Where was Tyrker? The First German Americans

According to Norse sagas, the first German to set foot in the New World was Tyrker, German foster-father of Leif Ericson who accompanied Leif on his 11th century voyage in the year 1000. Some believe they sailed from Greenland to an unknown country to the west which may have been New England. Leif divided his men into two parties to explore the neighborhood and warned them to stay together and return by evening. One evening, Tyrker did not return with his party because he was too busy finding grapes which could be made into wine. The Norsemen made Tyrker’s “grapes” a part of their cargo when they sailed away, and in honor of the fruit, Leif called the land “Vinland.”

British explorers often took Germans with mining expertise on their voyages to perform labor and to manage and/or supervise assay work. Martin Frobisher was an English seaman and state-sponsored pirate who made three voyages to the New World looking for the Northwest Passage and, hopefully, gold. Between 1576 and 1578, Frobisher led three expeditions to the vicinity of Baffin Island, taking with him German experts in the mining field, including Jonas Schutz and Burchard Kranach. Soon after, twenty-two of the nearly 280 unfortunate colonists who went to “The Lost Colony” of Roanoke between 1585 and 1587 were not English-born, and Germans were included in this minority. The Roanoke Germans may also have been mining specialists who had worked in tin mines of Cornwall and other parts of England.

A German was the only non-English person in the very first group of settlers to land on Jamestown Island in May 1607. Other Hessian Germans apparently arrived in 1608 on the ship “Mary and Margaret” and settled in Jamestown as glass makers and carpenters, soon to be joined by another German, Dr. Fleischer, the first Physician to arrive in the New World. He was also a trained botanist with a Ph. D. and M.D., therefore one of the most educated persons at Jamestown during the 100 years it was the capital of Virginia.

At the long-lost James Fort, modern archaeologists have catalogued nearly a million objects, many of which bear German words. Among these objects was a 1629 sechsling from the city of Lübeck, and some Rechenpfennige, or reckoning pennies, from Nürnberg which the Jamestown settlers traded with the Indians for food. German glassmakers produced the first glass at Jamestown from local sand and German woodworkers helped build a house for Chief Powhatan. And in 1620, there were even Germans on the Mayflower, among them more German mineral specialists and saw-millwrights from Hamburg who opened the first sawmill. The Bible was printed in America in German before it was printed in English.

Settlers from Krefeld established the first sizable, distinctly German settlement in America at Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1683. An English Schooner named the Concord brought these religious non-conformists to the port of Philadelphia where they answered William Penn’s call to share the “Holy Experiment” and settle land granted to Penn’s father for his services to England.When, after a 75-day voyage, the thirteen Krefeld Mennonite families landed in Philadelphia on October 6, 1683, they were met by a young German lawyer named Francis Daniel Pastorius, who had arrived himself on August 20, 1683. He and a group of rich, religious Pietists had made plans with the Frankfurt Land Company which never materialized and instead he and thirteen families found a home in Germantown.

The first settlement of the Krefeld colonists named “Armentown” (town of the poor) was six miles north of Philadelphia. They built log, and later stone, homes where they raised flax and began weaving. True to form, they also established vineyards. By the end of the 1600s, “Germantown” had a wide avenue bordered by fruit trees with a central market, a cemetery and a number of mills. As they grew in numbers, they founded 884-acre Kriegsheim, 900-acre Sommerhausen and-1166 acre Crefeld. Pastorius became Germantown’s first burgomaster in 1689, and he established a school system. Pastorius would write the first resolution in America against Negro slavery.

Perhaps a total of one to two hundred-thousand German immigrants came to the English Colonies during the 18th century. German life became a very prominent factor in New York and to a large extent in Pennsylvania. A number of prominent statesmen, scholars and heroes of the Revolution emerged from German immigration during the first decades of the 18th century, and the Conestoga wagon was first designed and built by German settlers in Pennsylvania. By the mid-18th Century, approximately 10% of the colonial American population spoke German. Such was the influence of the German element at the time, that Benjamin Franklin feared America would no longer remain English. Others, such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, thoroughly admired the German settlers.

