Philip Otterness. Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004. xiii + 235 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-4246-9.
Reviewed by Susanne Lachenicht (Historisches Seminar, UniversitÃƒÂ¤t Hamburg)
Published on H-Atlantic (July, 2006)
In Search of German Identities
To quote Benjamin Franklin, Philip Otterness's Becoming German tells the story of the 1709 " 'Palatine boors,' " who migrated from the southwest of the Holy Roman Empire first to England, and then, in 1710, to North America (p. 146). While migration to North America from the British Isles and the Dutch Republic had already become important during the seventeenth century, the Palatine migration is seen to be the first early modern mass migration from the Holy Roman Empire to North America. It saw some fifteen thousand so-called Palatines on the move to Britain, of which three thousand attempted to cross the Atlantic in 1710. Otterness carefully re-examines the Palatine migration, thereby updating Walter Allen Knittle's standard, but now venerable, 1937 account, Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration: A British Government Redemptioners Project to Manufacture Naval Stores. Most notable is Otterness's use of primary sources missing in Knittle's work: the migrants' own writings, especially letters and pamphlets; government authorities' official and private correspondence; and, above all, the results of Henry Z. Jones's genealogical research on the early German families of New York.
The Palatines' story reads well. Lured away from their homeland in the German Southwest and the Rhineland by Joshua Kocherthals's Golden Book(published in 1709), which promised that Queen Anne had invited the would-be settlers to her colonies, the distressed peasants and artisans decided to make their way to North America. Kocherthal's persuasive pen completely convinced them that the Queen would help them cross the Atlantic and provide them with free land in her colonies.
Arriving in Rotterdam in the spring and summer of 1709, the emigrants petitioned the British government for passage to the Carolinas via London. Up to 1710 political circumstances were rather favorable for the migrants: the Whig-controlled parliament, and particularly two of the government's chief ministers, Lord Sunderland and Sydney Godolphin (the latter, a moderate Tory), favored immigration as a means of enriching the nation. In the ensuing months fifteen thousand Palatines made their way to London where they were housed in camps outside the city.
While at first regarded as the "poor distressed Palatines," persecuted for their Protestant faith and as "perhaps the fittest Nation in Europe to be encouraged to come among the Britains," the English public soon discovered many Catholics among the "refugee people" (pp. 43, 53-55). Compassion and pity soon turned into xenophobia. There were fears that the Palatines, like the Huguenot immigrants before them, would mean competition in crafts and trade. Shifting perceptions, along with the anti-immigration and anti-naturalization Tory government of late-1710, forced thousands of Catholic Palatines back home. Most of the Protestant immigrants in England, having become a nuisance within the country, were shipped to the British Empire's periphery: three thousand Palatines were sent across the Atlantic to the colony of New York, where Governor Hunter planned to have them produce naval stores. Another few hundred settled in Ireland. In this, they shared another migrant group's experience: Ashkenazim arriving from the 1670s in England were sent to Ireland as both the English and the Sephardic Jews of London refused to welcome this group of "poor people."
Having expected to be settled on fertile Schoharie land, the Palatines developed strong objections to Hunter's plans for settlement and to his scheme for the production of naval stores in the Hudson valley. The contract agreed upon between Governor Hunter and the Palatines proved futile. In 1712, as a result of the immigrants' resistance to being treated as indentured servants and Hunter's unwillingness to compromise, fifty Palatine families left the Hudson valley in order to settle, against the British colonial authorities' will, on the Mohawks' land in Schoharie. Ignoring the legal formalities the British colonial authorities deemed necessary to purchase land, the Schoharie Palatines rejected what Otterness calls their "assimilation into British colonial society" (p. 120). The Palatines' distinct ideas of free land in the British colonies obviously clashed with government plans and led, from the colonial government's perspective, to the Germans slipping away from British control.
After 1723, with the Palatines moving to other British colonies in North America, "the group's coherence and its sense of common identity ... began to fade" (p. 137). Some Palatines remained in the Hudson Valley and on Schoharie land, while some moved to Pennsylvania and Virginia. After forty years in British North America, the Palatines still constituted "a nation apart," both from their own and the colonial authorities' perspective. With the Seven Years' War, however, the Palatines' integration into British colonial society became more of a necessity. Dependent on the British protection of their land, they finally had to compromise with the political authorities, even if "their private worlds remained distinctly German" (p. 163).
