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SECTION II : HUNGARIANS IN AMERICA

I. FROM PRE-COLONIAL TIMES TO THE CIVIL WAR

A. The First Hungarians

      The first Hungarian in North America was Stephen Parmenius of Buda, who as chief chronicler and historian with the voyage of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, landed on the shores of Newfoundland, Canada in 1583. According to some historians, there was a Hungarian on the continent even earlier. He was known as "Tyrker" and took part in a voyage crossing the Atlantic with Leif, son of Eric the Red in 1,000 A.D. The origins of "Tyrker," however, are disputed.

      Stephen Parmenius was a linguist and historian who was born in Buda in the middle of the sixteenth century. He pursued his studies in other parts of Europe and finally in England, where he met Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Gilbert was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth in 1578 to explore and take possession of "any remote, barbarous and heathen lands not possessed by any Christian prince or peoples." Parmenius wrote a laudatory poem in Latin about Sir Gilbert's courage and valor. Upon reading the poem, Sir Gilbert requested the young Hungarian humanist to take part in the voyage and record the history of the expedition as chief chronicler and historian.

      The expedition left England on June 11, 1583 and landed on the shores of Newfoundland on August 3rd of that year. Parmenius wrote extensively about the voyage and the continent. He wrote detailed descriptions about the climate, vegetation, animals encountered and type of soil. His letters were sent to Richard Hakluyt, an English historian who documented the writings of Parmenius in his book written in 1589.

The return voyage was commenced on August 20, however, only one boat of the three returned to England. On August 29, the boats encountered a

 


 

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violent storm off the coast of Nova Scotia which sank one of the ships with the loss of nearly 100 lives. Stephen Parmenius of Buda was among them. Another ship, which carried Sir Humphrey, was lost near the Azores on September 9. Captain Haie of the Golden Hind, the only ship which did return to England, was one of the few left to recount the unfortunate return voyage. This is what he wrote of the death of Stephen Parmenius:

 

This was a heavy and grievous event, to lose at one blow our chiefe shippe fraighted with great provision, gathered together with much travell, care, long time and difficultie. But more was the losse of our men, which perished to the number almost of a hundred soules. Amongst whom was drowned a learned man, an Hungarian, borne in the citie of Buda, called thereof Budaeius, who of pietie and zeale to good attempts, adventured in this action, minding to record in the Latine tongue, the gests and things worthy of remembrance, happening in this discoverie, to the honour of our nation, the same being adorned with the eloquent stile of this Orator, and rare Poet of our time.1

 

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      By 1694 a few Hungarian missionaries were active in America. John Kelp led and founded a religious community in Pennsylvania. A native of Transylvania, Kelp came to America in 1694 with a group of Germans. They settled near Philadelphia, on the banks of the Wis-a-hickon River and formed a community similar to the Quakers, living a life of meditation and prayer. Kelp died there in 1708. The American poet Whittier wrote of the religious leader:

        Painful Kelpius from his hermit den
        By Wissahickon, maddest of good men.

John Kelp's original place of settlement is part of modern Philadelphia. The historical district is called "The Hermitage" and the street where he lived "Hermit's Lane."

 


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