Escape from Utter Devastation: The Palatine Refugees: The Pfalzers

Exiles and refugees were pawns in a power game played by monarchs and governments of Europe. They were used to repopulate devastated areas of a realm or to populate new colonies. They were sometimes used to spread a favored religion or even to act as buffers in remote colonies to protect the borders from hostile attack. The unfortunate refugees from Rhineland Pfalz, or “the Palatinate,” in the early 18th century flooded out of Germany in droves.

The Palatinate had lost 457,000 out of 500,000 people during the Thirty Years’ War as Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Dutch and Swedish soldiers burned hundreds of cities and villages throughout German realms. Alsace and Lorraine, two of the richest countries of Germany, were stolen by France. The country was a wasteland of human misery. Then, King Louis XIV of France bade his generals to destroy what little remained and they devastated the whole Rhineland.

The Rhenish Palatinate flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries, and its capital Heidelberg was a center of the German Renaissance and Reformation. The French, under Louis XIV, invaded the land and laid waste the countryside, destroying nearly all the castles and villages along the Rhine.

The atrocities carried out by French troops in the war of aggression launched by Louis XIV against the Palatinate roused hatred for the “Sun King” throughout Europe. Along with political and religious reasons for the French invasion, King Louis XIV was angry about the large number of German toll castles along the Rhine River that enriched the Palatinate coffers and cost France money. The beautiful, ancient castles on the Rhine were sacked, pillaged and utterly demolished, including the gorgeous castle of Heidelberg. The mortar bombardment of Koblenz in 1688 is analogous to modern bomber attacks, and the French used scorched earth tactics to devastate the Palatinate. Also in 1689, the cities of Mainz, Wörms, Mannheim and Speyer were set on fire and burned. In 1693, the French besieged Heidelberg for the second time, blowing up all fortifications and burning the town. Villages and farmhouses were burned and people driven from their homes in the dead of winter. Fruit trees were cut down and vineyards destroyed. For generations, German Rhinelanders were terrified of their aggressive neighbor.       Heidelberg

Not only were the thoughts of such utter ruination, death and misery fresh in their minds, but the Palatines were compelled to change their faith several times by various princes. After the especially severe winter of 1708-1709 had decimated crops, English agents, seeing an opportunity to exploit the situation, went to the Palatinate to lure more of the unfortunate population to America.

In the spring of 1709, the river Rhine was laden with boatloads of people fleeing with their meager possessions. The emigrants crossed the channel from Holland to England and applied in London for transportation to America. This huge onslaught of German emigrants overwhelmed England, and as it became impossible to shelter them all, tent camps were provided for them at the “Black Heath” near London. Over 20,000 people from the Palatinate were exposed to great suffering because the English Government, after luring them there, was unable to obtain enough ships for their ocean crossing. Thousands died with the arrival of winter.       Descriptions of suffering

The English Government then sent several thousands of the unfortunate people back to Holland and to Germany. About 3,000 of them were taken to Ireland where, in northern Munster, they founded a settlement. At least 5,000 others found employment in England, many entering the English army. 600 were shipped to Carolina and several hundred to Virginia. Among the Palatine immigrants was newspaper founder John Peter Zenger.       Zenger and Indentured Servitude

In 1710, 845 Palatine families, a total of 3,100 emigrants, boarded 11 ships for the long trip across the Atlantic from the camps in England. Of 3,100 who left England, almost 500 died, many of typhus and one ship was wrecked along the New York coast. 250 more died at Governor’s Island where the City of New York forced the emigrants to stay for several weeks in a quarantine.

After the immigrants had been quartered in two camps on both banks of the Hudson, for several years they were considered to be “crown-laborers,” obliged to pay back every penny of relief they had received as well as their transportation and maintenance. They were forced to do hard labor and furnish supplies to the navy. Eventually, their treatment by a sadistic contractor named Robert Livingstone became so unbearable that they refused to work and decided to go to the Schoharie Valley in upstate New York, where local Indian chiefs who had once visited London and promised the refugees free land.

A delegation was sent to the Indians asking permission to settle in their territory and it was granted. In March, 1713, the “Pfälzer” left their camps and founded new homesteads in the Schoharie Valley. For years the settlers on the Mohawk formed a strong frontier and founded prosperous communities such as Herkimer, Palatine and German Flats. But even there they were tormented by greedy agents, and once settled, the Palatines were surrounded by hostile Indians working for the very French who had burned their original homeland.

