Germantown: Francis Daniel Pastorius, the Founder of Germantown

Professor Frank Trommler read original manuscripts of Germantown founder Francis Daniel Pastorius.

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The fact that a German immigrant founded Germantown may seem common knowledge, but the various layers of Francis Daniel Pastorius’ legacy are often overlooked.

While a monument in honor of Pastorius is positioned along Germantown Avenue in Vernon Park for many to see, less well-known symbols of his importance can be found at the German Society of Pennsylvania, located at 611 Spring Garden St.

Professor Frank Trommler read original manuscripts of Germantown founder Francis Daniel Pastorius.

Professor Frank Trommler, who has worked in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literature since 1970, plays an important role at the German Society of Pennsylvania. Trommler has spent the past few years helping to revitalize the GSP library, which is home to some of Pastorius’ original manuscripts.

But along with his books, the library also possesses a model of the initial design for the monument erected in Vernon Park. The small model features Pastorius standing in front of a house, a crowd of people bowing to him.

“This is the image of Pastorius with his people around him, more or less venerating him as the big founder of Germantown and the German community,” Trommler said.

But though the present monument was completed in 1917, Trommler said it could not be displayed until after World War I due to negative German connotations within the United States.

“In 1920, after the war, they opened it and could present it to the public,” he said. “But there were not too many people anymore that were claiming German heritage.”

It was because of World War I and these tense relations with Germany that the initial design was abandoned in lieu of a more ambiguous concept.

The existing monument, designed by American sculptor Albert Jaegers, significantly differs from the original. It does not contain an image of Pastorius, but instead features an allegory holding a light. An immigrant family, meant to represent the German immigrants in Germantown, is carved beneath.

“They didn’t want to have Pastorius and too much German display on the monument,” Trommler said.

While the physical portrayal of the monument does not directly depict Pastorius, the engraved text does acknowledge one of his notable endeavors.

The original monument design depicted Germantown residents bowing to Pastorius.

“The protest of the Germans of Germantown against slavery on February 18, 1688,” reads the one side of the monument.

In 1688, a small group of Germans had come together in Germantown to sign the first known petition against slavery. The document contained Pastorius’ signature, along with five other signatures. Though the petition did not go far, Trommler said that it signified the Germantown community’s desire for free life in the new country.

“They were Quakers and the general feeling was that the imposition of any slavery or any exploitation was against God’s will,” he said.

Though he did share in the Quaker beliefs and views towards life, Pastorius was actually a Lutheran. But as a Lutheran in the 17th and early 18th century, Pastorius was open-minded. Trommler said his biggest fights in the Germantown community were often fought against the Lutheran pastors, with whom he did not always agree.

“So one can call him a sort of Quaker,” he said. “But I think it’s not really fully accepted.”

A native of Germany himself, Trommler has found significance in not only Pastorius’ more renowned accomplishments, but also in the historical meaning found within his books and journals.

“The more I read it, the more I am impressed by this man,” he said.

The Beehive is Pastorius’ largest manuscript and is currently located in the rare books section of the University of Pennsylvania’s library. It is a collection of everyday thoughts and observations from Pastorius’ own life, and is written in a combination of Latin, German, French and English.

“It’s about how to behave well,” Trommler said. “And is in some ways a great scrapbook of thoughts of an educated man around 1700.”

Pastorius also wrote books and journals about the Germantown landscape and his own personal gardens. Very interested in the natural sciences, he was constantly observing gardens, flowers and new plants.

“For people then, something like this was a sort of adventure,” Trommler said. “And in those years, they wrote down everything they saw.”

The Garden Recreations is a very special manuscript the German Society of Pennsylvania owns. It is written in Pastorius’ own handwriting and is a book of his own garden details.

Pastorius often wrote in a combination of German, English, Latin and French.

“He writes in a beautiful script his observations and descriptions of plants in this little garden in Germantown,” Trommler said. “And there’s always a reference to God and how he created these particular plants.”

But the piece of writing Pastorius has left behind that Trommler said he finds most fascinating, is a poem that he wrote towards the end of his life. Translated, Trommler said it reads, “To Posteriority, To My Successes: Dear German-Americans, we have started this enterprise and we made mistakes. Please look at us with grace and forgiveness and make it better.”

“It is a very humble way of addressing the German community in America to take his legacy, but to become better,” Trommler said.


2 Comments

  1. I’m currently in the midst of a large project on the 1688 Petition (a still surviving document which can be found at Haverford College, and online at https://triptych.brynmawr.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/HC_QuakSlav/id/11/rec/1 ). I’d like to add a few things about it, as this excellent article mentions it only briefly, and it was a huge milestone.

    The document does have six signatures on it, but it was originally signed by only four men: Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, and the up de Graeff brothers, Abraham and Derrick.

    Although the reasoning behind the Petition is mostly religious in nature, the signers may have had a few ulterior motives. Their argument goes something like this:

    -Turkish pirates are capturing British vessels at sea to sell the passengers as slaves. Africans do not like being kidnapped into slavery any more than British people do.

    -Slavery often separates families and forces remarriage. This is considered adultery, undeniably forbidden by the Bible.

    -“[Slavery] mackes an ill report in all those Countries of Europe, where they hear off, that ye Quackers doe here handel men licke they handel there ye Cattle. and for that reason some have no mind or inclination to come hither.” (Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, seems worried that nobody would want to settle there.)

    -Christians should attempt to stop this robbery and adultery.

    -If slavery were to be abolished, “we shall be satisfied in this point, &; satisfie lickewise our good friends and acquaintances in our natif Country, to whose it is a terrour, or fairfull thing that men should be handeld so in Pensilvania. ”

    The Petition was sent to the monthly meeting of the Germantown Quakers, then the quarterly meeting, then Philadelphia’s yearly meeting. The yearly meeting, apparently flustered by the idea, said that “It was adjudged not to be so proper for this meeting to give a positive Judgement in the Case, it having so General a Relation to many other Parts & therefore at present they Forbear it,” presumably meaning that they didn’t know what to do with it.

    Philadelphia Yearly Meeting did condemn slavery, however, in 1696, following another petition. The Merion Protest of 1696 is not only just as interesting but also much more well-written. It was signed by a Quaker named Cadwalader Morgan from (unsurprisingly) Merion, PA.

    The importance of the Petition, in my humble (ha!) opinion, is not that it caused an idealist revolution or a social upheaval. (It didn’t.) It simply introduced the idea of abolition to Philadelphia-area Quakers, and that in itself made a big difference.

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