US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: We Arrive in Historic Philadelphia

May 12, 2019

Early today, before we left for Philadelphia, Pius went for an early morning walk toward the Isle of Que to a railroad bridge that crosses the Susquehanna River in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. He found the beginning of it, but due to “Danger” and “No Trespassing” signs he did not proceed across. There were some other issues affecting his decision such as there was no place to escape if a train should come along (trains travel these tracks on Thursdays and Sundays, and this is Sunday), the wooden railroad ties are slippery when wet (it is raining hard), and there are only spaces between the ties that one could fall through down to the river. He came back to the hotel totally soaked with rain water, but with some priceless pictures of the railroad trestle.

Railroad trestle over the Susquehanna River. Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

Railroad trestle over the Susquehanna River. Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

We left the Selinsgrove Inn about 11:00 in the rain, and we drove the entire time in the rain to the Renaissance Hotel in the Historic District of Philadelphia. Pius’ clothes were still wet but were drying on him as we drove, however, his shoes did not dry much at all during the trip.

The written history of Philadelphia began in 1682 when it was founded by William Penn. It quickly grew to be an important colonial city. Benjamin Franklin arrived in 1723 and by 1750 the city was thriving. This is why the area is so important to our family: Immigrants, especially German, were arriving in large numbers and among them was Johann Michael App who came from Germany aboard the ship St. Andrew landing on September 23, 1752. This, of course, was 23 years before the beginning of the American Revolution. His ship sailed from Rotterdam, to Plymouth (England), and then to Philadelphia. We visited Penn’s Landing where he would have arrived, and what happened next is what Virginia Woodward outlines in an article from the Lynn-Heidelberg (Townships) Historical Society about the Germans:

“They knew nothing about the laws and the language of the English. Would the official language of Pennsylvania become German? That was a thought Benjamin Franklin could not abide. In 1727 the Provincial Council approved an oath that all male Germans over the age of 16 years of age were required to sign when they arrived in America. The oath was an attempt by the Provincial Council to assure itself that the foreigners would agree to abide by the rules and regulations of the English government. The oath-takers disavowed any ties to other monarchs and pledged an oath of allegiance to England.

“The captains of all ships carrying German immigrants prepared a list of all male German passengers over the age of 16. When the ship docked in Philadelphia, all passengers on the list boarded a small boat and were transported to land and the captain led the men to the proper authorities. The women and children remained on the ship.

Penn’s Landing where Johann Michael App arrived in 1752.

“The captain and the men walked from the ship onto Front Street amid the hustle and bustle of the warehouses. It must have been a shocking scene for the men from the quiet villages of Germany. They turned down to Second Street and walked on to the Court House topped with its cupola and weather-vane. They marched up the front steps and through the portico to wait for the governing men in the curly white wigs to administer the oath. Clerks read the oath to the new immigrants in English so they probably understood none of it. It is possible that they had a translator to explain the oath to them. After the clerk read a section of the oath, all the new immigrants had to repeat it. This continued for the entire oath.

The first City Hall in Philadelphia. It no longer exists, but was located on Second Street and Market Street.

 Philadelphia City Hall

Oath of Allegiance [established in September 1727]

“The oath was the following:

‘We subscribers, natives and late inhabitants of the Palatinate upon the Rhine and places adjacent, having transported ourselves and families into this province of Pennsylvania, a colony subject to the crown of Great Britain, in hopes and expectation of finding a retreat and peaceable settlement therein, do solemnly promise and engage that we will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his present majesty, King George II, and his successors, kings of Great Britain, and will be faithful to the proprietors of this province, and that we will demean ourselves peaceably to all his said subjects and strictly observe and conform to laws of England and this province, to the utmost of our power.’

“Upon taking the oath, the passengers were required to sign their names on two pieces of paper. Since the German people could not speak English, many officials considered them not intelligent. However, when required to sign their names, many of the passengers did so in their own language signifying some amount of education. If the immigrant was unable to sign his name, a registrar wrote their name for them and they placed an “X” near their name.

“These lists and signatures would later give genealogists the information they needed about when the German ancestors arrived in this country and the ship they arrived on.

“After signing the oath the men were taken back to the ship. If passengers had not had enough money to pay for their trip to America, they were “hired” [indentured] by merchants [or sponsors] for a definitive period of time until their passage to America was paid. Those passengers who had enough money to pay their bills for the voyage to America were free to travel about the country.

