Tonight I am part of a vast number of people who are rolling pie crusts, thawing turkeys and setting pretty tables. We are the lucky ones – the very, very lucky ones. There were some hungry times when I was tired of one hundred and one ways to fix potatoes and onions, but I did not think I would starve. I am thankful for lessons learned from hungry times. I am also thankful for stories about some of my first ancestors on this continent who persevered through huge hardships.
In 1710, Johann Georg and Veronica Hain arrived in New York with their large family. They were part of the Palatine immigration of Continental Europeans who left their homelands under the threat of death from religious persecution and famine caused by the Thirty Years War. Johann Georg paid a large tax to be allowed to leave. After grueling efforts, they reached England where they swore allegiance to the crown and became English citizens.
Queen Anne happened to be of the Protestant persuasion and had some sympathy for the Palatine Protestants. She was also happy to do an ‘in your face’ to the French. Johann Georg, Veronica and their family were part of a group of newly minted English who were shipped to New York to bolster the ratio of English to French and Swiss. In return for this ‘magnanimous’ gesture, the small group of Palatine immigrants who survived the voyage were to work off their passage in return for land and a stipend. Promises were broken and it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Some of the Palatines, including my ancestors, took control of their own destinies, leaving Schoharie, NY, in 1723 and settling in what is now Wernersville, PA. They prospered beyond what would seem possible and built beautiful stone homes, grist mills, churches and schools.
Their offspring increased and spread. Not many generations later, some of Johann and Veronica’ descendants traveled across the continent to California where they also prospered. Their gratitude for blessings was demonstrated through extraordinary acts of love, humility and assistance to those in need, particularly the homeless and immigrants.
I am thankful for the success of my Palatine immigrant ancestors because it gives me hope that today’s new immigrants to this country will find a place to call home and can become full and productive citizens. I am also thankful because the Palatine story exemplifies a victory of goodness and perseverance over persecution, misplaced nationalism and war.