The 1737 Letter
There are three sections to this page:
- An article about the history of the letter, The Road Back
- A translation of the original letter
- An analysis of the letter
1) The Road Back — Edited from an article by Emmert Studebaker
In 1962, two strangers were riding a cross-country train. A conversation started, and Ford Studebaker introduced himself to Al Studebaker.
The two quickly realized that they were probably related. During their conversation, Ford mentioned that he had a copy of a letter written in 1737 by two Studebaker immigrants to unknown persons back in Germany. The letter had been discovered by a German researcher, Dr. Albert Schafer who published it. It was republished in America by Dr. Otto Piper of Princeton University, and by some means came into Ford Studebaker’s possession.
Copies of Ford’s copy of the letter circulated among family members, and to make a long story a bit shorter, Mary Studebaker Gushwa, of Delphi, IN spent two months traveling in Europe researching the letter. On the advice of Emmert Studebaker, (President Emeritus of SFNA), she visited Hagen, Germany, where relations of our immigrant ancestors were known to have lived. While there, she located Herr Bernard Freter, a retired architect who devoted his entire time to genealogical research. He knew the aforementioned Dr. Shafer and later put Emmert Studebaker in touch with Louise Fahnestock Stock, who owned the original of the letter. Eventually, Emmert was able to purchase the letter from Mrs. Stock. Shortly after the purchase was made, she wrote the following letter to Emmert:
Dear Cousin Emmert!
On September 30th, 1973, I transferred to you the original letter from the immigrated ancestors Peter and Clement Studebaker, dated the 16th of September, 1737, from Pennsylvania. The letter was probably kept for the most part of its existence in Hagen-Halden. From my grandfather, who died in 1917, my father Fredrick Fahnestock (died 1946), probably received the precious old letter as seen, carefully preserved.
Because my brother did not return from World War II, the letter, especially precious to you, has come into my possession. In a small safe it survived the war in our apartment despite a bomb that was extinguished by the residents. All around the apartment building fell explosives and fire bombs.
I did not enjoy giving up the letter. But because I don’t have any children, I submit the letter to you, meaning the Studebaker Library, and I know that the letter will be in good hands.
2) Translated Text of The Letter
[Editor’s notes in brackets]
America and Pennsylvania, October 16, 1737
Dearly beloved brothers, we received your esteemed writing dated March 21, 1737 of John Cueper, and we learn from it that you are in good health and prosper, a fact over which we heartily rejoice.
Concerning ourselves, we are, thanks to God, well and in good health, too. As to your question regarding brother John, there is, thanks to God, no reason for complaint, for life is pleasant here. For we are better off than in Europe, because anyone who is willing to work can make a good living here, except for certain craftsmen.
The craftsmen are not organized here as with you. [The reference is probably to the toolmakers of the district from which the writers came]. Yet things could be better organized here, if only there were some masters here. For steel and iron are plentiful in this country. Good steel and iron and coal and grinding stones are imported from England, and the coal is for sale here as with you. Also there are many rivers.
Yet anybody who wants to work on a farm, can live a life without worries, for not much has to be paid to the sovereign, the maximum is six shillings per one hundred acres in the national currency. Some give corn and some give peppercorn and others give one shilling per one hundred acres and some don’t pay anything, once the sovereign has received his money. Much that was bought from the late Count [William Penn], as indicated above, has to pay one shilling per one hundred acres.
Furthermore let me tell you how a poor man be able to come across, who lacks the money to pay the passage. There is the following agreement: If a man has children, he can put them into service. A boy has to remain in service until he is twenty one. The girl has to stay until eighteen years of age. For this, people pay a lot of money. In that way, a poor man is able to free himself and his wife.
Those, however, who have no children, must put themselves to service. In that case, they are given good food and drinking and clothing. Once the years of service are over, they receive fresh clothing from head to foot. And it is done very honestly and seemingly. If they are husband and wife they can get rid of their obligation in a short time.
Furthermore we have to write you how amazed we are about the difference that there is between this country and Germany. For the trees here are bearing good fruit in their branches and not wild ones. There are all kinds of apples, much better than with you, and whatever kind one wants. You should see the grain, and the turnips here are 7 lb. of weight and they taste much better than with you. This country is abundantly fertile.
Furthermore a word about the authorities. The authorities here are good ones. You can go to a person in authority in the same way as to a peasant. You don’t have to take your hat off for a person in authority. They administer justice. Nobody suffers violence or injustice from them. They live a pious and God-fearing life. They don’t harm or vex anybody as they do with you. When you sell something here, e.g., inheritance or tools, it does not concern the authorities.
