A Peculiar Mixture
German-Language Cultures and Identities in Eighteenth-Century North America
Edited by Jan Stievermann and Oliver Scheiding
A Peculiar Mixture
German-Language Cultures and Identities in Eighteenth-Century North America
Edited by Jan Stievermann and Oliver Scheiding
“The essays in this book make a strong case for understanding the immigrant experiences of the Germans who came to America in the eighteenth century through the lens of cultural history, abetted by material culture, the history of the book, and close literary analysis. This is a deeply informative book and one that deserves broad attention.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
Aside from the editors, the contributors are Rosalind J. Beiler, Patrick M. Erben, Cynthia G. Falk, Marie Basile McDaniel, Philip Otterness, Liam Riordan, Matthias Schönhofer, and Marianne S. Wokeck.
“The essays in this book make a strong case for understanding the immigrant experiences of the Germans who came to America in the eighteenth century through the lens of cultural history, abetted by material culture, the history of the book, and close literary analysis. This is a deeply informative book and one that deserves broad attention.”
“This is an excellent collection of recent scholarship on the changing and diverse nature of German-speaking people and their culture in eighteenth-century America. In recent years, as the result of scholars using transatlantic perspectives and conceptualizations, Germans have become the most thoroughly researched immigrant ethnic group of the period, and this volume demonstrates why. Following a lucid introduction by Jan Stievermann, the book includes essays by a mixture of young and established scholars who elaborate on the work of the past twenty years and employ new interdisciplinary perspectives to deepen our understanding of early America.”
“What did it mean to be ‘German’ in eighteenth-century British North America? The insightful essays in A Peculiar Mixture take up that question—and complicate it—in fresh ways by exploring shifting experiences of ethnicity, culture, and identity. Notable is the interdisciplinary combination of material culture, literature, and new manuscript sources that animate these studies. A remarkable and creative collection.”
“These essays break new ground. In important respects this collection will further the work of bringing German American studies more fully into the mainstream of the study of early America.”
“The range of topics and of methodologies in this collection is impressive. The essays chart a roadmap of what should and must be done in order to fully appreciate the position, role, and culture of Germans in North America. For German and American scholars, the volume represents at the same time a huge challenge to squarely accept America's multiethnic society as a linguistically demanding as well as neglected research field. Reading these fine contributions should stimulate scholars to engage more energetically with a multiethnic Atlantic history.”
“A Peculiar Mixture is a fine collection; scholarly stand-alone chapters are even better as part of a whole. This is an essential collection for all scholars of early America and Atlantic history.”
“The collection of essays in A Peculiar Mixture serves the scholarly community in at least two ways. For those actively engaged in studies of ethnicity, migration, and cultural history, it provides a solid contribution to the chapter on German-speaking immigrants to North America. For those of us in German American studies, it is a cautionary model. We can and should move beyond older visions of what scholarship on German immigration can be.”
Jan Stievermann is Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at the University of Heidelberg.
Oliver Scheiding is Professor of American Literature at Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz.
Part 1 Migration and Settlement
1 Rethinking the Significance of the 1709 Mass Migration
Marianne S. Wokeck
2 Information Brokers and Mediators: The Role of Diplomats in the Migrations of German-Speaking People, 1709–1711
Rosalind J. Beiler
3 The Palatine Immigrants of 1710 and the Native Americans
Part 2 Material and Intellectual Cultures in the Making
4 Of Dwelling Houses, Painted Chests, and Stove Plates: What Material Culture Tells Us About the Palatines in Early New York
Cynthia G. Falk
5 (Re)Discovering the German-Language Literature of Colonial America
Patrick M. Erben
6 “Runs, Creeks, and Rivers Join”: The Correspondence Network of Gotthilf Henry Ernst Mühlenberg
Part 3 Negotiations of Ethnic and Religious Identities
7 Divergent Paths: Processes of Identity Formation Among German Speakers, 1730–1760
Marie Basile McDaniel
8 Defining the Limits of American Liberty: Pennsylvania’s German Peace Churches During the Revolution
9 Pennsylvania German Taufscheine and Revolutionary America: Cultural History and Interpreting Identity
For the most part the author’s artless and unornamented account of the habits of various Europeans and of the American savages, of their laws, their customs, their domestic and religious institutions, is new, and of such a nature that the reflective reader will be delighted to perceive in it a peculiar mixture of the European and the American environment, of the customs of the Old and the New World, and of a people living partly in civilization and partly in a state of natural freedom.
