Francis Daniel Pastorius- The Pennsylvania Pilgrim

The name Francis Daniel Pastorius probably didn’t come up in your American History classes, and he’s probably no more than a footnote in most German history classes… but Pastorius plays a major role in early American history, in German-American immigration history, and even has a role in the Abolitionist Movement. So who was he? A polymath, lawyer,  writer, teacher, a Quaker, a leader, an abolitionist, a gardener, and a friend to William Penn. He brought the first 13 German families to Pennsylvania and settled them in Germantown, then wrote pamphlets encouraging more German immigration to the colonies (and eventually around 7 million came!). AND he is the subject of a (rather lengthy) poem “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim”. While Pastorius may not have his own chapter in the history books… maybe he should.

So let’s find out more about him.

(cover image Pastorius Monument in Vernon Park, PA Sciarinen 17:20, 16 September 2007 (UTC) public Domain)

Francis Daniel Pastorius

Francis Daniel Pastorius was born into a Lutheran family in Sommerfeld, Franconia in 1651. The son of a successful lawyer, he followed his father’s footsteps and studied law in Altdorf, Strasbourg, and Vienna, he worked in Nurnberg, and ultimately set up his practice in Regensburg to work in the Imperial Diet. He met and befriended the leader of the Piest movement, Phillip Jakob Stenner who introduced him into this new line of thinking. (Side note- Piests, a splinter group of Lutherans established in 1675,  believed that contemporary life was too frivolous and that vanities like fancy clothing and mannerisms got in the way of belief… Instead, people should concern themselves with self-improvement and upright conduct). Much to the frustration of his father, Pastorius converted to Lutheran Pieism and moved to Frankfurt in 1679.

Then in 1683, the Frankfurt Land Company commissioned Pastorius to act as their agent in purchasing 15,000 acres of land in the new Pennsylvania colony for a group of German Mennonite merchant families who wished to emigrate, and his whole life changed.

Francis Daniel Pastorius relief

Photgrapher: Louis A. Blaul, 1937 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. Before 1897., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Pennsylvania Bound

Why Pennsylvania?

In 1681, William Penn took possession of a massive piece of land in the British American colonies. The English King Charles II granted the area that covers today’s Pennsylvania and Delaware to the Penn family as payment for a £16,000 debt the crown incurred against Penn’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn.   William Penn Jr., an early Quaker saw this as a golden opportunity to create a haven of religious freedom.

But it had to be profitable as well. (Side note- Both Penn and the King were counting on profits from mining. Part of the deal was for Penn to pay the standard “King’s fifth” for any gold or silver mined from the land to King Charles II… that however, was a bust).

Penn wrote Pamphlets promoting the wonders of Pennsylvania, and the Freedom of Religion, to bring in Quakers, Mennonites, Anabaptists, and other groups that were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. (In the 1660s the Puritans made the Quaker religion illegal in the the colonies and even executed four Quakers in Boston.) These pamphlets went to England (his home country) and German translations were sent to the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) which Penn visited in 1671 and 1677 while spreading his Quaker beliefs.

This is where the Frankfurt Land Company comes back in. German families searching for religious freedom read these tracts and saw the solution to their problems.

On June 10, 1683, 32-year-old Francis Daniel Pastorius sailed to the colonies ahead of those Thirteen Families. He brought a dozen people with him (mostly servants). The journey took months, and his descriptions of rancid food, a broken mast, and whale attacks make it sound harrowing. (You can read some of it here). Finally, he arrived in Philadelphia on Aug 20th, 1683. The meeting between Daniel Pastorius and William Penn went so well that Pastorius not only procured the land, he also converted to the Quaker belief. (Side note-Quakers, or Friends, believe that men/women can have a direct experience with Christ, and don’t need clergy to intercede.)

The original Germantown settlement was 6 miles from the center of Philadelphia, a very easy 2-hour walk . With the map in hand, Pastorius got to work.


Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons



As the company agent, Pastorius was responsible for organizing the settlement. He divided the mapped area into individual narrow but deep 3 acre lots. Homes would be built close to one another on either side of the main road, but the lots were deep enough for each family to grow their own food and house animals.

The original Krefelders immigrants arrived on October 6th, 1683, after 75 days on the Concord. The 13 Families, 33 people in all, literally drew lots for their assigned lot. No family was given preference over the other… all was equal. This first permanent German Settlement officially received the name Germantown. Pastorius stayed on as leader of the group, and also involved himself in the Pennsylvania government. His law experience proved invaluable in the new land, because he wrote and codified the local laws, collected rents, and acted as town bailiff.

Germantown map 1689
Rgsmith2b at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In Germantown families settled in to build their homes and establish a community. Since those early immigrants were weavers, and not farmers, the first year was incredibly difficult. The Germans jokingly nicknamed the settlement “Armentown” (poor town), but they persevered. Patorius encouraged them to use their talents to set up a linen industry. Families planted flax and grapes, built looms and  workshops for weaving. Soon small businesses for wagon wheel production and shoemaking were established. In 1687 William Rittenhouse built British North America’s first papermill in Germantown.  Paper from the mill were used to print German language Bibles for the growing population.

In 1688 Francis Daniel Pastorius married another German immigrant, Änneke Klosterman (born in Mülheim an der Ruhr). Together they had two sons. His family firmly established in Germantown, Pastorius would not be returning to Germany.

By 1689, the town incorporated, and Pastorius became the first mayor. The Quaker families built a school, and Francis Pastorius established the local school system including the first co-educational school for boys and girls, where he became a teacher and author of the school primer.

Not only did Pastorius spend time providing legal representation and council to the Germantown community, he also wrote promotional materials to help bring in more immigrants. Like Penn, his pamphlets were written in German and distributed across the German speaking Holy Roman Empire. Although he tried to step away from his position with the Frankfurt Land Company, he stayed tied to them until 1700.

Over time the town spread, and the new neighborhoods of Sommerhausen, Kriegsheim and Crefeld were added. As Philadelphia grew and spread, it swallowed the original Germantown. Today, it’s located in the a historical residential neighborhood, on Germantown Ave.

Francis Pastorius House 1919

John Thomson Faris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

The Early Abolitionist

Yet all the while the burden rested sore
On tender hearts. At last Pastorius bore
Their warning message to the Church’s door

(excerpt from “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim” by John Greenleaf Whittier)

The enslavement of Black people had been part of colonial life in America from the beginning, but it never sat well with Pastorius. In 1688, just five years after arriving in Pennsylvania, Pastorius wrote “The Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery” based on the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have done unto you“. He and three like-minded Quaker friends  Garret Hendericks, Derick op den Graeff, and Abraham op den Graeff wrote (in English) and signed the petition  and brought it to their Religious Society of Friends meeting. The petition did not pass, but they kept trying, bringing it back again and again, slowly moving up the hierarchy chain within the Quakers, but never quite getting the necessary acceptance. Why? For petitions to be passed by the Friends, there must full agreement. In that time and place, although German immigrants were unused to owning slaves, and few did, slavery was considered essential…and there were no Biblical restrictions against it. So it did not pass.

The 1688 Germantown Quaker petition against slavery

The  1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Still… this document, and the argument it makes, didn’t disappear. In the years that followed, others used the arguments that Pastorius laid out to make their case for the abolition of slavery. By the 1750s, the Quakers came to the understanding that the institution of slavery stands contrary to their beliefs in non-violence and equality. This movement ultimately led to the 1780 Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act in Pennsylvania, which prevented the importation of new slaves, and set every Negro and Mulatto child born within the State after the passing of the Act (1780) free upon reaching age twenty-eight.

Pastorius’s original petition was set aside and almost forgotten, but then it was rediscovered in 1844, when it became a cornerstone of abolitionist movement. Today the Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections preserves the original document.

