In 1723, 15 German settler families paddled down the Susquehanna River in dugout canoes from the village of Schoharie in the British colony of New York in search of a better life in the colony to the south founded by William Penn.
Their arduous trek on the mile-wide Susquehanna, according to historical accounts, took them about 200 miles to the mouth of the Swatara Creek, just below Harrisburg, where they surely had to set up camp before embarking on the final leg of their journey.
About 35 miles to the east by way of narrower waterway lay their destination — thousands of acres of unsettled, fertile ground along the Tulpehocken Creek.
The pioneers’ legacy endures in western Berks and eastern Lebanon counties, most tangibly with the boroughs and villages that bear their names: Bernville, Frystown, Myerstown, Newmanstown, Rehrersburg, Robesonia, Stouchsburg, Schaefferstown, Strausstown, Schubert, Sheridan, Wernersville, Womelsdorf — the list goes on.
There are about a dozen impressive Protestant churches that stand on ground where those early settlers worshipped.
On Saturday one of those churches hosted the kickoff of a series of events and activities planned this year to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the 15 German families to the Tulpehocken Territory.
About 200 people, many of whom had to stand shoulder to shoulder along the walls as the 140 folding chairs were occupied, turned out for the presentations at Christ Lutheran Church in the Marion Township village of Stouchsburg.
Among them were people whose ancestors are buried in the church’s cemetery just off Route 422.
“Today we celebrate their coming,” speaker Dolores Hill, told the audience. “Maybe to learn more about the history of this area, maybe to strengthen our bonds with one another, or even to be reminded about what’s important in life.”
The native Lenape Indians referred to the area as “Tulpehocken,” which in their language means “land of the turtles.”
Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society, which has a library in Womelsdorf, has defined the Tulpehocken Territory as all the land between the Blue Mountain north of Bethel and Shartlesville, and the South Mountain located south of Schaefferstown, with Myerstown on the western boundary, and Hamburg and Wernersville on the east. The land area encompasses 226,000 acres.
Among the activities introduced Saturday was a create-a-turtle contest. There’s also a painting contest.
The hardships these early pioneers endured are hard to imagine, said Hill, 80, a retired elementary school teacher who spearheaded the celebration.
The courage and tenacity of these pioneers alone is worth celebrating — and depicting in art, Hill said.
Scant information exists about the pioneers who were able to complete the journey to the Pennsylvania wilderness, carrying all of their worldly possessions on small watercraft.
“I would love to see someone create 15 dugouts coming down the Susquehanna,” Hill said. “I mean, we have no pictures of it, and we have to use our imagination and things. How did this all happen? Did they have rafts? They lived in the Schoharie region, some of them two generations, so they accumulated something.”
They were refugees of a century’s worth of war and a massive crop failure in their homeland in the Rhenish Palatinate region of what is today Germany, said Linda Manmiller, one of the speakers representing the historical society.
The Palatinate region was in upheaval as a result of a succession of wars, the Protestant Reformation and famine, Manmiller explaind. Young men were conscripted into fighting.
The Tulpehocken pioneers were part of a wave of migrants from that region to England, where they eventually wore out their welcome, Hill said.
Promised land in the New World, many German families settled the Schoharie area. They intended to support the Royal Navy by manufacturing pitch, which is used to strengthen ships, by burning pine trees, Hill said. When that didn’t work as intended, they transitioned to farming.
The Schoharie pioneers discovered the promises made by the British crown were not being upheld, she said.
Hill compared the pioneers’ faith in divine providence to the biblical story of Joseph after he was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, who envied him
“The lives of these early pioneers were full of unplanned events,’ she said. “Circumstances certainly must have appeared over and over to have wrecked their lives and what they viewed as God’s plan for their lives.”
Besides speakers who gave part of the history, the program included music, prayer and a monologue of Anna Maria Kobel, one of the Tulpehocken Territory pioneers.
Self-directed mini-tour information guides were handed out.
Audience members learned that the celebration committee plans tours of a dozen churches founded by the Tulpehocken settlers.
People came from near and far as word spread about Saturday’s celebration kickoff event
William Jay and his wife, Robyn Madara Jay, said they only heard about the celebration last week. Robyn has ancestors who were part of the Snyder family, among the pioneers buried in the church cemetery.
The couple have been doing genealogy research that includes visiting cemeteries in the region.
Information about contests, activities and events is available on the Tulpehocken Territory 300th Anniversary Facebook page or the Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society website, tulpehockenroots.org
Source: Berkshire mont
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