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United States: Pennsylvania

From 1683, when the first large group of Germans came to New York and Philadelphia, until the mid-1800s, 200,000 German speaking emigrants settled in North America. Most of the immigrants were from south-western Germany and among this group are those referred to as "Pennsylvania Dutch" (Deitsch or Deutsch -- from Germany, not Holland) and the "Plain People," referring to Amish, Mennonites and the Brethren.

High years of German emigration included the years 1709, 1727, 1732, 1738, 1742-1744, 1749-1754, 1764, 1770-1773, 1785-1802 (especially 1792-1796). During the year 1717 there appears to have been at least four ships to Pennsylvania, one to New York, and one to Virginia carrying Germans.

In the first national US census of 1790 there were about 280,000 (7% of the population) people of German descent in the country and by the end of the 18th century, one-third of the population of Pennsylvania was German.

Because large areas of the northern and western parts of the Pennsylvania were undistributed or undeveloped in 1790, and many other sections were thinly populated, the state state adopted generous land policies, distributed free "Donation Lands" to Revolutionary veterans and offered other lands at reasonable prices to settlers.

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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Panoramic Map

Two ships during the War of 1812 were listed under French spoils. These two ships were captained by John Benjamin Labbree and the ships belonged to Stephen Girard of Philadelphia.

October 21, 1843, Washington Globe
from the Philadelphia Ledger

The sloop-of-war Dale arrived yesterday from the west coast of South America, having on board the body of Com. Claxton. We have the following interesting letter from a gentleman who made the cruise with her:

GENTLEMEN: This ship has just arrived from a three years' cruise to the Pacific Ocean -- last from Valparaiso, from whence we took our departure on the 6th of August. In sixty days from that date, we were up with Bermuda, only about 70 hours' sail from home, in ordinary weather, since when we have encountered two gales from the N. W. and experienced a succession of calms, squalls, and adverse and baffling winds. The officers and crew are generally in good health, and have fortunately enjoyed an exemption from any prevalent disease during the entire three years. For the last eighteen or nineteen months, the Dale has been almost constantly at sea, cruising between Cape Horn and California. She has visited the ports of Valparaiso and Coquibo, in Chili; Callao, Arica, Islay, Lambayeque, Santa, Payta and Tumbez, in Peru; Guayaquil and Puna in the Equator; Panama and Taboga, in New Grenada; Mazatlan and Guaymas, in Mexico; Monterey, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and San Diego, in Upper California; and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; everywhere keeping a vigilant eye on America commerce and American interests, affording protection to the weak and asylums to the wanderer, and aid and assistance to the distressed of our countrymen who, by their misfortunes or their wayward propensities, may have been cast "adrift" on inhospitable shores. During the three years, we have traversed the ocean some sixty thousand miles.

~ ~ ~ ~

bookStephen Girard, America's First Tycoon
(1750-1831) was born May 20, 1750 in Bordeaux, France. By the late 1700s, he was an Eastern Seaboard captain and shipbuilder. From ushistory.org: "Stephen Girard came to America by way of Philadelphia in 1776 through circumstance rather than by purpose. He had been to New York on earlier voyages, but it was not until his arrival in Philadelphia that Girard made America his permanent home. He went on to be the wealthiest citizen and, in several ways, he contributed much to the early growth of the new nation he adopted. His influence was evident in shipping, construction, banking, and even in politics, later into coal mining and railroads." Girard's first voyage as a captain came at the helm of a brigantine named Sally.

Philadelphia and Southern Mail Steamship Company.
Philadelphia and Southern Mail Steamship Company
c. 1866

A series of voyages to New Orleans on vessels owned by Thomas Randall, who befriended the energetic Girard led to a highly profitable business association for both of them. Upon his return to Bordeaux in 1773, Girard was formally licensed as a captain in the French merchant marine by the French government. His reputation and skill as a sea captain obtained other potentially lucrative voyages for him, and he was soon carrying out sizable business deals that brought him extensive profits.

Business pursuits went on in methodical and practical fashion for Stephen Girard after the war ended. By 1781, he was a maritime entrepreneur of extraordinary dimensions. His expertise was widely recognized and his skills in business dealings seemed to flow quite naturally. But the success came from a practical and hard-working man. His prosperity came from an unstinting work ethic. All things pointed to a world full of promise and happiness.

The following is from Queens Of The Western Ocean, The Story Of American's Mail And Passenger Sailing Lines by Carl Cutler:books

Stephen Girard, who came to Philadelphia in 1777, had only one vessel in 1790, the little brigantine Kitty, of less than a hundred tons. His first large ship was the Good Friend which registered 247 tons and was built in Philadelphia in 1793. Most of the craft he owned prior to 1800 were small. The Voltaire of 305 tons, built in 1795, was the first to exceed 300 tons. In 2801 he had the Rousseau built. She was almost identical with the Voltaire in size and design. She outlasted all the other Girard ships, ending her days as a New Bedford whaler. One hot summer day in 1893 I sat on the stringpiece of a New Bedford wharf and watched the ship-breakers taking her to pieces. At noon one of them came up and sat down beside me to eat his lunch. He said that it was the slowest job of the kind he had ever tackled -- that her live oak timbers were as sound as the day the Philadelphia ship carpenters drift-bolted them together, more than 90 years before.

