Chapter Two - The History Of The German Immigration To America - The Brobst Chronicles

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Index and Table of Contents to The Brobst Chronicles
Title Page
Chapter One - The Early Swiss/German Probsts
Chapter Two - The History Of The German Immigration To America
Chapter Three - The Struggles of the Settlers
Chapter Four - The Early American Pennsylvania Brobsts
Chapter Five - Children of Philipp Jacob Probst
Chapter Six - The Other Children of Philipp Jacob Probst
Chapter Seven: The Other Children of Christophel Probst
Chapter Eight: Other Interesting Brobstology Intermarriages

Chapter II


War, poverty, and religious persecution were rampant in Western Europe in the 1600s and into the early 1700s. With the Protestant Reformation, Roman Catholics were making it difficult for the Lutherans. In 1572, the French Catholics conducted the St. Bartholemew's Day massacre in which hundreds of Huguenot Lutherans were killed. For a period of over 150 years, the Protestants suffered cruel persecutions in which an untold number of lives were sacrificed. The history of Switzerland and Germany has been one of constant migration of people from one area to another. Many Probst families left their homes in Switzerland to escape to Germany, some to the Rheinland-Pfalz area of southwestern Germany, in the Palatinate; others moved further to the east in Bavaria, especially around Pfistermuehle, Regen. Many emigrated to southern Alsace, France. Little did they know that it was mostly a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire. Religious persecution was just as severe in Germany and France.

(Note: The term "Palatinate" appears often in the early Probst history records. The Palatinate ("Der Pfalz" in German) includes the lands west of the middle part of the Rhine river (Rheinland-Pfalz). In the 1600s, it also included much of northwestern Bavaria, Schwabia, and Baden-Wurttemburg. The de facto capital of the Palatinate at that time was Heidelberg. This area was the center of the religious upheaval which brought about the mass exodus to America and elsewhere. For those readers who are interested in the history of the Palatinate, and the details of how bad things really were for the German citizens of southwestern Germany, look at Appendix 9. There are also some photographs in that Appendix of the Kandel/Minfeld area.)

The religious Thirty Years War, with its bloodshed, murder, robbery, and pillage, raged on from 1619 to 1648, and was disastrous to the Palatinate. Although the war "ended" in 1648, the repressive effects lasted for a century. One report1 states that the persecution reduced the population of the Palatinate from some half-million to fewer than fifty thousand. By the time the early 1700s had come along, the Palatine Germans had had enough of poverty, sickness, starvation, freezing, and being caught in the middle between the warring French and German troops. The Palatines had enough. They looked westward. They packed up, floated down the Rhine to Rotterdam, and headed for America. They fled. They fled from Switzerland and Tyrol (Schwaben), from the Lower Rhenish Palatinate of Germany and from the Alsace area of eastern France. The great exodus, "Massenauswanderung der Pf�lzer", had begun. Little did they know what they faced.

The only safe haven on the continent was the Netherlands which could absorb only a few of the many German Protestants. Others of the "V�lkwanderung" fled to England, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and Australia. So many went to England that they caused a serious economic problem. England's "Good Queen Anne" was sympathetic to both sides, and financed the shipping and feeding of those who wanted to go to America, provided that they would swear allegiance to the Crown of England. (Note the irony: French citizens of German ancestry, traveling on English ships from Rotterdam to America, and then having to become British subjects!)

"I, ---, do solemnly & sincerely promise & declare that I will be true & faithful to King George the Second & do sincerely & truly Profess, Testifie, & Declare that I do from my heart abhor, detest, & renounce as impious & heretical that wicked Doctrine & Position that Princes Excommunicated or deprived by the Pope or any Authority of the See of Rome may be deposed or murthered by their Subjects or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no Foreign Prince Person Prelate State or Potentate hath or ought to have any Power Jurisdiction Superiority Preeminency or Authority Ecclesiastical or Spiritual within the Realm of Great Britain or Dominions thereunto belonging."

