As often noted, the Germanic farmers and tradesmen who largely populated this region during the early days kept few, if any, personal records. Occasionally, though, travelers and visitors recorded details of their visits which are useful to historians. Fortunately one visitor, with the unlikely name of Theophile Cazenove, kept a brief journal which is densely rich with specific details and solid facts about what he found here in 1794.
Cazenove’s wealthy family, French Protestants, found refuge in Switzerland in the latter half of the 16th century. The 18th century found them in Holland where Theophile was born in 1740. In middle life the prosperous Cazenove was associated with those Dutch (Holland Dutch) financiers whose loans were so vital to the struggling American states and federal government. In 1789 he made contracts with the strongest Dutch banking firms of the day by which he was to carry out their financial operations in America.
In 1789 he arrived in America armed with letters of introduction and began operations. He invested largely and fortunately in various depreciated securities, buying from one man more than $100,000 of South Carolina debt. The debt was sold at bargain rates since there was the general feeling that the new debtor nation could not repay it. However, within a few years, under Hamilton, the speculators were vindicated and the Dutch financiers next turned their attention to the purchase of large tracts of public land in Pennsylvania. And it was to investigate the investment possibilities in Pennsylvania that Cazenove planned his journey.
In 1794 Cazenove set out on a trip through Pennsylvania and made notes along the way of land prices, crops, crop prices, and descriptions of country, people, clothing, taverns and anything else that took his interest. He started in New York City and came westward on the route which generally became present day Route 78 and then on to Route 222 through the Lehigh Valley. This was already a thoroughfare for travelers heading to all points westward through Pennsylvania all the way to Kentucky.
This column will dwell on Cazenove’s observations of the Pennsylvania German culture he found in nearby Berks County. He reports that, “As in every inland town of Pennsylvania, there is a quantity of taverns and inns, where the people come to talk and drink, morning and evening, as in the cafés of European cities. Also many stores where, in each one, everything is sold at retail. You find everything necessary in utensils, clothing, and furniture, for the lower classes, but nothing dainty or choice.”
It must be noted that the aristocratic Cazenove traveled in a four-horse carriage complete with postilion and footman with servants on a following baggage wagon. To the Dutchmen if must have looked like the king of France was arriving.
As he travelled, “At the end of this forest, or heath you arrive in Berks County, …the ground is very good, almost all cultivated, and there are many farms: it is a succession of fields intermixed with little woods, retained by the farmers; very interesting to pass through because these German farmers take very good care of their farms: the houses are of stone or ‘logs,’ beams, with the crevices filled with stones and mortar.
“At Coots Town [Kutztown] in Berck’s [Berks] county; stopped with Stauht, a Frenchman from Loraine—at the sign of the Washington— good lodging. All this country had been cultivated and inhabited for a long time.
“There are already about 50 houses, among which are 5 taverns, this road being followed by all those who emigrate from the East, to go and live in Kentucky and in the new lands of Pennsylvania. [There is] not a farmer in this village, where, by asking from door to door, I found out there were: 1 turner, 1 carpenter, 1 joiner, 2 hat makers making poor hats, 1 saddle maker, 1 baker, 1 shoemaker, 2 tailors, 1 lock-smith, 1 wheelwright, 1 minister, 1 school [for learning]to read and write German and English, 1 jeweler, who also fixes watches, 1 weaver, 1 tobacco factory, 2 stores, 1 butcher, 1 place where 5 women spin cotton [no doubt flax] and wool, 1 ginger bread vendor, 1 carpenter for houses, 1 potter, 1 tan-yard, 5 taverns, 2 of which are very good; a main route from the east---.
“The houses are of logs and mortar; the best ones have boards on the outside and are painted like bricks. These few houses where live the day laborers, constitute the whole town, which is in a pretty poor situation; its inhabitants live on the produce of the neighboring farms.”
To be continued next weekThe Historian is produced by the New Hanover Historical Society. Call Robert Wood at 610-326-4165 with comments.