The Palatines of New York


“Birds perished on the wing,” says Conrad Weiser, one of the émigrés from the devastated Palatinate. “Beasts in their lairs, and mortals fell dead in the way.” The winter grains were destroyed by severe frosts, as were the fruit trees. Wine froze in their cellars and the vines in their vineyards.

 The Palatines of New York

Rev. Joshua Kocherthal, a Lutheran minister of the Palatinate, visited England in 1704, after the French invasion of the Palatinate in 1703, to inquire about the expediency of emigrating with his people to America. He returned and published a small pamphlet entitled “Full and Circumstantial Report Concerning the Renowned District of Carolina in English America.” In January, 1708, he, together with 61 persons, applied to Davenant, the government agent of England at Frankford-on-the-Main, for passes, money and recommendations to go to England. Davenant refused until their Elector had approved of their departure. In spite of this rebuff Kocherthal and his party found their way through Germany in March, and he arrived in London in April with a band of 41, of whom 26 were Reformed and 15 Lutherans.

The queen considered sending them away to one of the West India islands, as Jamaica or Antigua. (Nothing is mentioned about Carolina.) They, however, objected, as the climate was too warm. So at her expense, after they had been naturalized May 10, they were sent, 54 in number, in company with Lord Lovelace, the new governor, to New York, arriving there January 1, 1709. But Lord Lovelace died by the end of May, 1709, and Kocherthal then returned to England to pray the queen for her support. He came back to find London full of his countrymen, who had been drawn to that city by the very kind reception given to his party the year before. On March 23, 1709, the British government passed the Naturalization Act, which allowed the foreign Protestants to become Citizens. The distressed Palatines having heard of all this kindness of England to the Germans, reasoned that if England would treat his party so well, she would do the same for them.

The “Golden Book”

It was customary at that time for the German land companies, who had taken up lands in Pennsylvania, to scatter flaming advertisements through Germany and Switzerland. The Palatines reported that a circular called the Golden Book (so called because it had a picture of the Queen of England in the front, and because the title page was in letters of gold), had been scattered through Germany. It aimed to encourage them to go to England, so as to be sent to Carolina, or some other of the English colonies.1J.I. Good holds that the “Golden Book” did not exist, per se; however, V. H. Todd and J. Goebel, Christoph von Graffenried’s Account of the Founding of New Bern (N. C. Hist. Com. Pub., Raleigh, N. C., 1920), 14, conclude that the Golden Book is the same as Kocherthal’s.

King Hendrick, chief of the Mohawks, accompained Peter Schuyler on his trip to London.

The refugees began coming to London about May first, and by the end of June there were many thousands there. As most of them were utterly without means, London soon swarmed with beggars. By May 12 their petition was presented to the royal commissioners by the Lutheran minister, Tribekko. The complaints against them, however, became so great that the English government sent an order to Holland, June 24, to prevent any more from coming to London. Still, in spite of it, the English minister allowed 3,000 more to come, as the Dutch would not receive them. The Dutch, too, it is supposed, secretly connived to send them to England so as to get them away from Holland. The city council of Rotterdam placed two yachts on the rivers Waal and Maas, and thus turned one thousand of them back. They continued coming as late as October, 1709, although there is a proclamation of the English government against their coming as late as December. Of the arrivals there are four lists taken by the Lutheran ministers. Of the families (210 in number) 122 were Reformed. The second list is of the arrivals and numbers 1,193. The third list is of the arrivals of June 2, 2,756 in number. The fourth list is of the arrivals of June 11, numbering 1,745. These lists make a total of 6,546. These, however, were not all who arrived. For on June 23, Tribekko asked to be relieved of the onerous task, as the two Lutheran ministers, entrusted with the matter, were worn out, one of them being already sick. So no more lists were kept. The total number that arrived, according to one account, is said to be 15,313, of whom more than half (8,589) were from the Palatinate. We have counted the four lists and find in them that of the heads of families and single men and women, 715 were Reformed, 673 Lutherans, and 516 Catholics, with 12 Baptists, and 3 Mennonites. We do not yet understand why the Reformed Church, of London, is not mentioned as aiding them. Perhaps because the Lutherans were made by the crown their official agents.

