Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

We went on board the Concord at Gravesend, the 24th, 5th month, and after we lost sight of England, which was in about three weeks time, we were forty-nine days before we saw land in America, and the 1st 8th month, some of us went ashore in Pennsylvania. The blessing of the Lord did attend us, so we had a very comfortable passage, and had our health all the way.

With these words James Claypoole announced to his brother Edward the arrival of the first Ger­man settlers in Pennsylvania. They were the van­guard of a people who would represent nearly half of the citizens of Pennsylvania by the time of the Revolution, and by the 1980s would number over seven million. German-Amer­icans, like the other immigrants in a nation of immigrants, would make substantial contributions in art, literature, music, politics and other fields.

Political activities were one area of special interest. The first German settlement at Germantown received a charter in 1691 and governed itself as a corporation within Pennsylvania until 1707. Early English leaders, men like James Logan and Benjamin Franklin, were fearful of the influence of these Ger­man settlers, whose language and practices were different from those of the English. Because of the long-term signifi­cance of Germans in Pennsylvania and the United States, it is useful to look in more detail at the way in which they lived in this first community.

Thirty-three people of Crefeld came with Claypoole, pay­ing fifty pounds apiece for the journey on the Concord, captained by William Jeffries. The leader of the Crefelders, Francis Daniel Pastorius, and the Quaker agent Benjamin Furly negotiated with Claypoole for passage on this “brave, stout, strong vessel.” The Concord was thirty-two feet broad, one hundred and thirty feet long, and carried a crew of forty with twenty-six guns. However, the captain had promised to stow at least a third of these guns away on the voyage.

In the first month of 1683, Claypoole advised the prospec­tive German colonists on what would be needed in the New World. Butter and cheese, as well as “apparel of all sorts to serve 2 or three years ” were first to be recommended. In addi­tion, other items would help in establishing life in this new world: “English money, or dollars, netts for fish, and gunns for fowle and wild bears.” While iron work and tools would prove useful in building houses, the English Navigation Acts prohibited their shipment, in the belief that this would be detrimental to the industry of the mother country.

Most useful in the New World would be servants, “any that are able and industrious.” Four years service would be suffi­cient time for them to pay back the costs of their passage and clothing, and then they would be free. The most desired ser­vants would be carpenters, joiners, masons and bricklayers, for establishing a new town would require considerable labor.

The conditions under which these settlers would live in the New World would be arduous. Penn’s agent, Claypoole, de­scribed his own lodging as “a house like a barn without a chimney 40 feet long and 20 broad, with a good dry cellar under it.”

Pastorius noted that from the poverty of its settlers some called it “Armentown” (Poortown). “Many of the settlers could not procure themselves provisions for even a few weeks … it cannot be adequately described . . . in what want and poverty … this Germantown was begun.”

What then led these men and women to come to the New World? Their motivation was no doubt a mixture of religious and economic concerns. Claypoole wrote in January 1683:

There is great persecution in most places in England. At London we are kept out of our meetings and sev­eral friends carried to prison & their goods stranded in divers places but truth prospers and ye Lord is with us.

His next line, however, deals not with the Old World persecu­tion, but with the hope of gain in the New World: “Give me orders about sending thy quitrent deed.” It was this hope for better conditions that was behind the investment of the Frank­furt Company in Germantown lands, and behind the move of individuals such as Jan Lensen, a poor linen weaver who re­ceived land and weaving equipment from the Strepers family in return for teaching their son the “Art and Mystery of Weaving.” Pastorius, while describing the poverty of the early arrivals, also noted their “Christian contentment and unwearied industry.”

These thirty-three settlers shared a background full of trials which prepared them for hardships in America. Most came from an area which would ultimately become Ger­many, but which, at the time, was subject to William, Prince of Orange. They, and fellow-settlers from Kresheim, spoke Dutch and some German and were members of thirteen inter­related families, most with roots in the Dutch Mennonite community which had fled Holland because of persecution.

In 1670 the Mennonites of Crefeld were refused permission to build a meetinghouse, but by 1695 this privilege was granted. Even as the Mennonite community was achieving citizenship and respectability, many were converting to Quaker beliefs, which were not as yet tolerated by the author­ities. The first Quaker missionary in the Crefeld area was Wil­liam Ames, whose ministries began around 1657.

By 1670 a severe persecution of the Quakers had begun, and many of the Englishmen who would be instrumental in the move to the New World came into contact with the Crefeld group. It is not clear whether William Penn visited Crefeld in 1677; probably he did not, although he and Benjamin Furly were in the general vicinity. Another Friend, Stephen Crisp, did visit the Friends there in 1669 and in 1678, and the follow­ing year Roger Longworth did likewise. Longworth, and Jacob Telner, a Mennonite merchant of Amsterdam who con­verted to Quakerism, were to be significant figures in the movement of this community to Pennsylvania.