When something is for sale here, the owner posts a notice by the wayside or in the street and in the inns. Over in Philadelphia, a notice is posted at the courthouse, as they call it in English, or in German language the chancery. However at Germantown it is posted at the marketplace halfway toward the Reformed Church. Also there is one who announces it publicly in the streets and fixes the day. Then people gather in great numbers. Then the goods are sold at auction to the highest bidder. With all these transactions the authorities are not concerned.
As far as religion in this country is concerned, it should be said that there are all kinds of faiths here. Firstly, where authority is as it were, within; congregations, in which they have no baptism, neither for infants nor for adults. Then there are also here whole congregations of Baptists and Seventh Day Baptists [i.e., Dunkers] who also practice adult baptism, and they keep their Sunday on Saturday, yet lead a good life. There are also many “monists” [Unitarians?] as well as Reformed and Lutherans, and also a few Catholics in Philadelphia, whom the late Count [William Penn] wanted to expel, but they insisted on the franchise granted to them by the late Lord. So he had to keep his peace. But afterwards both we and all new arrivals of the male sex must go to the town hall before the magistrates to give up and renege allegiance to the Pope in Rome [illegible] of Great Britain in England. For the rest the authorities permit all faiths. If a person lives a quiet and pious life, he may believe what he likes.
This is here a richly blessed country. The greatest difficulty is when somebody needs workers. He has to pay very highly for them. Any man who is able and willing to work can make a lot of money here. For a carpenter demands three sh. per day, i.e. one dollar (Cologne money) in your currency. It is the same with the joiner and the mason. A linen weaver gets three times what he receives over there, a shoemaker gets for a pair of man’s shoes six and 1/2 sh. in our currency, that makes two dollars (Cologne money) and 13 fatmen (pennies), and leather sells at the same price as with you. Similarly a blacksmith makes also a lot of money. In conclusion, anybody who is willing to work here can prosper and live well. The rich people, who are eager to engage in commerce, will prosper here. For there is a lot of commerce here from this country with wheat and other things, to Holland, to England, to Maryland, to the south east, Virginia and to Catalonia [Carolina?] and to Schenecken [Jamaica?] and to East India and to many other places there is a good deal of business from here. Hence many people in Philadelphia do big business with the ships and the goods which the ships carry in. Whenever the ships come, which carry many goods with them and are anxious and hard pressed to leave again, the business people of Philadelphia will come and bargain with the captains of the boats and make big profits.
Again, those who are particularly rich, will make very large profits. They will buy many hundreds of acres from the sovereign at a low price and with the understanding that for all times they and their heirs will have to pay low taxes. With that money the sovereign builds jails for thieves and wicked people.
Furthermore we have to report concerning the wild Indians. They are as black as the pagans with you. But they are conscientious people. They believe that …[illegible]… they call God in their language …[illegible]… and refer to him with fear. They are anxious not to commit sins. They believe also, that after death when their life was not pleasant to the Pure and Omniscient, they will come to the North, where it is very cold and where they will have an evil regent, where they will freeze severely and where they will be badly tormented, whereas those who lived a good life will come to the South after their death, where they will have a good regent who will receive them in a friendly manner.
They put to shame the majority of nominal Christians. They are intelligent and of childlike simplicity, e.g., if you give them apples, they will take one and give the other ones to their fellows they should bite like children. For everything among the common people is according to good Christian order.
When one comes to see another one, the one coming will say to the other in the English language “Day” [probably “Good Day”] and they give each other the hand with great kindness and friendliness. When they part from each other, they say “Well” [probably “Farewell”] in the English language and they shake hands again with each other in decency. You may walk here through the whole country without ever hearing any cursing or swearing. When you think of Germany, you feel pity and horror.
There is further to be reported that to many rich people work is done in a cheap manner. This is how it is done: the sea captains bring many black negroes from the negro countries, who are sold here. They have to serve for the rest of their lives, and if there are among them who get married and have children, the children too, are the master’s. They may be sold or kept as one pleases. In that manner the rich people are able to have their work done well. Anybody else who needs workers, must pay heavily for them. That is the greatest burden in this country.
Clemens Studenbecker Peder Studenbecker
3) Analysis of the 1737 Peter-Clement Letter
On October 16, 1737, two brothers, Clemens and Peder Studenbecker, wrote from “America and Penselfania” to their “Dearly Beloved Brothers” in Germany a letter which is of particular interest to us all who now, over two and a quarter centuries later, live in America.
