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This Week In History

The German-American Day. October 6, 1683.

German-American Day is a holiday in the United States, observed annually on October 6. It celebrates German-American heritage and commemorates the founding of Germantown in 1683.

Germantown has played a significant role in American history; it was the birthplace of the American antislavery movement, the site of a Revolutionary War battle, the temporary residence of George Washington, the location of the first bank of the United States, and the residence of many notable politicians, scholars, artists, and social activists.

Today the area remains rich in historic sites and buildings from the colonial era, some of which are open to the public.

Although the founding of Germantown on October 6, 1683 was later to provide the date for German-American Day, a holiday in the United States, observed annually on October 6, historical research has shown that nearly all of the first thirteen Quaker and Mennonite families were a people who had fled the territory of modern-day Netherlands due to religious persecution and settled in the area of modern-day Germany, only to relocate once again to what would become the United States. There is some debate as to whether these people were Dutch rather than German. In any case, the direct vicinity of the settlement was inhabited by fifty-four German families who had accompanied Johan Printz to the Swedish settlement on the Delaware several years earlier and had resettled themselves.

In 1688, five years after its founding, Germantown became the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America. Pastorius, Gerret Hendericks, Derick Updegraeff and Abraham Updengraef gathered at Thones Kunders‘s house and wrote a two-page condemnation of slavery and sent it to the governing bodies of their Quaker church, the Society of Friends. The petition was mainly based upon the Bible’s Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Though the Quaker establishment took no immediate action, the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery was a clear and forceful argument against slavery and initiated the process of banning slavery in the Society of Friends (1776) and Pennsylvania (1780).

When Philadelphia was occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War, British units were housed in Germantown. In the Battle of Germantown, on October 4, 1777, the Continental Army attacked this garrison. The American loss was 673 and the British loss was 575, but along with the Army’s success under Brigadier General Horatio Gates at Saratoga on October 17 when John Burgoyne surrendered, the battle led to the official recognition of the Americans by France, which formed an alliance with the Americans afterward.

During his presidency, George Washington and his family lodged at the Deshler-Morris House in Germantown to escape the city and the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. The first bank of the United States was also located here during his administration.

Germantown proper, and the adjacent German Township, were incorporated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854 by the Act of Consolidation.

Originally known under the rubric of “German Day”, the holiday was celebrated for the first time in Philadelphia in 1883, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the founding; and similar celebrations developed later in other parts of the country. The custom died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time, but the holiday was revived in 1983.

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