On June 14, 1710, a British ship called the Fame arrived in the colony of New York, loaded with families whose surnames were strange and language foreign to the New World. Their home, the fertile farmland along the Rhine River in Germany, had been devastated by a series of wars and French incursions.
By the turn of the 18th century, there was little in the region--called the Palatinate--to keep the beleaguered population at home. They did what people have always done when war or economics make life untenable in a particular place: They packed up and went to some other place.
In this case, that other place was England. Trouble was, England didn't really want the "Poor Palatines." Drawn by promises of crown-sponsored transportation to the colonies, more than 10,000 Palatines decamped to shantytowns throughout London. Lacking the resources to care for the migrants, months went by and tensions rose, and Parliament found itself debating how to secure the borders against further unwanted residents. The modern immigration debate had established itself as a political reality of the nation-state.
Finally, a sort of guest worker program was established, whereby the Palatines would be granted passage to places in the British Isles and the colonies in exchange for labor. The passengers on the Fame--one of several ships that took Palatines across the Atlantic--were part of the first mass ethnic migration to what would become the United States. Among them (as far as the family research can tell) was my distant grandfather, Peter Hagedorn, and his family. They settled upstate where they worked in the pine forests producing tar for the British Navy--a job that few British subjects wanted. They spoke German at home and kept to themselves--including when it came to fighting in the American Revolution.
My immigrant ancestors were no different from those who come to the United States today, but the so-called Palatinate Emigration gets lumped with the glorious founding of a nation--not an influx of cheap labor (which they were). Our perceptions are colored by time--300 years have been kind to the Poor Palatines--but also by lack of understanding. This week's feature, by Carissa Wolf (on Page 11), pulls back the curtain on immigration in Idaho to reveal a population of people helping fuel some of Idaho's biggest economic engines. Here's hoping it doesn't take another 300 years to recognize their contributions--no matter whence they come.