Becoming German is about migrant identities shifting in the face of increased mobility and interaction with the "other." As the title suggests, Otterness attempts to prove that the Palatines only became "German" in North America as they had to define "themselves in contrast to the other peoples of British North America but also assumed a shared identity that did not yet exist among the families and friends they left behind in the disparate principalities of the Holy Roman Empire" (pp. 1-2). He further notes that, "although they [the Palatines] sometimes called themselves Teutschen, or Germans, this shared cultural identity remained amorphous. It had no corresponding political identity" (p. 65). While there is no doubt that each individual's identity changed and a distinct group identity was forged during the process of migration and re-settlement, Otterness does not offer a precise description of the "Palatines'" identity prior to the onset of migration (p. 111). Nor does he document through primary sources what he describes as "the creation of a new German community--a community forced to ignore differences in territorial origin and dialect as it struggled for survival" (p. 114).
Some historians of the Holy Roman Empire might not agree with Otterness ascribing to the 1709 migrants no more than an "amorphous" common German identity prior to the onset of emigration (p. 65). Obviously, in early modern German territories regional identities mattered a lot, and local and territorial gravamina often seemed to be more important than matters with which the Holy Roman Empire was concerned. No doubt Otterness sees this reality as underwriting his operating assumption that, prior to the nineteenth century, Germany might have been a nation culturally speaking, but by no means was it a nation politically. His use of this well-worn trope is provocative, but may need some modification. More recent research on war and popular uprisings in early modern Germany makes it evident that by the sixteenth century, at the latest, not only elites but also the so-called gemeine Mann shared a German identity that was not solely a cultural but also a political one. Concepts of German freedom and German rights had already been developed which could be relied upon to make Germans fight for some kind of "national cause." Hence, it is not surprising that already in the sixteenth century the Schmalkaldic War (1546-47) was referred to as the first "Teutsche Krieg," followed by the Thirty Years' War, as the second "Teutsche Krieg." To avoid any misunderstanding, these early conceptualizations of the German nation as having cultural and political dimensions were by no means the same as those developed during the nineteenth century. Yet, it might have been less amorphous than Otterness suggests.
If the approach to German identity in Becoming German is merely debatable, other aspects of Otterness's account need actual revision, including the description of the German Southwest (chapter 1), the disparate territories from which the so-called Palatines came. Otterness makes a laudable attempt to represent the complex history of this part of the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, a few important elements are missing. To name but one, the policy of Karl Ludwig, the Elector Palatine, towards religious minorities not only included not only Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites, and Jews, but also a large number of Huguenots who had already been admitted to the Palatinate during the second half of the sixteenth century (pp. 13-14).
Then too, Otterness neglects the Palatinate's place in the broader context of early modern Europe's social and economic landscape. Otterness characterizes the people of the German Southwest as "bound together by their labor on the land" (p. 16). This is the case not only for the German Southwest, but for many other parts of the early modern world as well. It is true that not more than seven cities within the Palatinate had more than two thousand inhabitants (p. 16 and n. 36). Nevertheless, the German Southwest was a region not only of agricultural villages, but also of a great number of small towns where pre-urban structures developed much earlier than in many other territories within the Holy Roman Empire. Many inhabitants of these small towns and market places both worked their land and were involved in the pre-industrial production of textiles or metal products. Similarly, statements such as "by the early eighteenth century, the Palatinate had become one of the most religiously diverse regions of western Europe" (p. 13) or "the Palatinate supported one of the most religiously diverse populations of Europe" (p. 13) seem to ignore the reality that heterodoxy was typical of other western European regions such as Frisia and the Dutch Republic; cities such as Bordeaux, Hamburg, and Metz; and religiously diverse regions in the east such as the County of Baranya after 1689.
Furthermore, some important primary sources are not mentioned, such as those documenting the Anglican Church's and the colonial government's attempts to make the Palatines assimilate to white British colonial society. Already in 1711-12, the Anglican Church had developed plans to make the second generation of Palatines entirely English. Their strategy consisted of sending SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) ministers to the Palatines in the Hudson valley to instruct German children in English and the Anglican faith. Otterness does mention that, in the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin still found the Palatines not being "used to Liberty" and William Smith noted that the Palatines did not have sufficient "Knowledge of our Language and Constitution," yet other voices told a different tale (p. 157). One such voice was the Reverend James Ogilvie, who, by 1723, had developed a very positive view of the Palatines' appreciation of British law and society as well as of their capacity to master English.
