Palatine Emigrants, by Kraig Ruckel
Emigration from the Rhineland to America - Eigtheenth Century
by Kraig Ruckel
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The winter of 1708-1709 was very long and cold in the Rhineland. It
was a very bleak period. People huddled around their fires as they
considered quitting their homes and farms forever. By early April, the
land was still frozen and most of the Palatines' vines had been killed
by the bitter weather. Since 1702 their country had been enduring war
and there was little hope for the future. The Thirty Years War lay
heavy on their minds, a period in which one out of every three Germans
The Palatines were heavily taxed and endured religious persecution. As
the people considered their future, the older ones remembered that, in
1677, William Penn had visited the area, encouraging the people to go
to Pennsylvania in America, a place where a man and his family could
be free of the problems they were now encountering.
To go to America meant a long, dreadful ocean voyage and a future in
an unknown land, away from their past and family. Everyone knew that
the German Elector would stop any migration as soon as it was noticed.
Only a mass exodus from the Palatinate could be successful. Many
wondered how they could ever finance such a journey even if they
wanted to attempt it. Small boats, known as scows, would have to be
acquired for the long ride down the Rhine River and then there was the
price for the ocean voyage. While some of the people had relatives
that could assist them financially, many were very poor. Soon enough,
their minds were made up for them as France's King Louis XIV invaded
their land, ravaging especially the towns in the Lower Palatinate.
In masses, the Palatines boarded their small boats and headed down the
Rhine for Rotterdam. It was April 1709 and the first parties were
afloat on the Rhine, many with only their most basic goods and their
faith in God as their only possessions. The river voyage took an
average of 4-6 weeks through extremely cold, bitter weather. By June,
1709, the people streamed into Rotterdam at a rate of one thousand per
week. The Elector, as expected, issued an edict forbidding the
migration, but almost everyone ignored it. By October, 1709, more than
10,000 Palatines had completed the Rhine River journey.
The Duke of Marlborough was assigned by Queen Anne to transport the
immigrants to England. British troop ships were also used. The Queen
assumed these Protestants would help fuel the anti-Roman feelings
developing in England. The ships from Rotterdam landed, in part, at
Deptford and the refugees were sent to one of three camps at Deptford,
Camberwell, and Blackheath outside the city wall of London. Many
Londoner's welcomed the Palatines, but the poor were not, as they felt
their English food was being taken from them to feed the Germans.
British newspapers published mixed accounts of the Palatines, some
praising them while others cursed them.
Over 3,000 of these Palatines were sent to Ireland, again to reinforce
the Protestant faith in that land. The trip from england to Ireland
was short, taking only about 24 hours. Included among these immigrants
were a line of my possible ancestors, Sebastian ROCKEL (later called
RUCKEL, RUCKLE, and RUTTLE)and his wife and children. They settled on
Lord Southwell's estate near Ballingrane in County Limerick, Ireland.
Several branches remained in Ireland, becoming known as the RUTTLE's.
Other branches came to New York in the mid-1700's.
Meanwhile, streams of Palatines went to America, with most going to
Pennsylvania. The ocean voyage was harsh, with over-crowded,
under-supplied, and unsanitary ships. What provisons were supplied
were generally the least expensive available to the ship's master.
Water frequently ran out, as did food. Dreadful mortality occurred on
many voyages. In addition to those woes, the Palatines faced robbery,
deception, and worse from those transporting them.
Estimates on the number of Germans in Pennsylvania during this period
varies from author to author, but a common estimate is 10,000-15,000
by 1727 and 70,000-80,000 by 1750. A good source for reviewing German
arrivals to Pennsylvania is Rupp's "Thirty Thousand Immigrants in
Pennsylvania" which contains numerous ship passenger lists and has an
excellent surname index. Another good resource is Walter Knittle's
"Early Eighteenth-Century Palatine Emigration".
Immigrants not only came from Germany, but also Bohemia and
Switzerland. Most were either Lutheran, Reformed, or Mennonite in
My earliest known Pennsylvania Palatine settler was Johanne Balthasar
ROCKEL who was born in Germany in 1707. His exact arrival in
Pennsylvania is unknown. The earliest records I have found is a 1755
tax record in Allen Township and a 1760 baptismal record for his son,
Johanne Jurg ROCKEL at Schmaltzgass, in 1760 at Northampton County.
The State of the Poor Palatines As Humbly Represented By Themselves
Upon Their First Arrival In This Kingdom, About June, 1709 (from
London, England) We the poor distressed Palatines, whose utter Ruin
was occasioned by the merciless Cruelty of a Blood Enemy, the French,
whose prevailing Power some years past, like a Torrent rushed into our
Country, and overwhelmed us at once; and being not content with Money
and Food necessary for their Occasions, not only dispossest us of all
Support but inhumanely burnt our House to the ground, where being
deprived of all Shelter, we were turned into open Fields, and there
drove with our Families, to seek what Shelter we could find, being
obliged to make the cold Earth our Lodgings, and the Clouds our
Covering. In this deplorable condition we made our Humble
Supplications and Cries to Almighty God, who has promised to relieve
them that put their Trust in him, whose Goodness we have largely
Experienced, in disposing the Hearts of Pious Princes to a Christian
Compassion and Charity towards us in this miserable condition, who by
their Royal Bounties and large Donations, and the exemplary Kindness
of well-disposed Nobility, Gentry, and Others, We and our poor
Children have been preserved from Perishing; specially since our
Arrival into this happy Kingdom of GREAT BRITAIN. While not only like
the Land of Canaan, abounds with all things necessary for human Life,
but also with a Religious People, who as freely give to the Distressed
for Christ’s sake, as it was given to them by the Almighty Donor of
all they enjoy. Blessed Land and Happy People! Governed by the Nursing
Mother of Europe, and the Best of Queens! Whose unbounded Mercy and
Charity has received us despicable Strangers from afar off into Her
own Dominions, where we have found a Supply of all things Necessary
for our present Subsistence; for which we bless and praise Almighty
God, the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty and all Her good subjects,
from the Highest Degree to those of the meanest Capacity; and do
sincerely and faithfully promise to all our utmost Powers, for the
future, to render ourselves Thankful to God, and Serviceable to Her
Majesty, and all her Good Subjects, in what way soever her goodness is
pleased to dispose of Us: and in the mean time be constant in our
Prayers, that God would return the Charity of well disposed People a
thousand fold into their own Bosoms, which is all the Requittal that
can present be made by us poor distressed Protestants.
Whittier's Ship "Palantine"
(from his "Tent on the Beach")
And old men mending their nets of twine,
Talk together of dream and sign,
Talk of the lost ship Palantine.
"The ship that a hundred years before,
Freighted deep with its goodly store,
In the gales of the equinox went ashore.
"Into the teeth of death she sped:
(May God forgive the hands that fed
The false lights over the rocky head!)
"And then, with ghastly shimmer and shine
Over the rocks and the seething brine,
They burned the wreck of the Palantine.
"And still on many a moonless night,
From Kingston head and the Montauk light,
The spectre kindles and burns in sight.
"And the wise Sound skippers, through skies be fine,
Reef their sails when they see the sign
Of the blazing wreck of the Palatine."
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