History Of German Immigration In The United States

History Of German Immigration In The United States – George von Skal


This work is intended to be a record of all that Germans have accomplished in the United States a record of honest endeavor, energy, perseverance, strength and achievement. It shall, in addition, show the part that the American citizen of German blood has taken in the making of these United States, in peace and war, on the battlefield as well as in the counting house, the workshop and laboratory, in the realm of science and education or in the long fight that was necessary to extend civilization and culture over a continent. The book contains a history of German immigration in the United States from the first settlements to the present day, showing what the Germans were who left the fatherland, why they came, and what they did in their new country. Every incident throwing light upon the work done by the German element has been made use of to give a complete, though concise, and impartial recital of its activity, and a description of the influence it has exerted upon the development of the Union. In the second part the biographies of many Americans of German nativity or descent are given. History is not complete if it chronicles only the deeds of the few who in times of strife and combat rise above the surface; it must tell us of the many who have fought and succeeded. The value of so large and important a part of the American people as the German immigrants and their descendants can be fully understood only if it is shown how many of them have been successful, and how they have, by long and earnest travail, risen to unusual heights.

History Of German Immigration In The United States

History Of German Immigration In The United States.

Format: eBook.

History Of German Immigration In The United States.

ISBN: 9783849659059.


Excerpt from the text:


According to the last Census there were living in the United States in 1900 not less than 2,669,164 persons born in the German Empire. Within the few years passed since then, no great change can have taken place, for the number of German immigrants has probably not been much larger than the decrease of the German-American population by death or the return of Germans to the Fatherland. There is, however, no doubt but that the number of Germans living in the United States is considerably larger than the figures given above, for the Census, in determining nationality, does not take into account race but political divisions, and calls only those persons Germans who have been born within the borders of the German Empire. Several hundred thousand immigrants who have come from Switzerland, Austria and the Baltic provinces of Russia, and who are thorough Germans in race, tradition and customs, are not classed as such by the Census. It is, therefore a very conservative estimate if we assume that the number of Germans living in the United States exceeds three millions. But even then we cannot estimate the strength of the German element and the influence it exerts, correctly, because we must take into consideration the descendants of the immigrants, in whom, although moderated by American influences, German ideas and ways of thinking are more or less preserved. Here statistics cannot help us, for while the Census Bureau has given us a number of tables showing how many native-born Americans had German fathers, mothers, or both, this information, valuable as it is, does not tell us how many of these descendants may be called German-Americans in the sense that they have retained some of the valuable traits of their ancestors. How quickly complete Americanization destroys even the last vestige of the German origin depends upon innumerable circumstances, and it happens frequently that children who were born in Germany and brought to America in early youth lose all distinguishing traits before they grow up, and retain nothing that betrays their origin, while on the other hand, many families remain German in disposition and certain ways of thinking for three and even four generations. Where, for instance, the knowledge of the German language is cultivated, and the children are made acquainted with German literature, the German influence upon the mind becomes strong enough to be traced and in turn exerted even after all connection with the Fatherland has long ceased. Taking all these factors into account, and considering all manifestations of German origin as, for instance, the numbers of societies which are either composed of Germans and their descendants in the first generation, or which, although outwardly American, pursue objects and ideals essentially German and viewing the strength of movements based upon German ideas, the conclusion does not appear extravagant that the so-called German-American element comprises nearly ten percent of the population of the United States. The percentage of German blood in the American people is undoubtedly much larger; careful and conservative investigators have placed it as high as twenty-five percent.

It goes without saying that so large a part of the total population of the country must necessarily have exerted considerable influence upon the formation of the character of the American people. Whether this influence has always been used in the right way and with the full strength it possessed is an open question and has been doubted by many, especially by Germans with scant knowledge of American conditions. The United States would long have been a German country and the English language would have disappeared if pen and printing ink could have accomplished it. Extravagant love of race or country and unreasoning enthusiasm based upon impractical hopes and dreams are, however, not sufficient to bring about tangible results and do not qualify their possessors to sit in judgment upon the work accomplished by Germans in America. To do this a thorough knowledge of the history of the country, of its institutions and evolution, as well as of the German immigration since its beginning is required. In another chapter the attempt will be made to show what Germans could accomplish here, and what they have done, but before this is undertaken a short but exhaustive sketch of the history of German immigration will be given.

