Historical Markers
De Turk House Historical Marker
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De Turk House

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Junction PA 73 and Memorial Highway, near De Turk Rd., just S. of Oley

Dedication Date:
August 19, 1947

Behind the Marker

A large group of men and women along a shoreline, with ships slightly out to sea.
Embarkation of the Acadians, by Emile Bayard, circa 1884.
Historians have given comparatively little attention to the small bands of French settlers, among them Isaac de Turk and his family, who settled on the Pennsylvania frontier on the mid-1700s. Unlike the 400 French Catholic Acadian refugees dumped by the British in Philadelphia during the great deportation from Nova Scotia in 1755, French Protestant settlers had a comparatively easy time assimilating into the colonial mainstream. As with the Quakers and Pennsylvania Germans, they were Protestants escaping religious persecution, and like them, many had support in England that facilitated their passage.
Anthony Benezet, Observations on the Inslaving, Importing and Purchasing of...

The Protestant Reformation was a multifaceted spiritual and social movement that transformed religious identity in Europe and in Europe's colonies. Conversely, religious antagonisms formed in the Old World carried over into the New World. In France, a deeply Catholic majority looked upon the numerically smaller Huguenot movement with great antipathy. Disciples of John Calvin and his reform theology and church structure, the Huguenots suffered tremendous persecution for their beliefs.

The massacre of France's leading Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day in 1574 led to a civil war that only ended when Huguenot Henri IV became king, after he converted to Catholicism in 1598. That year Henri issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted Huguenots freedom of worship. In 1685, however, King Louis XIV revoked the edict and expelled hundreds of thousands of his subjects from France.

Many Huguenots resettled in Scandinavia, the German Palatine region, Alsace, and other Protestant strongholds in central Europe. An estimated 10,000 migrated to England and to Ireland. Alliances forged with Moravian, Presbyterian, and other German Reformed congregations eased their assimilation into the mainstream.
Black and white exterior
The De Turck House, Oley Township, Berks County, PA, circa 1917.

Now a "refugee people," a growing number of Huguenots in the early 1700s cast their fates with the trans-Atlantic migration to North America. Never welcomed by the Catholic majority in French-speaking Quebec and the Maritime Provinces, these Protestant migrants saw the British colonies as their best safe-haven. Huguenots settled up and down the Atlantic coast, but especially in parts of New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. (George Washington, Paul Revere, and the du Pont family in Delaware all claimed Huguenot ancestry.)

In many respects, the de Turk family's migration and resettlement exemplifies why Pennsylvania became known as the "best poor man's country." Cheap and productive farmland, the guarantee of religious toleration, and the assurance of participation in politics held enormous appeal to many settlers, including French Protestants.
George de Benneville house, Oley, PA, circa 1900.
George de Benneville house, Oley, PA, circa 1900.
Among these migrants was Isaac de Turk, who fled Europe in 1708 for the Hudson River Valley and then migrated into the Oley Valley in Berks County in the early 1710s.

There, Isaac purchased 300 acres and built a homestead with the intent to farm. This sizable holding he eventually passed on to his only son, Johan (or John), who was born in 1713. After John married Deborah Hoch in 1740, the couple raised twelve children on the property. In 1767, Johan and his growing family moved into the large stone farmhouse that sits today along the Oley Road, while his parents lived in the much smaller one-story house across the road.

About the time the De Turk family was settling in the Oley Valley, another family of Huguenots settled in the same area. Led by patriarch George de Benneville, they professed that God had called them to seek refuge in this frontier outpost. Other Huguenots settled further south along the Pequea Creek in Lancaster County.

Color photograph of the gravestones.
De Turk family cemetery, Daniel Boone Homestead, Birdsboro, PA.
It was common for Huguenots and some other Protestant groups to assimilate into the more pronounced German culture in rural Pennsylvania, and this appears to have occurred with the de Turk family. Though nominally French, the de Turks and other Huguenots were often misidentified as Pennsylvania German. Changes in the spelling of family names are one indication of the dual process of "Germanization" and "Americanization" that was at work.

Following his arrival in Philadelphia in 1741, Moravian leader Count Nikolaus Zinzendorf held a series of "conferences" throughout Pennsylvania in an unsuccessful attempt to unify all of the German-speaking Protestant sects in America. One of these early conferences occurred in the Oley Valley in February 1742, on land owned by Johan and Deborah de Turk, during which Zinzendorf baptized three Indian converts into the Moravian faith. There is also evidence that Johan de Turk became a member of the Moravian faith . When or why he did so is unclear, but his conversion is typical of the changes of that sometimes took place within ethnic and religious groups, after their migration to America, and to Pennsylvania.

Both Isaac and Johan de Turk were active in political affairs. Their religious and economic standing in the community gave each man influence in decisions about taxes, road construction, and other county affairs. Several of Johan's sons served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Son John was the third owner of what is now themarker Daniel Boone Homestead, which stands nearby. A small cemetery on the Boone site contains the graves of several generations of de Turk family members.

Huguenot migration was one part of a larger effort to transplant a semblance of French cultural identity in eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. Almost simultaneously after 1793, monarchists fleeing the French Revolution and Afro-Creole refugees from the Haitian Revolution arrived in the Commonwealth.

In 1794, French Royalists constructed a small settlement calledmarker Azilum, in Bradford County, to which they hoped to bring Queen Marie Antoinette if she could have escaped from France. Future King Louis Phillipe and the Marquis de Talleyrand also lived for a time in Pennsylvania. By that time, the descendants of Isaac de Turk were well settled in the Oley Valley in Berks County. For each group, old identities and religious affiliations changed in the process of resettlement and cultural adaptation to new surroundings and a new life. In time a new American identity would take shape, reflecting the national and religious pluralism of the Pennsylvania commonwealth.
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