"The German World of Anthony Jacob Henckel"
Written by: Daniel W. Bly
Presented at the Reunion of
The Reverend Anthony Jacob Henckel
Family National Association
On June 18, 2016 in Staunton, Virginia
Written by: Daniel W. Bly
Presented at the Reunion of
The Reverend Anthony Jacob Henckel
Family National Association
On June 18, 2016 in Staunton, Virginia
There was no nation of “Germany” before 1870, when the modern German nation was finally created with the unification of a number of smaller Germans states, by the state of Prussia. Before that there were German speaking regions of central Europe which included parts of what are now France, Switzerland, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic and of course modern Germany. Many, but not all these German speaking regions were part of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose confederation of personal domains that was a remnant medieval feudalism. It consisted of over 300 virtually independent states and cities of various sizes with rulers of various titles- counts, princes, dukes, bishops and electors. There was an emperor and an Imperial Diet but by the 17th century they were powerless and totally ceremonial. Power rested with the individual rulers of the many small states.
Anthony Jacob Henckel’s family lived in the state of Hesse-Nassau, one of the many Hessian states north of the Main River. Anthony Jacob’s mother was from a town in Hesse-Darmstadt, which lay just east of Nassau and he attended Giessen University also in Hesse Darmstadt but only about 20 miles from his home. Rolling hills and fertile fields and occasional woodlands characterize this region of the Rhineland.
Most of Henckel’s adult life in the Rhineland was spent in the Palatinate, a state about 90 miles south of Nassau. The Palatinate straddled the Rhine, with a portion on west bank, north of Alsace and a portion on the east bank, most of it south of the Neckar River. The terrain was much like Hesse, but just far enough south that vineyards were a feature seldom found further north. The ruler of the Palatinate was one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire and had his seat at Heidelberg, a city on the Neckar. The area of the Palatinate south of Heidelberg is known as the Kraichgau region, after the Kraichbach, a small river which flows north into the Rhine upstream from Mannheim, which is situated at the mouth of the Neckar. Most of parishes Henckel served were no more than 20 miles from Heidelberg.
By the last quarter of the 17th century a number of fairly strong nation states had emerged on the periphery of the Holy Roman Empire. France to the west had finally been unified under a strong monarchy, with highly centralized government, England had been unified for some time and was rapidly becoming a major commercial power, and sea power. Little Holland was a strong state with the largest commercial fleet in Europe after 1600. To the north Denmark and Sweden had emerged as unified states under staunchly protestant monarchs. Further west and south of France, Spain was united, and wealthy, with a huge colonial empire in America. Spain was closely allied dynastically with the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria, which also controlled Bohemia. Austria and Bohemia were part of the Holy Roman Empire but were larger than most other German states and exerted power and influence beyond the borders of the Empire. Austria was gaining strength as they pushed the Turks out of Hungary and establishing control there as well. All of these states had a growing middle class, and were able to keep up with developing military technology because of their wealth and resources. However, The German speaking areas of the Rhineland lagged behind because the political and social structures were still basically feudal and completely decentralized. With strong powers on the periphery any attempt by a German leader, or outside power to try to unify any part of the area was immediately squashed by an alliance of those who felt threatened by any one ruler or country controlling central Europe. This left the small states of central Europe a vulnerable power vacuum and a frequent battle ground for the neighboring states.
Political and Military situation regarding the period from 1668-1717:
After the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the 30 Years War, France emerged as a major power, having helped prevent the Hapsburgs of Austria from establishing control over central Europe, by allying with the Protestant States of Holy Roman Empire, who were threatened by the effort of the Hapsburg to consolidate their power and reestablish Catholic dominancy over the entire region. The Hapsburg had to accept the fact that Holy Roman Empire would be religiously divided between Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed faiths. Most of the Rhineland states were confirmed Lutheran or Reformed, even some that were ruled by Bishops. Catholicism remained the official church in Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia and several cities. Wars henceforth would no longer be about religious but about dynastic and national power, land and wealth.