—From the preface to Gottlieb Mittelberger’s Journey to Pennsylvania
Hoping to pique the curiosity of potential buyers, the anonymous editor of Gottlieb Mittelberger’s travel account, Journey to Pennsylvania, highlighted in 1756 some of the issues that occupy scholars in the discipline of early American studies today. For quite some time now, deepened attention has been given to the ethnic and religious diversity of the peoples who came to British North America, especially the middle colonies, as well as to the persistent plurality of “their laws, their customs, their domestic and religious institutions”—all of which confused and appalled poor Gottlieb Mittelberger. There has also been substantial interest in the complex relations between the various groups of European colonists and the many different tribes of “American savages” among whom they settled. Moreover, historians have called into question long-prevalent narratives about progressive Americanization of immigrant populations, as they have challenged cherished assumptions about the preservation of authentic European traditions in the New World. Instead, recent studies tend to emphasize that the development of colonial cultures, religions, and identities was characterized everywhere, as Mittelberger’s editor put it, by a “peculiar mixture of the European and the American environment, of the customs of the Old and the New World” (eine besondere Vermischung des europäischen und amerikanischen Climatis, der Sitten der alten und neuen Welt). Scholars have also shown that these heterogeneous mixtures never fully blended into a new whole, but remained full of tensions and contradictions.
Ironically, the issues that struck Mittelberger’s editor upon reading the descriptions of Pennsylvania—those issues that so clearly resonate with contemporary concerns—have not featured prominently in the historiography of the so-called Pennsylvania Germans. The history of this minority was, in the interpretations offered from the late nineteenth century well into the second half of the twentieth century, dominated by questions about the German contribution to a later national culture and about the persistence or assimilation of specific ethnic and denominational traditions. Themes such as cross-cultural contacts and conflicts in a pluralistic environment, or transatlantic processes of identity formation, were largely ignored. Indeed, the scholarship concerned with German-speaking people in early America has been rather slow to catch up with the trends that have reconfigured the discipline. Given that this group constituted not only the largest but also one of the most culturally and religiously diverse body of immigrants to the middle colonies (exactly those colonies that have come to displace the more homogenous New England as the paradigm of early American history), this is all the more surprising. To be sure, the last two decades or so have seen a good number of pioneering works that have examined various aspects of German religion and culture from an Atlantic perspective, which has given new impetus to the field. Too much of the specialized literature is still tied, though, into nation- or denomination-centered frameworks of interpretation. Much work continues to be informed by essentialist concepts both of German ethnicity and of Americanness and demonstrates a reliance on antiquarian or positivistic approaches to history.
Building on the theoretical insights and findings of recent revisionist scholarship, this volume seeks to contribute to modernizing and further advancing the study of transatlantic German cultures and identities during the colonial period by bringing together nine original case studies that all try out innovative interdisciplinary methodologies and explore fresh avenues of inquiry. Taken together, these case studies add considerably to the ongoing transformation of how we understand the bewildering multiplicity and complexity, as well as the besondere Vermischung, of Old World practices and New World influences that characterized the experience of German-speaking people in the middle colonies. Simultaneously, this collection of essays broadens our knowledge of how the various cultural expressions of German speakers in British North America functioned as a site of negotiation between particular regional, religious, and denominational traditions, a new sense of ethnic solidarity, and, eventually, a national identity.
The essays in this collection grew from presentations given during an international symposium held at Mainz University in 2009 to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the first large-scale German migration to British North America, an event that constituted a watershed in several ways. Small bands of German-speaking settlers had, of course, come to British North America during the seventeenth century: the 1683 arrival of Francis Daniel Pastorius and the famous thirteen Krefeld families certainly marks an important event in this context, but by no means an absolute beginning. In 1709, this trickle turned into a stream when thousands began to leave the Palatinate and other parts of southwestern Germany to make their way up the Rhine to Rotterdam and from there to England. With ever more boats full of “poor Palatines” coming in, the British government soon changed its initially welcoming attitude and clamped down on further migration across the channel. By that time some 14,000 people had been housed in refugee camps on the outskirts of London. The problems caused by these camps and the realization that their inhabitants were, for the most part, economic refugees rather than Protestant brethren in distress who had escaped French persecution led the authorities to solve the crisis in a rather ruthless manner. While the Catholics were simply sent home, a large portion of the Protestants (about 3,000) were, against their own will, relocated to Ireland. The British government eventually allowed fewer than 4,000 to proceed to the colonies, of which only about 600 were allowed to go to their desired designation, North Carolina. The rest ended up in the woods of New York, where Governor Hunter thought he could use them to produce tar and pitch for the navy—a misapprehension that brought Hunter nothing but trouble and many of the Palatines near to starvation. In 1712, the project was abandoned, and most Palatines left their original settlements along the Hudson, dispersing in search of new homes in New York and the neighboring colonies.