Altogether, Girard owned 14 ships. He was registered as sole owner of all but two, in which the masters owned small interests. His largest vessels were the North America of 288 tons, built in 1810 and the Superb of 537 tons, built in 1817. His best known captains were Ezra Bowen of Rehoboth, Rhode Island and Myles McLeven of Philadelphia.

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Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Starting with the year of starvation from poor harvests in 1816/1817 in Germany, a new period of emigration began; during the 18th century 80% of the German emigrants came through the port of Pennsylvania, many of them moving on from there to Maryland and Virginia.

During the 1850s, nearly 37% of immigrants arriving in the U.S. came from Germany; many choose to remain in Philadelphia following earlier German settlers. While New England cities such as Boston did develop a German community, these German centers were not among the largest or most influential. This stood in sharp contrast to the Irish, the other large immigrant group of the mid 1800s. Six of the nine cities with the densest Irish populations were in New England.

By 1860, with the possible exception of the northern tier counties, population was scattered throughout the state. There was increased urbanization, although rural life remained strong and agriculture involved large numbers of people.

As a result of the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1780, the 3,737 African American slave population of 1790 dropped to 64 by 1840, and by 1850 all Pennsylvania African Americans were free unless they were fugitives from the South. The African American community had 6,500 free people in 1790, rising to 57,000 in 1860. Philadelphia was their population and cultural center.

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Snowy Turnpike, 1795

Most of the state's major cities were built along important river routes. In the 1790s, the state made extensive studies for improving the navigation of all major streams, and canals began to supplement natural waterways.

Canals extending the use of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers were chartered before 1815, and the Lehigh Canal was completed in 1838. The vast system named the State Works of Pennsylvania soon overshadowed privately constructed canals. The system linked the east and the west by 1834, but the expense nearly made the state financially insolvent. The benefits to the economic progress of distant regions, however, provided ample justification for the high cost. Although canals declined rapidly with the advent of the railroad, Pennsylvania's ports and waterways remained active. The steamboat originated with experiments by John Fitch of Philadelphia from 1787 to 1790, and Lancaster County native Robert Fulton established it as a practical medium of transportation on the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers.

Lock on Monongahela.
Lock on Monongahela, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

In 1812, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry was 28 years old and the man who said "We have met the enemy and they are ours." When the U.S. declared war on Great Britain, Perry requested duty on the Great Lakes. Perry joined Commodore Isaac Chauncey's command on Lake Ontario; Chauncey decided Perry would be of better use in Erie, Pennsylvania, where a fleet was being constructed to take control of Lake Erie from the British. Perry and his men successfully completed six vessels by July 1813 and thus began the Battle of Lake Erie with Perry aboard the flagship Lawrence. The British bombarded the Lawrence, she was severely damaged and 80% of the crew killed or wounded, so Perry took command of the Niagara, sailed her into the British battle line and broadsided their ships. Within 15 minutes, the British ships, already damaged from fire from the Lawrence, surrendered. Perry was the first in history to defeat an entire British squadron and successfully bring back every ship to his base as a prize of war.

Reprints of the submarines available by clicking on the image.
William Cramp and Sons - Ship Builders
Currier & Ives

William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company of Philadelphia was founded in 1825 by William Cramp, and was the preeminent U.S. iron shipbuilder of the late 19th century. Notable ships include USS Indiana (BB-1), Battleship No. 1 of the United States Navy, launched 28 February 1893.

On a cold, drizzly morning in November 1894, 25,000 men, women, and children surged through the gates of Philadelphia’s Cramp shipyard to witness the launching of the largest liner yet built in the United States. She was the SS St. Louis, the 11,000 gross ton flagship of the American Line, owned by Philadelphia shipping tycoon Clement Griscom. Attending the launching were President Grover Cleveland, shipyard president Charles Cramp, and First Lady Frances Cleveland, who would be the ship’s godmother. The SS St. Louis (1894) and SS St. Paul (1895) were the first major ocean liners built in the United States after the collapse of the Collins Line in the 1850s.

Monongahela Wharves in Pittsburgh.
Monongahela Wharves, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After her successful launch on November 12, 1894 by First Lady Frances Cleveland, St. Louis spent another year in the fitting out basin, where hundreds of workers would turn the empty hull into a floating village. Giant floating cranes, including one named Alt as, could handle boilers and machinery weighing up to seventy tons. When complete, St. Louis could carry 1,200 passengers in three classes, most of who would be crammed into lower deck steerage berths. She would boast electric lights (only a few years earlier, steamships were lit by flickering oil lamps), flush toilets, and steam heating in her public rooms. Her luxurious first class interiors were designed by architect Frank Furness. The first class dining room was 55 feet wide and three decks high, capped barrel-vaulted stained glass skylight. At dinner, passengers could enjoy music from a full-sized pipe organ.

