Lincoln -- We are a nation of immigrants, but also of refugees if we care to look closely. Some of my ancestors were refugees twice over.
Henry and Catherine Harper Wimer left the Rhineland-Palatinate in 1771 for America. Their own forebears had previously fled the Bas-Rhin region of France because of war and religious persecution. Finding Germany no more hospitable, Henry, Catherine, and their three sons set out from Rotterdam for Philadelphia.
Henry and Catherine did not make it; they died on the voyage. Their household goods were sold in Philadelphia to pay the ship's captain. Their sons were sold into indentured servitude.
Philip Wimer, age 14, was sold to Ulrich Conrad of Dry Run, Virginia, now West Virginia. After seven years of servitude, he joined the Virginia Militia cavalry, led by Captain Peter Hull* of Augusta County. His militia participated in the Siege of Yorktown, which resulted in the capitulation of Cornwallis in 1781 and American independence.
What a great contribution my fifth great-grandfather, a refugee, made to America. Thank you, Philip Wimer. His descendants remained in West Virginia until they relocated in the 1870s and 1880s, becoming pioneers in Cass, Saunders, and Lancaster counties in Nebraska.
These days, Syrian refugees are dying at sea. A few make it to America, where they are sponsored by charities, to which I contribute in quiet memory of Henry and Catherine Wimer, who never made it to America's shores.
What is the moral of this vignette? Is it that the British should never have allowed Philip Wimer (revolutionary that he turned out to be) to come to America? No. The moral is that when people are oppressed, they seek freedom. We Americans, of all people, should know that and live by it.
*Captain Hull was the son of Peter Thomas Hull, himself an immigrant from the Palatinate and whose daughter Catherine, Captain Hull's sister, also makes up the lineage of the Wimer-Zickafoose family (including my grandmother Ressie Mae Zickafoose) who came a century later to settle Nebraska.