My Colonial Heritage

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How we all got here...

     Genealogy is the account of the descent of a person or family from an ancestor or ancestors.  I will attempt to give the account of my descent and will start with some general information regarding my family.  On both the paternal and maternal side of my family there is German and Scottish/Irish heritage.  My paternal and maternal German ancestors arrived in America during the first half of the 18th century from a region near the Rhine River.  Also, at least one of my Scottish/Irish ancestors arrived in America during the first half of the 18th century from Donegal County, Ireland. 

     The German immigrants were known as Palatines because the majority of them came from the Palatinate.  The palatinate was a territory administered by a count palatine, originally the direct representative of the sovereign, but later the hereditary ruler of the territory subject to the crown's overlordship.  The German Palatinate was a region along both the east and west side of the upper Rhine River and part of the Holy Roman Empire.  One author has stated that the Palatinate

          [f]rom the thirteenth century to the close of the eighteenth . . .
          maintained  a varying importance among the continental powers. 
          Its boundaries were changeable with the shifting fortunes of
          diplomacy and war.  Situated between the greater and rival powers
          of France and the German princes, its soil was the frequent path of
          armies and field of battle . . . There were, in fact, two Palatinates --
          distinguished as the Upper, or Bavarian, Palatinate, and the Lower,
          or Palatinate of the Rhine -- or Pfalz . . . . [The boundaries of the Lower
          or Rhenish Palatinate] may be somewhat vaguely stated as the states of
          Mainz, Treves, Lorraine, Alsace, Baden, and Wurtemberg; boundaries
          subject to more or less of expansion and contraction, according as one
          or the other of its little provinces became the spoil of war. 

Sandford H. Cobb, The Story of the Palatines:  An Episode in Colonial History (A Facsimile Reprint), Heritage Books, 2006, pp. 20-21.  There was a mass emigration from the Palatinate and neighboring territories during the 17th and 18th centuries primarily because of "the long history of warfare, indeed the southwest German-speaking realm may be referred to as a war zone." 

     The area of emigration which is shown in the map set forth below encompassed an area along the Rhine River from Basel to Colonge.  It also included the tributaries of the Rhine, the Mosel (Mosselle in French) on the west and the Main and Neckar on the east, and the district of Zweibrucken which bordered Lorraine on the north. 


          The Thirty Years' War occurred during the first half of the 17th century (1618-1648).  This war was intermittent and consisted of several phases.  There were several reasons or motivaitons for the conflict, including religion.  Catholics and Protestants were pitted against each other.  This war devastated the Palatinate and neighboring territories.  According to one estimate the population of central Europe declined from 21 million in 1618 to 13 million in 1648.  The decline in population was primarily caused by war-related famine and pestilence.  The Peace of Westphalia of 1648 brought the war to an end and from that year until 1680 there was relative peace.  Then in the 1680s and 1690s the region was terrorized by the French armies of Louis XIV.  By 1700 the area seemed to stabilize.  However, the threat of war persisted and the threat evolved into several conflicts during the first half of the 18th century.  Also, in the first decade of the 18th century there were two extremely harsh winters (1708/09 and 1709/10).

          War depopulated the Palatinate either through famine and pestilence or emigration.  Once peace was reestablished the rulers of the area took steps to attract immigrants to help rebuild the region.  The largest group of immigrants during times of peace came from the Swiss Confederation.  However, many Swiss immigrants ultimately became emigrants from the region.

          The society from which my German ancestors emigrated was operating under a system of feudalism where the majority of the population was tied to the land in a state of serfdom.  The serfs worked in the field of or a trade related to agriculture and were bound to the territory in which they resided and its lord.  It was not a simple matter to emigrate from such a system.  Emigration could be done legally or illegally.  For a bondman (serf or slave to the land) to emigrate legally he had to apply to the lord or the sovereign for manumission, obtain a passport, and give proof and affirm that he was not bound to the lord of the territory.  Only those of relative means could legally emigrate.  This is the setting from which my German ancestors emerged.


The Midi music file playing in the background is Hewlett sequenced by Barry Taylor.  Visit Lesley Nelson-Burns' Folk Music site by clicking on the above logo.

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