Becoming German: The 1709 Palatine Migration to New York / Edition 1

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Becoming German tells the intriguing story of the largest and earliest mass movement of German-speaking immigrants to America. The so-called Palatine migration of 1709 began in the western part of the Holy Roman Empire, where perhaps as many as thirty thousand people left their homes, lured by rumors that Britain's Queen Anne would give them free passage overseas and land in America. They journeyed down the Rhine and eventually made their way to London, where they settled in refugee camps. The rumors of free passage and land proved false, but, in an attempt to clear the camps, the British government finally agreed to send about three thousand of the immigrants to New York in exchange for several years of labor. After their arrival, the Palatines refused to work as indentured servants and eventually settled in autonomous German communities near the Iroquois of central New York.

Becoming German tracks the Palatines' travels from Germany to London to New York City and into the frontier areas of New York. Philip Otterness demonstrates that the Palatines cannot be viewed as a cohesive "German" group until after their arrival in America; indeed, they came from dozens of distinct principalities in the Holy Roman Empire. It was only in refusing to assimilate to British colonial culture—instead maintaining separate German-speaking communities and mixing on friendly terms with Native American neighbors—that the Palatines became German in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Otterness discusses the impoverished families of southwestern Germany who, in 1709, migrated to England mistakenly believing that Queen Anne would give them farmland in America. Following long delays, they ultimately reached the colony of New York. . . . Once there, . . . they doggedly struggled to obtain farmsteads, defying the governor, moving from the work camps, and buying land from the Mohawks instead of from English landholders. . . . Colonial and New York State historians will enjoy this interesting, well-researched narrative. Highly recommended."—Choice (April 2005)

"Otterness paints a vivid picture of the diversity and the resultant dissension among Germans from various parts of the Holy Roman Empire. . . . The text is well-written and easy to read. . . . This book is highly recommended. It is a wonderful addition to the knowledge and understanding of this first mass migration of German-speaking people to America. Descendants of the immigrants should read this book. Others will learn and explore the complexities of migration, the problems in acclimation in strange surroundings, and the creation of an American identity."—Clara Harsh, The Palatine Immigrant (September 2004)

"There are a number of strengths in Otterness's book. First, his chronicle of the 1709 migrations from beginning to end, detailing origins and settlement patterns using his database, is impressive. He provides extensive detail on the London phase of the migrations, including how difficult conditions were for the Germans and what a public political problem this became for Londoners. Otterness also shows how the Palatines' problems of survival and dealing with difficult authorities continued after reading New York. And, in addition to discerning the beginnings of 'becoming German' in Europe, not America, Otterness shows that many immigrants interacted significantly with Mohawks on the Schoharie."—Aaron Spencer Fogleman, American Historical Review (October 2005)

"Becoming German nicely details the complex development of ethnic identity in eighteenth-century British America. With engaging prose and a straightforward style, Otterness demonstrates how people from a variety of religious, political, and cultural backgrounds re-shaped the definition others imposed on them and forged a commonly held and unique identity. . . . Becoming German significantly broadens our understanding of early American identity formation and adds welcome nuance and complexity to our image of cultural encounters in British America."—Rosalind J. Beiler, Journal of American Ethnic History (Summer 2005)

"This fast-paced and thoroughly researched book tells the story of the migration of 3,000 Germans from the Rhineland, who settled in upstate New York in the early eighteenth century, a fascinating episode in the peopling of British North America. . . . Although they dispersed in scattered settlements, over the years, Otterness concludes, the Palatines remained distinctively German. While they integrated into American public life, they continued to marry within the group, kept German as their primary language, and maintained German customs."—Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, Itinerario

"Historians have always sensed that the Palatines had a particularly instructive story to tell. Now we know why. Philip Otterness has sensitively explored the creation of a Palatine identity both at the hands of British commentators and through the assertion of particular benchmarks and standards of behavior as the Palatines set about ' becoming German' in New York. Otterness considerably enhances our understanding of the complexities of immigrant experiences and the creation of multiple identities in early America."—Alan Tully, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin

"This remarkable account of a great ethnic migration to the New World is both a luminous new model of Atlantic history and a tale of rich American resonance. In a swift, convincing narrative as original as it is wise, Otterness gives us a world in which almost nothing turned out as anyone intended. And of all the ironies of the Palatine venture, none was any greater than the discovery by the people who left the Rhineland as individualistic opportunists that, to survive in America, they had to improvise and embrace a collective identity they had never known or even imagined at home."—Michael Zuckerman, author of Peaceable Kingdoms: New England Towns in the Eighteenth Century

"Through careful reconstruction of demographic and literary sources on both sides of the Atlantic, Philip Otterness explains how a diverse group of German-speaking migrants became the ' poor Palatine refugees' of colonial American lore. This imaginative retelling of a famous episode in early American history will appeal to anyone interested in the cultural dynamics of migration and identity formation in the Atlantic world."—Timothy J. Shannon, Gettysburg College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801473449
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 694,835
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Otterness is Professor of History and Political Science at Warren Wilson College.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1. "A Particularly Deceptive Spirit"
The German Southwest, 1709

Chapter 2. “The Poor Palatine Refugees”
London, Spring–Summer 1709

Chapter 3. “A Parcel of Vagabonds”
London, Summer–Winter 1709

Chapter 4. “A Deplorable Sickly Condition”
New York City, 1710

Chapter 5. “They Will Not Listen to Tar Making”
The Hudson Valley, 1710–1712

Chapter 6. “The Promis'd Land”
The Schoharie Valley, 1712–1722

Chapter 7. “A Nation Which Is Neither French, Nor English, Nor Indian”
The Mohawk Valley, 1723–1757


Appendix. Database of the 1709 Emigrants


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