Poor Palatines

Poor Palatines

The Poor Palatines were some 13,000 German refugees from the Upper Rhine who fled to England between May and November 1709. Their arrival in England, and the inability for the British Government to integrate them, caused a highly politicized debate over the merits of immigration, and led to several unsuccessful attempts to settle them in England, Ireland, and the Colonies.


Throughout the course of both the Nine Years War (1688-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), recurrent invasions by the French Army had a devastating impact in the area of what is today Southwest Germany. The exactions of the French Army, and the destruction of numerous cities (especially within the Electoral Principality of the Palatinate) created widespread dearth and economic hardship for the inhabitants of the region. Adding to the woes of this destitute population was a particularly harsh winter and a poor harvest which created a famine that affected Germany, and much of northwest Europe.

Yet a devastated landscape and impoverished populace were not the primary motives for the mass emigration of people to England. Rather, it was the promise of free land in the American Colonies that instigated the exodus. It was revealed to Parliament in 1711 (almost three years after the arrival of these German immigrants to London) that there were several “agents” working on behalf of the Colony of Carolina that had promised the hapless peasants in the regions around Frankfurt free passage to the plantations. Fueled by the success of several dozen families the year before, thousands of German families headed down the Rhine en route to England and the New World. [ Statt, Daniel. "Foreigners and Englishmen : the controversy over immigration and population," 1660-1760. Newark (DE): University of Delaware Press, 1995. pp. 122-130]


The first boats packed with refugees began arriving in early May, and the first nine hundred of them were given housing, food and supplies by a number of wealthy Englishmen who felt them deserving of charity. [“A Representation of what Several private Gentlemen have done towards the Relief of the poor Palatines”, 4 June 1709, from National Archives, SP 34/ 10/129 (236A)] The immigrants were referred to as “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. Yet the majority came from regions outside the Palatinate (see map), and against the wishes of their respective rulers, they fled by the thousands to the Dutch city of Rotterdam, from whence the majority embarked for London. Throughout the summer, ships unloaded thousands of refugees, and almost immediately their sure 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, and a Committee dedicated to coordinating their settlement and dispersal called for ideas for the utilization of these immigrants. This became a difficult proposition, 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 instead were mostly unskilled laborers, neither sufficiently educated, nor healthy enough, for most types of employment.

Political turmoil

The reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) oversaw an era of increased political polarization and hostility. Issues of immigration and asylum had long been debated, from coffee-houses to the floor of Parliament, and the Poor Palatines were inevitably led into the crossfire of the political factions. [For an in-dept examination of this debate, see H.T. Dickinson, ‘Poor Palatines and the Parties’, The English Historical Review, Vol. 82, No. 324. (Jul., 1967),]

For the Whigs, the party that currently enjoyed the control of Parliament, these immigrants provided an opportunity to increase Britain’s workforce. Only two months before the arrival of the German refugees they had passed into law a bill entitled, An Act for the Naturalization of Foreign Protestants, whereby foreign-born individuals could pay a small fee and be considered the same as those “natural-born subjects”. The motivation behind this act 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 certainly benefited from the Huguenot refugees from France, as well as the Dutch (or “Flemish”) exiles that helped revolutionize the English textile industry. [ see Vigne, Randolph; Littleton, Charles (ed). "From strangers to citizens : the integration of immigrant communities in Britain, Ireland and colonial America, 1550-1750", 2001 ] Similarly, in an effort to increase the sympathy and support for these expatriates, many Whig tracts and pamphlets proclaimed the Palatines as “refugees of conscience”, and victims of oppression and intolerance by their Catholic leaders. Louis XIV of France had become infamous for the persecution of Protestants within his own realm, and the destruction of the Rhineland region by his forces was seen by many in Britain as a sign that the Palatines were likewise the objects of his religious tyranny. The Whigs, with royal support, formulized a charity brief, in order to raise money for the “Poor Distressed Palatines”, who had grown far too numerous to be supported by the Crown alone. [Brief for the Relief, Subsistence and Settlement of the Poor Distressed Palatines, 1709 ]

On the other hand, the Tories and members of the “High Church” Party (those who sought greater religious uniformity), showed immense disdain for the Poor Palatines once they began amassing in the fields of Southeast London. Longstanding opponents of naturalization, the Tories condemned the Whig assertions that these migrants would be beneficial to their economy, as already they had become 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 of 2,000) were Catholic. [ H.T. Dickinson, ‘Poor Palatines and the Parties’, p. 472 ] Though the majority of the Catholic Germans were immediately sent back across the English Channel, their presence proved to many that the Poor Palatines where not religious refugees, as had been asserted by their political counterparts.