The Beehive

So much is known about Germantown because of the Beehive, a “Commonplace Book” written and added to over the years by Pastorius. Commonplacing was a method of compiling knowledge. Intellectuals would commonplace or collect important pieces of literature by writing out quotes or phrases from books or important works.

Think of the Beehive like an early version of Wikipedia crossed with a personal Journal. (It got its  name Beehive because, just like bees touched on so many areas, his writings covered a vast swath of subjects) In it he cataloged all of his experiences and any new knowledge that he gained throughout his lifetime. Basically, he wrote down EVERYTHING…. Quotes and book reviews, proverbs and Poems. He recorded information about horticulture, medicine, and herbs. Science, Law, Zoology, and more. 43 VOLUMES in all.

Fortunately, he was also rather meticulous in organizing and indexing all of his writings. Lists and cross references means that all of the information easy to find.

Today, the Beehive has been digitized for everyone to read.

The Pennsylvania Pilgrim

John Greenleaf Whittier immortalized Pastorius in his epic length poem, “The Pennsylvania Pilgrim“. Stating that Pastorius “understood the New World’s Promise”, and likening him to the early Pilgrim fathers of America. While those Pilgrims of Plymouth are known to all, the gentle “German pilgrims” seem to have slipped to a quieter place in the history of America. The Quakers treated the local natives with respect as men, they promoted abolition, and worked to reform treatment of criminals.

The Pennsylvania Pilgrim fills a book. It begins-

HAIL to posterity! Hail, future men of Germanopolis!
Let the young generations yet to be Look kindly upon this
Think how your fathers left their native land,
Dear German-land! 0 sacred hearths and homes!
And, where the wild beast roams,
In patience planned New forest-homes beyond the mighty sea,
There undisturbed and free
To live as brothers of one family.

(You can read the rest here-> Pennsylvania Pilgrim)

(The “hail future men of Germanopolis” gives me flashes of a 1950s sci-fi movie…)

The poem is testament that men like Pastorius left a legacy that helped shape the United States. Some of his words and ideas of equality, and treating all men with dignity. went into law in Pennsylvania, and then into the Constitution of the United States.

Francis Daniel Pastorius died in late 1719 or early 1720. His grave is unmarked, and presumed to be in the Germantown Pennsylvania Quaker cemetery.
You will find a monument to Pastorius and the original 13 Krefelder families in Vernon Park, Philadelphia.

Sciarinen 17:20, 16 September 2007 (UTC), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Further Readings-

Learn more about Francis Daniel Pastorius

The Francis Daniel Pastorius Reader: Writings by an Early American Polymath (Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe)The Francis Daniel Pastorius Reader: Writings by an Early American Polymath (Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe)The Francis Daniel Pastorius Reader: Writings by an Early American Polymath (Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe)Franz Daniel Pastorius and Transatlantic Culture: German Beginnings, Pennsylvania ConclusionsFranz Daniel Pastorius and Transatlantic Culture: German Beginnings, Pennsylvania ConclusionsFranz Daniel Pastorius and Transatlantic Culture: German Beginnings, Pennsylvania Conclusions




The Pennsylvania Germans An Interpretive Encyclopedia (read my review of the Pennsylvania Germans here)

Breaking Bonds: The German American Experience- A DANK Haus Class taught by Mike Haas

US Historic Germantown

American Yawp Reader- Pastorius Ocean Voyage

Francis Daniel Pastorius Description of Pennsylvania

13 Krefelder Familien Wandern Aus

Freepages Penn’s Pamphlet

The Pennsylvania Pilgrim

Digital Beehive- Pastorius manuscripts

Germantown History- by Betty Randall

William Rittenhouse establishes the First Papermill in British North America

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission- Act for Gradual Abolition of Slavery

German Friends Protest Against Slavery text

Public Domain Images taken from Wikipedia commons as indicated

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