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1683 Three Hundred Years Ago

July 2024
1min read

Germantown, Pennsylvania, was founded in October of this year, the first of the German townships in America. Its birth was the direct result, six years after the event, of a visit made by the Englishman William Penn to Frankfurt in 1677. Frankfurt was then the center of the German Pietists, a sect of devout, semi-mystical Christians whose purpose was to loosen the rigid, creed-bound systems of the Lutheran Church. Their emphasis on the individual spirit made it likely that they would find a kindred soul in the famous Quaker, and he kindred souls in them. When Penn, a few years later, became a great landholder in America, it was natural that a large number of his German friends should wish to join him in his “holy experiment.”

The Frankfurt Land Company was formed: it purchased fifteen thousand acres of American soil, made an extraordinary man named Francis Daniel Pastorius its agent, and the Germans began to come.

Pastorius himself arrived in Germantown in October 1683. He was a lawyer, a scholar, and a writer. He had studied at the universities of Strasbourg, Basel, and Jena and had taken a law degree at Altdorf. He worked at his profession but became increasingly dissatisfied with it; his thoughts turned toward religion, and he hoped to find in Pennsylvania a refuge from the stir and vanity of worldly affairs.

He did. In his thirty-six years in Germantown he served as mayor, clerk, and schoolmaster and wrote several books. One work alone would ensure his permanent and honorable place in our history. In 1688, with three other men, he wrote and signed the first protest against slavery ever made in the English colonies. He found it “a terror, or fearful thing, that men should be handelled so in Pennsylvania. … How fearful and faint-hearted are many at sea when they see a strange vessel, being afraid it should be a Turk, and they should be taken, and sold for slaves into Turkey. Now, what is this better done, than Turks do?”

The protest was buried by various committees and had no effect.

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