Unlike most family letters which are usually devoted in great part to family affairs and family members, the 1737 Studenbecker letter consists almost entirely of a discussion of conditions existing in the brothers’ “America” and of the people who lived there. It thus gives us a well rounded picture of one of the most important areas of America during the interval between its founding as a colony and the birth of the nation of which it became a part. The letter also deals with four subjects which are of prime importance to us in America today: government, economic conditions, religious freedom, and racial minorities.
In reading and evaluating this letter of the Studenbecker brothers, it is well to keep in mind that the descriptions and views set forth are naturally influenced by the writers’ backgrounds. We do not know definitely at this time the exact locality in Germany from which the brothers came, but since most of the German immigrants to Pennsylvania came from the Palatinate [subsequent research shows this to be true] and since the original of the 1737 letter was discovered in the archives of the Bavarian town of Hagen, in that general area, it is reasonable to assume that the brothers’ home was in this region.
Clement and Peter had been in America for slightly more than a year when they wrote to their kinfolk in Germany, long enough to have acquired a fairly accurate knowledge of the subjects which they discussed, although there may have been errors or omissions of pertinent evidence which might have altered the picture they painted of their new home. Accordingly, we will attempt to discuss the letter in the light of the historical background of the times, and of the brothers themselves, in an effort to obtain a true interpretation of the statements it contains.
Of first importance in describing a new land, and especially so with anyone who had come from Germany as had the brothers, would be the government of the country as portrayed by the “Authorities” with whom the common people came into contact. On this subject, the brothers write:
The authorities here are good ones. You can go to a person in authority in the same way as to a peasant. You don’t have to take off your hat for a person in authority. They administer justice. Nobody suffers violence or injustice from them. They live apious and God fearing life. They don’t harm or vex anybody as they do with you.
It is well to note that the experiences of the brothers in Germany might have made the American authorities appear, by contrast, better than they were; but there is no doubt that these authorities were probably the best yet known by any people.
Closely associated with the government and the authorities in the minds of the common people, even today, is the matter of taxes levied by the government and collected by the “Authorities”. Thus, immediately following the statements concerning the authorities, the brothers write:
When you sell something here, inheritance or tools, it does not concern the authorities.
This indicates that no tax was collected on such transactions, as was undoubtedly had been the custom in Germany.
It is difficult for the average United States citizen today, to whom income taxes are of most concern, to appreciate the importance of land and property tax to the peasant in 18th century Europe. Accordingly, the brothers, aside from the remark concerning the sales tax quoted above, confine their discussion of taxes to those on land.
While we are not certain of the value of the shilling in actual purchasing power, there is little doubt that the rate of taxation must have been exceedingly low.
Along with the rate of taxation, the brothers were, of course vitally interested in the economic conditions existing in Pennsylvania, and told their kinfolk in Germany:
For we are better off here than in Europe, because anyone who is willing to work can make a good living … This here is a richly blessed country. The greatest difficulty is when somebody needs workers, he has to pay very highly for them…
The brothers report on agriculture:
We have to write you how amazed we are about the difference that there is between this country and Germany … This country is abundantly fertile.
From all these excerpts, it would appear that the economy of Pennsylvania was a booming one for all concerned- the rich trader, the working man, and the farmer. Also, in this connection, the brothers explain how a man unable to pay for the passage from the old country to America can still come across by indenturing his children until the girl is eighteen or the boy twenty one; or, if he has no children by indenturing himself and/or his wife. The brothers do not say what the period of indenture is in this case. They do state:
They are given good food and good drinking and clothing… once the years of service are over they receive fresh clothing from head to foot …
Finally it should be noted in respect to the booming economy that the brothers expressed no worry, as would probably be the case today, that the prosperous economy was a forerunner of a depression to follow.
The next important subject with which the brothers deal and one which they had more personal experience than we have today, was that of freedom of religious beliefs and practices. This account of the brothers concerning religious freedom in the Quaker colony is undoubtedly accurate, so far as it goes. However, by his Frame of Government for the Colony, William Penn did include certain restrictions, as can be seen from the following passage:
I do … declare and establish for the first fundamental of the government of my province, that every person who shall reside therein shall have and enjoy the free profession of his or her faith and exercise of worship toward God, in way and manner as every such person shall in conscience believe is the most acceptable to God. And so long as every such person useth not this Christian liberty to licentiousness or the destruction of others, that is to say, to speak loosely and profanely or contemptuously of God, Christ, the Holy Scriptures, or religion, or commit any moral evil or injury against others, in their conversation, he or she shall be protected in the enjoyment of the aforesaid Christian liberty by the civil magistrates.”