The Palatines formed a large part of the forces which were commanded at the battle of Oriskany, “bloodiest battle of the whole Revolution,” by General Herkimer (Herkheimer) himself the son of an immigrant from the Palatinate, and in this battle, General Herkimer was killed. The emigration from the Palatinate, initially directed to New York and later, as a result of their horrible experiences, to Pennsylvania where they founded Womelsdorf and Heidelberg, became so strong during the first half of the 18th century, that back in the Palatinate, the Elector threatened his people with capital punishment if they tried to emigrate, but it was futile.

The Palatinate and neighboring German territories would later witnessed additional depredations in the 1790s forcing the emigration of even more people.

Immigrants were at the mercy of unscrupulous land speculators who lured them to remote areas nobody else would want. For example, between 1742 and 1753, roughly 1,000 Germans settled in Waldoboro, Maine, (then Broad Bay, Massachusetts). This area was part of a large land grant held by colonist Samuel Waldo. His Swiss emissary, Sebastian Zauberbuhler, made a number of recruiting trips to Germany claiming that the region was a thriving area. Once there, the new settlers found a very hard, frightening life in the wilderness.

The first group of German settlers arrived on September 24, 1742 and three more ships followed between 1751 and 1753. Several of their houses, made by hand under harsh conditions, were burned and their neighbors killed or carried into captivity by Native Americans. Many of the colonists fled to Nova Scotia, North Carolina and Boston. Waldoboro is at the head of the Medomak River tidewater on Muscongus Bay, and the Germans who remained behind turned to shipping and fishing trades because of the poor farming land. Between 1830 and 1860, it became a busy shipbuilding community. The Old German Meeting House and the nearby cemetery there contain the graves of many of the earliest settlers. Small German groups arrived unprepared elsewhere.       The Cajuns       The Palatines of South Carolina

Aside from Redemptioners, those unfortunate early German immigrants who came to America as indentured servants, there were various religious sects such as the Amish, Moravians, Mennonites, Dunkards, Schwenkfelders and others who sought refuge from European persecution. In 1733, exiled Salzburg Protestants were the first religious refugees settled in Georgia.       The Salzburgers

In 1694 in Pennsylvania, a group of German Second Adventists led by Johannes Kelpius who believed in the imminent second coming of the Christ in America founded two important Utopian communes, Ephrata Cloister and The Woman in the Wilderness. They developed a school for neighborhood children, held public worship services, and practiced medicine, but otherwise lived as hermits in caves along the Wissahikon River.

The successful (and still surviving) Amana Colony in Iowa was established by pietistic Germans from Himbach, Germany who came to America in 1714 and formed the Community of True Inspiration. Disappointed in the direction of the Lutheran Church, they and their followers wanted religion to be a more personal experience with an emphasis on humility and Bible study, and they founded their church on the belief believed that God still spoke through prophets as described in the Old Testament.

There were other Utopian communities started by Germans: Irenia (founded by Moravians in 1695), Bohemia Manor (founded by the Labadists in 1683), the Ephrata Cloister (founded by Sabbatarians in 1732), Bethlehem (founded by Anabaptists in 1740), and later New Harmony on the Wabash, the Zoarites in Ohio and the followers of German-born Wilhelm Keil, a Methodist minister heavily influenced by the pietist movement, who founded colonies in Bethel, Missouri, and Aurora, Oregon.

Ferdinand Ernst, a wealthy German agriculturalist, organized, funded, and conducted a group of nearly one hundred German colonists to Vandalia, Illinois in 1820. In 1836, saddened by the loss of native customs and language among their American countrymen, the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia sold shares in a proposed community to be settled in the midwest. A scouting committee bought 11,300 acres of land that was bounded on three sides by hills and bluffs, and bounded on a fourth by the Missouri River. The land and the abundance of wild grapes reminded the group of their native Rhine River region. Thus was founded the basis of the city of Hermann, Missouri and its good wines. There were also intellectual Utopian settlements even in the outback of Texas.

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