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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Peoples

2.
German fraktur bookplate, 1785
Europeans II: The Continent
- "I will not praise much nor complain": continental Europeans in British America, selections from letters, memoirs, and official records, 1687-1758 (PDF)


"I will not praise much nor complain," wrote newcomer Samuel Gabley in 1711 to relatives in Switzerland. "I live well and happy and would not wish to have remained at home." In stark contrast, the German immigrant Gottlieb Mittelberger was so distressed with his experience in America that he returned to Europe and published a book to "prevent other innocent souls from leaving their fatherland." Yet another immigrant assured his family that America was the "best poor man's country."

In the previous section, we focused on American colonists of British ancestry—the English, Scots, Welsh, and Irish—who dominated immigration to British America until the late 1600s. After 1680, notes historian Jon Butler, "the British mainland colonies became a haven for non-English Europeans" like Gabley and Mittelberger.1 They fled poverty, war, and religious persecution. They emigrated to join relatives and fellow church members in fledgling settlements in America. They were even recruited by the British government, desperate to increase its colonies' population without depleting its home labor supply. The effect on colonial America was transforming. "As the colonial population became less English," writes historian Alan Taylor, "it assumed a new ethnic and racial complexity, which increased the gap between freedom and slavery, privilege and prejudice, wealth and poverty, white and black."2

In this collection of excerpts, we focus on the experience of continental Europeans as minority residents in the British colonies. Why did they decide to emigrate? Were they welcomed in the colonies? How were their new lives influenced by their non-British status? What did they tell their families in Europe? How did they and the British colonists relate to each other? What British freedoms did they value? (The French Acadians are included here, although they were the native-born majority population in Nova Scotia, because they were governed by the British and forced to leave their homeland in Canada.)

The six groups represented are:     Pair the selections with others in this Toolbox:

French Protestants in Massachusetts French Protestants in Virginia
French Catholics in Nova Scotia German & Swiss Protestants in North Carolina
Swiss Protestants in North Carolina German & Austrian Protestants in Georgia
German Jews in Georgia German Protestants in Pennsylvania, 1700
German Protestants in New York German Protestants in Pennsylvania, 1724
German Protestants in Pennsylvania German Protestants in Pennsylvania, 1750 (#1)
German Protestants in Pennsylvania, 1750 (#2)


To read a representative sample of white colonists' responses to the diversity they discovered among themselves, see section #6: Diversity. (10 pages.)
  • - Narrative of a French Protestant Refugee in Boston, 1687, excerpts.
  • - Francis Daniel Pastorius, letter to his father in Germany, 30 May 1698, excerpts.
  • - Letters of four Swiss settlers of New Bern, North Carolina, to relatives in Switzerland, April 1711, excerpts.
  • - Petition of Rev. Michael Knoll to the governor of New York, 12 May 1749, excerpts.
  • - Journal of Rev. Johann Martin Bolzius, 1734, excerpts.
  • - Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750, 1756, excerpts.
  • - Petition of French Acadians to the governor of Massachusetts Bay, 15 September 1758.


Discussion questions
  1. Overall, describe the experience of continental European immigrants in British America.
  2. How did it differ from the general experience of British immigrants?
  3. Why did the continental Europeans decide to emigrate to America?
  4. Were they welcomed in the colonies? How did they and the British colonists relate to each other?
  5. What did the continental Europeans tell their families back in Europe?
  6. Note their comments on the freedom of conscience they experience in America. What impresses them most?
  7. How did their increasing presence affect colonial society?
  8. How did the experience of the French Catholics in Nova Scotia (Acadians) differ from the other immigrants' experiences? Why?
  9. Why did the two German immigrants, Francis Daniel Pastorius and Gottlieb Mittelberger, have such opposite impressions of life in Pennsylvania?
  10. Why did the three groups of French immigrants have such different experiences in British America?
  11. How do the selections reveal the increasing religious as well as ethnic diversity in the British colonies?
  12. Consider the statement of historian Alan Taylor: "As the colonial population became less English, it assumed a new ethnic and racial complexity, which increased the gap between freedom and slavery, privilege and prejudice, wealth and poverty, white and black."2 How do these readings illustrate Taylor's point?

Framing Questions
  •  What varieties of personal experience did the circumstances of life in eighteenth-century British America make available to the people of the colonies—native-born or immigrant; free, bonded, or enslaved?
  •  How did they respond to the racial, ethnic, religious, and economic diversity in British America? How did they define tolerance, peers, rights, and opportunity?
  •  How did their responses to diversity shape colonial society as a whole?
  •  By 1763, what would "American" mean to the diverse peoples of North America?


Printing
Commentary from continental Europeans: 10 pages
Supplemental Sites

The German Palatines, overview, from the National Park Service

Pennsylvania-German fraktur, in ExplorePAHistory

Acadian Heartland: Records of the Deportation and Le Grand Dérangement, 1714-1768, from Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management

Pennsylvania-German fraktur, in ExplorePAHistory




1 Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 19-20.


2 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 303.



Images:
- German fraktur bookplate, 1785. Spruance Library/Bucks County Historical Society, SC-58. No. C-09. Permission pending.
- German Moravian ceramic sugar jar; reproduction of jar by Rudolph Christ, ca. 1760s. Old Salem Museums and Gardens, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Permission pending.


*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.





PEOPLES
1. Europeans I   2. Europeans II   3. Native Americans
4. African Americans   5. Women   6. Diversity








TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
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