The Spoon Family of New York - Coming to America

It was 1709 when Henrick Spohn, his brother Adam, and sister Margaret left Manweiler, commune Kaiserlautern, in the German Palatinate, to begin the adventure of their life, coming to America. They apparently traveled from London to New York without their mother or stepfather, Philip Mueller. It's possible they started out together and were separated after arriving in London. In any case, New York Gov. Hunter's subsistence list of 1710 shows Henrick the head of a family of 3, one of whom was under 10. Margaret must have been nearly 10 since she married Johann Wulfen five years later.

Records show that one Philip Muller, his wife and 3 children, were returned to Holland (from London) in 1709. Most of the people returned to Holland were Roman Catholics who refused to pretend they were Protestants. Apparently, the Crown was willing to finance the exodus of Protestants from Catholic oppression, but baulked at saving Catholics from themselves. In reality there wasn't much religious persecution in Germany at the time, the promise of free passage to free land in the Colonies was much more motivating. Land was scarce in Europe and farmers with large families wanted land more than anything.

It's possible this Philip Muller was Catholic, but it's also possible he became disillusioned with his future prospects and returned home voluntarily. As a furrier, Philip probably expected to continue his business in the Colonies. However, those immigrants who were transported to New York at Crown expense were required to sign a contract indenturing them to the Crown for an unspecified time.

Their job would be to harvest pitch from pine trees and turn it in to tar for the British Navy. Only after all their expenses were paid back to the Crown were the immigrants free to settle on their own land. Since the Governor of New York controlled both the expenses and wages it wasn't going to happen. The British needed the tar and the Palatines might just as well have been lifers on a prison chain gang.

The trip to America was no pleasure cruise. After decades of war, and the extreme winter of 1708/09, many of the Palatines left their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs, rafting down the Rhine 4 to 6 weeks before reaching Rotterdam, Holland. In Rotterdam, they joined other Palatines in homeless camps waiting for shipment to London, where they stayed in... homeless camps. By the end of 1709, more than 13,000 Palatines reached London. In those days London wasn't as big as it is today and the homeless Palatines quickly became a huge problem.

Several projects were invented to relocate Palatines in Ireland and other parts of the British empire. One which involved our heroes was the Naval tar project in New York. Consequently, in December 1709, they were among 2817 Palatines who were loaded on 10 sailing ships bound for New York. Unfortunately, due to a dispute over payment, the ships did not leave England until April 10, 1710.

Conditions onboard the ships were cramped and unsanitary. Food was minimal and nutrition was poor. Nearly everyone became ill. 446 Palatines died during the voyage and another 24 died during the first month in New York. Typhus was the probable cause. Then it was called Palatine Fever. The first ship didn't arrive in New York until June 13, 1710.  The last arrived on August 2nd after crashing at the east end of Long Island on July 7th. 30 babies were born during the voyage.

Upon landing in New York, a Palatine camp was established on Governor's Island, near Brooklyn, New York. Two doctors were assigned to the group but none of the Palatines were allowed to leave the island for fear of spreading the Palatine Fever. By October they began moving to their 'tar farm', 92 miles north on the Hudson River. The place was called Livingston Manor, located at the present site of Germantown, New York. The Palatines were given tools, subsistence rations, one musket per household, and the use of a wooded lot to build a hut. By June 1711 there were 1874 Palatines living in 7 villages, either at Livingston Manor or across the Hudson River at West Camp.

You might think the story ends here, but the Palatines were not happy. They were farmers, not tar harvesters. They came to America for land! If only the British would lose interest in the project, they would be released from their obligation. And so it came to pass, the project was plagued with difficulties. The tar yield was poor and so was the quality. Support of the Palatines was expensive and the British failed to fund the operation past the initial voyage. Governor Hunter continued to support the enterprise until his personal funds and credit were exhausted. Finally, on September 6, 1712 the project was terminated. The Palatines were released to fend for themselves. Earlier in the year, after a Palatine uprising, their muskets were confiscated. As a result, they faced the winter with limited means of survival.

