Amish, Mennonites, and German Pietists in Virginia

Israel, Samuel and Gabriel Eckerling left the communal housing in the Ephrata Cloister and moved to the New River in 1745-46
Israel, Samuel and Gabriel Eckerling left the communal housing in the Ephrata Cloister and moved to the New River in 1745-46

The death of King Charles II of Spain in 1700 helped lead to a surge of German-speaking immigrants to Virginia. Charles II had no children, and he named as his heir Philip of Anjou, a grandson of Louis XIV. The English, Dutch, and Austrian leaders objected to combining the French and Spanish empires.

The resulting military conflict is known in Europe as the War of the Spanish Succession; in North America, the fighting is known as Queen Anne's War. The English, led by former governor of Virginia Francis Nicholson, captured the French fort of Port Royal in 1710 and triggered an exodus of Acadians from Nova Scotia.

In Europe, the fighting in the Rhine River valley forced an estimated 30,000 residents to flee the Palatinate and other units of the Holy Roman Empire. Many migrated to London, where they were both a problem as refugees and a potential asset in labor-starved Virginia.

Virginia plantation owners needed to attract more workers in order to expand tobacco planting and increase economic activity in the colony. Because fewer people in England were willing to work as indentured servants for years in exchange for transportation to Virginia, after the English Civil War ended the colony expanded the labor force by importing Africans. Landowners captured the economic benefits of those Africans by enslaving the workers, rather than paying any wages or allowing them to acquire land on their own. The General Assembly created a legal system to perpetuate chattel slavery, but attracting more white colonists from Europe remained an acceptable option.

Frantz Ludwig Michel, whose father was a prominent official in the Bern area, had traveled to North America several times between 1702-1707 to scout for land where Bern's Anabaptists and poor could be resettled. At the time, most European governments sought to block their farmers from migrating. Losing population meant it would be harder to increase the size of the army in time of war, and a lower population would reduce prices for land and lower tax revenue.

For a brief moment, however, the local government of Bern, Switzerland saw loss of its poorest people as a benefit. Emigration would shift the burden of pauper support to the English, and also remove religious dissidents from Bern.

Virginians competed with Carolina and Pennsylvania to attract immigrants from Europe. When Michel met with John Blair in Williamsburg in 1702, Blair offered to sell some of the 10,000 acres owned by the College of William and Mary in Henrico County.

Michel chose to examine Manakin, where Huguenots had been settled on the James River upstream of the Fall Line.

In 1703 he negotiated with William Penn in London, then came back to North America for another visit. He submitted a proposal in 1705 to Bern officials to settle 400 to 500 emigrants in Pennsylvania.

As the Lords of Trade in London considered the proposal, Michel returned to Virginia. He explored south into the Shenandoah Valley of Harpers Ferry in 1707, traveling perhaps as far as where the town of Edinburg is now located.

In 1709, Queen Anne's officials approved a proposal to grant land in Virginia to Michel on the same terms the Huguenots had received. There was a migrant crisis in London that year, and English officials were desperate to move German-speaking migrants out of London.1

A surge of migration from the Rhine River Valley crowded into London in 1709. French armies had disrupted the Rhine River Valley area during the War of Spanish Succession. After the unusually cold winter of 1708-09, many people in Central Europe were ready to gamble on starting a new life in another place. A "Golden Book" helped to trigger the migration of Lutherans to England in 1709.

The Carolina Proprietors had advertised in England and on the continent that land was available in Carolina. They arranged with Joshua Kocherthal to publish a book in 1706 that highlighted the benefits. Queen Anne then agreed to sponsor a group of colonists, financing their transport to North America and promising to continue to support them there.

Kocherthal had not been to North America when he published "A Complete and Detailed Report of the Renowned District of Carolina Located in English America" in 1706 He accompanied the settlers sponsored by Queen Anne in 1708, then returned to England.

He published a new edition of his book in 1709 which suggested Queen Anne would provide free passage for all refugees from England to America. The supposed promise of a free trip across the Atlantic Ocean and continued support from colonial officials was circulated widely in the Rhine River valley. Because it had gold lettering embossed in the cover, the 1709 edition of Kocherthal publication became known as the Golden Book. It triggered the 1709 wave of migration to England.

