A Monumental Decision

On the 6th of October 1683, thirteen families numbering thirty-three persons arrived at Philadelphia from Krefeld, Germany. There to greet them was Francis Daniel Pastorius who through negotiations with William Penn had procured a 15,000 acre tract of land in Pennsylvania. Acting as agent for the German Company, in affiliation with a group of Frankfort Pietists, Francis Daniel Pastorius emigrated to America in June of 1683. The decision was not made lightly. M.D. Learned writes,"The one absorbing desire of Pastorius in leaving his native land was that he might escape the vanities of the old world, and lead a quiet Christian life in the wilds of America."


Once there he became advocate, bailiff, justice of the peace, schoolmaster, scrivener, neighbour, and friend to the people of Germantown. The first year of settlement was not easy and Pastorius offered temporary shelter under his own roof to newly arrived Germans. At the end of November, 1684 he reported to his Company, "So far as concerns our newly-founded city, Germanopolis, it is situated upon a rich black soil, surrounded by numerous pleasant springs. The main street is sixty feet wide, and the cross-street is forty, and each family has a farmyard of three acres in size." Its location is described as a two hour walk from the city of Philadelphia.


M.D. Learned, author of The Life of Francis Daniel Pastorius, explains the significance of their arrival on American soil. "With the laying out of Germantown that same month, they took up their residence there, thus becoming, along with Pastorius, the founders of that town and the advance guard of the great German migration to America." And that is why there is a monument.


In 1908, the cornerstone was laid for a twenty-nine foot monument celebrating the arrival of Francis Daniel Pastorius and the thirteen original families. One hundred years later, to the day, I stood on the steps of this monument raised to honour my ancestor.


Robert Sibley, senior writer with the Ottawa Citizen, in 2009 wrote a series titled 'Our Stories in Stone'. He observed how in a city like Ottawa we become so used to the presence of monuments that we no longer really see them. He reminds us that,"monuments are more than artifacts of historical reference, reminders of the past, although they are that too. Statues, plaques, memorials, cenotaphs; they are stories in stone and bronze."


It is the search for the story that brings me to this monument in Germantown.


The Smithsonian Institution catalog records the monument details. While the pilgrim figures represent an arrival, it is the two side panels that speak to 'future deeds'. One panel shows 'The Volunteer' honouring the memory of the thousands of men of German heritage who fought in American wars; the other depicts the Germantown 'Protest against Slavery'. The 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery was the first protest against slavery made by a religious body in the English colonies. That deserves further attention.


So here I stand and gaze at the monument hoping that its history will be revealed. It is a good starting point. I come away with more questions and a determination to learn about the people whose lives are remembered here. The stories waiting to be told... the stories in stone.