Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we tell the story of Francis Pastorius, founder of Germantown, PA.

It is the 26th of September 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


On June 14th, 1942, in the midst of World War II, A German agent named George Dasch called the F.B.I. from a payphone in New York City. He asked to speak with J. Edgar Hoover and claimed that he was one member of two NAZI cells that had come to America to sabotage various plants and bridges to cripple the American war effort. Upset with his treatment by the S.S. back home and certain of the capture, he was willing to give up his co-conspirators for leniency (it would work; he and another would be sent back to Germany while six others would be executed).  He gave his name to the F.B.I. as “Francis Daniel Pastorius,” and the NAZI had named the plan Operation Pastorius. A curious name as Pastorius was a historical character- a German and early American colonist, a Lutheran pietist and later Quaker, founder of Germantown, PA, poet, teacher, theologian, and abolitionist…. And as interesting as the completely bungled NAZI plan to infiltrate America is today, we remember the multitalented and multifaceted Francis Daniel Pastorius on this anniversary of his birth in 1651.

Francis Daniel Pastorius was the son of a wealthy burgomaster and was afforded an education that included stays at Altorf, Strasbourg, Basel, and Jena. He would take his law degree at Nuremberg and spent years traveling as the tutor to the son of a nobleman. He also had become disillusioned with what he saw as a morally lax Christianity and spent time in Frankfurt, where he met Lutheran pietists and Phillip Jakob Spener (the so-called “Father of Pietism”).

In the 1680s, he and his fellow Pietists and other dissenters, including Mennonites and Quakers, began to look beyond European borders where they could practice their faith unmolested. While in England, Pastorius met William Penn and learned of his experiment in religious freedom in the woods of the Western colonies in America.

Pastorius agreed to act as an agent for the band of religious dissenters and sailed to America in 1682, where he would negotiate the sale of 15,000 acres from Penn for the group. His initial home in Pennsylvania was in a cave 30 feet by 15 feet wide. He had an inscription over the doorway: “Thirty shoes long, fifteen wide, with oiled paper windows for lack of glass. It's a little house but welcoming to good people: profane men, keep your distance.” This was a reference to Virgil’s Aeneid, and it is said that when Penn read it he laughed at the joke, one of two times he is said to have laughed in his life.

The settlers would soon join Pastorius, and they would settle in what would become Germantown, PA. The arrival of these settlers on the 6th of October in 1683 would set the date for German-American Day in the United States. In the early 20th century, a statue of Pastorius was to be unveiled on this day, but as World War I had recently broken out, it was delayed. During World War 2, the statue of Pastorius had to be covered and protected.

Pastorius was the jack of all trades in Germantown- He organized the construction of the church, served as the bailiff, the mayor, a teacher at the school, and as the town historian he had the largest library of any citizen. He had the authority to perform marriages and kept the town records. In February of 1688, he led a group that authored the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. In it, he wrote: 'There is a saying that we shall do to all men like as we will be done ourselves; making no difference of what generation, descent or color they are.’” It was the first official dissent against slavery in America.

He collected his writings in a collection called the Bee-Hive, which “buzzed with poetry and prose, proverbs and biblical verses, edible legumes and rules for surveying, bibliographies, and stories about authors.” now digitized it is one of the gems of colonial scholarship and commentary. Germantown would become home to the Saur printing press, which published the first German Bible in America, and it would become home to the Schwarzenau Brethren. Why the Nazis thought he, a Christian and pacifist, would be a figure to name their ill-fated invasion of America after is anybody’s guess. A happy birthday to Francis Daniel Pastorius, who was born on the 26th of September in 1651. He died in 1720 at the age of 68.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and close of Paul’s letters to the Romans:

17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite denizens of Germantown include Pastorius, theologians Francis Schaeffer and Ron Sider, author Louisa May Alcott, and rappers Khia and Eve- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who reminds you that Charles Darrow was from Germantown- he invented the game Monopoly to teach economics students about the problems of monopolies and landlords- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.

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