England had to bestir herself or these emigrants would starve at her very doors. The London of that day was a small city, and the arrival of so many paupers meant a great strain on her charities. Yet something had to be done and done quickly. The queen was favorable to them, and granted them, out of the royal bounty, 160 pounds daily. So was the Whig party favorable. It was they who had caused the passage of the Foreign Naturalization Act. But their rivals, the Tories, who had opposed that bill, were opposed to the coming of these Palatines. The latter were aided by the lower classes of England, who looked at the arrival of these strangers as interfering with labor and lowering the prices paid for labor. They were also angry as they saw these foreigners getting charities which they thought by right belonged to the English. Besides, the maintenance of the Palatines made the poor taxes heavier. The queen, however, went ahead. Empty warehouses, or dwellings, were taken for them wherever found. The queen also ordered a thousand army tents to be given to them. Barns were used until needed for crops. The parish of Newington put up four buildings for them, whose relics became, known as the Palatine Houses2The Palatine Houses stood for many years. One was later occupied in the 1780’s by John Welsey, and another in the 1820’s by the Quaker Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty. Source British History Online,

The queen also appointed a large committee, consisting of ninety-six persons in all, to receive monies to aid them. This committee was headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord High Chancellor. It consisted of lords, and dukes, and earls, as well as ministers and merchants. Collections were taken throughout the kingdom, and the sum of 19,838 pounds, 11 shillings, and 1 pence was raised for them. The cost of their support while in England was 135,775 pounds and 18 shillings.

The problem before the English people was what to do with these Palatines. They had come unbidden, but they were not to be gotten rid of so easily. A few, but comparatively few, found places in London by going into their trades or entering domestic service. Those that were Catholics (one-tenth it is said) were sent back by the English government, because it did not allow foreign Romanists in England, or in the colonies. She had already had enough political trouble with them. Some of the Romanists, it is said, became Protestants so as not to be returned to Germany. The committee, before mentioned, whose duty it was to collect and receive the monies, was ordered to suggest ways and means of getting rid of the care of these Palatines. The first suggestion made was to settle them in small companies in various parts of England, just as the Elector of Brandenburg had done so successfully with the French refugees, in Brandenburg, at Halle, Magdeburg, etc. But this was found impracticable. Still quite a number settled quietly in some such way. The Palatines were finally disposed of in three ways:

  1. The first party was sent to Ireland, whither it was decided to send 500 families. The parliament voted 24,000 pounds, (16,000 first, and 8,000 later); and 500 families, numbering 3,000, were sent over, beginning in August, and in February 1710, 800 more. They were settled in Munster. An English traveler writes of their descendants early in this century: “They have left off sauerkraut and taken up potatoes, though still preserving their own language.” And another, Kohl, in 1840, says they have not lost their home character for probity and honor, and are mach wealthier than their neighbors.
  2. Another shipment was for the Carolinas [the subject of a future Leben article].
  3. The largest, and the one in which we are presently interested, was the emigration to New York. While the English government was perplexed to know what to do with them, an incident occurred that affected the future of the Palatines. A delegation from New York arrived at London, headed by Mayor Peter Schuyler, of Albany. They brought with them four Mohawk chiefs, as specimens of the new colony, in order that they might be fully impressed with the greatness of England. These Indians, while sightseeing, in London, were taken to see the encampment of the Palatines. “They were so touched,” says Weiser, “at the distress of the Palatines that one of them, unsolicited, presented the queen with a tract of his land in Schoharie, New York, for their benefit.
Governor’s Island

Governor Hunter, the newly appointed governor of New York, proposed to the Board of Trade, November 30, 1709, that 3,000 be sent to New York to produce naval stores for the government—turpentine, rosin, tar and pitch. The Board of Trade brought the matter before the queen, also suggesting that if placed in that colony they would become a barrier against the French and Indians. There is a difference of opinion as to the date of the Palatines’ departure. Weiser says on Christmas day. But Tribekko’s farewell sermon was not preached until January 20, and the queen’s instructions to Hunter were not given till Jan. 26. Kapp places it in April. They sailed from Portsmouth, where their ships had laid some time.

