Academic journal article Early American Studies

"English Liberties" and German Settlers in Colonial America: The Georgia Salzburgers' Conceptions of Community, 1730-1750

Academic journal article Early American Studies

"English Liberties" and German Settlers in Colonial America: The Georgia Salzburgers' Conceptions of Community, 1730-1750

Article excerpt

When the first Protestant Salzburger exiles traveled from Germany to the new colony of Georgia, they made an essential stop in England. At Dover on December 21, 1733, they were met by Thomas Coram, a philanthropist, a Trustee for Georgia, and the future head of the famed London Foundling Hospital, who oversaw an important ceremony. At the request of the Georgia Trustees, before the group could depart for America a proclamation was read to them, in their native German, which formed a contract between the Trustees representing the British state and the Salzburgers. The immigrants swore allegiance to King George II and agreed to "be subject to the English government"; in return they were promised the full "enjoyment of their rights and freedoms."1 The Salzburgers signaled agreement as a group with a "loud yes," then males filed past the document and touched it with their hand to signify their individual consent. Finally, they shook Coram's hand and were thus made loyal subjects of Britain.2

Those newly granted rights and freedoms had been carefully clarified over the previous months in letters between the Trustees, their philanthropic partners at the British Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), and Samuel Urlsperger, the senior pastor in Augsburg who served as a spiritual father to the exiles. The Salzburgers had begun arriving in Augsburg in early 1732, after Prince Archbishop Firmian forced them from their homes in the Alpine valleys south of Salzburg because of their commitment to the Lutheran faith. As more than 20,000 Protestant exiles flooded into southern Germany, a humanitarian crisis emerged, and they were eventually offered refuge in several places, most notably in the Netherlands, in Prussia, and in Georgia.3 A large majority of them chose to locate in East Prussia, arguably the safer choice, as it represented an overland journey in an area ruled by a German Protestant king. An Atlantic crossing was dangerous, and Georgia was a new colony with just a few hundred residents, so it is not surprising that the Salzburgers received the offer of America with some wariness. They repeatedly clarified the proposed situation in the colony before accepting the offer. As a result, they were promised in writing, in German, that they would have free and unencumbered land, freedom to practice their religion, and all the civil rights of "His Majesty's Natural Born Subjects."4 One version of the Trustees' offer indicated the Salzburgers would become "Denizens, and have all the Rights and Priviledges of Englishmen."5 Though it does not appear they were ever granted true denizen status, which is granted only through royal prerogative and was not part of the authority delegated to the Trustees, it is clear that the Salzburgers and their British sponsors intended to extend all English liberties to the new colonists.6 That is, the Salzburgers' new community in Georgia would have full membership of the British Empire, a status they wholly welcomed.

One of the challenges for any migrant group is how to establish a community in a new land. As they built their settlement in Georgia, the Salzburgers embraced their membership in the British Empire in a manner different from our conventional understanding of Germans in America, who are often characterized as apolitical. Salzburgers actively defended and insisted on access to their English liberties, and they lobbied connections in Britain and Europe to shape métropole policies for the colony. In addition, their ideas about community included participation in a global Pietist Lutheran communion, a group that included the Salzburger diaspora and missionaries and believers throughout Europe, America, and Asia. These two pan-Atlantic entities - the British Empire and the Pietist Lutherans - heavily influenced the way the Georgia Salzburgers built their society. They envisioned a German community within and beyond British America, which availed itself of English rights to establish the kind of moral community they desired. …

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