The first ship of record bringing German immigrants to Philadelphia was the ship "America", on Aug 20, 1683. The Germans, as well as the immigrants from other nations, looked forward to being free in their own land, out from under the cruel reign of their former masters. Little did they know the cost that freedom would entail.

"While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free." (Song, "God Bless America")

William Penn was born into a wealthy family in England in 1644, but was expelled from Oxford University for associating with religious "radicals". Penn's father, Admiral Sir William Penn, was deeply disappointed in his son and sent him to Ireland in an attempt to separate him from this group. In Ireland, however, Penn met and joined the most radical and persecuted of all the Protestant sects -- the Society of Friends, or "Quakers". It was this persecution, and later imprisonment, that drove Penn to seek freedom in the New World.

William Penn "acquired" part of Pennsylvania in 1681 in payment of a debt that King Charles II owed his father, Admiral Penn2. He came to America on the ship "Welcome" in 1682, at the age of thirty-eight. He used the king's land grant to establish his "holy experiment" -- a colony dedicated to religious tolerance. He purchased additional land on the Delaware River from the Delaware Indians.

It is interesting that William Penn's mother, Margaret Jasper of Rotterdam, Netherlands, had German cousins. This relationship may have played a part in why William Penn was offering Pennsylvania as a haven for the beleaguered German Protestants. William Penn lived in Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1684, and again from 1699 to 1701. He died in England in 1718.

(Note: Pennsylvania had been explored and parts of it, mostly in the east, had been settled by the French, the Dutch, and the Swedish in the early 1600s. The British conquered the Dutch in 1664, and this part of America became English territory. A small band of Krefeld Quakers and Mennonites came to Pennsylvania as a vanguard in 1683; they founded the city of Germantown. They were followed by the Amish, Dunkers, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders. And the Probsts!)

Penn's new colony became an absorbing subject of interest through the British Isles and Continental Europe, and almost immediately great numbers of people from the British Isles joined the America-bound throngs, many of them into Pennsylvania.

"Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." (Inscription, Statue of Liberty)

Initially, all this land was known as "Penn's Woods". This was a tract of land of 45,000 square miles; Penn "owned" more land than any other commoner of that day. William Penn suggested that this large tract of land be called "New Wales." King Charles' and savage assistant objected to such a name for this unsettled wilderness, so Penn suggested "Sylvania", a Latin word meaning "forest". The King decided to honor the Penn family name and so coined the name "Penn's Sylvania."3

Penn returned to Europe shortly after that. In Germany he met with Karl K�nig (King Charles) and to encourage the beleaguered Protestants to come to Pennsylvania.4 He preached the beauty of the Poconos and Alleghenies, and assured the Germans that there were many similarities between Pennsylvania and Der Pfalz. His territorial mission was a beckoning light to the downtrodden Palatinate peasants. They must have felt that the potential hell of the voyage and wilderness were preferable to the real hell in which they were already living.

"Pennsylvania began its history as a "Holy Experiment" with basic principles of democracy and ideals of human liberty as its foundation stones."5

Around 1710, after a very severe winter, a mass migration of religious exiles -- German, French, and Swiss Lutheran families -- was underway, headed for America, mostly to the New York and Pennsylvania areas. Persecuted by the Roman Catholics, they became the Roamin' Lutherans! They came with farmers, craftsmen, artisans, home-makers, doctors, and lawyers. They came from Germany (Palatine, Saar, Baden, Bavaria, Schwabia, Wurttemburg, Darmstadt, Lower Saxony, Krefeld, Hesse, Prussia), France (Alsace), Austria, and Switzerland. Most of them traveled down the Rhine River to embark at Rotterdam for America. Other Germans left from Hamburg, Bremen, and Le Havre. From the Palatine alone, 40,000-50,000 Germans emigrated to America in the early 1700s. One document discusses the emigration:

"It was so great that, for a time, it appeared as if the entire Palatinate (the present Rheinland Pfalz or Rheinland Palatinate and part of Baden) might be depopulated ..."6