They landed in New York in the summer of 1710. The voyage was long and many became sick. Crowded together in the ships, almost to suffocation, with insufficient food, many of them (407) died. Hardly a family among them had not been touched by death, and there were nearly fifty widows and 100 orphans to be provided for. They landed, as Professor Jacobs says, “a crushed, sick and dispirited band of exiles.” They were in such a sickly condition that the authorities placed them outside the city on Nutten (now Governor’s) Island. In the autumn of 1710, they were removed up the Hudson River and settled on both sides of the river at East Camp (now Germantown) and West Camp, south of Catskill.

They were soon put to work preparing the trees for extracting of tar, etc. They were not very well satisfied with their lot. Still when the war broke out with the French in Canada, 300 of them (about half of the New York contingent of troops, it is said,) volunteered.

Conrad Weiser, which led a party to Pennsylvania in 1728, became a prominent leader among the Germans in that state. He was commorated in this art…for a cigar label. Courtesy of

But the efforts to extract tar from the forests of New York, thus to provide naval stores for England, were not a success. Hunter tried by force to make them do it. But the trouble was the trees would not yield it. The tar bearing trees in America do not grow north of Virginia, and from that district they extend southward to the gulf, and are known as the Georgia pine. Up to the summer of 1712, instead of the expected 50,000 barrels, only three score barrels were made from 100,000 trees. There was another cause for the failure of this effort to make tar. The Whig party, which, as we have seen, supported the Palatines, gave place in England to the Tories, who opposed any more aid to the Palatines. The Board of Trade of London took up their cause, but with a languid interest. Still their slight interest in it led to a correspondence between Governor Hunter and themselves that is very valuable now for its historical references. But as the Tory party, which was now in power, would not aid him, Governor Hunter was compelled to give up the making of tar by the Palatines, as he had involved himself in debt by the undertaking. The Tories repealed the Foreign Naturalization Act in 1712.

The Palatines having made one emigration, were now ready for another. They had become dissatisfied with what they considered the oppressions of Governor Hunter. The vision of Schoharie was ever on their minds as their Mecca and Eldorado. The governor found himself so impoverished by 1712 that he was forced to inform them on October 31 that they must depend on their own resources for support. This news spread consternation among them, as winter was near at hand and starvation threatened them. But with the fertility of resource common to a German they set to work. They remembered the gift of the Indian chieftain in London. They sent a deputation of seven of their leading men to spy out the land.

Susquehanna River

An Indian piloted them to it from Albany. The Indians readily gave them the land, that had been promised to them in London, for $300. They went to Schoharie in two bands. Before the winter set in, the first went to it, consisting of fifty families. These fell to work and in two weeks cleared a way through the woods fifteen miles long at the end of the  journey. They had hardly arrived at their new home when an order from the governor came declaring them rebels, and ordering their return. But it was too late to return, as winter had set in, and besides return meant starvation. During that winter they almost starved, and would have done so if the Indians had not helped them. In March, 1713, the second band of 100 families started from the Hudson. They traveled two weeks through snow three feet deep, suffering much from cold and hunger, the distance being ninety miles. They fondly compared themselves to the Israelites leaving Egypt, and called Governor Hunter their Pharaoh.