Severe persecution, then, also sparked the move to Pennsyl­vania. In 1680 Pieter Hendricks gave Longworth the follow­ing account:

Concerning the Crevelt friends, they have beene ban­ished and sent away twice with a threatening from ye deputies of Crevelt the last time if they come in againe they should be whipt and burnt on theire backs …. ye husbandman Johannes (Bleickers) was beaten grievously of late, by 2 of his neighbors, when he was passing them, and they saying good Even, and he not answering them, they kicked him and struck him downe and tread upon him & dragged him by ye haire soe yet he was necessitated to keepe his bed in greate paine ….

It comes as no surprise, then, to find the Crefeld Friends migrating to Pennsylvania. In fact, the meeting in Crefeld was dissolved by 1686. In 1683 and 1684 at least twenty-five fam­ilies came to Germantown from Crefeld. Other German towns sending migrants included Neuwied, Muhlheim, Koln and Mors – the German Town of Pennsylvania was well under­way.

These settlers had desired “land to be set out on a Navi­gable River … ” but they finally accepted the land along an Indian trail near the Schuylkill, but not along it. Here, be­tween today’s Wayne Junction and Washington Lane, the linen weavers and craftsmen planted gardens and vineyards in their town plots.

On March 7, 1684 Francis Daniel Pastorius, who had sailed on the America in August of 1683, wrote a lengthy letter about the new settlement. From Philadelphia he wrote:

Two hours from here lies our Germantown, where already forty-two persons live in twelve households, who are mostly linen weavers, and are not too well skilled in the culture of the ground. These honest people expended nearly all their means upon the journey …. the road to the said Germantown they have already bravely beaten into a path …. Of the Crefelders none have as yet passed away by death, except Herman op den Graeff’s decrepit mother.

This same Herman op den Graeff wrote a description of the journey and settlement in February of 1684. He recounts that more difficulty was had in going from Holland to England than from England to America. Every family received land in proportion to the numbers of people who came in their party, and this land was divided into three locations: a three-acre town lot, forty acres near the town, and land further from town.

The wild land contained oaks, chestnuts and poplar trees, grape vines, alder bushes and grass, but Pastorius said in the four months since arrival much work had been done. “Most of us already have our own habitations, and every day more good houses are being built. … We already begin to spin flax …. ”

The village of Germantown itself was founded on October 25, 1683 when the settlers met and cast lots for individual plots of the land in their “town.” The reasons why Penn dis­tributed the land in towns, according to Pastorius, was that “in this manner the children can be kept at school …. neighbors can also offer each other a kind and helping hand, and with united voices in open meeting praise and honor God’s goodness and magnify him.”

These purposes were, indeed, filled in the German Town, if in reverse order. A Quaker meeting at first served the religious needs of all Germantowners and was affiliated with the Abington monthly meeting; a “kirchlein,” or little church building was constructed in 1686. By 1690 the religious com­munity began to fragment, as German Quakers had been joined by Mennonites, Lutherans and others in significant numbers. In 1690 those “opposed to Quakerism” were meet­ing on their own for worship, hearing sermons read by a Men­nonite lay reader, Dirck Keyser.

It was not long before the Germantown Quakers themselves divided over issues raised by George Keith and his followers. Keith, a preacher among the Friends, began to feel led differ­ently from them in relation to such matters as the inner light, the hiring of soldiers, the death sentence, involvement of Friends with government and other issues. Among the Ger­mantown supporters of Keith were Abraham and Herman op den Graeff. Among his vocal opponents was their brother, the Germantown burgess Dirck op den Graeff, whom Keith called “an impudent rascal.”

Keith soon returned to England, became an SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel of the Church of England) minister, and came back to Philadelphia, where many of his former supporters again followed him and joined Christ Church. In his absence, the Germantown Friends again pro­gressed, and in 1705 built a stone meetinghouse on the proper­ty where a later building is still used.

The Lutherans began services in 1694, as a group of Pietists came from Germany under the leadership of Johannes Kelpi­us and Heinrich Bernhard Koster. Their first congregation, St. Michael’s, was not founded, however, until 1727.

The group led by Kelpius became one of the more curious of Germantown religious groups. Kelpius was trained in European universities, and was part of the general “pietist” movement in Europe. The Rosicrucians, a mystical sect claim­ing to have roots in ancient Egypt, have since claimed him as the first of their number in the New World. Kelpius’s ship, the Sarah Maria, sailed from Gravesend on April 18. Regarding the end of their voyage, he notes in his diary that “in the tenth week 19th we all kissed the ground [at Bohemia Manor, Mary­land], 5.2 2 went to New Castle, 5.23 to Philadelphia, and fi­nally 24 to Germantown.”

Soon after arrival they received 175 acres along the Wis­sahickon Creek, where they built a log house and began look­ing for signs of Christ’s coming. Because of this orientation, they were nicknamed the “Woman of the Wilderness” group, after a passage in The Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Here they cast horoscopes and scanned the heavens and were sometimes rewarded by the appearance of angels.