There is, unfortunately, no complete history of German immigration in existence. A number of works have been written dealing with single states or treating short periods. But sufficient material is at hand to show how widely the quality of the immigrants differed in the several periods during which Germans arrived here in large numbers, and how far apart these periods were. A careful examination of all known facts will not only show what the Germans brought to America but also whether they made full use of the opportunities extended to them. And it may be stated right here that the result cannot fail to raise the popular estimate of the value of the German immigrant.

The first traces of the German immigration extend back to the settlement of Manhattan Island by the Dutch. Peter Minuit or Minnewit, who was appointed director-general of New Netherlands by the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce and purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for sixty guilders, came from Wesel and was therefore a German. Among the colonists who arrived here during the first half of the Seventeenth Century were many Germans, principally from the lower Rhine, from Geldern, Westphalia, Friesland and Dithmarschen. Germany and Holland were at that time neither politically nor economically as sharply separated as now. The Dutch language was closely related to the dialects spoken in the neighboring provinces of Germany and its difference from them became more marked much later through the in fluence of the Flemish. German immigration was not confined to the districts named, however, for many came from Holstein, Hesse, Thuringia, Swabia, the Hanse cities and from Switzerland. These colonists could exert no influence whatever upon the development of the new country. They were not numerous enough, consisted mainly of laborers and mechanics, and possessed probably very little education. They soon lost their identity, changed their names to make them sound Dutch, and disappeared completely among the Hollanders. Every trace of them would be lost if shipowners in Amsterdam had not kept and preserved the lists of the passengers they for warded to America.

A few years later an attempt was made to found a German colony in Delaware, near the present site of the city of Wilmington. It is true that this settlement was founded by the Swedish Government and called New Sweden, but incontrovertible proofs show that the colonists came almost without exception from Pomerania and Western Prussia, German provinces temporarily occupied by the Swedes. The leader of the first expedition was the same Peter Minnewit who had bought New Netherlands from the Indians and had later left the Dutch service. The treaty through which he acquired the necessary land for his new enterprise was written in Low-German or Plattdeutsch. Minnewit arrived in the spring of 1638 and succeeded in taking the fur trade on the Delaware away from the Dutch. Three years later he disappeared, but whether he died or returned to Europe remains a mystery. His successor was the Swedish officer, Johann Printz, Edler von Buchau, another German and a scion of a well-known German family which still exists. While he ruled New Sweden the quarrels between this colony and the Dutch of New Netherland began, because the thrifty Hollanders wanted a monopoly of the fur trade and did not intend to divide it with others. Printz returned soon to Europe and was followed by another German, Johann Resingh of Elbing. In the meantime the Thirty Years War had ended, Sweden was too weak to assist the distant colony and when, in September, 1655, Peter Stuyvesant appeared with a strong force before the Swedish fortifications, Resingh was forced to surrender. He was permitted to return to Sweden with his troops, but many of the colonists were killed or robbed of all their possessions. The few who were allowed to remain had to swear allegiance to the Dutch Government. The second attempt to form a German colony in America had thus ended in complete disaster and did not even leave traces of the work done.

But soon a mighty stream of German immigrants began to flow. For almost one hundred years they came to seek homes, liberty and peace. Not always in such masses as during the first half of the Eighteenth Century, and sometimes interrupted, but still continuous and steady enough to mark an epoch in the history of the country. And the Germans who arrived here during that time were in the main so much alike and the motives which caused them to leave their Fatherland were so similar, and at the same time so different, from the causes of later movements of the same kind, that this one must be treated by itself and may be designated as the religious period of German immigration.