They, however, had not been there long before their title to their lands was questioned by unscrupulous men, who claimed it had been given them by the government. When the government tried to gain the territory by force they resisted. The sheriff came against them, when the women took the matter into their own hands, led by Magdalena Zeh, and they rode him on a rail for seven miles or more, and finally left him with two ribs broken and worse indignities, to find his way home. He never returned after that.

William Keith. The engraving first appeared in “Pennsylvania Magazine” v12, #1 in 1888. Courtesy of Graeme Park

Their controversy with the government hung fire for several years. A conference with Governor Hunter in 1717 ended fruitlessly. So they determined to appeal to the English crown for support of their rights. They therefore sent a deputation to London in 1718, consisting of the elder Weiser, Scheff and Walrath. They set out secretly, as Weiser had been ordered by the governor to be hung for insubordination on account of the land titles. They did not sail from New York, but went by way of Philadelphia, where they set sail. But their vessel was taken by pirates and they were robbed. Brought back to Boston, they again set out and arrived at London penniless. They were there thrown into the debtors’ prison. The result of their privations was that Walrath died in London. Scheff quarreled with Weiser and returned to America in 1721, where he died six months after in New York City.

Even in prison they, however, found a way of getting the ear of the king. Their petition was referred to the London Board of Trade. Remittances of money finally came to them from home, and Weiser was released from prison. He kept up the fight for their rights, remaining in London for five years, and in 1725 he returned to New York, having gained nothing. Meanwhile the New York government had not been idle in pressing its claims. It had some of the leaders of the Palatines arrested, among them Conrad Weiser, the younger, who afterwards became the famous Indian interpreter. These were taken to Albany and released only after they had acknowledged the rights of their enemies to the lands.

The Palatines having made two emigrations, were now ready for a third. Dissatisfied with their lot and their treatment, they were ready to seek a home elsewhere. Some of them went over into the Mohawk valley and settled. The others with whom we are most interested came to Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania. It came about in this way. In 1722 Sir William Keith, the governor of Pennsylvania, visited Albany in regard to a treaty with the Indians. He there learned of the distressed condition of the Palatines, and offered them an asylum in Pennsylvania. Many of them lost little time in accepting it. The first company started in the spring of 1723, not more than eight months after Keith’s invitation. They were led by Hartman Vinedecker, and consisted of 33 families. They ascended the Schoharie a few miles, then led by an Indian guide they went over the mountains to the headwaters of the north branch of the Susquehanna. There they constructed rafts or canoes for the women, the children and the furniture, while some of the men drove the cattle down the stream along the shore.

“It was a band of exiles: a raft as it were from a shipwrecked Nation scattered along the coast, now floating together, Bound by the bonds of a common belief and a common misfortune.”

They traveled down the Susquehanna until they came to the mouth of the Swatara Creek, up which they traveled until they came to the district of Tulpehocken, near Lebanon, which they named Heidelberg. They then wrote back to their friends, in New York, of the success of their journey. In 1728 another party started, led by young Conrad Weiser, who afterwards became a leader among the Germans, and died at Womelsdorf, 1760. Such was the romantic story of the Palatine emigration to New York. It does not concern us in Pennsylvania directly, as most of the Germans who settled in New York went into the Dutch Reformed Church. But indirectly it had great influence. For the sufferings of these

Palatines in New York, when they became known among their friends in Germany, so turned their hearts against New York, that they for many years avoided that port.

Abridged from J.I. Good’s History of the Reformed Church in the United States 1725-1792, Daniel Miller, Publisher, Reading, PA 1899, with corrections and notes supplied by the Editors.


1 J.I. Good holds that the “Golden Book” did not exist, per se; however, V. H. Todd and J. Goebel, Christoph von Graffenried’s Account of the Founding of New Bern (N. C. Hist. Com. Pub., Raleigh, N. C., 1920), 14, conclude that the Golden Book is the same as Kocherthal’s.
2 The Palatine Houses stood for many years. One was later occupied in the 1780’s by John Welsey, and another in the 1820’s by the Quaker Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty. Source British History Online,