- A Peculiar Mixture: German Language Cultures and Identities in Eighteenth-Century North America eds. by Jan Stievermann and Oliver Scheiding
This book proceeds from a conference in Mainz, Germany, in 2009. The conference observed the three-hundredth anniversary of large-scale emigration from the Palatinate and other parts of what is now southwestern Germany. Many but not all of the emigrants eventually settled in British America, especially the colony of New York. The title of the book is appropriate, for not only were the settlers “a peculiar mixture” but the book’s contents are a peculiar mixture as well.
In an informative introduction, coeditor Stievermann explains that this volume attempts to build on “the theoretical insights and findings of recent revisionist scholarship.” Furthermore, he notes that it “seeks to contribute to modernizing and further advancing the study of transatlantic German cultures and identities during the colonial period” (2). The book achieves these objectives as nine authors use interdisciplinary approaches “to explore new facets in the sociopolitical, religious, cultural, and literary history of the fast-growing community of German speakers in the middle colonies after 1709” (5). These approaches enable the authors to move beyond the traditional emphasis on New England’s importance in American history and the “nation or denomination-centered framework of interpretation” (2) and to consider American history in a transatlantic context. Viewed in this way, Stievermann contends that being German in America was complex. To immigrants in different situations it had diverse meanings. German immigrants in America, he claims, were “anything but homogeneous” (11). To some extent their identity depended on developments in Europe, and for many it changed over time. Their ethnic identity was “fluid” (9), not stable. The authors’ presentations are organized into three groups of three essays each.
The section on “Migration and Settlement” begins as Marianne Wokeck re-evaluates the “1709 Mass Migration” as “a transformative episode in the history of population movements” (23). Although there had been other large-scale movements of European people, she claims that this one was significant in that it “marked the beginning of a new stage in westward migration” (36). It established precedents in the organization of “transatlantic migration routes” (37). Also, it raised questions for the immigrants concerning their identity as they settled among people of other ethnic groups. [End Page 398]
Rosalind Beiler describes the little-known role of “Information Brokers and Diplomats” in assisting the Palatines and Swiss Mennonites in their movement to British America during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. They obtained permission for emigrants “to cross political borders, . . . helped to arrange transportation, . . . and sought the funding” (48) necessary to enable them to reach their destinations.
Many historians have written about the hostility between European settlers and the Native Americans, but Philip Otterness tells a different story. Because the Palatines who moved to the valleys of the Schoharie Creek and the Mohawk River during the early eighteenth century received harsh treatment from their Dutch and English predecessors, they turned to the Indians for help. Otterness believes that without it, they may not have survived. In time, their relations became so close that the Germans and the Indians adopted some aspects of the ethnicity of the other. For example, some Germans, including Conrad Weiser, learned the Iroquois language, and some Indians learned to speak German. Even the French and Indian War did not fracture their relationship.
Cynthia Falk opens the section on “Material Intellectual Cultures in the Making” by providing through the New York Germans’ architecture and other objects what she considers “a necessary corrective to the prevailing focus on Pennsylvania in the study of German communities in early America” (85). Although both groups “adopted some elements of the Old World culture,” and “borrowed from other New World” groups that surrounded them, the smaller number of German immigrants in New York and other factors, such as the weather, “made New York’s Palatine settlements markedly different in character from Pennsylvania...