There have been Gypsies in America since 1640 when entire families of English Gypsies called Romanichals were, for the crime of being Gypsy, enslaved or “indentured for life” alongside Africans on the Virginia plantations. German Gypsies arrived under similar duress. German Gypsies, who had “inhabited the Palatinate or Rhine County, for many centuries, wandering the entire distance between Schaffhausen and Middelburg on their migrations” arrived in the late 1720s with the Huguenots, Swiss Moravians, Alsatians, Jews and Waldensians searching for freedom from oppression and an escape from the poverty and chaos caused by the Thirty Years War (1618-48). * But Gypsies had been given additional reason to emigrate. Since 1577 anti-Gypsy legislation had forbidden them to do business or settle. By 1710 flogging, branding, separation from kin and exile became the standard punishment for Gypsy men and women with no criminal charges against them. The punishment for returning was execution. Those deemed fit for work faced “life confinement with forced labor”. In 1734 Gypsy hunts became an established and profitable sport, with a reward of “six Reichstaler for every live Gypsy brought in and three for a dead Gypsy, as well as keeping their belongings”.
In 1826, Freiherr von Lenchen displayed his trophies publicly: the severed heads of a Gypsy woman and her child.
In 1835, a Rheinish aristocrat entered into his list of kills “A Gypsy woman and her suckling babe.”
Henry W. Shoemaker in a 1924 address related that although the Gypsies were “Proscribed, hated and despised, there were strict regulations against these Nomads being embarked in a body as if, though they were not wanted at home, they were not allowed to go elsewhere! On a number of occasions Gipsy bands endeavored to charter whole ships at Rotterdam, but as they were watched with the same argus-eyed authority as are bootleggers today, their efforts were always at the last minute frustrated. It is related that one ship, the “Stein-Awdler,” giving it the “Pennsylvania Dutch” pronunciation, got away under cover of darkness, but during an unfavorable tide, it still lay in the harbor at daybreak, when the papers were scrutinized and declared invalid by the port authorities.
Several boat-loads of port wardens went in pursuit, but the boats were not to carry the unfortunate Chi-kener back to dry land, but order them off the ship. They were driven overboard, men, women and children, like a plague of rats, and had to jump out in the mud up to their waists, and get ashore as best they could, leaving their possessions behind, which were seized as a fine levied against them as a body. On shore the mud-saturated refugees were attacked by a mob armed with boat-hooks and soundly beaten, and probably quite a few died of their wounds and exposure afterwards.”
By Linda Griggs
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