For many of the Palatines, the real promised land was the Schoharie Valley, 30 miles west of Albany. They heard stories about the good farmland at Schoharie before leaving London. Seizing the opportunity, some 40 or 50 families departed immediately for Schoharie. Another 150 families went to Albany or Schenectady for the winter. Many of these families continued on to Schoharie the following spring. On October 26, 1713 Governor Hunter reported that 1,008 Palatines remained in the Hudson River settlements, 500 were living in the Schoharie Valley and about 500 found work among the various planters.

Schoharie Valley

Of those who remained on the Hudson site, their minister, Reverend Haeger, wrote on July 6, 1713, that "they boil grass and the children eat the leaves off the trees. I have seen old men and women cry that it should almost have moved a stone. [Several] have for a whole week together had nothing but Welsh turnips which they did only scrape and eat without any salt or fat and bread". Those moving to Schoharie fared a little better, getting some help from local Indians and the Dutch Church in Schenectady.

To acquire land on the frontier, citizens needed to first buy the land from the Indians, they then needed to get the land surveyed, and finally, they needed to get a land patent from the Governor. The Palatines had no problem buying the land from the Indians, who had sold the same land before, and given it to the State on another occasion. However, Gov. Hunter had previously ordered the Palatines not to move to Schoharie. They ignored his order. So, they had no hope of getting a patent. Undaunted, the Palatines proceeded to organize seven villages along Schoharie Creek. Not to be outdone, Gov. Hunter issued patents for the same land to a group of his allies on November 3, 1714.

The villages of Schoharie were on the frontier. There was no government, no court, no sheriff. The Palatines handled their own disputes, organized a German speaking school and church, cleared and cultivated their land, and built homes. In 1715 when one of the absentee owners showed up, he was assaulted and chased away.  When Gov. Hunter sent a Sheriff to arrest the Palatine leader, John Conrad Weiser, the Deputy encountered a mob lead by a woman who treated him rather rudely, dumping him on the road to Albany with multiple contusions and two broken ribs. After all they'd been through, the Governor would have to send the Army, but he never did.

Governor Hunter left office in 1720 and a new Governor, William Burnet, was appointed. Gov. Burnet offered the Palatines land, with patents, further West. He said he wanted to expand the frontier, but he may have just wanted to push the Palatines as far from Albany as possible. By this time the Palatines were having their own internal disputes. Two groups wanted to accept the Governor's offer, if they could be separated from the other group. Still others were willing to rent or buy the land they occupied at Schoharie.

One group, lead by John Christopher Gerlach, acquired 12,700 acres known as the Stone Arabia Patent. They had to purchase their own land from the Indians. The second group took up lots on 9,186 acres aquired by Gov. Burnet and known as the Burnetsfield Patent. It was located at the confluence of the Mohawk River and West Canada Creek. Each adult and male child was eligible to receive 100 acres. Henrich Spohn Sr. drew lot #32 on the South side of the Mohawk and Henrich Jr. ( about 11 years old at the time) drew lot #7 on the North side, opposite Sr.'s lot. Now they finally had land of their own!

At Burnetsfield, also known as German Flatts, the industrious Palatines prospered, so much so that their food production made them targets of their enemies, first the French with their Indian allies fighting the British, then the British with their Indian allies fighting the Patriots. But that's another story.

This is a pretty old topo map, it doesn't show I-90. Notice the elevation change from the river to the flat part of Junior's lot is 100 ft. Senior's lot goes from 400 ft elevation to 900 ft. Whoever named German Flatts had a sense of humor.

Senior's lot is #32. The cluster of buildings is on lot #30. That's the site of the Old Fort Herkimer Church. Here's a good look at I-90. I can get on I-90 15 miles from my house then drive to Henrick's lot without encountering a stoplight (if you don't count toll booths), 2800 miles.

Much of the information on this page was learned from "Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration" by Walter Allen Knittle, Ph.D.