Despite these aspects inviting revision, Otterness's work on the Palatines strengthens some of the more important and more recent findings of historians working on early modern migration. First, his work on the Palatine migration bears out the existence of pan-European patterns for immigration policy in the early modern period. We can see this, for example, in the population theories promoted in Britain, the United Provinces, Brandenburg-Prussia, Hesse-Kassel, and many other European states. Typical of early modern migration policymaking was deficient information on the European governments' side as to the skills, numbers, and/or religious identities of immigrant groups even when invited for settlement. The British government was not aware of the number of Palatines that would arrive in England in 1709, nor of their geographic origins and their religious beliefs (pp. 43, 45). Other European rulers were equally mistaken about the Huguenots. The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel and the Elector of Brandenburg, for example, both misjudged the numbers of Huguenots arriving in their territories from 1685 on and the skills they brought with them. The Huguenots arriving in Hesse-Kassel and Brandenburg were by no means all prosperous manufacturers and crafts- and tradesmen. Many were but "poor distressed refugees" with very little to live on. No wonder that Hesse-Kassel in 1688 and Brandenburg from 1692 closed their frontiers to the Huguenots, if only for a couple of years. Furthermore, Otterness's study confirms that the Palatines, like many other migrant groups such as the Huguenots, the Sephardim or Bohemians, were not necessarily victims of persecution and/or migration policy. Immigrants were actively engaged in shaping a new identity that would guarantee the group's survival. As such the immigrants had considerable influence on government policy and the privileges granted. Some migrant groups such as the Palatines even rejected government authority when a government was not willing to grant privileges the migrant group had desired. Finally, when Otterness states that in the case of the Palatines "experience demonstrates that not all European settlers in British North America played by English rules" (p. 6), he confirms more recent research carried out on other migrant groups in North America such as the Huguenots or the Acadians. All in all, looking closer at migrants' experiences in North America might lead to a helpful revision of the assimilation paradigm that used to be so popular in narrating early American history.
. See, e.g., Georg Schmidt, "Teutsche Kriege: National Deutungsmuster und integrative Wertvorstellungen im frühneuzeitlichen Reich," in Föderative Nation: Deutschlandkonzepte von der Reformation bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg, ed. Dieter Langewiesche and Georg Schmidt (München: Oldenbourg, 2000), pp. 33-61.
. Konrad Repgen, "Über die Geschichtsschreibung des Dreißigjährigen Krieges: Begriff und Konzeption," in Krieg und Politik, 1618-1648: Europäische Probleme und Perspektiven, ed. Konrad Repgen (München: Oldenbourg, 1988), pp. 1-84.
. Horst Buszello, Peter Blickle and Rudolf Endres, eds., Der deutsche Bauernkrieg (Paderborn, Munich, Vienna, and Zurich: Schoeningh, 1995), pp. 219, 224-225.
. Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, "Records" Series A, vol. A 7.
. Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, "Records" Series A, vol. A 17.
. Franz-Anton Kadell, Die Hugenotten in Hessen-Kassel (Darmstadt und Marburg: Selbstverlag der Hessischen Historischen Kommission für Hessen, 1980), p. 25.
. Susanne Lachenicht, "Die Freiheitskonzession des Landgrafen von Hessen-Kassel, das Edikt von Potsdam und die Ansiedlung von Hugenotten in Brandenburg-Preußen und Hessen-Kassel," in Les Etats allemands et les Huguenots: Politique d'immigration et processus d'intégration, ed. Guido Braun and Susanne Lachenicht (München: Oldenbourg, forthcoming 2006).
. Bertrand van Ruymbeke, "Huguenots and the American Immigration History Paradigm," in From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland and Colonial America, 1550-1750, ed. Randolph Vigne and Charles Littleton (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2001), pp. 332-341; Paula Wheeler Carlo, Huguenot Refugees in Colonial New York: Becoming American in the Hudson Valley (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2005); and Christopher Hodson, "Idlers and Idolaters: Acadian Exiles and the Labor Regimes of British North America, 1755-1763," in Religious Refugees in Europe, Asia and the Americas, ed. Susanne Lachenicht (Hamburg: LIT, forthcoming 2006).
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Susanne Lachenicht. Review of Otterness, Philip, Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York.
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