Our Homeland and Immigration
Between 500 A.D. and 700 A.D. Christianity spread rapidly throughout Europe and in 800 A.D. Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III. Under his influence Catholicism and the influence of the Catholic Church spread over an area almost as large as Gaul, the name Roman Legions gave to a region that covered what is today France, Belgium, and Germany west of the Rhine River. Roman rule of Gaul lasted from 14 A.D. when Legions finally conquered the Vandals, Visigoths, and other Germanic tribes until barbarian forces deposed the last Roman emperor in 476 A.D.
Below the emperor were kinds who had almost complete control over established regions called "palatinates" whoes residents or peasants were were referred to as "palatines." An area of Germany bordering on France and Switzerland is even today called the Rhine Palatinate. This region generally follows the Rhine Valley and includes such cities as Cologne, Mainz, Wurtzberg, and Heidelberg. It is from this area, most probably the Nekar Valley, that our relatives originated and were known then by the last name of BACKER.
The ultimate ruler of a palatinate was the Pope in Rome where yearly rents were forwarded. Based on the feudal system, the king of the region could establish and maintain an army to protect his holdings, levy taxes, and maintain lawand order among the peasants. Since the king was always Catholic, all his subjects had by law to be Catholic. Other than periodic peasant revolts related to living conditions, which were quickly put down with the standing army, the feudal system ran pretty smoothly since there was no middle class, only a nobility and the peasants. The peasants did by law have some rights such as protection from invaders, a "fair" taxation rate, and freedom to address grievances to their king. Also a peasant could leave one region for another if so desired. These rights were, of course, periodically violated.
The Renaissance which began in Italy in the 1300's spread to Europe in the 1500;s and the 1600's. One aspect of the Renaissance was its effect on established religions. Along with the Renaissance came a rise in what had previously been absent in the feudal ssytem, a middle class. This middle class came from an increasing number of people leaving the farms and living in cities. It included what came to be known as entrepreneurs or businessmen, educators, and priests while the impact this class had on the activities in any region was growing. It was also from this class that many of the humanistic movements common during the Renaissance began. Among the religious members of this class in the Rhine Palatinate was a local priest named Martin Luther who was responding to a grassroots peasant dissatisfaction with some of the teachings of the Catholic Church. In 1517 he nailed his famous Ninty-Five Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenburg and was subsequently excommunicated by teh Emperial Diet in Worms in 1521. However, the movement that was to be known to history as the Reformation was already underway.
The Reformation was a movement that advocated breaking away from teh Catholic Church and "freedom of religion" which was something unheard of in a feudal system. What Luther began became in Germany the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist movements while other Reformation advocates spread similar religious activities. In 1536 John Calvin established a presbytery form of church government or rule by the members themselves and began the Huguenot movement in France. In 1560 John Knox in Scotland further refined the presbytery concept and established the Presbyterian Church.
The local king in the Rhine Palatinate as well as other kings did not simply accept the Reformation movement. In several instances they turned their vast armies against the peasants with resulting persecution and outright genocide. The Peasant's Revolt in Germany was such an incident. Interestingly, Martin Luther sided with the local king in this revolt and attempted to persuade the peasants to lay down their arms and undertake a less violent means of protest. Several French kings, such as Louis XIV, worked hard to bring the Reformations to an end. Between 1688 and 1607 he waged the War of the Palatinate and sacked the German cities of Mainz, Worms, Mannheim, and Heidelberg. In an effort "to make the Palatinate uninhabitable" his armies cut down fruit trees and destroyed vineyards in order to eliminate all Reformation activists. Louis XIV is credited with killing 100,000 men, women, and children and driving at least that many from their homes. Previousl sevy he had conducted similiar activities against the Huguenotsin Frane who fled to the Palatinate to avoid persecution. Several severe winters followed teh war and inhabitants of this region immigrated in droves both to avoid future persecution as well as find a way to earn a living. they literally wandered all over Europe in an attempt to find a home. Some went to Holland, others to Russia, and still otehr to England. They had the reputation of being excellent farmers and were often welcomes wherever they went. Later some immigrated to America in order to find good farming land that was affordable as well as avoid religious persecution, which by the mid 1700's was not as active in Europe as previous.
Immigrants from the Rhine Palatinate coming to America most frequently journeyed by barge up the Rhine River to its northern terminal in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. This was a journey of about six weeks and meant stopping at over twenty immigration stations along the way. At each station immigrants were checked for necessary papers and also underwent occassional health inspections. Some immigrants, for instance, were required to have offical permission to immigrate from their town authorities. This was especially true in the case of specialized craftsmen, such as linen weavers. Failure to secure such permission could mean a trip back home. Upon reach Rotterdam mroe immigration records were completed and passengers for chartered ships were organized. This process could take up to three weeks. After leaving Rotterdam ships frequently stopped in England for needed supplies as well as to take on other passengers. The trip to America took about five weeks but voyages up to twelve weeks occured. Shipboard diseases were rampant and epidemics often broke out. in 1743 many ships entereing the port of Philadelphia were quarantined due to outbreaks of "palatine fever." Most ships docked at Philadelphia as William Penn had journeyed to the Rhine Palatinate to recruit colonists as early as 1682. Dockings at New York, Boston, Baltimore, Savannah, and Charleston were also common. Upon reaching port the passengers either went their own way by themselves or with relatives and friends or were sold as indentured servants for the price of the voyage. Servitudes could last up to seven years; however, a later law limited servitude periods to three years.
In 1727 the Colony of Pennsylvania began keeping records of immigrants primarily because a large number of them were coming from Germany and were locally referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch, a corruption of the German "deutsch" meaning "folk." Each captain of a vessel before being allowed to disembark his passengers was mandated by law to provide a list of all male passengers was mandated by law to provide a list of all male passengers over the age of sixteen. These males, within three days of landing, were then required to appear at the courthouse in Philadelphia to take an oath of allegiance whereby they promised not to take up arms against the colony and go to her aid if needed. They also swore allegiance to the King of England.
Some ship captains were more active in their record keeping than other and it is from these lists that genealogists have obtained important information. Some lists included all passengers and women, of all ages. Also included in some lists were occupations and hometowns. HOwever, since only males of age sixteen and older were required to take the oath most captains merely provided a list of names to local authorities. Also these lists did not come into being until 1727 and record keeping was at best scanty prior to this period.
In 1710 Swiss and German immigrants established the town of New Bern in the colony of North Carolina but were nearly destroyed in 1712 by attacks from the Tuscarora Indians. In 1729 immigrants entered South Carolina upon the urging of the English King to assist in putting down slave rebellions and protect the frontier. By 1745 there were over 45,000 German immigrants to Pennsylvania and more were arriving each year, and in 1750 they began moving down the Shenandoah Valley seeking more productive and cheaper lands to cultivate. In 1753 the Moravians entered North Carolina and established Salem and in 1764 the settlement of Saxe-Gotha in South Carolina was established with over 600 residents. By 1776 there were estimated to be over 8,000 Germans settlers in North Carolina.
Prepared by: Dr. Robert H. Baker, III
Web site maintained by: Vicky Sawyer, TGAW
Last updated: January 24, 2001