Under Louis XIV, who took personal control in 1661, France became the major threat to the German states. His goal was to extended the borders of France all the way to the Rhine by taking Lorraine and Alsace to the east and acquiring Belgium and Luxemburg (ruled by the Spanish Hapsburgs) to the north. The Protestant Dutch stood in his way. So he went to war with Spain and Holland- usually called the Dutch War 1672-1679. Louis failed to get Belgium but the French began to take Alsace bit by bit- finally took free city of Strasbourg on the Rhine, 1681.
In 1688 Louis XIV went to war with Spain over a claim to the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium), but since the Austrian Hapsburg were allied to Spain, much of the war was fought in the Rhineland. Louis also laid claim to the titles and land of the Elector of the Palatinate because the Elector’s mother had been a cousin of Louis. The small German states were relatively defenseless as the French invaded in the Fall of 1688. Heidelberg was seized and the palace burned. Many villages and towns of the Kraichgau region were also pillaged and burned in 1689-90. By 1689 another alliance (League of Augsburg) of European powers was at war with France.
Anthony Jacob Henckel had probably just completed his first year at the University when the French invaded. Three years into the War Henckel was assigned a parish in the heart of the Kraichgau region, not far from Heidelberg. The war continued for another six years, as most of the German states, the Austrian Hapsburgs, the English and Dutch fought the French. Battles were fought in Italy, Spain, Belgium, even North America and the Caribbean but the Rhineland was a main arena of the struggle because of its location. The French were checked by 1697 but got to keep Alsace and Lorraine, France now extended all the way to the Rhine.
Peace last four years. Louis had been stopped but he was not giving up. In 1700 the last male Spanish Hapsburg died and Louis claimed the throne of Spain for his grandson, whose mother was a Spanish princess. None of the other European powers wanted a super state of Spain and France united and so by 1701 a new war of “Spanish Succession” ensued and lasted until 1714. Again much of it fought in the Rhineland, with vast French armies crossing the Rhine into the Palatinate as they moved to fight Austrians, Prussians, and Hannoverians, the British and the Dutch.
The war was a disaster for the Palatinate, especially the Kraichgau region, for several reasons.
They had no time to recover from the previous war before a new wave of French armies marched through creating havoc and destruction again. Crops were destroyed by large armies marching across fields. Livestock and grain was confiscated to feed the armies. Trade and commerce were at a standstill and because of the large numbers of people moving about; soldiers, their suppliers and camp followers and malnourished refugees fleeing, it created the perfect conditions for famine and epidemics of deadly diseases. Arriving at his first pastorate at Eschelbronn in the midst of war in 1692, Henckel remained in the Kraichgau region approximately 25 years. In that time he saw only seven years of peace. As the pastor of a congregation he must have had to make some pretty difficult choices when an army was approaching his village and people were fleeing. Should he and his family go with his parishioners? Or should he send his wife and children away but stay to try and protect the church and help those who could not leave? How much do you cooperate with the occupying forces? He definitely served in very trying times and no doubt faces some very difficult choices.
The Economic and Social Situation 1668-1717
The 30 Years War left much of the Rhineland and central Germany with one third fewer people in 1648 than had been there when the war began in 1618. Between famine, plague, high infant mortality and flight to other regions, the population situation was dire. The rulers were desperate to get people to till the land, craftsmen and skilled workers to help rebuild, merchants and tradesmen to bring in goods and money. So they encouraged immigration from areas that had not been so devastated. Many of those who began to move into the Rhineland from 1650 on through the 1670s were from Switzerland, which had not participated in or suffered the losses from the war, and was in fact running out of room for it growing population. Most were from the large Reform Cantons of Bern and Zurich and included Anabaptists who were being persecuted. All welcomed the chance to leave and find new homes in the more tolerant Rhineland.
The majority of inhabitants were still peasants leading an agrarian way of life. They lived in villages and worked the surrounding land, and had rights to graze their cattle and sheep in common pastures and gather wood from woodlands, all of which were actually owned by an overlord- either a high ranking noblemen who might live in a far off city or country estate, and left management to a stewart or more often, a local baron of lesser rank (Freiherr), with rights to collect fees, rents and a share of the crops as well as labor from his tenants. Common folks were the lowest class in what was still a feudal social hierarchy. The loss of population in the 30 Years War did give the commoners some leverage, according to some historians, because labor was scarce and they might find a better deal if they moved or threatened to move. It did not always work that way, moving was a risk many were not willing to take and the influx of immigrants from places like Switzerland soon began to take care of the labor shortage because many of them were willing to work for the landlords without making any kind of agreements.
