Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Psalm 95:6 (NKJV)
On the 4th of July, the birthday of the United States, I thought I would take some time from my research and writing about the Atzeroth family (whom I am learning may not have been the Atzeroths at all, but the Terzocts!) to tell you a little of why they came to America. I think it is important to remember today when 239 years ago, a handful of men had the courage to sign their names to a document declaring themselves, their country and ultimately, you and me free. Joseph arrived in New York on the Ship Sully from LaHavre, France on April 10, 1837. In his naturalization papers dated April 13, 1846, Joseph renounces “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign power, prince, potentate or sovereign whatever, and especially to the King of Bavaria” and “that he will support the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Florida.” What exactly did Joseph leave behind in Bavaria besides the King? For one thing, he left religious intolerance. Beginning in 1817, in neighboring state, Prussia, the Protestant church came under attack as the government tried to force all Protestant denominations into the Prussian Union of Churches. In 1834, different denominations, such as Lutherans and Calvinists, were told to utilize the same name and religious practices including the way that they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The result created dissenters within the church, some of whom took on the name Old Lutherans. By 1834, some of the leaders of the Old Lutherans were being arrested and sent to prison for their refusal to follow the King’s orders about how they should worship and what they should teach. In 1835, Old Lutherans began emigrating to the United States seeking religious freedom. Two years later, in 1837, in Bavaria where the Atzeroths lived, a group called the Ultramontanes, a Roman Catholic-supported movement, took control of the Bavarian parliament. They changed the constitution to remove the civil rights of Protestants, enforced censorship and forbid free speech or discussion of politics. I found a letter written by another Bavarian family ten years later that helps describe the lure of America: “There are many different religions here, German Catholics, English Catholics, Irish Catholics, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Reformed, Jews etc. No one says, we have to go to this or that community, everyone can do what he wants to do in religious or secular matters.” The writers of that letter close urging others to come to America where “they will serve God better here, spend the Lord´s day better than in Germany.” It is no wonder that in 1837, Joseph Atzeroth chose to leave his home and travel to America where the First Amendment of the Constitution says: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.