite prisoners, being deported, had been freed from their Swiss guard while coming down the Rhine river with sick men, women and children. (Ruth 90) The persecution against the Mennonites was bloody and severe.

In 1716, the Palatine region had a new, Catholic elector presiding over the people. He doubled the fee charged to the Mennonites for the privilege to practice their religion. He limited their land-purchasing privileges, which put pressure on some thirty Mennonite based communities. He did not relax restrictions placed against Mennonites from practicing trades. Taxes continued to be a heavy burden. And so, in 1716, a new desire to migrate began, which dwarfed the previous migration arriving to the port of Philadelphia. (Ruth 93)

The freedom in the new world that William Penn had received from the King was becoming known around the German region. Prior to this, Penn had traveled to the Palatine after hearing of the religious persecution there, and befriended the Mennonites. With his land, he was then able to offer them and others a place to build a community where people of all religions would live in peace. The Mennonites came to the new world to seek relief of heavy taxation and religious restrictions. Also important was the chance for them to buy land with their rights of ownership protected.

In 1717, many refugees were still leaving (or deported from) Bern, Switzerland, and not able to find permanent housing in Holland or the Palatine region. Pressure was again building to leave the Palatinate. (Ruth 95) Another wave of immigration began in 1717, including three shiploads of 363 immigrants arriving at Philadelphia late that summer. (Ruth 96)

Pennsylvania Royal British Governor William Keith became concerned about the volume of arrivals from Germany who had spread throughout the countryside. These newcomers had not carried any certificates from their homeland. Keith felt they should take some sort of oath or show loyalty in some way to the King. (Ruth 98)

A letter written (about 1726) by Peter Roth in Germany to his brother Johannes Roth in Pennsylvania says that they are heavily burdened. They are required to pay a militia tax, palace tax, building tax and a monthly tax. Also that there is an order by the civil authorities to sequester the property of all Mennonites for their earnest money. In 1725, a Mennonite family, named Landes, purchased a property near a Palatine village but it was nullified by the electoral regime after Catholics in the region objected. Afterwards, any member of the Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed churches could legally demand that Mennonites return their land purchases. (Ruth 104) This denial of a normal right (to purchase property) once again sent a shock of dismay through the Mennonite community. (Ruth 105)

To financially assist their European relatives and encourage them from trying to migrate, the Dutch Mennonites were sending substantial donations to the Palatine Mennonites,...the congregation at Rotterdam gave a Sunday offering of 1,487 guilders for this purpose (large for the time).

For the third time since 1709 another wave of emigrants was gathering. The Amsterdam "Committee", realizing that the emigrants would not be stopped no matter what they said, asked how many were coming. This caused them to send an urgent message to Pennsylvania that the preachers there should explain clearly to the congregation that they must not advise their poor friends to leave the Palatinate. The preachers were to say, that if the Palatines stayed at home they would receive help there. (Ruth 105)

Later, in 1732, there was another move by emigrants leaving the Palatinate sailing down the Rhine on large boats. As published in the Pennsylvania Gazette of 1732, they were reported to be fleeing "hard usage, intolerable servitude, and religious grievances" (qtd. in Ruth 109). When more than 3,000 emigrants of different religious persuasions had arrived in Rotterdam, the Mennonite Committee there finally decided they had enough of this migration. They passed a resolution, in July of 1732, that they would no more help the Palatines travel, for any reason whatsoever, except for return fare. This bold message seems to have had a considerable effect among the 600 or more Mennonite families remaining in the Palatinate. Afterwards, their migrations fell off sharply. (Ruth 109)

The Mennonite Committee also circulated discouraging stories of experiences aboard ships crossing the Atlantic. One ship carrying Palatines to Philadelphia, in 1732, had a worse journey than usual taking 4 months and losing 60 passengers. Another story of those arriving without the means to pay their fare, such as many of the younger immigrants, who were forced to be bound as a servant for 3 to 8 years to a master who would pay their fare and provide lodging. (Ruth 110)

Even the main body of the Schwenkfelder faith can be found arriving from Germany, in 1734. They fled a life of threats and harassment from living in a Catholic territory.

The immigrants took great risks to arrive in America. To give an idea of they might have experienced on a sea voyage, the author Ziegler includes the following:

The immigrants were crowded together on small ships. Many of them slept in beds on the deck or on the deck floor itself. When a storm came up, they "reefed" the sails, fastened the rudder, and closed the portholes which left everyone sitting in darkness. Infants, children and elderly often died, sometimes without notice. If the trip took longer than expected, the food rations were often depleted because they ate too much in the beginning of the voyage. After a month and half at sea, when they should have been near land, soundings would be made to judge their distance to land. When they were close, those who survived were overjoyed. The gloom and despair onboard the ship was substituted by anticipation and prayer. A dairy entry by an unknown immigrant mentions that brethren and sisters came in small boats to meet the ship, with bread and fruit, for which the immigrants gave praise to the Highest, publicly onboard with singing and shouts of joy. The immigrants cried and thanked the Lord for having preserved them. (Ziegler 77-78)

Today, immigrants still arrive to the shores of America for similar reasons. This movement is reflected in the poem on the Statue of Liberty. It was written by a young Jewish girl, of her belief in the democracy of the United States, at a time when persecuted and repressed peoples were leaving in Europe. Her name was Emma Lazarus, born in 1849, in New York City. (FAU Libraries) In 1883, she wrote the words of "Lady Liberty" as if she were saying "...With silent lips, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Lazarus)

Those happy in their homeland will more likely stay in their homeland, however, people around the world, repressed by social and economic conditions, will continue to look at America as a place where people live in freedom.

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