Compared to neighboring countries to the west there was virtually no urban or commercial middle class in the Rhineland states. The economy was slow to change and grow because with no central government there was no centralized currency or economic policies. Each small state had its own taxes, tariffs and regulations. Just traveling down the Rhine from Basel Switzerland to Rotterdam a person had to pay customs and tariffs to at least 30 different political units. Taxes were exorbitantly high, because the local rulers needed money to finance their fanciful attempt to keep up with the grandeur of the great rulers like Louis XIV of France or the Hapsburgs, who had lots of money to spend. Warfare was also costly. It brought not only higher taxes but disrupted commerce and hindered the basic work of producing enough food to feed the people.
The only real changes were ones that created distress for the common folks. One such change that began toward the end of the 17th century as the result of increased free labor was what the British called “Enclosure”. Always in need of money, landlords began to refuse to renew leases on tillable land and simply took direct control, consolidating plots to grow grain for the market, using hired labor, often immigrants from Switzerland. Even more common was planting vineyards and so folks who were once self-sufficient peasants became laborers in the vineyards and wine producing business. In other cases landlords enclosed the common lands and put beef cattle or sheep there, or the landlord might decide to cut the woodland for timber, rather than let it be for the villagers’ needs. Unable to grow their own food, peasants had to work as laborers in order to buy food. This trend was only beginning during life of Henckel but was in full swing by the middle of the 18th century and became a major cause of immigration from the peak year of 1749 onward. However, enclosure was having an impact on the peasant villages from the beginning in the 18th century as more and more sank into poverty. Poor parishioners have trouble supporting their church and pastor.
On top of the constant war and economic problems the weather became a problem. For much of the 16th and 17th century the climate of northern Europe was cooling down, in what is sometimes called the “Little Ice Age.” We know this because the line above which wheat will not grow continued to move south. Also the line where the North Atlantic a and rivers froze during the winter also began to move southward. In the 1500s wheat grew in Scandinavia, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the beginning of the 1700s it no longer grew in Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and was frequently failing to grow well in the northern German and Baltic regions. From about 1000 AD to late 1400s Norsemen settled Iceland and Greenland- by 1500 they could no longer get to Greenland and could only get to Iceland a few months in summer. Colder winters led to decreased production even where wheat and barley still grew. Colder, longer winters also meant farmers had to lay up more hay and fodder for livestock at the same time conditions for growing it grew worse. So it meant a reduction in livestock, which of course meant less milk, cheese and meat. The situation reach crisis proportion in the winter of 1708-1709- when temperature dropped well below freezing in December and never rose above freezing for three months. This virtually wiped out the winter grain crops, there was enormous loss of livestock because of lack of food for animals and they could not even get water with everything frozen. Many were slaughtered to feed the people. Rivers and lakes froze, so there was no fishing or commerce by boat. There were stories of birds freezing to death in flight and dropping from the sky. One of the hardest hit areas was the Kraichgau because of the conditions already created by seven years of war.
This disaster led to the first great emigration of Germans to America. It has been estimated that over 30, 000 refugees fled the Rhineland to Holland and England when word spread that the British were willing to allow some desperate German refugees go to the British colonies in America. They wound up in camps in Holland and England and about eight to nine thousand were eventually allowed to go to New Amsterdam in 1710. A few managed to go to Penns colony in Pennsylvania. Many of those who did get to New York or Pennsylvania came from the Kraichgau region, including the family of Jost Heydt, from the village of Bonfeld, who is later known for establishing one of the first settlements of Germans in the Shenandoah Valley.
The next several years also saw a continuation of extreme cold and bad weather, resulting in poor crops and continued distress, but the continuation of the war made emigration difficult and it was not until a few years after the end of the War of Spanish Succession with the Peace of Utrecht in 1714, that there was another round of emigration from the Kraichgau to America in 1717. This time the Henckel family was among those leaving.