Although the migration of 1709 was a disaster by most accounts, a precedent had been established. While prior to 1709 German colonists were associated primarily with religious minorities, from then on emigration also became an option for many nonminorities seeking better opportunities in the New World. Up until the American Revolution, the “poor Palatines” of 1709 were followed by roughly another 90,000 German-speaking migrants, who arrived in British North America in several large waves during the 1730s, 1740s, and 1750s. Linguistically, culturally, and religiously, these migrants were quite disparate. They came from various regions of the Holy Roman Empire, including the Palatinate, Württemberg, the Westerwald area, the Rhineland, Alsace, and the territories of Hesse, Hanau, and Baden, as well as Switzerland. Although members of sectarian groups, such as the Mennonites, Dunkers, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders, continued to come and play a significant role, the vast majority of arrivals after 1709 were “church people” (i.e., Lutherans or Reformed). For all of them, the preferred destination was the middle colonies, and it has been estimated that about 80 percent of them settled in Pennsylvania. In the multiethnic population of Pennsylvania, German-speaking people would constitute the largest group of non-English origin. By 1775, they accounted for nearly 10 percent of the mainland British colonial population and about 30 percent in Pennsylvania.
The agenda of the Mainz symposium, which informs this collection of essays, was, first of all, to reassess the migration of 1709 and its larger significance. We wanted to know more about why so many ordinary Palatines decided to up and go, apparently suddenly, and what exactly they expected to find in the New World. To accomplish this, the symposium called for a move beyond the familiar account of “push-and-pull” factors. No doubt the 1709 emigrants were indeed frustrated with an oppressive social system and driven by chronic poverty and the recent devastation caused by the War of the Spanish Succession. No doubt they did dream of cheap land, better living conditions, and, in the cases of sectarians, freedom from religious oppression. Yet this doesn’t explain why these factors took effect precisely in 1709, or why the hopes of these Palatines were fixed on British North America rather than Hungary or other parts of eastern Europe, as was true for many other German emigrants during this period. In accordance with recent developments in the field of migration history, we thus asked for an interrogation of 1709 with the help of sociological and cultural studies theories. Through these theories, a mass exodus such as the one of 1709 could be analyzed as a “discursive event,” which, by means of print media and oral communication, created a reality that was in many ways independent of any verifiable “push-and-pull” factors, but which nevertheless powerfully shaped the decisions and thus the real lives of emigrants. The most spectacular example of this would certainly be the Ausführlich- und Umständlicher Bericht von der berühmten Landschafft Carolina, in dem Engelländischen America gelegen (A complete and detailed report of the renowned district of Carolina located in English America), written by Joshua Kocherthal (also known as Joshua Harrsch) in 1709. Writing in the service of the Carolina proprietors, who were looking for new settlers, this Lutheran pastor from the Kraichgau glowingly described the Carolinas as a second Eden and thereby did much to inspire the mass exodus from the Palatinate. We also asked scholars to take a closer look at how the Palatines actually got to the colonies, if they got there at all, and at the challenges they faced en route. Of special interest to us were the complex roles played in this process by various kinds of recruiting or migration agents, who alternately coaxed and rebuffed the migrants, as well as by philanthropists, who supported and then often abandoned the “poor Palatines.” Moreover, we encouraged a more thorough investigation of the fate of the 1709 migrants once they arrived in British North America.
The second basic aim of the conference was to explore new facets in the sociopolitical, religious, cultural, and literary history of the fast-growing community of German speakers in the middle colonies after 1709. Here the focus was on the transatlantic networks through which the various German-speaking settler communities kept in touch with kin, churches, or intellectual developments in their old homes, and on the different experiences and exchanges they had with the multiplicity of ethnic and religious communities around them. How did they interact or clash with, say, English-speaking Quakers, Scots Irish Presbyterians, African slaves, or the different indigenous tribes they met on the frontiers? What effects did these encounters have on the religious, cultural, juridical, and economic practices imported from the Old World? How did their traditional practices and ideas inversely affect the (literary) culture of the people with whom they came into contact? What traces did these encounters and conflicts leave in the broad range of surviving cultural artifacts, including literary media—biographies, travel writings, tracts, poetry, broadsides, hymnbooks, taufscheine or other works of frakturschrift, etc.—but also items of visual and material culture, such as paintings, maps, devotional objects, tools, clothing, architecture, or furniture? And how did these processes of transculturation affect the (re)formation of collective identities, both religious and ethnic, among the different groups of German immigrants and their descendants? In other words, how did German immigrants reform their identities as “Pennsylvanians” or even “Americans,” and how did the importation of their heritage, as well as their ongoing cultural exchange across the Atlantic, affect the other “American” communities around them?