On 15 November 1899, the St. Paul, en route from New York to England with Guglielmo Marconi on board supervising the ship's new wireless telegraph equipment, became the first liner to report her imminent arrival by radio.

Hog Island

European settlers purchased Hog Island from the Lenape Indians in 1680. The settlers gradually developed the island by building log and earthwork dikes to minimize storm damage and convert the marshes into good grazing meadows.

On January 24, 1895, the Pocahontas County Sun reported that Hog Island was once bought for $8,000 by a New Yorker who expected to send the cedar lumber of the island to New York for use in shipbuilding but found the venture unprofitable because of the cost of transportation. After the turn of the century, the U.S. Government contract with Hog Island to build a shipyard at Hog Island; it became the largest shipyard in the world with 50 slipways.  In all 122 Hog Islanders were built, mostly cargo ships, and a few troop transport ships. The shipbuilding continued until 1921, after which the facility was rapidly demolished.

Hog Island Shipbuilding Yards in Pennsylvania.
Hog Island, Shipbuilding Yards
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This work highlights the contributions of regiments of the Pennsylvania Dutch and post-1820 immigrant Germans at the Battle of Gettysburg. On the first day, the 1st Corps, in which many of the Pennsylvania Dutch regiments served, and the half-German 11th Corps, which had five regiments of either variety in it, bought with their blood enough time for the federals to adequately prepare the high ground, which proved critical in the end for the Union victory. On the second day, they participated in beating back Confederate attacks that threatened to crack the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill and in other strategic locations.

Chester Daily Times, May 6, 1880
Chester, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

A NEW YACHT TO BUILD.—The Pioneer Iron works, of Marcus Hook, has just closed a contract to build for L. Taylor Dixon, Esq. of Philadelphia, an iron steam schooner yacht to be 117-1/2 feet long, 15 feet beam and 94 feet depth of hold. She will have double compound engines 16 by 24 inches, with a 24 inch strobe. It will be a flush deck yacht, with nothing on deck except the skylights to admit light and ventilation. She will accommodate the officers and crew and have state rooms for several persons. All the interior apartments will be finished in hard cherry wood. She will be built for pleasure, elegance and comfort, and is expected to make ten knots per hour. Mr. Dixon proposes to go south, and is having this boat built to sail in. She will be one of the prettiest yachts afloat when finished, which will be about August 1st. The Pioneer company can congratulate themselves on securing the contract. This gives them a very good start making two on their order book to begin with. The place will be ready to start in a few days now.

Panoramic map of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Panoramic Map

Municipal piers constructed in the late 1910s-20s were sophisticated industrial machines designed to speed the movement of cargo from one mode of transportation to another. Railroad tracks ran laterally through the long buildings which also served as warehouses. Cranes and flat loading bays allowed easy movement of cargo onto waiting boxcars and all piers were connected to the Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad which ran down Delaware Ave.

Philadelphia and California Mining Company.
The Philadelphia and California Mining Company. c.1865

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Hog Island News

Volume 1 #21 to Vol 2 #5 July 13, 1918 to February 1, 1919: Issued in the Interests of the Employees of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation

United States History

Battle At Sea.
Battle at Sea and
3,000 Years of Naval History


A Gentleman of Color:
The Life of James Forten

Julie Winch
Born into a free black family in 1766, James Forten served in the Revolutionary War as a teenager. By 1810 he had earned the distinction of being the leading sailmaker in Philadelphia. Soon after Forten emerged as a leader in Philadelphia's black community and was active in a wide range of reform activities. Especially prominent in national and international antislavery movements, he served as vice-president of the American Anti-Slavery Society and became close friends with William Lloyd Garrison to whom he lent money to start up the Liberator. His family were all active abolitionists and a granddaughter, Charlotte Forten, published a famous diary of her experiences teaching ex-slaves in South Carolina's Sea Islands during the Civil War.

How Gettysburg Shaped American Memory.
These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory

Thomas A. Desjardin
DaCapo Press

The Germans and Swiss Settlements of Colonial Pennsylvania: A Study of the So-Called Pennsylvania Dutch
Reproduction of a book published before 1923.


Pennsylvania Dutch Country
Tom Range
Arcadia Publishing

Remembering Lancaster County: Stories from Pennsylvania Dutch Country (American Chronicles History Press)

Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking.
Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking

Children in Colonial America (Children and Youth in America)Publication.
Edited by James Marten
(New York University Press)
The Pilgrims and Puritans did not arrive on the shores of New England alone. Through essays, primary documents, and contemporary illustrations, Children in Colonial America examines the unique aspects of childhood in the American colonies between the late sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries. The twelve original essays observe a diverse cross-section of children— from indigenous peoples of the east coast and Mexico to Dutch-born children of the Plymouth colony and African-born offspring of slaves in the Caribbean—and explore themes including parenting and childrearing practices, children's health and education, sibling relations, child abuse, mental health, gender, play, and rites of passage. Taken together, the essays and documents in Children in Colonial America shed light on the ways in which the process of colonization shaped childhood, and in turn how the experience of children affected life in colonial America.

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