Not only was pastor Henckel assigned to one of the most war torn regions of the Rhineland, he also was assigned to some of the most distressed and impoverished parishes in the Rhineland and local pastors depended up their parishioners for support. With a growing family, providing for their safety and welfare had to have been a major concern for him and his wife. They lost a child in 1706 and two more in 1708. The distress caused by war and the extremes of weather had to have played a role in his decision to leave his homeland.
The Religious Situation in the Period from 1668-1717
There were some major changes and tensions in the religious climate of late 17th and early 18th century Germany and as a clergyman Anthony Jacob Henckel would have been affected by what was happening in the realm of religion. The real issue was no longer sectarian rivalry. That had pretty well been buried with the 30 Years War. Attempts to impose religion by force had only brought several generations of war and misery and it was finally acknowledged that Western European Christendom was permanently divided with several different versions of the faith. However, there was no concept of separation of Church and State. In the Holy Roman Empire, each political unit had to have an official Church, usually reflecting the faith of ruler and the majority of the populace. You had Catholic states in Austria, Bavaria, Bohemia, and the far western area around Luxembourg, which was under Austrian control. You had Lutheran states in northern and eastern regions and the Rhineland. The Calvinist Reformed Church was no longer limited to several Swiss cantons but was now also the official church in several Rhineland provinces and in Holland. By the late 1600s Swiss Anabaptists had also become a significant group in the Rhineland. In the Palatinate the Reform Church had been the established church from early 1600s and that was reinforced by the settling of many Swiss immigrants from the Reform cantons of Bern and Zurich after 1660, but several areas of the Kraichgau were heavily Lutheran. There were also a smattering of Catholics in the Palatinate and by the late 1600s all three faiths often shared the only church building in the village or town. Swiss Anabaptists refugees were tolerated as long as they worshipped in their homes and did not try to convert anyone. Calvinism had spread into France, where its adherents were called Huguenots and had been granted rights by the king in 1598 to have their own churches and worship as they pleased. Calvinism had gotten so strong in France that Louis XIV considered the Huguenots subversive and began to pressure them to leave and finally revoked the Edict that granted them rights and protection in 1685. His actions were inspired more by political than religious reasons and even the Pope considered his actions unwise. Most of the Huguenots, were middle class, in the professional and business community, fled to Holland, England or to Brandenburg Prussia. Only a few went to the Rhineland where economic prospects were poor.
What was the main religious issue for pastor Henckel’s during his time in the Kraichgau? By the late 17th Century Lutheranism had been the accepted religion in many parts of the German speaking world for 150 years but many things had changed in Europe since the days of Martin Luther. When Luther first broke from the Catholic Church, European were just beginning to explore the New World and make contact with the Far East. 150 years later Europeans were settling in the New World and enjoying many new products from both America and Asia as trade and commerce created great wealth in maritime cities like London and Amsterdam. They had come in contact with other religions and highly sophisticated cultures in India and China, which many people admired and studied. When Luther first broke from the Church, Copernicus and Galileo had not yet published their amazing new scientific theories and discoveries. But by the late 17th century, knowledge of other cultures and new scientific ideas were changing the way people thought about the world and a new more empirical way of thinking was emerging. DesCartes published his essay on “Reason” in 1648, exploring how we know what we know. He accepted the fact that the human mind can use reason to understand itself and the physical world. To DesCartes, Mathematics, not theology was the only certainty, because it could be proven. He was reflecting the thinking of many others like Francis Bacon a generation earlier or Hobbes in England who were beginning to question whether quarreling and fighting over the fine points of theology, such as whether the communion wafer and wine was truly the body and blood of Christ or just a spiritual reenactment of his sacrifice, or if the Holy Ghost was co-equal with the father and son, were really worth all the bloodshed and pain it had brought the world. Out of this new way of thinking there grew up a movement that emphasized development of personal spirituality with emphasis on living a Christian life, not just believing certain specific doctrines. The world had changed and some thought that the church needed to address the new concerns and not fight the old battles. Since this movement in central Europe was based on the thinking of a group of Lutheran theologians it is usually referred to as German Pietism.
