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The German Palatines were natives of the Electorate of the Palatinate region of Germany, although a few had come to Germany from Switzerland, the Alsace, and probably other parts of Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century and into the 18th, the wealthy region was repeatedly invaded by French troops, which resulted in continuous military requisitions, widespread devastation and famine. The "Poor Palatines" were some 13,000 Germans who came to England between May and November 1709. Their arrival in England, and the inability of the British Government to integrate them, caused a highly politicized debate over the merits of immigration. The English tried to settle them in England, Ireland, and the Colonies. The English transported nearly 3,000 in ten ships to New York in 1710. Many of them first were assigned to work camps along the Hudson River to work off their passage. Close to 850 families settled in the Hudson River Valley, primarily in what are now Germantown and Saugerties, New York. In 1723 100 heads of families from the work camps were the first Europeans to acquire land west of Little Falls, New York, in present-day Herkimer County on both the north and south sides along the Mohawk River. Later additional Palatine Germans settled along the Mohawk River for several miles, founding towns such as Palatine Bridge, and in the Schoharie Valley.
Throughout the Nine Years War (1688–1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714), recurrent invasions by the French Army devastated the area of what is today Southwest Germany. The depredations of the French Army and the destruction of numerous cities (especially within the Palatinate) created economic hardship for the inhabitants of the region, exacerbated by a rash of harsh winters and poor harvests that created famine in Germany and much of northwest Europe.
What triggered the mass emigration in 1709 of mostly impoverished people to England was the Crown's promise of free land in the American Colonies. Parliament discovered in 1711 that several “agents” working on behalf of the Colony of Carolina had promised the peasants around Frankfurt free passage to the plantations. Spurred by the success of several dozen families the year before, thousands of German families headed down the Rhine to England and the New World.
The first boats packed with refugees began arriving in early May 1709. The first 900 people were given housing, food and supplies by a number of wealthy Englishmen. The immigrants were called “Poor Palatines”: “poor” in reference to their pitiful and impoverished state upon arrival in England, and “Palatines” since many of them came from lands controlled by the Elector Palatine. The majority came from regions outside the Palatinate and, against the wishes of their respective rulers, they fled by the thousands down the Rhine River to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, whence the majority embarked for London. Throughout the summer, ships unloaded thousands of refugees, and almost immediately their numbers overwhelmed the initial attempts to provide for them. By summer, most of the Poor Palatines were settled in Army tents in the fields of Blackheath and Camberwell. A Committee dedicated to coordinating their settlement and dispersal sought ideas for their employment. This proved difficult, as the Poor Palatines were unlike previous migrant groups — skilled, middle-class, religious exiles such as the Huguenots or the Dutch in the 16th century — but rather unskilled rural laborers, neither sufficiently educated nor healthy enough for most types of employment.
During the reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714), political polarization increased. Immigration and asylum had long been debated, from coffee-houses to the floor of Parliament, and the Poor Palatines were inevitably brought into the political crossfire.
For the Whigs, who controlled Parliament, these immigrants provided an opportunity to increase Britain’s workforce. Only two months before the German influx, Parliament had enacted the "Act for the Naturalization of Foreign Protestants", whereby immigrants could pay a small fee to become naturalized. The rationale was the belief that an increased population created more wealth, and that Britain’s prosperity could increase with the accommodation of foreign peoples. Britain had already benefited from French Huguenot refugees, as well as the Dutch (or “Flemish”) exiles, who helped revolutionize the English textile industry. Similarly, in an effort to increase the sympathy and support for these expatriates, many Whig tracts and pamphlets described the Palatines as “refugees of conscience” and victims of Catholic oppression and intolerance. Louis XIV of France had become infamous for the persecution of Protestants within his realm. The invasion and destruction of the Rhineland region by his forces was considered by many in Britain as a sign that the Palatines were likewise objects of his religious tyranny. With royal support, the Whigs formulated a charity brief to raise money for the “Poor Distressed Palatines”, who had grown too numerous to be supported by the Crown alone.