The response to these questions posed in our call for papers was quite impressive, reflecting the momentum that currently drives the field. Over three tightly packed days, papers were read by leading experts as well as junior scholars, and the group engaged in lively discussions. It is to be hoped that the resulting collection of essays, with its relatively small selection of expanded papers, not only conveys some of the excitement and vitality of this memorable gathering, but also shares, in condensed form, the new insights and conceptual advances that all felt they had gained from this confluence of various kinds of expertise and complementary perspectives. True to the nature of our symposium, the contributors to this collection come from multiple disciplines. As historians, as well as scholars of literary studies or material culture, they naturally take different methodological approaches to their respective subjects. All, however, share the conviction that the study of German-speaking people in the colonial period has to be moved forward through interdisciplinary work. They are consequently united in their effort to cross institutional and intellectual boundaries and consider materials, methodologies, and theories that traditionally have been outside of their disciplinary domain.
This effort may be most strikingly exemplified by the essays of Cynthia Falk and Liam Riordan. While Falk, a specialist in early American material culture, seeks to read reflections of changing identities in the architectural remains of German settlements in New York by applying theories developed in the fields of cultural studies and ethnography, Riordan, a traditional, text-centered historian by training, branches out into the study of pictorial artifacts to learn more about how Pennsylvania Germans expressed their newly assertive sense of ethnic particularity in the aftermath of the Revolution. Falk’s and Riordan’s essays, with their examinations of German houses, furniture, and taufscheine, illustrate a willingness to utilize hitherto understudied or overlooked archives and material-culture sources—a willingness evinced by every contribution to this collection. Both assert the importance of making mixed pictorial-textual evidence more central to our understanding of the past. Patrick Erben’s piece, to give another example, makes a passionate plea to finally give adequate attention to the rich heritage of colonial literature in German, especially the religious poetry and hymnody of radical Pietists, while demonstrating how rewarding such a rediscovery can be. In addition to this interdisciplinary spirit and a common commitment to the recovery of neglected German materials, all the essays in this volume share two fundamental theoretical orientations, explicitly or implicitly, which strongly bear on their specific interests in and interpretation of the “German experience” in early America. One is a transatlantic conceptualization of American history, and the other a nonessentialist understanding of ethnicity as a subjective category largely defined by cultural practices and historical context.
Generally speaking, the turn toward an “Atlantic” or “transatlantic” conceptualization of American history implies that the nation should not be seen as the basic unit of, or sole framework for, cultural and literary analysis, as it often was in traditional historiography. On the most basic level, an Atlantic perspective (which includes not only Europe and the Americas but also the coastal regions of Africa) thus involves attention to the myriad ways in which events and developments in the territory of the (future) United States were connected to and influenced by happenings and changes across the Atlantic world, and vice versa. Furthermore, such an approach demands a move beyond Anglocentrism and the accompanying monolingualism, and, maybe most important, an avoidance of the kind of national(istic) narratives of American exceptionalism that have been so deeply ingrained in our thinking. For early American studies in particular, this entails overcoming the long-standing habit of retrospectively projecting onto the colonial period interpretations that lead, teleologically, to the constitution of a cultural totality, however internally diversified, in which some notion of “Americanness” is seen as dominating and ultimately containing all other levels of expression and identity formation. In a programmatic study, Hermann Wellenreuther recently reminded us that to study early American history from a transatlantic perspective requires much more than a heightened awareness of the European roots of what came to unfold in the colonies. It requires a fundamental problematization of an interpretative paradigm that instinctively searches for an American proprium and therefore, as a matter of routine, assumes that those who came to the New World (be it by immigration or enslavement), together with their cultural traditions and churches, inevitably underwent a metamorphosis into something new and distinctively American.
Instead of thinking about early American culture and literature as developing “from seeds to flowering” in the fashion of an autonomous, self-evolving, quasi-organic unity, we should conceive of it as an ever-shifting and tangled “web of contact zones,” with a plurality of different native and colonial cultures interacting not only with one another but also with cultures and traditions from outside the colonies. Likewise, the various groups of settlers, indigenous tribes, and African slaves inhabiting British North America should not be regarded as discrete, stable, or unified cultural blocks, even though, of course, they were separated by substantial differences. They should rather be seen as highly interdependent and fluid entities, whose cultures have constantly been redefined and creolised. Attention should be paid to the ways in which those interactions took place in multiple contacts and conflicts within the colonies and across the Atlantic. Neither a simple continuation of European traditions and identities nor ever fully transformed into a unique American form of existence, it is indeed more helpful to think of these groups as, to use the phrase of Mittelberger’s editor once more, an ever-shifting, “peculiar mixture of the European and the American environment, of the customs of the Old and the New World.” Perhaps nowhere in the collection is this point more strongly hammered home than in Philip Otterness’s exploration of how a good portion of the 1709 immigrants to New York came to settle with the Mohawks and partly “went native,” thereby creating a uniquely creolised, Palatine-Indian identity that is impossible to subsume under any totalizing narrative of Americanization.