"The colonization, although romantically revered, was still a usurping of land. Reasons for colonization included the areas of war, taxation, land hunger, religious beliefs, assumed religious beliefs in order to escape unbearable circumstances, adventure, eviction from a social regime, debts, incarceration, visions of hope for future family generations, -- and greed."7

The steadily increasing flow of people from Germany and England to Pennsylvania caused a number of enterprising English ship owners to enter into the business of transporting passengers. Mittelberger states, in his diary8,

"The Newlanders .... were rascals, ship owners, and commission merchants who went up and down the Rhine, well-dressed, pretending to be prosperous Philadelphia merchants, to persuade the humble and unsuspecting peasantry to sell their belongings and embark for the land of promise, Pennsylvania."

The cost of passage from Rotterdam fluctuated from five to ten pounds Sterling, a great sum in those days. Children were half-price, although few under the age of seven survived the voyages. The trip down the Rhine River from the Palatinate to Rotterdam sometimes lasted for several weeks, much of the time being spent in complying with the regulations of the various German principalities which existed along that great river valley through which they were obliged to pass. They were normally delayed in Rotterdam for several weeks more, and again at one of the English ports (usually Liverpool) where the ships stopped to pick up English immigrant passengers.

The sailing time for crossing the Atlantic from England to Philadelphia was from eight to sixteen weeks! Ships usually left in early summer to take advantage of calmer seas and balmy weather over the North Atlantic.

Conditions on board the ships were usually horrible, with many passengers sick and dying. As many as 150 to 400 passengers were stuffed into the hold spaces of these small ships. Rarely was there sufficient food for the trip. Starvation and death stalked amidst stench, vermin, and filth. "Ship fever" (typhus), dysentery, smallpox, and scurvy ravaged the passengers. Many vessels were lost at sea in storms. The following is an account of the trip of some Palatiners who embarked at Rotterdam in June, 1731:9

"It was a severely harsh trip, taking from six weeks to six months, on fillthy (sic) ships which were hardly seaworthy and with passengers packed `like herrings' and exposed to rats, disease, thirst, and starvation. Their provisions fell short, and in the last eight weeks they had no bread; but a pint of grouts [crushed oats] was all the allowance for five persons per day. They all ate rats and mice they could catch. The price of a rat was 18 pence, a mouse was 6 pence, and water 6 pence a quart. Frequently the survivors had to pay not only for themselves but also for those who died during the voyage."

"The pitiful signs of distress on the journey should have given any traveller pause: smells, fumes, horrors, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot ... caused by the age and the highly-salted state of the food, especially the meat, as well as by the very bad and filthy water ... hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, fear, misery, vexation, lamentation .. so many lice, especially on the sick people, that they have to be scraped off the body. Parents must often watch their offspring suffer miserably, die, and be thrown into the ocean.10

"One day, just as we had a heavy gale, a woman on our ship, who was to give birth and could not under the circumstances of the storm, was pushed through the porthole and dropped into the sea, because she was far in the rear of the ship and could not be brought forward." 11

When the ships landed, a doctor came on board to decide who was sick and who was well. Often the diagnosis was made by whether a person had a "furry tongue" (which was considered an indicator of disease) or a "clean tongue". Those who had furry tongues were sent back to Europe!

Philipp Jacob Probst and his wife C'erine had to make the trip aboard ship and from Philadelphia to Berks County (original German spelling "Bercks") with three small boys! It's a wonder they survived the trip at all.