The Tories and members of the High Church Party (those who sought greater religious uniformity), were dismayed by the numbers of Poor Palatines amassing in the fields of Southeast London. Long-standing opponents of naturalization, the Tories condemned the Whig assertions that the immigrants would be beneficial to the economy, as they were already an acute financial burden. Similarly, many who worried for the security of the Church of England were concerned about the religious affiliations of these German families, especially after it was revealed that many (perhaps more than 2,000) were Catholic. Though the majority of the Catholic Germans were immediately sent back across the English Channel, many English thought their presence disproved the religious refugee status of the Poor Palatines.
The author Daniel Defoe was a major spokesman, who attacked the critics of the government’s policy. Defoe’s Review, a tri-weekly journal dealing usually with economic matters, was for two months dedicated to denouncing opponents’ claims that the Palatines were disease-ridden, Catholic bandits who had arrived in England “to eat the Bread out of the Mouths of our People.” In addition to dispelling rumors and propounding the benefits of an increased population, Defoe advanced his own ideas on how the Poor Palatines should be “disposed”.
Not long after the Palatines' arrival, the Board of Trade was charged with finding a means for their dispersal. Contrary to the immigrants, who wanted to be transported to the colonies, most schemes involved settling them within the British Isles, either on uninhabited lands in England or in Ireland (where they could bolster the numbers of the Protestant minority). Most officials involved were reluctant to send the Germans to the colonies due to the cost, and to the belief that they would be more beneficial if kept in Britain. Since the majority of the Poor Palatines were husbandmen, vinedressers and laborers, it was widely felt that they would be better suited in agricultural areas. There were some attempts to disperse them in neighboring towns and cities. Ultimately, large-scale settlement plans came to nothing, and the government sent Palatines piecemeal to various regions in England and Ireland. These attempts mostly failed, and many of the Palatines returned from Ireland to London within a few months, in far worse condition than when they had left.
The commissioners finally acquiesced and sent numerous families to New York to produce naval stores. The Germans transported to New York in the summer of 1710 totaled about 2800 people in ten ships, the largest group of immigrants to enter the colony before the American Revolution. Because of their refugee status and weakened condition, as well as shipboard diseases, they had a high rate of fatality. Another 300-some Palatines made it to the Carolinas. Despite the failure of the Naval Stores effort and the unfulfilled promises of land to the Palatines, they had reached the New World and were determined to stay. Their descendants are scattered across the United States and Canada.
The experience with the Poor Palatines discredited the Whig philosophy of naturalization, and figured in political debates as an example of the pernicious effects of offering asylum to refugees. Once the Tories returned to power, they retracted the Act of Naturalization, which they claimed had lured the Palatines to England (though few had in fact become naturalized). Later attempts to reinstate an Act for Naturalization would suffer from the tarnished legacy of Britain’s first attempt to support mass immigration of foreign-born peoples.
Despite the unsuccessful attempt by the Poor Palatines to reach the Carolinas, later groups of German émigrés succeeded in establishing thriving communities in the New World. They made significant contributions to the wealth and prosperity of the American Colonies.
Germans had trickled into North American colonies since their earliest days. The first mass migration, however, began in 1708. Queen Anne's government had sympathy for the Protestant Germans and had invited them to go to the colonies and work in trade for passage. Official correspondence in British records shows a total of 13,146 refugees traveled down the Rhine and from Amsterdam to England in the summer of 1709. More than 3500 of these were returned from England either because they were Roman Catholic or at their own request. Henry Jones, quotes an entry in a churchbook by the Pastor of Dreieichenhain that states a total of 15,313 Germans left their villages in 1709 “for the so-called New America and, of course, Carolina.”  The flood of immigration overwhelmed English resources. It resulted in major disruptions, overcrowding, famine, disease and the death of a thousand or more Palatines. It appeared the entire Palatinate would be emptied before a halt could be called to emigration. Many reasons have been given to explain why so many families left their homes for an unknown land. Knittle summarizes them: “(1) war devastation, (2) heavy taxation, (3) an extraordinarily severe winter, (4) religious quarrels, but not persecutions, (5) land hunger on the part of the elderly and desire for adventure on the part of the young, (6) liberal advertising by colonial proprietors, and finally (7) the benevolent and active cooperation of the British government.” 