As Wellenreuther further points out, a genuinely Atlantic perspective has to be informed by a communicative or dialogic approach that eschews any kind of monodirectionalism in conceiving of the historical causalities and cultural flows between the Old and New World. Such an approach foregrounds the far-flung networks of travel, trade (including the print trade), and communication through which immigrant groups and their descendants were connected to communities all over the Atlantic world, exchanging people, goods, information, literature, and other cultural artifacts. Focusing our research on the close and continuous communicative ties between the colonists and their old homes is thus the surest way to avoid misconstruals of early American history in terms of linearity, alterity (i.e., an overemphasis on essential difference), or insularity of the developments in Europe and America. While all of the essays, in one way or another, attend to such material and ideological networks, the fruitfulness of a communicative approach is probably most clearly on display in Marianne Wokeck’s and Rosalind Beiler’s examinations of the circumstances enabling the 1709 exodus, in Matthias Schönhofer’s reconstruction of the epistolary exchange through which Mühlenberg participated in the burgeoning botanical discourse among German and other European scholars, and in Erben’s look at the literary exchanges between German Pietist communities on both sides of the Atlantic.
Just as the contributors to this volume converge in their critical interrogation of traditional nation-centered models of interpretation, they come together in their skepticism toward established notions of ethnicity and the corresponding narratives about the genesis of a German minority identity in America. For a long time, the prevalent narrative posited a progressive move toward ethnic consensus and national integration, giving birth to one more minority group within the American people—usually subsumed under the misleading umbrella term “Pennsylvania Dutch”—whose sense of an essential “Germanness” within the context of the new nation found expression in diverse forms of folk culture. Thus, it was taken for granted that the various German-speaking immigrant groups that came to the middle colonies underwent a process of ethnic homogenization through which they mostly overcame their many regional and religious differences and increasingly developed a cultural consensus rooted in a communal consciousness of being German. As such a minority group, they were either thought to have bravely resisted the maelstrom of cultural assimilation into the Anglo-American mainstream or to have eventually joined the happy family of hyphenated Americans under the roof of a national identity, contributing a share of authentic Old World traditions to the cultural repertoire of the nation. By contrast, recent studies on other immigrant groups, such as the Scots Irish, the Dutch, or the French Huguenots, have mostly abandoned this kind of thinking in favor of a relational and more fluid concept of ethnicity that takes into account the inherently contested nature of collective identities and the often crosscutting dynamics between creative adjustment of traditions, resistance, and assimilation that are at work in their formation. In this and other respects, scholarship on colonial German immigrants can still learn a lot by looking at neighboring areas of investigation.
Unanimously, the essays gathered here are predicated on such a relational and dynamic understanding of ethnicity. They therefore assume that any sense of communal Germanness that might have been shared by the different immigrant communities was not something preexisting in any essential form that then found an organic expression in German American folk culture, but rather it came into being as a result of new social constellations and through cultural practices. As such, ethnic identity is viewed as something far from unified or stable. It is an inherently dynamic category, contingent on ever-shifting historical and social contexts and subject to manifold tensions and conflicts. Simultaneously the product of self-identification and external ascription, ethnicity constitutes a sense of peoplehood, of common values, customs, and traditions that define the boundaries between different groups. This implies that these values and traditions are fluid in nature and are continually being reinvented through the network of reciprocal cultural relations in which these groups negotiate fluctuating boundaries.
As the essays on migration and settlement make clear, the German-speaking settlers of 1709 and subsequent waves of immigration came from various social backgrounds and regions with diverse dialects. They adhered to particular local customs, belonged to different churches, and, therefore, initially lacked a unifying German identity. However, a process of “becoming German” began—often starting even en route to the New World —wherein, despite everything that separated them, migrants increasingly identified with one another, based on their shared experience of travel and dislocation as well as on their ability to communicate in variants of the same language. Once they arrived in the middle colonies, these tentative bonds solidified, in many cases, into some kind of German identity, depending on circumstances such as the economic situation, the location of settlement, the ethnic composition of neighborhoods or villages, and the responses of non-German-speaking groups in the various colonial societies. This solidification could occur through various kinds of cultural practices, including rich literary and journalistic productions, in which German speakers learned to imagine themselves as a community distinct from the perceived “others” around it, as well as through shared practical or political interests vis-à-vis other groups in the colonies. However, at least as important as any processes of “in-group” formation, through which German speakers might have chosen to define themselves as collectively different from other groups of colonists, were the involuntary processes of “out-group” formation, the often brutal mechanisms of “othering” to which they were subjected. These mechanisms took many forms, from discrimination by government officials, to the expression of prejudice among members of the dominant English-speaking culture, to anti-German propaganda written by colonial leaders such as William Smith and Benjamin Franklin.
