Who Was Peter Finger?

Contributed by Wade Finger

Thanks to the terrific work done by James Avery Finger IV, we know a great deal about the American descendants of Peter Finger, as well as quite a bit about Peter Finger's life. However, Peter's background and precise place of origin remain a mystery.

Over the past few years I've attempted to gather more information about Peter Finger, both by looking up historical documents relating specifically to him and by studying the works of historians of his era, place of origin, and likely religious background. Peter Finger made a number of choices in his life - many which were particular to him, but many also that where characteristic of other immigrants sharing his background and circumstances. Study of the trends and events surrounding Peter Finger, as well as his peers, can help us reach conclusions about him, though we may not have definitive proof, that are quite likely to be correct.

Fortunately, about a lot of things conjecture isn't necessary. We know a good deal about Peter Finger virtually for certain. First, Peter Finger arrived in America on Sept. 9, 1749 along with about 400 other immigrants from the region of Germany known as the Palatinate (i.e. the plain spanning both sides of the Rhine River, generally centered around the cities of Worms, Mannheim, Heidelberg, and Speyer) aboard the ship St. Andrew, which had originally sailed from Rotterdam, Holland. As James Avery Finger IV has pointed out, a comparison of the signature of the Peter Finger on the Oath of Allegiance signed at the State House in Philadelphia on September 9, 1749 and the signature on the July 25, 1789 will of the Peter Finger who died in Lincoln Co., North Carolina in the summer of 1792 shows they belong to the same man. James displays both signatures side-by-side in his book, The Southern Finger Family: Peter Finger's Pumpkin Patch. You can order a copy of the book by sending him an email at jafinger@aol.com.

Peter Finger sailed to Pennsylvania aboard the ship St. Andrew, Galley, which was captained on his voyage by James Abercrombie. The St. Andrew was built in Philadelphia in 1733 and had a career in the North Atlantic spanning about twenty years. It was about 75' long and 21' in breadth, was three-masted with square-rigged sails, carried 20 guns (though only 8 prior to 1743), was specially fitted with accommodations for passengers, including compartments, and had a crew of fifteen. According to The Ship St. Andrew, Galley by Alfred T. Meschter, the St. Andrew's galley design and sail plan made it faster than the heavily armed naval vessels and bathtub-style cargo frigates prevalent at the time.

The St. Andrew typically carried naval stores of turpentine, pine pitch, tar, rice and deer hides to ports in Southern England from Charleston, South Carolina returning to Boston or Philadelphia with a passenger load of immigrants. It was designed to carry 150 tons of cargo or 250 to 300 passengers. According to the captain's list there were 400 persons aboard the St. Andrew when it landed in Philadelphia on September 9, 1749 - the most by a wide margin of all of its trips to America. Only 230 to 280 passengers were aboard the other recorded trans-Atlantic voyages of the St. Andrew.

Upon arrival in America, sailing from Rotterdam, Holland by way of Plymouth, England, Peter Finger and the other healthy adult male immigrants signed an Oath of Allegiance at the State House in Philadelphia. The captain's list states 111 passengers signed the oath, though I count 116 signatures. Peter's signature can be viewed in the book Pennsylvania German Pioneers by Ralph Strassburger and William Hinke.

Peter Finger's town or village of origin is unknown, though there is evidence he may have been from a Mennonite family that resided in the Palatinate villages of Wachenheim, Walsheim, and Osthofen beginning in the late seventeenth century (source: Palatine Mennonite Census Lists, 1664 - 1793 by Herman & Gertrude Guth). Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptists, named for one of their early leaders, Menno Simons (d. 1561). As Anabaptists, they do not believe in the efficacy of infant baptism. Other beliefs include pacifism, refusing to take oaths (i.e. swearing as proof of truth), and shunning other "worldly" groups and practices. The Amish, so-called after their founder Jacob Amman (d. 1730), split off from the Mennonites in 1693.

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