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A Struggle For Freedom

The Palatine of the Rhine in Germany was a historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire, administered by a count. The land was divided into two regions. The Upper Palatinate, located in northern Bavaria, remained under Bavarian authority, and the Lower Palatinate, located between Luxembourg and the Rhine River, was an independent state. Heidelberg was its capital until the 18th century. The boundaries of the Palatinate varied with the political and dynastic fortunes of the counts palatine.

In 1356, a Papal decree made the Count an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, and during the Reformation, the Palatinate accepted Protestantism and became the foremost Calvinist region in Germany. After Martin Luther published his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, many of his followers came under considerable religious persecution for their beliefs. Perhaps for reasons of mutual comfort and support, these folks who shared a common view on religion, gathered in the Palatine.

In 1618, E lector Friedrich V’s acceptance of Bohemia’s offer of its crown touched off the Thirty Years War. From 1618 to 1648 was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and the beginning of much persecution the Palatines would have to endure for the next 100 years.

The Palatine country suffered greatly from the horrors of fire and sword as well as from pillage and plunder by the French armies as the Roman Catholic armies sought to crush the religious freedom of a politically-divided Protestantism. Many armies and bands of mercenaries, both of friends and foe, devoured the substance of the Palatines. The Thirty Years War was a complicated catastrophe from which the Palatinate never really recovered. Instead of politically leading Germany, the Palatinate became a spoil, fought over by other states and countries.

A weakened Palatinate was no match for French ruler Louis XIV, who, seeking to increase his Empire sent his forces to ravage the region of the Palatine. Every large city on the Rhine above Cologne was sacked. The War of the Palatinate from 1688 to 1697 only served to further weaken an already famine Palatine. The result was a large scale emigration from 1689-1697.

In 1702, the War of the Spanish Succession began in Europe and lasted until 1713, causing a great deal of instability for the Palatines. To make matters worse, there was a major freeze in the winter of 1708 in the Palatinate. It was the harshest winter the Palatinate has seen in 100 years. On January 10, 1709 the Rhine River froze and was closed for five weeks. Wine froze into ice. Grapevines died. Cattle died in their sheds.

While the land of the Palatinate had originally been good for its inhabitants, many of whom were farmers, vineyard operators etc., residents finally came to the realization that oppressive taxation, religious bickering, hunger for more and better land, the advertising of the English colonies in America and the favorable attitude of the British government toward settlement in the North American colonies were reasons enough to abandon their homeland. The scene was set for a mass migration and over the next century that is what happened as literally thousands upon thousands of Palatines fled to America.

Hans Jacob Speck and his family lived near Baden, Germany, in the Ruppurr-Karlsruhe district, which was roughly 61.9km, or about an hour, south of Heidelberg. Jacob was born in the year 1670 and had worked most of his life as a butcher. He died on January 14, 1736.

About a year after his father died, Jacob's son, Michael Martin, better known as Martin Speck, took a boat ride down the Rhine River to Rotterdam, where he boarded the ship Friendship and sailed to Dover, England. On September 20, 1738, approximately one year after he began his journey, Martin set foot on American soil when his ship reached port in Philadelphia.

Martin, who was born in 1703 during the War of the Spanish Succession, had grown up as his father had lived....suffering the effects of war and famine throughout the Palatinate. I imagine that he lay awake at night wondering what life might be like in the new world, and now he was in America and would live out his days without the sufferings that continued back in his homeland.

Supposedly, this is correct: Hans Jacob Speck, Martin Speck, Jacob Speck, Sr., George Speck, John Speck, William Calvin Speck, James Wiley Speck, Obed Speck, Cecil Speck, Darrell Speck, ME.

In 1933, 3,358 Jews lived in Karlsruhe. In 1945, because of the actions of the Nazi regime, there were only 18 Jews in Karlsruhe. Many had been exported or expelled or emigrated. Between 1933 and 1945, more than 1,000 of them were killed.

Many of Martin's relatives also migrated to America. For more reading on the Palatine saga read The Palatine Project


  1. Hey!

    I just became your follower, because I like what you are doing :)
    I love to read short stories and poems and I wish to populate my blog with them as well. Right now I only have one poem on there and a couple of short writings. Could you look at my poem and see if it's any good? It's called "Walking in an Empty Street" and you can find it among my other posts at

    Way to go man! I love what you're doing!


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