Well before the period of the early republic, we can therefore observe what Steven Nolt has called the paradox of “ethnicization-as-Americanization,” if by “American” we do not yet mean a national identity but different varieties of a colonial identity in British North America. What Nolt suggests by his phrase is that “creating an ethnic identity and becoming American are integrally related processes . . . because the process of constructing ethnicity is derived from and stated in terms of the American experience.” Put differently, the various groups of German-speaking people in Pennsylvania and the other middle colonies, partly by choice and partly by force, forged for themselves new forms of identity as Germans, creatively reinventing traditions, customs, and values in response to a New World context. These particularly “German” forms of cultural expression were always already hybrid in nature, as they bore the traces of an American environment and of the exchanges with the diverse people the immigrants encountered there. “Germanness” in America consequently came to be characterized by a complex pattern of in-betweenness that reveals, as A. G. Roeber has remarked, “a separate, transferred cultural sphere,” but one that was consistently open “to developments and contributions from other sources.” By consistently attending to these patterns of in-betweenness, our contributors seek to avoid what Erben, in his contribution to this collection, calls the ethnic fallacy “that would interpret German culture in America as caught between the poles of assimilation to English-language culture and cultural isolationism.”
Of course, the meaning of being German in America dramatically changed during and after the Revolution when the discourse of patriotism and the founding of the United States introduced a new level of national identity formation. How the paradox of “ethnicization-as-Americanization” further developed in the early national period, when German-speaking people began to reform their colonial identities as “German Americans,” lies largely outside the scope of this collection, even though Riordan’s essay peeks, as it were, into the nineteenth century. For the most part, our contributors are concerned with investigating the manifold contingencies and complications involved in the formation of German ethnicity up until the revolutionary period. All foreground just how malleable and contested the imaginary community of “the Germans” actually was in the colonies, with defining customs and values partly derived from Old World traditions and partly composed of New World innovations, but consistently responsive to circumstances. More specifically, they demonstrate, as Marie Basile McDaniel argues, that there was no inevitability to this process of becoming German, since many of the early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania chose or were forced to completely assimilate to an English-speaking environment.
Attending to the transatlantic networks connecting the immigrant communities with their old homes reminds us, as Schönhofer does, for example, that ethnicization was never a linear process that played out solely within the colonies, but one that remained dependent on developments in Europe. Finally, this collection—and in particular the essays by Otterness, Falk, Stievermann, and Riordan—shows that Germanness in early America was anything but homogenous. The negotiation of ethnicity always interacted, competed, and also frequently conflicted with other identities, such as those of region, gender, race, and religious affiliation. In highly pluralistic societies such as Pennsylvania, Germanness was a contested site where constant struggles over definitional hegemony between different interest groups took place. This, of course, was especially so during periods of political, social, and military crisis. While Otterness, for instance, explores how the increasing racialization of colonial culture during the Seven Years’ War might have affected the identity of Germans settling with the Mohawks, Stievermann examines the crosscutting dynamics during the American Revolution between the imposition of a new concept of American citizenship and the formation of a shared ethno-religious identity among those German speakers in Pennsylvania who belonged to nonresistant churches.
The essays are divided into three sections: “Migration and Settlement,” “Material and Intellectual Cultures in the Making,” and “Negotiations of Ethnic and Religious Identities.” This reflects the overarching questions discussed at the conference. The essays in the first section are dedicated to rethinking the significance of the first German mass exodus three hundred years ago and the subsequent settlement of the “Palatines” in the colonies. A leading expert of eighteenth-century migration history, Marianne Wokeck argues that 1709 marks a critical shift in the history of German migration, dramatically altering the perception of “trying one’s luck” in the American colonies from an extraordinary step to a broadly acceptable option. This profoundly influenced the direction, shape, and character of subsequent population movements from German-speaking territories to British North America. Using Kuran’s theory of “preference falsification,” she offers a fruitful explanation of the ways in which, after the hard winter of 1708, Joshua Kocherthal’s famous Ausführlich- und Umständlicher Bericht von der berühmten Landschafft Carolina, with its description not only of golden opportunities in America but also of charitable support for migrants in Britain, served as a decisive catalyst triggering an abrupt shift in people’s readiness to risk leaving home for the promise of faraway places. She then goes on to consider more broadly how the experience of relocation to North America affected immigrant identities and how the experience of the 1709 exodus spurred the development of new attitudes, policies, and a regular transatlantic system of recruiters and migration agents, contributing to the rising tide of German mass migration during the following decades.