Mennonites established some congregational order in 1698 with the selection of William Rittenhouse, a papermaker from Muhlheim, as pastor and Jan Neuss, a silversmith from Cre­feld, as deacon. In 1702 Jacob Gottshalk from Goch and Hans Neuss of Crefeld were chosen preachers, but it required increased migration of Palatinate refugees to spur the erection of a meetinghouse. In 1708 a log building was erected on the same plot on which the 1770 meetinghouse still stands. That same year Jacob Gottshalk administered baptism to eleven and communion to forty-five. Growth continued so that membership was ninety-nine in 1712.

The second purpose for settling in towns, to “offer each other a kind and helping hand,” was institutionalized in 1691 when Penn granted a charter to the town for a closed corporation to manage its own affairs. Consequently, bailiffs, burgesses, sheriffs, recorders, constables, fence in­spectors and others were appointed and the courts began to function in cases where the hands were not “kind and help­ing.” Stray pigs and chickens, broken fences, name calling and other small concerns were at first the main issues, but by 1693 it was found that stocks were needed “for evil doers.”

Filling the many offices was sometimes a burden in this community of many Quakers and Mennonites, where some had scruples about the use of force, and others had no time or inclination for government. In 1700 the Mennonite Jan Len­sen “appeared in court excusing himself from serving as com­mitteeman because his conscience would not allow it.” Four years later Lensen and his minister, Jacob Gottshalk, ap­peared claiming exemption, saying “they will not betray their neighbors.” For a time, replacement officials could be found for the recalcitrant ones. Finally the last court was held on De­cember 11, 1706, after which the village charter was lost and the laws of the township applied.

Lacer, probably around 1740, the inhabitants petitioned to receive their charter again, citing that the “charter [was held] in Full force till the year 1706, and then were of the opinion chat it would be best … to let the same be dormant. … We now being humbly of opinion that the said Germantownship has so much increased in Inhabitants of late years that we are more capable to officiate the same.” The signers styled them­selves the “offspring and successors of those Germans.”

Establishment of a school, the third reason for town living, occurred in 1702, with Francis Daniel Pastorius as the teacher. Pastorius had been a student at the Universities of Altdorf, Strasburg, Basel and Jena, specializing in law. He opened the community school for Germantown about 1702, before which he taught for the Friends in Philadelphia. In Germamown he received tuition from the parents. An evening school was also held in 1702, and from the students’ names it is clear that girls (Agnes Kunders, Hanna Siverts) as well as boys (Jan Kunders, Peter Keyser) attended. By 1708 the num­ber of parents sending children to the school had increased from eight to fifty-nine, and included Quakers, Mennonites, Wissahickon Hermits and French Huguenots such as James De la Plaine, who had come to Germantown in 1692. Pastori­us also authored a primer, the first such book written in Penn­sylvania.

Pastorius died in 1719, and possibly at this time Christo­pher Dock, the Mennonite-Pietist schoolmaster, taught in Germantown. According to his own account, Dock did teach in Germantown at some point in his life, which closed in 1771.

Other schools were founded upon parochial bases – the Lu­theran school in “Beggarstown” was erected in 1740, the Moravians opened a school in 1746 in John Bechtel’s house, and public schools were begun in lower Germantown in 1760 (the Union) and in upper Germantown in 1775 (the Concord). All of these buildings remain.

In 1689 Pastorius wrote that the town was more than twice as large as originally planned, because “others arriving from Germany wished to remain and live with us in German­town.” As the early years of the eighteenth century passed, Germantown remained a gateway through which many of the Germans passed on their way to settlement in other parts of Pennsylvania.

As these newer immigrants were naturalized, the German influence remained strong in Pennsylvania. The minutes of the state legislature were printed in German well into the nine­teenth century. Customs like the Christmas tree, foods like sauerkraut and scrapple, and musical traditions have spread throughout the country from these German settlers. Public leaders have descended from the Germantown families, with former Pennsylvania governor Samuel Pennypacker de­scended from five lines. Other famous descendants include the founder of the Cunard steamship lines, the abolitionist Elisha Tyson, and President Theodore Roosevelt.

Germantown itself was incorporated into the City of Phila­delphia in 1854, but it has a number of unique achievements of its own. Among them, it has been a major textile manu­facturing center, an important underground railroad site and an early railroad terminus. The prediction of one of the first settlers, van der Walle, seems to have been borne out: “It seems as if God has great things in store for this place.


Robert F. Ulle is president of the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania and is currently employed as a historian by both the Germantown Mennonite Church Corporation and the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. A graduate of Eastern College in American history and presently a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, he is a co-author, with Richard MacMaster and Samuel Horst, of Conscience in Crisis (Herald Press, 1979), a source book on Mennonites in the American Revolution, and has published numerous arti­cles on Mennonites and on black history in Pennsylvania.