The group sponsored by Queen Anne, which crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1708, had ended up in New York. They were treated badly there, and ended up moving south into Pennsylvania. Kocherthal, supported by the Carolina Proprietors, continued to steer potential colonists to Carolina rather than to the one place in North America that he knew from personal experience.2

In an example of "how to lie with maps," the 1709 version omitted Virginia settlements in order to suggest that Carolina was a more-settled and attractive location. That 1709 map in the golden book was derived from a previous map made by Nicolaes Visscher, but the 1709 version was altered to make Carolina the preferred estination.3

settlements in Virginia were well-documented before Joshua Kocherthal produced his golden book in 1709
settlements in Virginia were well-documented before Joshua Kocherthal produced his "golden book" in 1709
Source: John Carter Brown Library, Nova Tabula Geographica complectens Borealiorem Americae Partem (by Nicolaes Visscher, 1698)

Kocherthal omitted Virginia settlements on his 1709 map, presumably to steer immigrants to Carolina instead
Kocherthal omitted Virginia settlements on his 1709 map, presumably to steer immigrants to Carolina instead
Source: John Carter Brown Library, Map of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina (by Joshua Kocherthal, 1709)

The Whigs in England encouraged the "poor Palatines" to immigrate to England, Ireland, and the colonies in North America. England had supported Huguenot refugees after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 forced Protestants to flee France. Three decades later, Queen Anne wished to support Europeans who were moving primarily for economic opportunity rather than religious repression.

Daniel Defoe defined in 1708 the justification for encouraging immigration, even if the new settlers were farmers rather than artisans like the Huguenots:4

...the more people, the more trade; the more trade, the more money; the more money, the more strength; the more strength; the greater the nation...

The propaganda of the Carolina Proprietors was successful, and Frantz Ludwig Michel claimed to have found land in Carolina with silver ore. After meeting in London with John Lawson, surveyor general of Carolina, and Baron Christoph von Graffenried, a Swiss nobleman, Frantz Ludwig Michel abandoned plans to create a new settlement in Pennsylvania. They became partners in a joint stock company organized by an official in Bern, Georg Ritter. The company agreed to purchase land from the Proprietors, recruit miners in Europe, and create a new settlement along the Neuse River.

John Lawson led a group of about 600 "poor Palatine" migrants from England to Carolina. Baron Christoph von Graffenried brought 150 Swiss immigrants from Bern. The ship journeys were rough, and many died before arriving in Carolina in 1710.

The survivors did not reach a safe haven in America. They landed at a time when the colony was disrupted by multiple conflicts between Anglicans vs. Quakers and Indian traders vs. farmers seeking to displace the Native Americans. The new settlers in Bath County objected to the traditional control of the colony by Albemarle County residents, and in 1611 Virginia Governor Spotswood sent troops to install a new governor and end the "Cary Rebellion."

Baron von Graffenried went into debt to purchase supplies from Virginia and Pennsylvania. He also provided compensation to the local Native Americans, to minimize their objections to development of New Bern (Bern on the Neuse River).

However, the 1711-1713 Tuscarora War ended the settlement. Lawson and von Graffenried and Lawson were captured in 1711. Lawson was killed, but Baron Christoph von Graffenried was released from captivity.

Michel disappeared in 1713 on the frontier, perhaps killed by the Tuscarora. After he failed to convince the colonists to move to the Potomac River, von Graffenried transferred his claims to a local Carolina landowner to satisfy outstanding debts, and the colonists lost control of their land. A disappointed von Graffenried returned to Europe in 1713 to seek another opportunity to make a profit from shipping settlers across the Atlantic Ocean.5

During the 1709 surge of immigration, about 13,000 migrants had managed to get to London after selling their land, furniture, and other assets. The unexpected influx was major news, and support for the "poor Palatines" in England quickly evaporated. Workers saw the refugees as competitors for jobs, and the illusion that all were Protestants was replaced with the realization that English charity was supporting Catholics.

Queen Anne was the last of the Protestant Stuarts; she had no surviving children to follow her. In 1709 there were legitimate fears that the Catholic son of King James II would organize an invasion of England rather than let another Protestant assume the throne after she died. Catholic migrants who had arrived in London sailed back to the continent, rather than convert and become Protestants.

English objections to the presence of Catholics in North America established a pattern. For the rest of the colonial period, almost all German-speaking immigrants to North America were Protestants.6

The influx forced the government to subsidize settlement as Kocherthal had claimed, and in 1709 the government stopped allowing shiploads of German immigrants into England. To clear the migrants out of London, about 2,000 were sent to Ireland. In 1710, Baron Christoph von Graffenried took 600 Protestants to Carolina.