Rosalind Beiler focuses on one significant but largely unstudied group of migration agents, namely diplomats, who played a decisive part not only in the events of 1709 but also in subsequent migrations of German-speaking people to America. Her examples are James Dayrolle, the British resident at the Hague who organized the movement of the “poor Palatines” to London in 1709, and Johann Ludwig Runckel, envoy of the Dutch States General in Switzerland who negotiated the relocation of persecuted Mennonites from the canton of Bern to Pennsylvania. Through her detailed study of these two cases, Beiler sheds new light on the political reasons why diplomats such as Dayrolle and Runckel became involved, and on the dynamic roles they played as both information brokers and mediators, in shepherding migrants on their way to the New World.
Building on his important history of the 1709 exodus, Philip Otterness’s essay zeros in on the fascinating story of the three thousand Palatines whom the governor of New York brought to his colony to produce tar and pitch for the navy, but subsequently left to their own devices when they turned out to be unwilling and unable to fulfill this task. Alienated from the British authorities, these Palatines found that their most trustworthy allies in America were not other Europeans but the Native Americans, and it was among the Iroquois tribes in upstate New York that many of the Palatines would make their homes, living with them as neighbors for over fifty years. On the one hand, Otterness’s reconstruction of this story goes to show that becoming German in the context of early America meant dwelling in liminal spaces of cultural in-betweenness. By demonstrating how closely these Palatines affiliated with the Mohawks and Oneidas even through the Seven Years’ War, he simultaneously sounds a note of caution in the direction of those recent studies that have represented the increasing racialization of colonial societies as an almost inevitable process.
The second section, “Material and Intellectual Cultures in the Making,” opens with Cynthia Falk’s essay, which resumes and expands the story of the Palatines in colonial New York. With great expertise, she examines the sites and items left by this group, and she illustrates how they contribute to a better understanding of the way the Palatines lived in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys. By looking at the architectural patterns of their houses, their household goods, and their furniture, Falk reveals a great deal about the processes of cultural adaptation that these settlers underwent in response to frontier conditions of widespread violence, unprecedented ethnic diversity, and isolated settlement patterns, and about the emergence of a regionally specific German identity. Moreover, she points out the ways in which German speakers in New York reinvented the inherited patterns of their material culture, and how it differed significantly from what we can observe among the Pennsylvania Germans around the same time. Falk’s essay thus makes a powerful case that the objects of material culture produced in diverse German-speaking populations in colonial America are important sources to complement our knowledge derived from textual documents, most of which were written not by but about them. Due to the prevalent monolingualism of the discipline and the long ascendancy of exceptionalist models in American studies based on “Puritan origin” theories, the rich archives of German-language literatures written in or in exchange with colonial America are almost as neglected as the sources of material culture considered by Falk. Given the great quantity and, frequently, also the great quality of this German-language literature, there is indeed an embarrassing paucity of modern editions, anthologies, and up-to-date scholarship.
Thus, Patrick Erben sounds a much-needed call to recover and study afresh this treasure trove of promotional literature, ethnography, captivity narratives, travel narratives, political tracts, personal memoirs, diaries, autobiographies, didactic literature, theological tracts, commonplace books, martyrologies, sermons, histories, fictional tales, and, most of all, the enigmatic poetry and hymns composed by radical Pietist groups such as the Moravians, Dunkers, Schwenkfelders, and the brethren of the Ephrata Cloister. Throughout, his essay, with its bibliographic appendix, points out research opportunities and new scholarly perspectives, taking stock of the widely scattered textual collections and studies that have been done since the late nineteenth century. Backing the programmatic with the concrete, Erben also offers two exemplary case studies for how we might situate German-language literature and culture in colonial America within a multilingual and postnational American literary history. In tracing the exchanges between Quaker Anthony Benezet and Schwenkfelder Christopher Schultz, the first case study explores the connections between and mutual development of English- and German-language writing, such as the expansive literature of nonresistant piety, through translation and multilingual exchange. The second case study offers a parallel reading of the esoteric and alchemic language employed by the Pennsylvania German radical Pietist Johannes Kelpius and the New England Puritan Edward Taylor, which substantiates how fruitful a multilingual and comparative approach to early American poetry can be.
Matthias Schönhofer’s essay on the “American Linnaeus,” Gotthilf Henry Ernst Mühlenberg, provides evidence that such an approach also yields rich results when applied to other areas of German intellectual culture in early America. Based on just the kind of fresh archival research that Erben demands, Schönhofer’s essay investigates the far-flung and multilingual web of correspondence, both across the Atlantic and within the colonies, through which Mühlenberg carried out his botanical research in dialogue with other scholars. Schönhofer’s meticulous analysis of Mühlenberg’s letters discloses how the developments that this transatlantic network underwent over the decades reflect not only changes in Mühlenberg’s ideas of professional and American national identity but also changes in the larger cultural context in which his botanical work was undertaken.