“When a ship carrying immigrants from Germany arrived in the port of Philadelphia, bells were ringing in the city. This was to alert the citizenry to the fact that there was a boat loaded with immigrants in the port. The citizens would come to the boat to welcome the passengers and also to find indentured servants to fill their labor needs. The German people of Philadelphia who were expecting relatives from the homeland would greet the ship with fruit and other foods. All Germans in this country at that time had experienced the trip across the ocean and were well aware of what the passengers’ needs were. The established citizenry was also looking for news from the homeland.

“The passengers had two documents with them on this voyage. The first was a passport that all citizens of Germany and Switzerland were required to have. The passport stated that the community the immigrant came from did not have any dangerous plague or infectious diseases. It also stated that the immigrant has paid all the taxes necessary to allow him to travel freely. The second document was a letter of recommendation issued by the pastor of the immigrant’s home church.

“The German immigrants were not moving to America and adopting the ways of the English speaking community. Rather, the German immigrants moved to America and brought with them the German language and the German way of doing things. Their communities in America were simply the German culture transplanted to American soil.

 “When the Germans arrived in this country, some of them went to the frontier and every year the German settlers would push the frontier further west. They were looking for good land that had not already been claimed. They could tell good land by the trees that grew on it. If there were a lot of walnut trees, the land was very fertile. The fact that they would have to cut down the trees to build a new home and create land that could be farmed did not deter them. The long standing forests were coming down by the mighty blows of the immigrant’s axe. Their homes were appearing wherever there was a cool spring. The first home was not grand; perhaps it was a crude hut or a tent; cutting down trees took a lot of time. However, an area that was an unbroken forest would soon become a well-kept farm.

“Germans invariably cleared the land by the “Yankee method.” They cut down all the trees, grubbed out saplings and underbrush, and pulled all but the largest stumps out of the ground. There were many uses for the trees that were chopped down. They were used to make a temporary shelter or fences or to be used as firewood. The farmer needed to get crops planted so after the trees were toppled, the cleared area was burned to rid the area of the brush, saplings and small stumps. The large stumps were left in the ground to rot; a process that took about ten years. The ashes that remained from the burning were beneficial to the soil. If the ashes were properly refined, they created a salable product called potash. However, this process took an enormous amount of human labor and in the beginning the men were very busy just keeping their families alive and well.

“Life on the frontier had it hardships but the hardships led to dearly held traits. The Germans were very thrifty and self-reliant. They had a love of liberty that they cherished and were willing to fight for; they knew what it was like to be subservient. They were a close-knit family and they had a deep reverence for God. The neighborhood cooperation that was born from necessity was a great social asset. Any gathering of people helping people for whatever reason became a social event.

“In Germany, the farm house and the barn were located in the village. When the Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they did not form small villages. They looked for large acreage and built their home and barn on the large acreage. Thus the farmer became more of an individual and more independent. The virgin land with its rich soil yielded a very large bounty. The combination of good soil, the work ethic that the immigrants brought from Germany and their knowledge of growing crops and caring for animals allowed the immigrants to become self-sufficient and productive citizens in their new country in a very few years.”

The City Hall building where Michael App took his oath was built during William Penn’s lifetime and was Philadelphia’s first City Hall. It longer exists, but was located on the northwest corner of Second Street and Market Street just south of Christ Church. On the ground floor was a jail. An open-air market spread west for several blocks west along High Street (Market Street today) from City Hall. Upstairs were the mayor’s office and the mayor’s court. Double stairs led to a balcony on the second floor. During elections voters handed in their ballots on the balcony. Sometimes Election Day got pretty wild. There were two unofficial political parties — the Proprietary Party and the Country Party — but the Country Party controlled the stairs to the balcony. Casting a vote for the Proprietary Party was no easy feat!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

About storiesretoldblogger

I am an Elkhart, Indiana native and became interested in applying video to history when consumer video cameras were first introduced on the market in the late 1970’s. My production company, Stories Retold, specializes in preserving oral history, traditions, and values with video. Primarily interviewing individuals, I sometimes document families, and on occasion document an entire community. My niche is developing a personal relationship with clients which helps me to tell their story just the way they would like to have it told. Everyone has a story worth preserving, and I enjoy discovering interesting stories from people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. In years to come, these videos will be priceless as they portray original stories complete with visual images and actual voices filled with all the primary material and emotion that was intended to be. I gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction with each completed project whether it involves an individual or an entire community.
This entry was posted in US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: One Swiss & One American. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to US East Coast Drive with Two Cousins: We Arrive in Historic Philadelphia

  1. Richard Murphy says:



  2. Jill D Kattau says:

    I love being on this trip with you and Pius!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s