Christoph Sower and the German Bible

The first Bibles printed in America were not in English. The first North American edition was a translation into the Native American language of Algonquian, printed in 1663 in Massachusetts. The second was in German and published in Philadelphia’s Germantown in 1743 by Christoph Sower (ocassionally styled as “Sauer”). The first English language printing did not occur until after the American Revolution.

Sower

Christoph Sower’s notice declaring his intent to print a German Bible, ca. 1741 [German]. 

Sower was just one of thousands of early German immigrants who came to Pennsylvania.  While we often think of these immigrants coming to escape religious and political persecution, this group compromised a minority of German immigrants to Pennsylvania. The majority came because of plentiful land.

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the subsequent conflicts between the German principalities and France devastated German farmland and its economy. Between 1727 and 1775, approximately 65,000 Germans landed in Philadelphia and settled in the region. The largest wave of German immigration to Pennsylvania occurred during the years 1749-1754.

kennedy

Working from a print, David J. Kennedy (1783-1874) painted this image in 1899. From the David J. Kennedy watercolors [V61]

Sower, his wife, and at least one son immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1724. He was born in 1695 in Laasphe, Germany, as Johann Christoph Sauer and studied medicine at the University of Halle. After a brief settlement in Ephrata, Lancaster County, the Sowers took up permanent residence in Germantown in 1731. Sower lived at what is now 5300 Germantown Avenue, the site of Trinity Lutheran Church, and worked as a pharmacist.

Despite his career in this field, Sower became best known for his printing activities.  In the late 1730s, he received printing machinery from Germany and began printing works in German for other local German immigrants. Besides the first German-language Bible, he printed the first German language newspaper. He eventually printed and published over two hundred works in German and English before his death in 1758. His son, also named Christopher, took over the family’s printing activities. The printing firm evolved into the Christopher Sower Company by the late 1800s.


Join us on March 23 for Becoming U.S. – Age and Assimilation, the second program in HSP’s latest series, as we explore the many ways age and generational status affect immigration and assimilation experiences.

Is the experience decidedly different if an individual arrives in the U.S. as a child, or if one is a student or a working adult? Do first-generation immigrants – i.e., the parents – think about assimilation differently than second-generation immigrants – i.e., children? Does one generation wish to celebrate the “home” culture more than the other? Register for the free program here.

Becoming U.S. is a series of programs launched by HSP in fall 2016 to encourage sharing across ethnicity, race, and citizenship status. We want to hear and learn from each other about the human endeavor of transition and settlement. Through civic dialogue, we wish to personalize stories often presented in the media in only the broadest of strokes, to foster a mutual respect and renewed appreciation for the histories of all Philadelphians.

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