No doubt the biggest impetus was the harsh, cold winter that preceded their departure. Birds froze in mid-air, casks of wine, livestock, whole vineyards were destroyed by the unremitting cold. With what little was left of their possessions, the refugees made their way on boats down the Rhine to Amsterdam, where they remained until the English government decided what to do about them. Ships were finally dispatched for them across the English Channel, and the Palatines arrived in London, where they waited longer while the British government considered its options. So many arrived that the government created a winter camp for them outside the city walls. A few were settled in England, a few more may have been sent to Jamaica and Nassau, but the greatest numbers were sent to Ireland, Carolina and especially, New York in the summer of 1710. They were obligated to work off their passage.
The Reverend Joshua Kocherthal paved the way in 1709, with a small group of fifty who settled in Newburgh, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River. “In the summer of 1710, a colony numbering 2,227 arrived in New York and were [later] located in five villages on either side of the Hudson, those upon the east side being designated as East Camp, and those upon the west, as West Camp.”  A census of these villages on May 1, 1711 showed 1194 on the east side and 583 on the west side. The total number of families was 342 and 185, respectively. About 350 Palatines had remained in New York City, and some settled in New Jersey.
Settlement on the east side (East Camp) of the Hudson River was accomplished as a result of Governor Hunter's negotiations with Robert Livingston, who owned Livingston Manor in what is now Columbia County, New York. (This was not the town now known as Livingston Manor on the west side of the Hudson River). Livingston was anxious to have his lands developed. The Livingstons benefited for many years from the revenues they received as a result of this business venture. West Camp, on the other hand, was located on land the Crown had recently "repossessed" as an "extravagant grant." Pastors from both Lutheran and Reformed churches quickly began to serve the camps and created extensive records of these early settlers long before the state of New York was established or kept records.
The British Crown believed that the Palatines could work and be “useful to this kingdom, particularly in the production of naval stores, and as a frontier against the French and their Indians.”  Naval stores which the British needed were hemp, tar and pitch, poor choices for the climate and the variety of pine trees in New York State. On September 6, 1712, work was halted. “The last day of the government subsistence for most of the Palatines was September 12th.”  “Within the next five years, many Palatines moved elsewhere. Several went to Pennsylvania, others to New Jersey, settling at Oldwick or Hackensack, still others pushed a few miles south to Rhinebeck, New York, and some returned to New York City, while quite a few established themselves on Livingston Manor [where they had originally been settled]. . . Some forty or fifty families went to Schoharie between September 12th and October 31, 1712." 
A report in 1718 placed 224 families of 1,021 persons along the Hudson River while 170 families of 580 persons were in Schoharie. In 1723, under Governor Burnetsfield, 100 heads of families from the work camps were settled on 100 acres (0.40 km2) each in the Burnetsfield Patent midway in the Mohawk River Valley, just west of Little Falls. They were the first Europeans to be allowed to buy land that far west in the valley. The Palatine communities gradually extended along both sides of the Mohawk River to Canojoharie. Their legacy was reflected in place names, such as German Flatts and Palatine Bridge, and the few colonial-era churches and other buildings that survived the Revolution. They taught their children German and used the language in churches for nearly 100 years. Many Palatines married only within the German community until the 19th century.
Because of the concentration of Palatine refugees in New York, the term "Palatine" became associated with German. "Until the American War of Independence 'Palatine' henceforth was used indiscriminately for all 'emigrants of German tongue.'"