Oaths of Fidelity and Abjuration, ca.1760, and List of Oath-takers, November 1, 1763

Oaths Transcript

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Oath takers signatures Fidelity Oath

Record Group 26: Records of the Department of State, Ships' Lists of German Passengers, Oaths of Fidelity and Abjuration, iron gall ink on paper, 16"X10" and list of signatures of oath-takers, November 1, 1763 (List 239-C), p. 139 in volume F; iron gall ink.

Approximately seventy percent of German-speaking immigrants to Great Britain's American colonies came to Pennsylvania. A few may have arrived from lands that are now Germany and Switzerland before William Penn received a charter to his colony in 1681. In 1683, the first group of significant size began to settle in the village of Germantown, near where the Wissahickon Creek flows into the Schuylkill River. German-speaking immigrants who arrived later moved into the interior to such an extent that they dominated numerically the colonial counties of Northampton, Berks, Lancaster, and York. Approximately 15,000 entered the province prior to 1727. Between 1727 and 1775, more than 70,000 arrived. German immigrants continued to be numerous until the late 1800s. According to a recent census, about 49,000,000 Americans, or 22% of the population, claimed German ancestry, the same as the percentage of English origin and higher than the proportion of Americans of other ethnic backgrounds. The same census disclosed that 34% of Pennsylvania's population were of German background.

The large influx of German speaking colonists alarmed provincial officials. In 1727, Governor Patrick Gordon warned the legislature that the "large numbers of Strangers" entering "daily" could endanger Pennsylvania's "peace and security." The Governor and the council then required all foreign males age sixteen and over to take an oath of allegiance to the King of Great Britain, a requirement that remained in force until the end of the colonial period in 1776.

The Oaths of Fidelity and Abjuration to King George III (1760-1820) and the Pope reveal the political and religious tensions that were prominent in England at the time. England's most powerful enemies were the Catholic nations of France and Spain. In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated England's Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1604) and claimed to relieve her subjects from obedience. Most of the English people, however, remained loyal to their Queen. Two years later, the Pope commissioned Spain's King Philip II (1556 - 1598) to remove Queen Elizabeth I from the throne. In 1588, Philip sent the famous Armada in a futile attempt to carry out this commission. Relations with France also were tense during this period. Settlers on the frontiers of England's North American colonies accused French Catholic missionaries of encouraging Indians to attack them. During the 1750s, France and England fought a war to determine mastery of the eastern half of North America. Increasingly Protestant England became intolerant of Catholicism.

Even many years after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that resulted in the exile of England's Catholic King James II (1685-1688), the oath emphasized the Protestant succession to the throne. Oath-takers promised to be loyal to the heirs of the "late princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover and heirs of her body being Protestant." Because Queen Anne (1702-1714), the Protestant daughter of King James II, died childless, and because the Catholic son of James was considered unacceptable, the English parliament passed the succession to the Protestant House of Hanover, a large principality in present-day Germany. The Hanoverian rulers were descended from Elizabeth, daughter of King James I (1604-1625). They were known as electors because they participated in the selection of the Holy Roman emperor. Sophia was the wife of Elector Ernest Augustus and was designated as the successor to Queen Anne. Since she was 84 when Queen Anne died in 1717, her son ascended the throne, as King George I. George III was his great-grandson.

Despite the British parliament's legislation on the royal succession, supporters of King James II claimed that his son, whom they called James III, and whom some Scots called James VIII (King James I of England had been James II of Scotland before becoming the monarch of the United Kingdom), was the rightful heir to the throne. Proponents of the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 that resulted in King James's removal called his son the "pretender." Members of a faction in British politics continued to press the "pretender's" claims well into the 1700s. As the German-speaking oath takers pledged their loyalty to King George III, they promised also to disclose "all Treasons and Traitorous Conspiracies," presumably concerning placing the son of King James II on the throne.

The Commonwealth required an Oath of Allegiance to be administered to the non-British immigrants beginning in 1727. The Oaths of Fidelity and Abjuration were begun in 1729; the first specifically required the oath-taker to disavow any ties to other monarchs and embrace the British ruler; and the second to abjure, or renounce, any previous connection to the Pope. The November 1, 1763 list of ninety-seven oath-takers from the Ship Chance is a typical example. The ship, captained by Charles Smith from Rotterdam, landed at Philadelphia, and the oaths were administered at the State House, now known as Independence Hall. Males were required to take the oath, usually as the heads of families. This list shows 97 persons taking the oath, and 193 "whole freights", presumably women and children. Though ship captains were required to also include the place of origin for each passenger, this was rarely done. The list of "Strangers" who took the oaths contain their actual signatures, or their marks, if they could not write. Their names are typically of Germanic origin. They are in the script that literate Germans used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although the English-speaking immigration officials sometimes cast aspersions on the "strangers'" intelligence, the signatures demonstrate that the vast majority could write in their own language. Nevertheless, a few of the immigrants signed by making their marks in the form of an "X" or other symbol.