J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

“The Importation of Germans”

In a recent Boston Globe, Stephen Kenney described how our country’s conflicting attitudes toward immigrant labor—both “Stay Out” and “Come Do Our Dirty Work”—have deep roots:

In the mid-18th century, the Province of Massachusetts Bay recruited German immigrants to work as printers and glassmakers. A lottery was established to finance the project, and skilled workers were exempted from military service. . . .

In 1750, the Massachusetts General Court crafted an immigration reform measure: “An Act to prevent the Importation of Germans and other Foreign Passengers in too Great a Number in one Vessel.” It reflected a fear of disease. “Through want of necessary room and Accommodations,” aboard ships, “they may often Contract Mortal and Contagious Distempers [and infect others] on their arrival.” . . .

Today, records of this German immigration remain in the Massachusetts Archives. During the Great Depression they were taped into notebooks as part of a WPA project. A grant from the National Foundation for the Humanities funded their conservation, preserving them from the corrosive effects of brown, oozing tape and iron gall ink.
Among those Germans coming into the Broad Bay area of northern Massachusetts (now Maine) in 1752 were Georg Frederich Seiter, born 1727 in Langensteinbach, and Christine Salome Hartwick. The following year, they moved down to Braintree, when Joseph Palmer and Richard Cranch were trying to establish a glass factory and other early industrial facilities in an area still called Germantown. George and Sarah, as the young immigrants came to be known, got married on 20 Mar 1753.

The Seiders (another name change) had three children in Braintree, the last being a son they named Christopher, baptized 18 Mar 1759. After the glass factory burned, the family moved to Boston, where they had three more children. Around the time of his eleventh birthday, Christopher became the first person to die in a Boston riot against the new Crown policies. (Here’s what happened.) So there’s a direct link between this wave of immigration at mid-century and the Revolution a generation later.

Most of the preceding genealogical information comes from Wilford W. Whitaker and Gary T. Horlacher’s Broad Bay Germans: 18th Century German-Speaking Settlers of Present-Day Waldoboro, Maine, published in 1998 by Picton Press.

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