This passage was later followed by a law which stated plainly what the passage implies. This law excluded atheists from freedom of religion and prohibited non-Christians from either voting or holding any office in the government of the colony.
Thus from the brothers’ letter, from William Penn’s Frame of Government for Pennsylvania, and from subsequent acts of the General Assembly, it appears that, as a practical matter complete religious freedom was extended only to non-Catholic Christians with the additional requirements that they also be non-Anglican (High church of England) Christians, since the illegible words in the letter very probably refer to the Anglican Church and its leaders.
It is difficult to find fault with Penn for his attitude toward the Catholic Church and its offspring, the Anglican. He had suffered much from the intolerance practiced by those organizations, and in addition, his great objective of total religious freedom for Christian mankind might well have been endangered had either of these organizations, as they existed at the time, been permitted to become powerful in his province. However for the brothers and for hundreds and perhaps thousands of immigrants in Pennsylvania, there was complete freedom of religion.
This spirit of freedom and respect for the individual is reflected in the treatment extended to the Indian natives of Pennsylvania with whom Penn, almost immediately after he was granted the province by King Charles II, had concluded a treaty of friendship. The brothers’ picture of the character of the “Wild Indians” of Pennsylvania was a tribute to the Quaker philosophy as put into action under the leadership of William Penn and, even though some of his later critics claimed that his efforts at establishing a government in his colony failed because of this unrealistic philosophy, events such as the Indian Wars occurred only after Penn’s so-called “unrealistic” ideas had been abandoned and what his critics considered a more realistic approach to the problem had been adopted.
The brothers also make a few remarks about another minority group with which they came into contact in Pennsylvania, the Negro slaves. Here the brothers tell us little about the personal characteristics of the blacks and in fact, deal with the subject more as an economic situation than as a human situation.
We would like to think that the last sentence in the section about slavery referred to the institution of slavery being the greatest burden of America, but all evidence points to the probability that the reference was to the high cost of labor to all but the very rich, who could take advantage of the institution of slavery in order to escape this burden.
Strangely enough, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, who were so adamant in regard to religious freedom, were apparently not so concerned with human freedom, although as a matter of principle they did not approve of slavery. Thus while it is true that Penn owned slaves and hired slaves from other owners to perform work in Philadelphia, his will provided for the freeing of his slaves at his death and he was instrumental in having a law enacted prohibiting the importation of slaves into Pennsylvania. He had also proposed, and some cases had been able to have enacted, other measures which made the lives of the slaves in his province easier. However, slavery seems to have been a problem which quite often had been looked on as an economic, rather than a human one, even by many men of high character and strong religious conviction. This general attitude seems to be reflected in the brothers’ treatment of the subject in their letter.
With that, we come to the end of the letter in which the two Studenbecker brothers describe conditions in Pennsylvania, some thirty-nine years before that colony assumed its important role as one of the original states in the United States of America.
The natural question is, “Does the description as given by the brothers provide us with an accurate picture of the conditions existing in Pennsylvania at that time?” This is a difficult question to answer conclusively, since other evidence is extremely scarce. Thus, although there may be other letters written by other immigrants dealing with the same subjects, such letters, if they exist, have not come to our attention. There are letters from the same period which deal in general with the same subjects, but these letters were written by men of entirely different and invariably higher social and cultural backgrounds and, for this reason, are of much less value to us in determining the accuracy of the brothers’ observations.
What the brothers tell us is not always to our liking, However, considering the environment and culture which formed their background, we are forced to admire the ideas and ideals which are expressed in their letter; and, in particular, we must admire the initiative and courage they and all other immigrants in similar circumstances displayed in leaving the world they had known since birth to go to America. For, despite the reputed advantages of life in Pennsylvania, it was after all a strange land, mostly unexplored wilderness, and it was some three thousand miles away across an unfriendly ocean.
This meant severing family ties, which, for most of the immigrants, were quite close ties. Further, it meant that this parting was final, since the departing ones never expected to see again either their homeland or the family members they had left behind. Yet we see no sign of self-praise or self-pity in this letter to the folks back home. Rather, the pity expressed was for those left behind because they were deprived of the blessings of America- and their praise was for this new homeland and for their fellow Americans. On the basis of their expressions of faith in America and Americans, a faith which later events proved to be well-founded, we are inclined to accept as reasonably accurate the descriptions of people and conditions as written by the brothers.
Symbolic of this faith expressed in the brothers’ letter is the closing phrase they use,
Gott Befolen America
“God Bless America!” To the best of our knowledge, this is the first example of this phrase which over two centuries later, has become a term of praise, faith, and loyalty that Americans use to refer to their country.