Surname Origins

Chapter I: The Palatines

        The first branch of the family to be considered will be those who came from Germany. Although the percentage of German blood in our family is relatively small compared to that of the other nationalities, theirs, in many ways, is the most compelling story of all. Although no immigrant group suffered more than the African slaves, the German refugees from the Palatinate were among the most downtrodden and persecuted group to reach our shores. When we think of these Pennsylvania Dutch today, it brings to mind visions of neatly kept farms, prosperous small communities, and law-abiding citizens. But before they became this most idyllic of immigrant groups they had endured some of the most grueling hardships of the past millennium. 
         The term “Pennsylvania Dutch” probably originated as a corruption of the word “Deutch,” which is just the German language word for German. But almost all of the early German immigrants came via a trip down the Rhine River which flows into the sea in Holland where they embarked on the ships that took them to America.  Almost all of them departed from the port of Rotterdam. So technically they did come from Holland and for some, the term may have been applied to them for that reason.
        The early German immigration to America was mostly to Pennsylvania, and almost all of it came from a small region in Germany called the Palatinate. The Palatinate is a region in the southwestern part of Germany along the Rhine River. The Alsace region of France is to the south and west, and directly west are Belgium and Luxembourg. The Upper Palatinate is further south toward Bavaria. The Lower Palatinate or Pfalz is the area where our family came from. The main cities of the Pfalz are Heidelberg, Mannheim, Worms, Darmstadt, and Mainz. The name, Palatinate, comes from the name of the ruling family during the Middle Ages. Instead of the usual practice of naming the ruling family after the country, this country was named after its ruling family
        Although the Palatinate, like the rest of Germany, was a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the empire existed mostly in name only, and the forty or fifty small German states, of which it was made up, existed for the most part as independent countries, ruled by Electors who owed nominal allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire. In reality though, the Empire was without power to enforce its will on its member states and the individual states were for the most part free to administer their own affairs. In the best of times the Palatinate was relatively independent and was a fertile and prosperous region. 
         In the 1500s when the Reformation swept across Germany, an Elector who embraced Protestantism ruled this region. When Luther was called to face the emperor before the famous diet at Worms, he was protected from reprisal by this Elector. A century earlier another reformer, John Hus, had been summoned before the Council of Trent and had been found guilty of heresy. He was burned at the stake in spite of having been given assurance of a safe conduct. Luther was saved from this fate by being placed under the protection of this Elector. Following the lead of their Elector, the region became largely Protestant, with Lutherans and Reformed churches predominating, but with some Mennonites and Anabaptists also among them. 
         From 1618 to 1648, Germany was devastated by the Thirty Years War. For thirty years, armies whose intent it was to impose their religion on their enemies ravished the entire country. Nowhere was the devastation worse than in the Palatinate. The area was repeatedly crossed by large armies foraging off the land, and burning and destroying homes and farms. Some historians estimate that as much as 30 -50% of the population of Germany perished. The Palatinate was the hardest hit part of the country. There are reports of travelers to the region who could find no sign of life, and where many of the corpses that were found had mouths filled with grass, dying as they had desperately tried to stave off
        The war ended with the balance of political and religious power reverting to the pre-war status, and for the next forty or so years, the Rhineland was left alone to recover. The population grew because of native births and by in migration from surrounding areas,5 and some prosperity was restored. However, the population didn’t revert to its prewar state for over a hundred years. In 1685, the current Elector, died. Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King,” tried to replace him with his brother, Phillip. (Phillip’s wife was the deceased Elector’s sister.) The surrounding German states, fearful of increased French influence, formed an alliance to prevent this.6
        Two other events further inflamed the situation. One of Louis’ predecessors on the French throne, Henry IV, had been a French Huguenot, who converted back to Catholicism in order to inherit the throne. Upon assuming the throne in 1598 he issued the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed the Huguenots (French Protestants) freedom of worship. Now Louis decided to revoke this edict. Persecution of the Huguenots immediately followed and a general exodus of the Huguenots out of France began. Many of them found their way to the Protestant Palatinate.7
        The other event had occurred in England. The English had banished the Catholic Stuart King, James II, and James, living in exile in France, was proclaimed the true English monarch by Louis. In 1689 King Louis even went so far as to attempt the assassination of the English King William through Jacobean8 intrigues.9 The English, and then the Dutch, joined Austria and the German states in an alliance, and the War of the Grand Alliance began. It lasted nine years.10
        Louis pursued the fleeing French Protestants with a vengeance. 50,000 French troops rampaged through the Palatinate and occupied it. The cities and villages were burned and the countryside was ravaged. People were driven from their homes in the middle of winter. “The Elector Philip, looking from the walls of Mannheim counted, in one day, no less than twenty-three towns and villages in flames.”11 About 300,000 citizens were given a three-day notice to evacuate. “In the midst of the destruction of the towns and villages, such of the poor villagers as endeavored to rescue their goods were slain. Everywhere in the fields were found the corpses of wretched people frozen to death. The citizens of Mannheim were compelled to assist in destroying their fortifications, and then driven out, hungry and ill clothed, into the winter cold, while their city was burned.”12 In the midst of all of this chaos, the new Elector died. He was replaced by John William, a Catholic, and in 1690 John William began efforts to restore papal control by forced or coerced conversion. It wasn’t long before the poor Palatines began to appear in other German cities, reduced to begging and sleeping in the open. 13
        The war came to a close in 1697 with the pre-war political status quo being restored, but with the religious persecution still in place. Four years later the War of the Spanish Succession started, with the same combatants again set against each other. The Spanish King had died and one of the pretenders to the Spanish throne was King Louis’ grandson. The idea of the Spanish Kingdom being added to France, and greatly increasing France’s power was unacceptable to the rest of Europe. This war raged on for twelve years. In 1707 the French again sent a large army into the Palatinate to wreak further havoc and destruction. The following quote from Kraig W. Ruckel’s Palatine & Pennsylvania-Dutch Genealogy web site is a moving account of one of the victims.

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 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.14

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