A part of Deitsch culture that is heard of very infrequently is the history of the Redemptioners or Redemptionists. These are the first-generation Deitsch settlers who placed themselves into indentured servitude (read: slavery) in order to afford the journey to the Colonies.

Numerous books cite the historical existence of the Redemptioners, but few go into detail as much as True Heroes of Provincial Pennsylvania, by Julius F. Sachse. This book is old and was not easy to find. Fortunately, however, it was digitized in 2009 with funding from the University of Pittsburgh Library System.

The piece describes very well the vagaries of the Redemptioner system, starting with the agents who were slick enough to convince Palatines to emigrate without having their fare paid. Thus, they were forced to sign themselves into slavery, and then their labor was sold, whether on shipboard, at the ports, or in caravans over the countryside. Resistance meant death or imprisonment. Sachse asserts that the conditions under which the Redemptioners lived were often worse than those of the slaves in the South.

Other books, such as William T. Parsons', Pennsylvania Germans: A Persistent Minority, cite the sympathy that the Deitsch had with the plight of the Southern slaves. One way to view this sympathy is from the shared experiences of the Deitsch pioneers, many of whom had lived in virtual slavery in Europe and were witnessing similar conditions in the South. Redemptioners who had paid off their bondage also would be sympathetic to the slaves of the South, too. As such, the first protest against slavery in the Americas took place in Germantown, PA, in 1688.

Many of us here in the Deitscherei have at least one ancestor who was a Redemptioner. Many, if not most of us, have no idea what sacrifices the Redemptioners made for their families. This cruel, exploitative practice, along with the abominable institution of slavery against which our ancestors shed their blood, should not be forgotten, lest we be doomed to repeat it.

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