Although the negotiations of ethnic and religious identities among German-speaking people in colonial America are, in one way or another, addressed by all the essays, the three studies in the final section, “Negotiations of Ethnic and Religious Identities,” give special scrutiny to this topic and reveal its many complications. Marie Basile McDaniel adds further complexity to recent scholarship that has explored the processes through which immigrants developed a communal sense of Germanness in the New World, an identity that was, however, very much contested and open to different interpretations. From an examination of the surviving church archives from eighteenth-century Philadelphia, especially marriage records, she concludes that, in fact, not all German speakers who arrived in this fast-growing, multiethnic town joined the German community or became German. Depending on contingent factors—such as preexisting networks of kin or trade, economic and legal status, or the ship on which one arrived—as well as on religious affiliation and personal preference, immigrants followed various paths, as their marital choices reveal. A growing number did marry other German speakers and joined ethnically specific church communities (e.g., German Lutheran or German Reformed), thereby participating in the formation of a separate German identity. Others, however, chose from a variety of linguistic and religious associations made possible by the diversity of the city, which overwrote their (potential) ethnic identity. For instance, a good number of these immigrants married English speakers in English churches and thereby quickly became acculturated. McDaniel also pays some attention to the role played by English prejudices against German culture and religion, especially against sectarian groups, and to how, in some cases, membership in a religious minority overrode the mechanisms of ethnicization. These dynamics are further explored by Jan Stievermann’s essay.
In his study on the German Peace Churches during the American Revolution, Stievermann illustrates how shared religious beliefs and traditions could at least partly counteract both the pull of ethnic solidarity among the wider community of German-speaking people and the growing pull of patriotic solidarity and national identity formation. Stievermann argues that underlying the great hardships that Mennonites, Amish, Dunkers, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders experienced at the hands of the revolutionary authorities in Pennsylvania was an ultimately irreconcilable conflict between the ideal of nonresistant discipleship common to these churches and the new concept of American citizenship being imposed on them by the Patriots. While for German speakers from the Lutheran and especially from the Reformed churches the Revolution offered an occasion to claim for themselves, as German Americans, a position of greater acceptance and civic participation in Pennsylvania society and the new nation, most members of the Peace Churches withdrew into a deepened cultural isolation. Caught in a situation where they not only felt threatened by material loss and violence but also feared a violation of their essential beliefs in the form of coercive militia and test acts, these groups further developed an ecumenical group consciousness that had first emerged during the French and Indian War. As Stievermann demonstrates, a cross-denominational mobilization and reinterpretation of the historical memory of pacifist martyrs significantly contributed to this process. Harnessed by religious leaders, this communal self-fashioning as Christ’s suffering witnesses was instrumental in rallying the German-speaking pacifist groups to resist Pennsylvania’s Patriots and to withstand the pressure to join their neighbors in the militias and swear loyalty to the new government. Their shared language of martyrdom thus helped the German Peace Churches define themselves collectively as a doubly marginal ethno-religious minority within the colony at large and vis-à-vis their increasingly antagonistic Lutheran and Reformed compatriots, who by far constituted the majority of German speakers in revolutionary America.
It is the place of these “church Germans” (Kirchenleute) in the dominantly English-speaking new nation that Liam Riordan seeks to understand more fully by analyzing what is probably the most widely known form of early German material culture: taufscheine, the often elaborately decorated records of birth and baptism of children that were also used to transmit key personal information. Although this kind of “Pennsylvania Dutch” folk art is highly sought after by collectors and has been the subject of considerable stylistic, artistic, and genealogical analysis, there are surprisingly few assessments of this distinctive textual-pictorial genre as a means of preserving and expressing individual and ethno-religious identity. The essay looks at a broad sampling of taufscheine from the region of “larger Pennsylvania,” the swath of Pennsylvania German settlement that arced around Philadelphia from northern New Jersey, running diagonally across the interior of Pennsylvania on into Maryland, and then to the Virginia and Carolina backcountry, where a number of distinctive craftsmen and schools can be identified for the postrevolutionary era. Riordan’s overall conclusion is that the taufscheine reflect how, after the Revolution, the church Germans acted with greater vigor and self-consciousness in claiming a more public space for themselves in the postcolonial nation. Through their folk art they expressed a newly assertive sense of ethnic particularity. At the same time, the changes in the manners in which taufscheine were produced show how their creators engaged with non-German cultural forms and technical developments in an innovative and effective manner. Thus, taufscheine were not fading expressions of isolated folk traditions soon to pass, but a bold hybrid form that took advantage of mechanical reproduction and numerous Anglo-American visual elements that helped the form remain vital into the twentieth century, even while remaining immediately recognizable as non-English.
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