Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

A German manuscript translated as “List of Necessitous Churches and Persons under the care of the Christian Synod of Overyssel prepared by Theodorus Van der Bell, Pastor of Rhynsburg, 1769,” reports on the status of the Dutch and German Reformed churches in Meckelenburg- Schwerin, Debritzin, Hesse-Hamburg, Baden-Durlach, Erkrad, Westphalia, Holstein, Gronow, Grunstad, Gulik, Homburg, Kircheim, Lautrek, Litthauen, Mittauw, Nassau-Saarbruk, Nayla, Nuremberg, Pfaltz, Perouse, Girmasents, Poolsche Kerken, Rhynberg, Samroth, Spiers, Worms, Dresden, Waldensen, Wiesbaden, Frankona, Regensburg, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The record includes information provided by the Reverend Michael Schlatter (1716–1790) concerning his understanding of the situation in Pennsylvania from 1747 to 1759. Born in St. Gallen, Switzerland, Schlatter was educated at the University of Helmstedt in Brunswick, and volunteered to minister to the destitute German and Dutch Reformed congregations in Pennsylvania. He was installed as pastor of the United Churches of Germantown and Philadelphia in 1747, although he was frequently absent while on missionary tours through other parts of Pennsylvania, as well as Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. During his absences, the Reverend John C. Steiner drew away more than half of his Philadelphia congregation in 1750. An incensed Schlatter sailed to Europe the following year to file a complaint with the synods of South and North Holland. He returned to Philadelphia in 1752 with six ministers and more than twenty thousand pounds he had raised in England and Holland to support free schools for Pennsylvania’s German population. His goal of establishing free German schools with instruction conducted in English made him unpopular with the German population, however, and he was forced to abandon the ambitious undertaking in 1757. He served as chaplain of the Royal American Regiment under Major General John Campbell, Fourth Earl of Loudoun (1705–1782), during the French and Indian War, after which he settled in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia to preach.

Van der Bell’s home district of Rhynsberg was and still is located on the Rhine River approximately forty-seven miles northwest of Berlin, so his view of these matters was as a somewhat disinterested outsider. The document, providing insight into the substantial personal and economic challenges confronting the establishment of religious congregations in colonial Pennsylvania, is part of Manuscript Group 3, Church and Cemetery Records Collection, 1764–1882, Series 3m.42, Miscellaneous Records, held by the Pennsylvania State Archives.


Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist with the Pennsylvania State Archives.