The Germany of the 1700s consisted of nearly three hundred territories, duchies, city-states and cantons linked together by language, custom and their common Germanic ethnicity. The Electoral Palatinate (i.e. the Kurpfalz) was one of the larger territories. It encompassed the region on both sides of the Rhine River and it tributaries, the Main and Neckar Rivers. At the present time the Rheinland-Pfalz is known as the Palatinate, and it lies entirely on the west side of the Rhine. The region to the east of the Rhine, the Neckar Valley, is now known as Baden-Wurttemberg. The German emigrants of the 1700s came primarily from the Palatinate territories located along the Rhine River (i.e. in the southern part of western Germany and the northern part of Switzerland). The greatest number of emigrants came from the Duchies/districts of Zweibrucken, Darmstadt, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hanau, Franconia, Spires, Worms, Nassau, Alsace, Baden and Wurttemberg and the Archbishoprics of Treves and Mayence. The region lying to the east of the Rhine and south of the Neckar, between the Schwarzwald (i.e. the Black Forest) and the Odenwald (i.e. Oden Forest) was known during the Middle Ages as the Kraichgau, and from that region came a large number of emigrants.
The Peace of Augsburg of 1555 gave the sovereign over a village or territory the privilege of choosing the religious preference for the people who resided there. The majority of the Palatinate became Lutheran in 1556, but the villages governed by the Bishopric of Speyer remained Catholic. By the 1560s the Reformed Church had come to the Palatinate; it supplanted Lutheranism as the dominant faith. Then, during the Thirty Years War, Catholicism once more became the predominant faith in the Palatinate. In 1705 the "Palatine Church Division" was effected. The terms of the "Division" included a ruling that 5/7ths of the parishes in the Palatinate were to be Reformed; 2/7ths were to be Catholic; none were to be Lutheran.
Religious persecution is the reason often cited for the emigration of thousands of Germans. That idea seems to simply be a misinterpretation of the "religious persecution" reason for the emigration of British subjects hoping to avoid the Church of England. In terms of the German and Swiss emigrants, religious persecution was only one small aspect of the grand migration. In fact, it might be argued that it was more difficult for Germans and Swiss to obtain permission to emigrate on grounds of religious persecution than any other.
In 1688 King Louis XIV of France sent a large army into the Palatinate to take it into the possession of France. Two years earlier King Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor entered into an alliance with a number of German princes, and the kings of Holland, Sweden and Spain to preserve the Holy Roman Empire against a possible French attack. Ties between the royal families of Holland and England induced England to join the League of Augsburg. The League of Augsburg was therefore ready to meet Louis' army when it arrived in the Rhine Valley in 1688. The War of the League of Augsburg lasted for roughly seven years from 1689 to 1697. It spread to the North American Continent where it became known as King William's War.
The War of the Spanish Succession was felt in the Palatinate when, in 1707, a French army under Marshal Villars crossed the Rhine and plundered throughout the region which is today southwestern Germany.
The hardships wrought by the Thirty Years’ War and then the subsequent War of the League of Augsburg, along with certain natural causes figured more prominently than religious persecution as causative factors of the migration of Germans and Swiss to America. John Duncan Brite in his dissertation, The Attitude Of European States Toward Emigration To The American Colonies, 1607-1820, noted that there were a series of crop failures throughout the territories occupied by Wurttemberg and Pfalz-Rhineland. Hardest hit were the fruit orchards and vinyards, due to the extreme cold of the winter of 1708/1709. Devastatingly cold weather hit Germany and the rest of western Europe. Extreme cold set in as early as October. By November, 1708 it was said that firewood would not burn in the open air and that alcohol froze. The rivers, including the swift flowing Rhone, became covered with ice that permitted carts to be driven across them. At about the same time, restrictions were placed on grazing and wood gathering in the ducal forests of the Palatinate. Increased taxes added to the hardships of survival faced by the working classes.
The greatest motivation for the mass emigration of Palatines appears not to have been religious persecution, war devastation, crop failures or even taxes. Enticement was probably the greatest encouragement for the emigration of the majority of the Germans and Swiss. That enticement came from two sources: 1.) propaganda spread by Neulanders, and 2.) letters from prior emigrants.
William Penn was given a grant of land by King Charles II of England in 1681 as payment of a loan made by William's father. Charles probably found it beneficial to get rid of Penn because he was a loud exponent of his Quaker faith. That faith, among a few others, threatened the power of the Church of England. By granting Penn the land in the New World, Charles would succeed in repaying the debt (without spending money which his government budget could not easily afford). Also, it would remove the bothersome Quaker group from his country. It would be assumed that the Quakers found the deal to be most satisfactory because they simply wanted to be able to practice their religious beliefs as they wished; their intentions had not been to provoke the troubles that they found themselves constantly in.
The British government expected the proprietors of colonies in the New World to populate those colonies in order to confirm the British claims to the land. William Penn, therefore, set about publicizing the plans for his "Holy Experiment". It would be a self-governing state with the separation of Church and State an integral part of the government's foundation. William Penn called for any and all interested persons to make the trip across the ocean to settle in his granted lands. A pamphlet was printed in England and distributed throughout the Palatine. Titled: Some account of the Province of Pennsylvania in America, the pamphlet published William Penn's offer to sell one hundred acres of land in exchange for £2. Penn's pamphlet also offered equal rights to all persons regardless of religion or race. Various other books and pamphlets were published and distributed throughout the Rhine valley during the next two decades, including Daniel Falckner's Curieuse Nachricht von Pennsylvania (i.e. Curious News From Pennsylvania).
Records do not reveal any mass migrations as a direct result of Penn's pamphlet campaign in Germany, but some families did take him up on the promise of a better life in the New World. Although the first major emigration of Germans would not occur until 1709, the names of sixty-four German men, heads of their households, were included on a listing made in 1691 of the residents of German Town in Pennsylvania.