Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Golden Book

This is the first in a series on the Palatine Migration...

In 1709, a rumor began to spread through southwestern Germany, spread by a “golden book.” Few people at the time could read, but many heard the promises that the book seemed to make. By the time that rumor had done its work, almost 15,000 people had left their homes to travel to a far off land.

The “golden book” was titled (when translated) A Complete and Detailed Report of the Renowned District of Carolina Located in English America and was written by a German minister by the name of Joshua Kocherthal.

Kocherthal’s work was a promotional tract written to encourage immigration to Carolina. It was probably created by consulting a number of other promotional tracts, since Kocherthal had not visited Carolina by that point. It was short, straightforward and easy to read aloud to semi-literate audiences. Kocherthal praised Carolina for its fertile soil, its low taxes and its religious freedoms.

All of this must have appealed to his audience in Germany, but the first edition printed in 1706 didn’t immediately get people moving. But in 1708, Kocherthal managed to convince the British Crown to settle him and a group of forty colonists in Carolina by claiming to be refugees from French Catholic oppression. With this experience, Kocherthal was able to add an appendix to later editions of his book.

England’s monarch, Queen Anne, had agreed to support Kocherthal’s group, not only by funding their travels but also by supporting the colonists until they could get established. Kocherthal’s report of this in the third and fourth editions of his book struck a chord with his audience: Queen Anne was colonizing Carolina and was willing to pay the way of refugees looking for a new start.

Perhaps Queen Anne might be willing to support another group from along the Rhine?While Kocherthal made no promises in his book, the possibility was there. In the alchemy of rumor, “possibly” became “definitely,” and word began to spread of this new opportunity for all those willing to head to England.

This rumor found fertile ground in southwestern Germany. The region was as war-torn as any in history, having suffered through the Thirty Years War, the War of the Palatine Succession and the War of the Spanish Succession in the course of a single century. The Thirty Years War alone had cost the region more than 50% of its population. Plague and famine followed war, followed by another war, and so on.

The powers that be had dealt with the problem by settling immigrants from other regions into the battle scarred area. Southwestern Germany became a mix of ethnicities, religions and languages. They were settled on abandoned land and allowed some religious freedom in order that they might settle and start paying taxes.

When residents of the Rhine Valley began to appear in England looking for their free trip across the Atlantic, they were labeled "poor Palatine refugees." In order to understand what happened after that, it's important to see that this was inaccurate. They were not refugees, since they not just running from but also running to: they were headed off to find easy prosperity in Carolina. They were not – at least not all – Palatines, since they came from all over southwestern Germany, and may have been an entirely different nationality just a generation before.

And if they were poor, they didn't necessarily start out that way. Most sold what they couldn't carry in order to finance their trip to England. There they would be taken care of by Queen Anne, just as they were promised. Only, this was a promise that England was not aware it had made.

To find out more about this story, check out Philip Otterness's book Becoming German: The 1709 Migration to New York--we loved it!


  1. I have Palitine ancestors and I found this fascinating. I knew some of this story but not about the Golden Book itself. The subtitle says this is the first in a series on Palitine migration. Did you ever write the others? I can't find them.

    Diana Thompson

  2. Hi Diana,

    This entry was intended to be the first in a series on Palatine migration by our graduate intern Josh. Unfortunately for us (but good for him), he moved onto bigger things at another institution. I will see if I can do some research in the coming weeks and post more about this for you1


  3. I have a Palatine ancestor who migrated in 1710. I didn't know of the "Golden Book" until I watched an episode on tv of "Who Do You
    Think You Are" with Tim McGraw. After a little Google search I found your website. Hope you can add to the story. Thank you.
    Dick Cromer

  4. I found my way here via "Who Do You Think You Are?" too. I'm not sure if my German ancestors were Palatines,but I'm going to be keeping my eyes out for further clues. In the meantime, I just wanted to say that "the alchemy of rumor" is a delicious, evocative phrase, and reading it made my day!

  5. I'm an Irish Palatine and I had heard of Queen Anne's Golden Book, but I hadn't known the full story. Many thanks for providing it.

  6. Thanks for printing, May I recomend a good book about the Palatines by Phillip Otterness, "Becoming German" It's about the Palatine Germans. Good read, my ancestor was Johann Wilhelm Simon who came to N.Y in 1710 from Neuwied.

  7. Becki deGraffenriedMay 30, 2018 at 2:51 PM

    I descend from Christoph DeGraffenried and am also interested in any further information published here, as my maternal ancestors were Germans! Thank you. BdB

  8. I am a descent from a Palatine family that came to America in 1710. My 9 times great grandfather Hans Henrich Oberbach sons, Johan Pieter, Jurry (Georg)and Petrus were the ones that has travelled the great distance to America. I never heard of the golden book until I have watched Tim McGraw's episode on Who Do You Think You Are. It would very interesting to get a hold of this such book. Going forward, I have traced my lineage this far back and I am proud to say that I am German and that I am related to Tim McGraw.