The Palatine Migration — 1723: From Schoharie to Tulpehocken
By JOHN W. AND MARTHA B. HARPER
One of the most adventurous and hazardous migrations in Pennsylvania history occurred in the spring of 1723, when a group of fifteen German Palatine families left the Schoharie Valley of New York to settle in the Tulpehocken region of present Berks County. They had come to New York in 1710 with hundreds of other refugees from the German Palatinate and had eventually settled in the Schoharie Valley. After tilling their farms for ten years, all were cruelly dispossessed of the land the English Queen Anne had given them. The more hardy of them set out for Pennsylvania, but their accumulated wealth in horses and cattle could not be left behind.
The most illustrious Palatine, Conrad Weiser the younger, did not go with this group to Pennsylvania -not until 1729-but he was much concerned in the venture. In his Autobiography (not published until 1875) he states definitely, though too briefly, that the fifteen families floated down the Susquehanna in canoes (dugouts), up the Swatara, and then moved on to the Tulpehocken, “and drove their cattle over land.” This latter statement has caused contention.
Tradition puts the canoe-building place on the Charlotte Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna, navigable by dugouts at floodtime. It is probable that the canoes were built earlier so that they would be seasoned and ready for the trip. In 1823 Judge John M. Brown, in his Brief Sketch of the Settlement of Schoharie by the Germans, tells of the canoes and the travel down the Susquehanna and further states, “their cattle followed by land all along the shore until they arrived in Pennsylvania, at a place called Tolpelrahen [Tulpehocken]”. This was published a hundred years after the event and was based entirely on stories handed down by the Schoharie people.
Two theories have evolved from these meager statements. The first adheres literally to Judge Brown’s account that the voyagers kept the horses and cattle in sight all the four hundred miles of the journey. (See “The Palatine Emigration from Schoharie to the Tulpehocken,” by Paul B. Mattice, Historical Review of Berks County, October, 1944.) To those who have recently traveled along the river, this is highly improbable. Where shelves have had to be carved from the steep shores for modern roads and railroads there was no space for driving a valuable herd of animals. How hazardous for the herds to have been detoured through the pathless woods and over the steep mountains! To have used the flat banks where available would have meant crossing and recrossing the stream with its many rapids, a risk the Germans would have been unwilling to take. Also the moseying animals could not have been driven nearly so fast as the canoes could travel on the flood-swift waves. The delays to the families waiting, would have been intolerable.
James Mitchell, Justice of the Peace at Donegal, Chester (now Lancaster) County, reported to the Provincial Government, “I give you to know that there is fifteen families of Duch come from Albeny & are setling upp Swatarra.” Had there been a large herd of cattle it certainly would have come to his attention and have been mentioned in the report.
The second theory has the cattle and horses follow the trails along the West Branch of the Delaware River from Schoharie to the Delaware Water Gap, and then over trails already in existence to the Tulpehocken. This assumption sounds more plausible since it would shorten the trip for the cattle by a hundred miles. Furthermore the trails would be easier, having been already much traveled. (See Frank E. Lichtenthaeler’s article “They Drove Their Cattle Overland,” Historical Review of Berks County, July, 1940).
There is still a third possibility. From Godfried Fiedler’s Deposition of 1726 it is evident that a party of Palatines had investigated the Province of Pennsylvania prior to the migration. This scouting party could envision what dangers the Susquehanna corridor held in store for the little band and for their cattle. Of the preparation for the journey Conrad Weiser wrote “many of them united and cut a road from Schohary to the Susquehanna river, carried their goods there, and made canoes . . .Judge Brown comments: “They marched from Schoharie a southwest direction, for the Susquehanna . . . together with their cattle and families, where they arrived . . . at a place called Cookhouse”. There they made canoes.
Remembering what the early scouts of the Fiedler Deposition had reported, the Palatines would hesitate to drive the cattle all along the river. However, since they had to take food and household goods, as well as small children, over the steep hills to the Charlotte, it is only logical that they should use the horses for transport. Also there were babies in the party (JWH’s great-great-great-grandfather, Henry Fiedler, was only two months old) and mothers and older children needed fresh cow’s milk for as long as it could be had, so the cows would go along too. Having taken the animals so far, it would be simpler for them to follow down the Susquehanna to Oghwaga than to retrace their path to the Delaware.
The canoes were loaded and the fleet started out. The herdsmen attempted to follow along. However, with the canoes traveling perhaps three times as fast on the swollen waters as the slower-moving animals on land, the chances are that they did not stay together long. Soon the herdsmen lost sight of the little flotilla and eventually turned east on the Indian trail to Cookoze, and on down the Delaware.
The route they must have followed from Cookoze to the Tulpehocken is well described in Lichtenthaeler’s “Storm Blown Seed of Schoharie,” Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, vol. 9, pages 82-86.
Our hypothesis combines the two previous theories by supposing that the herd crossed over from the Susquehanna at Oghwaga to the Delaware at Cookoze. It provides a reasonable explanation of the perplexing statement “they drove their cattle over land.”
Many of the discrepancies in Judge Brown’s story are cleared up in Lichtenthaeler’s article. For instance, he indicates that Cook-house was actually Cookoze, an Indian village near present Deposit, New York, on the west branch of the Delaware. Cookoze was only about ten miles overland from Oghwaga (Windsor, New York), on the Susquehanna, an important and much-used point on an east-west Indian trail. This trail would have afforded a logical crossing for the cattle and horses from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, where the herdsmen could then head south along the Delaware, while the dugout canoes continued down the Susquehanna. (See map).
This article originally appeared in the Summer 1960 issue of the Historical Review of Berks County.