The most outspoken figure in the debate of the pros and cons of accepting the Poor Palatines (and foreigners in general), was the author Daniel Defoe, who lashed out at those critical of the current government’s policy. Defoe’s Review, a tri-weekly journal usually dealing with economic matters, was for two months dedicated to denouncing opponent’s claims that the Palatines were disease-ridden, Catholic bandits who had arrived in England in order “to eat the Bread out of the Mouths of our People.” [ Daniel Defoe, "The Review," June 21 – August 22 1709 ] Apart from dispelling rumors and propounding the benefits of an increased population, Defoe spent considerable time putting forwards his own ideas on how these Poor Palatines should be “disposed”.


Not long after their arrival, the Board of Trade was charged with determining a means by which the Palatines could be dispersed. Contrary to the wishes of the immigrants themselves who wanted to be transported to the colonies, the majority of schemes involved settling them within the British Isles – either on uninhabited lands in England, or sent to Ireland where they would bolster the numbers of the Protestant minority. The majority of officials in charge of looking after the refugees where extremely reluctant to send these German families to the colonies due to the great costs involved, and 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 that they would be better suited in agricultural areas, though there were some attempts to disperse them in neighboring towns and cities. [H.T. Dickinson, ‘Poor Palatines and the Parties’, pp. 475-477] Ultimately, any large-scale plans to settle the Palatines failed, and they were sent piece-meal to various regions in England and Ireland. However, the initial attempts at settle them in England failed, and many of the Palatines who had been sent to Ireland returned to London within a few months, in a far worse condition than when they had left. ["Journals of the House of Commons XVI", p. 596]

Reluctantly, the commissioners acquiesced and sent numerous families to New York, to produce naval stores. However, this scheme ended in failure, as did the 300 or so Palatines that eventually made it to the Carolinas. Though the impetus for their departure from Germany was to reach the colonies, few actually settled in the New World, and the majority of the Poor Palatines returned (or were sent) home to their respective states in Germany.


The most significant impact of the Poor Palatines, was that they seemingly discredited the Whig philosophy of naturalization, and were used 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 – despite the fact that very few Germans were naturalized as a result of the bill. [Statt, "Foreigners," pp. 127-129, 167-168] Later attempts to reinstate an Act for Naturalization would suffer from the tarnished legacy of Britain’s first attempt to allow the mass-denization of foreign born peoples.

Despite the unsuccessful attempt by the Poor Palatines to reach the Carolinas, later groups of German émigrés would succeed in establishing thriving communities in the New World, and made significant contributions to the wealth and prosperity of the American Colonies.


Founding Father of the United States and adopted Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin had this to say [http://everything2.com/title/Observations+Concerning+the+Increase+of+Mankind] :

"In fine, A Nation well regulated is like a Polypus; take away a Limb, its Place is soon supply'd; cut it in two, and each deficient Part shall speedily grow out of the Part remaining. Thus if you have Room and Subsistence enough, as you may by dividing, make ten Polypes out of one, you may of one make ten Nations, equally populous and powerful; rather, increase a Nation ten fold in Numbers and Strength. And since Detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their Places at Home so soon supply'd and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion f ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion."

"Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."


Further reading

* Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731. "Defoe's Review". Reproduced from the original edition, with an introduction and bibliographical notes by Arthur Wellesley Secord. 9 vols. in 22 (Facsimile Text Soc., 44). New York, 1938-9
* Dickinson, Harry Thomas. 'The poor Palatines and the parties'. "English Historical Review", 82 (1967), 464-85
* Knittle, Walter Allen. "Early eighteenth century Palatine emigration. A British government redemptioner project to manufacture naval stores. With a foreword by Dixon Ryan Fox." Philadelphia (PA), 1937
* Statt, Daniel. "Foreigners and Englishmen : the controversy over immigration and population," 1660-1760. Newark (DE): University of Delaware Press, 1995
* Vigne, Randolph; Littleton, Charles (ed.), "From strangers to citizens : the integration of immigrant communities in Britain, Ireland and colonial America, 1550-1750" (Brighton and Portland (OR): The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland and Sussex Academic Press, 2001), see especially: Olson, Alison. 'The English reception of the Huguenots, Palatines and Salzburgers, 1680-1734 : a comparative analysis'

External links

* [http://www.horseshoe.cc/pennadutch/history/european/knittle.htm 'The Causes of the Early Palatine Immigrations']
* [http://www.sunnetworks.net/~ggarman/palatine.html The "Poor Palatines" by Gene Garman]

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