"Most of the ships arrived in the fall, with the hardships of the winter staring the pioneers in the face. But, in spite of all difficulties and hardships, new settlers continued to come. The wonder is not that so many succumbed, but that so many faced all hardships uncomplainingly and after a few years of service emerged from all difficulties as successful farmers, who made the country blossom. These pioneers were made of sturdy stuff."12

(Note: The Probsts were not the first French Huguenots to come to America. In 1564, a group of French Huguenots came to America to escape religious prosecution. Led by Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, they landed in North Florida and established Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. John's River. The Spanish, threatened by these French interlopers, sent an expeditionary force and massacred the entire French colony.)13

Between 1708 and 1760, war, hunger, and persecution drove 100,000 German immigrants ("Auswanderungs") to America. Between 1727 and 1776, a total of 324 ships arrived at Philadelphia carrying German passengers. Other ships carried immigrants from many European nations to other American ports. The tens of thousands of German immigrants settled at various places in America, from New England to Pennsylvania and the Virginias, most of them settling in Pennsylvania. Other immigrants from other countries spread throughout the northeastern quarter of the American colonies. And then, after those hardships, the pioneering ancestors had to suffer further extreme hardships in hewing out the wilderness for their new homes in America. Germans (and German Americans) have a reputation (somewhat deserved) of being obstinate, but how else could have those early settlers survived in their terrible struggle against first their homeland rulers and then the wilderness and the Indians?

"The very essence of our nation is founded on the strength, courage, and determination of these immigrants." (Thomas Jefferson)

It was in 1717 that the growing influx of Germans to Philadelphia created concern. Pennsylvania Governor Keith opined that immigration could prove dangerous! Little did he know!!14 By 1727, there were 20,000 Germans living in Pennsylvania. Twenty years later, this has doubled. By 1766, there were 100,000, said Ben Franklin.15

"Pennsylvania German migration and its part in the settlement and development of America form an epic tale of faith and zeal, of sacrifice and achievement. When the pioneers arrived, the government of Pennsylvania was in the hands of British subjects. Penn's agents were Englishmen; the English language was used; English common law was in force. It early became a matter of concern to these Englishmen that so large a body of continentals, speaking another language and accustomed to another form of government, should be admitted to the land, even though they came at the invitation of Penn himself."16

But reaching Philadelphia was not inevitable good fortune. Slavery in the New World was in full bloom, and not just with black Africans! Those who lacked funds or security for the sea freight had to essentially sell themselves for payment. Adults bound themselves into "slavery" from three to six years, while children had to serve until twenty-one. Many parents in order to pay their fares in this way and get off the ship must barter and sell their children as if they were cattle. Indentured servants had to agree to work for their master for 3-7 years in exchange for passage to America. At the end of the term, the servant might be given clothes, tools, a small sum of money, or even a piece of land. Some 50-75% of the white American colonists were indentured, and though most made the trip willingly, others were tricked into service. The Probsts appeared to have escaped this form of immigration; no Probsts were listed among the thousands of indentured servants who came to America in the 1600s and 1700s.


1. Dean V. Cunfer, "The Early Brobst - Probst Family", 1987 [return]

2. Gary R. & Elizabeth L. Hovinen, Pennsylvania Dutch Country, 1986 [return]

3. Dennis B. Fradin, The Pennsylvania Colony, 1988 [return]

4. William Bobst, "Notes on the Genealogy of the family - Brobst, Probst, Bobst, Bopst, and Bopes, in America from 1733 to 1941", Feb 29, 1940 [return]

5. Stevens, Pennsylvania, The Keystone State, 1956 [return]

6. German Family Research Made Simple, Summit Publication, Monroe Falls, Ohio [return]

7. Stambaugh, 1686-1986 [return]

8. Mittelberger, Gottlieb: "Proceedings of the Pennsylvania German Society", Vol. IX, pp 170-180. [return]

9. Dean V. Cunfer, "Brobst Family History", 1987 [return]

10. From Gottlieb Mittleberger, "Reise nach Pennsylvanie", 1756 [return]

11. John McVey, "Gottlieb Mittelburger's Journey to Pennsylvania in the year 1750", 1888 [return]

12. John McVey, "Gottlieb Mittelburger's.....", 1888 [return]

13. Carter Smith, "American Historical Images on File; Colonial and Revolutionary America", 1990. [return]

14. Joseph E. Illick, Colonial Pennsylvania, 1976 [return]

15. "Deutsche in der Neuen Welt" [return]

16. Strassburger and Hinke, Pennsylvania German Pioneers, 1980 [return]

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