The Hard Journey to America
Pennsylvania offered freedom and peace for the Schenkfelders. Founded by the Quaker William Penn, it was a place where groups who were persecuted and driven away elsewhere were welcomed. But though the journey to freedom was one of hope, it was also one of pain and fear; much that the travelers had known was left behind forever. Ocean travel could be a frightening experience.
The Schwenckfelders settled into their new life amidst other folk with similar tales of persecution and flight; many of them were from Germany (the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch—the “Dutch” is actually from Deutsch, the German word for “German”). They were hardworking, industrious farmers. They decorated their homes, furniture, wagons, written documents with colorful, symbolic designs—the folk art we still immediately associate with the “Pennsylvania Dutch” traditions.
Schwenckfelders emphasized learning and were careful to preserve and transmit their rich intellectual tradition, making new copies of their loved books by hand into the 19th century.
One Schwenckfelder who left us an account, in diary form, of the crossing to Pennsylvania was Christopher Wiegner, who was born in Ober-Harpersdorf, Silesia, on February 24, 1712. He died at 33 years in 1745 in Towamencin township in Pennsylvania. The Jesuit persecution of Schwenckfelders arose when Wiegner was a young boy; Schwenckfelders were forbidden to sell their goods or land, or to emigrate; they were denied Christian burial. At 14, Christopher secretly fled with his family to Saxony to escape the persecution. When more trouble arose there they fled to America.
The following account is taken from The Spiritual Diary of Christopher Wiegner, translated and edited by Peter C. Erb and published by the The Society ...