The newly-appointed royal governor of New York took 3,000 Protestants to Livingston Manor, ninety miles north of New York City on the Hudson River. The settlers were expected to produce naval stores, products required by the Royal Navy and England's merchant fleet. The German-speaking farmers had little expertise in shaping ship masts or manufacturing tar from tree sap. Funding to supply their food, promised from England, never arrived. By 1712, the "poor Palatines" in New York were released from all obligations and left to fend for themselves.7

The French ended their participation in the War of Spanish Succession in 1713, signing the Treaty of Utrecht. The Habsburgs in Austria made peace a year later, in 1714. That same year, Baron Christoph von Graffenried moved to Switzerland and made no further attempt to sponsor re-settlement of Palatine refugees in North America.8

Thought the key individuals such as Frantz Ludwig Michel, Baron Christoph von Graffenried, and Governor Alexander Spotswood changed, the economic and political reasons for German Protestants to migrate to North America continued.

The migrants were farmers who lost their crops, houses, and family members in the wars fueled by Catholic and Protestant rivalries. Not surprisingly, their Christian religious beliefs incorporated anti-war beliefs. Refugees from European wars moved across the Atlantic Ocean to British colonies in North America, and William Penn's colony promised religious freedom to attract them.

In addition, German "pietist" groups migrated into Virginia from Pennsylvania starting in the late 1720's, attracted by cheaper land in the Shenandoah Valley.

Governors Spotswood and Gooch sought to attract new settlers west of the Blue Ridge in the 1720's and 1730's. The language and religious beliefs of those settlers would be different from English-speaking Anglicans east of the Blue Ridge, but the new settlers would be a barrier against French and Native American raiding parties.

Some German-speaking migrants left Pennsylvania after conflicts within their small religious communities. At the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, a monastic group that emphasized celibacy and communal living also struggled with the money-making ambitions of Israel, Samuel and Gabriel Eckerling. The brothers migrated to the New River in 1745-46, joining the Dunkard settlement now underneath Claytor Lake.9

Today there are Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren communities across the state, not just in the Shenandoah Valley. In October 2021, there were two highway crashes where cars plowed into horse-drawn buggies carrying Amish families. Two of the people in a buggy in Richmond County were seriously injured, and the horse was euthanized.

In Cumberland County, the two parents were killed and seven of the eight children in the buggy were injured. As described in a news story:10

The horse pulling the buggy had to be euthanized. The buggy was equipped with the required “Slow Moving Vehicle” triangle placard, as well as working headlights and taillights, police said. Amish buggies are legal on Virginia highways, and must display the placard as they are solid black and difficult to see at night.

Frantz Ludwig Michel


Religious Toleration/Intoleration in Colonial Virginia

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Disestablishing the Official State Church, and the First Amendment



1. Robert A. Selig, "Wilhelmsburg," Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Volume 20, Number 4 (Summer 1998),; Wm. J. Hinke, "Report of the Journey of Francis Louis Michel from Berne, Switzerland, to Virginia, October 2, 1701-December 1, 1702," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 24, Number 1 (January, 1916), (last checked August 8, 2021)
2. "The Golden Book," Wexford Palatines, April 20, 2011, (last checked May 2, 2022)
3. "Kocherthal 1709 map of Carolina," North Carolina Map Blog, (last checked August 8, 2021)
4. Philip Otterness, "The 1709 Palatine Migration and the Formation of German Immigrant Identity in London and New York," Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Volume 66 (1999), pp.11-12, (last checked August 8, 2021)
5. Donald E. Collins, "Swiss and Palatine Settlers," NCpedia, 2006,; "William S. Price Jr, "Cary Rebellion," NCpedia, 2006,; Alonzo Thomas Dill, "Michel, Frantz Ludwig," NCpedia, (last checked August 8, 2021)
6. Philip Otterness, "The 1709 Palatine Migration and the Formation of German Immigrant Identity in London and New York," Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Volume 66 (1999), pp.15-16, (last checked August 8, 2021)
7. H. T. Dickinson, "The Poor Palatines and the Parties," English Historical Review, Volume LXXXII, Issue CCCXXIV (July 1967), p.464,; "The Golden Book," Clermont State Historic Site, March 3, 2010,; "Poor Palatines," Clermont State Historic Site, March 24, 2011,; "The Poor Palatines: an 18th-century refugee crisis," British Library, September 4, 2015,; Jeremy Fradkin, "Who was a refugee in early modern England? The 'Poor Palatines' of 1709," Folger Shakespeare Library, September 24, 2020, (last checked August 8, 2021)
8. "Graffenried, Christoph, Baron Von," NCpedia, 1986, (last checked May 2, 2022)
9. "Virginia," Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online,; S. E. Gross, Pulaski County Virginia Heritage 2003, 2003, p.17,; Doug Ward, "The Ephrata Cloister: A Sabbatarian Commune in Colonial Pennsylvania," (last checked August 9, 2021)
10. "Farmville man charged with 2 manslaughter counts in Amish horse-drawn buggy crash that killed mother & father of 8," Richmond Times-Dispatch, April 27, 2022, (last checked May 2, 2022)

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