The man recognized as founder of German Pietism was Philipp Jakob Spener (1638-1705). Born into a Lutheran family in Alsace, in 1638, he studied at University of Strasbourg, a center of Lutheran scholarship in the 1650s, and became a pastor in a major Lutheran Church in Frankfurt. Spener was appalled at the lack of real spiritual feeling and moral behavior he found among the Lutheran clergy and laity as well. The clergy and scholars still seemed to focus more on the old fight with Catholics over fine points of doctrine than with what it means to really live a Christian life. Spener began to hold devotional meetings, Bible study sessions and increased educational lessons for the children. He was not questioning any of the doctrines or the theology of Lutheranism, but the practices. He published a book Pia Desideria (Spiritual Longings) in 1675 and it quickly became popular and well-known in Lutheran circles, especially among the scholars in the Lutheran universities, such as Tubingen, Marburg and Giessen. So by the time Henckel matriculated at Giessen the ideas of Spener were already being discussed and debated in the academic and clerical community. In 1686 Spener was appointed to position as chaplain of the Court of the Duke of Saxony in Dresden, probably the most desireable and prestigious position in the Lutheran Church. It was the mother church- Duke Frederick of Saxony was the first German prince to adopt Luther’s new faith in 1522 and was Luther’s protector. Saxony was also one of the wealthier German states. As Spener became more and more well-known through additional publications, he began to be criticized by more traditional Lutherans particularly the theologians at the University of Leipzig, who were afraid his teaching would lead to questioning of doctrines and not just practices. He seemed dangerously close to espousing some of the ideas of Calvin or even the Anabaptists. They considered him a troublesome rebel and this led to serious debate and tension in the church. Spener eventually had a falling out with the Duke of Saxony, because Spener criticized the Duke for his drunkenness and lewd behavior, but was welcomed by a new patron, the Elector of Brandenburg, a man who was emerging as an important figure in German affairs. Spener moved to Berlin, hardly more than a small garrison town, but rapidly becoming the capital of what would eventually be the state of Brandenburg-Prussia. Spener was able to introduce some of his ideas in the Lutheran Churches of Brandenburg and Prussia and even established a new university at Halle, before his death in 1705, but in the rest of the Lutheran churches his ideas took longer to take hold. Pietism did eventually lead to some reforms in the broader Lutheran Church by the middle of the 18th century. More education for the children with official confirmation classes were introduced. Greater participation and governance of the local congregation by the laity was introduced and there was more emphasis in sermons on finding personal spiritual fulfillment through kindness, charity and simple piety, rather than through mastering complex theological concepts.
It took a while for the reforms to be accepted because conservative elements feared change and tried to prevent it and others saw change as the only way to prevent the church from losing its appeal among the common people. That debate and dialogue began about the time Henckel entered the University and was still going on when he left for America in 1717. Depending on the views of his superiors, a pastor’s views probably determined if he got good reviews, got promotions, or got the nice choice parishes or the difficult ones. Some of that tension probably entered into the life of Anthony Jacob Henckel. Several websites regarding Henckel refer to efforts by the Catholics to suppress the Lutherans as the impetus for him to immigrate. There is only one problem with that version. He lived in a Protestant state, which had a very small Catholic minority. The Elector at that time, Johann Wilhelm, was Catholic but he reaffirmed religious toleration established in 1648 and made no attempt to alter the arrangement, but there were pressures and tensions within the Lutheran Church that could have been a factor in his decision to leave and the authors of the Henckel genealogy hinted that he may have had some differences with the patrons and overlords of the church. I have no idea where Pastor Henckel stood in regard to the Pietist movement but there is no way he would have been able to avoid it from the days he was studying at Giessen to the end of his life. It was a huge issue for all Lutheran clergy.
Did the religious situation compel him to immigrate? It may have figured in his decision but I have also given you at least four other good reasons why he along with several thousand other people from the Rhineland decided to make that long treacherous trip to America in the early 18th century to escape the turmoil and tribulations that was their world. Rather than be puzzled about why he left- ask yourself the question—What reasons did he have for staying?
Daniel W. Bly
Staunton, VA, June 18, 2016