The Thirty Years War had ended. Its ravages had well-nigh destroyed the German nation and changed a flourishing country into a desert. Towns and villages were in ruins, horses and cattle had all but disappeared. Worse than this: the spirit of the people, hunted, persecuted, robbed and murdered without interruption for thirty years, was utterly broken. The burgher, once so proud and active, had become weak and timid. Only masters and serfs were left. The people had neither strength nor courage to fight for the rights that had been taken away by the soldier who rode through the land and took what he wanted. Germany was divided into small principalities without number, ruled by princes who claimed to be set up by the grace of God, and who considered the land and the people as their own personal property. The very meaning of freedom and liberty had become unknown; nothing but constraint was visible, in trade, in the exercise of the religious creed and even in domestic life. The long and bloody war had prevented the extinction of Protestantism but it had not brought religious liberty. The people were powerless against the oppression practiced on all sides. Their only hope was in flight from unbearable conditions. And now began the remarkable spectacle that whole congregations and communities set out on the long and weary march to the Atlantic Ocean where ships were waiting to carry them to other shores. Led by their ministers and teachers, singing psalms and hymns, they marched thus, carrying their women and children on heavy wagons drawn by the strongest of the men, through Germany and Holland, followed and persecuted by the Government until they had crossed the border. And down the river Rhine floated large boats and barges carrying the population of whole villages with their belongings.

Not all these emigrants left their homes because they were prevented from exercising their religion. Even at that time agents of ship owners traveled through Germany, notably along the Rhine, in the Palatinate and in Swabia, trying to persuade people to emigrate to America. They were lavish in their promises and held out hopes that could never be realized, and they found many followers. Want and poverty and the seeming impossibility of ever improving the conditions surrounding them drove many away. The terrible winter of 1708-9, when the birds froze in the air in their flight and the wine in the casks, and when almost all the vineyards in the Palatinate were destroyed, caused the emigration of many thousands. The devastation of the Palatinate by the French under General Melac, of which the ruins of the castle at Heidelberg still remain as a memento, induced many others to cross the ocean. But the desire to escape oppression and constant want and to find civic and religious liberty were the general causes of this mighty movement of many thousands of people; and gave to it the peculiar character it possesses.

The first large body of which authentic reports are in existence consisted of farmers from Alsatia and the Palatinate. They arrived in 1677 and settled along the Wallkill River, where they founded the still flourishing town of New Paltz. They were followed by a number of Huguenots and to this day most of the family names of the district in question show the German or French origin. In 1709 came sixty-one families from the Palatinate under the guidance of their pastor, Josua von Kocherthal, and founded Newburg. They were the advance guard of the many thousands already moving towards the land of promise. Kocherthal was a man of great energy and skill; he succeeded in settling nearly three hundred families on both banks of the Hudson. Hunterstown, Kingsbury, Annsbury, Haysbury, Rhinebeck, Newtown, Georgetown, Elizabethtown, Kingston and Esopus were founded by him. These colonists were at -first treated with great respect by the English authorities. They received as much land as they needed and the settlement at Newburg was given five hundred acres to support the Protestant Church. But as soon as the poor Germans had changed the wild forest into well-tilled fields and blooming gardens the English and the Dutch sought means to deprive them of the fruits of their labor. They succeeded in many cases and the greater part of the German settlers on the Hudson lost courage finally and went to Pennsylvania where large numbers of their countrymen had taken undisturbed possession of extended tracts of land. In 1747 the Protestant Church at Newburg was taken away from the remaining Germans by force.

The greatest body to leave at the same time started in the spring of 1709, after the hard winter that has been mentioned. They went through Holland to England and the governments of both countries were practically helpless when this vast army descended upon them. A large camp was formed near London and this is said to have contained fifteen thousand people at one time. For a while it excited the curiosity of the Londoners and the Court visited it repeatedly. But it was impossible to feed this mass and means had to be found to disperse it. Almost all the Catholics were returned to their homes. Nearly four thousand were sent to Ireland where they retained their customs for over a century but finally disappeared. Between six hundred and seven hundred were sent to North Carolina where they were swallowed up by the English-speaking population, although traces of them can still be found in the names of towns and families. Many of the young men were drafted into the army, and several thousand succumbed to the privations they had to undergo. Of three thousand that went to New York eight hundred died during the journey. Several hundred remained in New York, the rest, probably two thousand, were given land on both banks of the Hudson, a few miles south of Catskill. This was a distinct breach of the promises made to them by the English Government which had set aside for them the fertile district on the Schoharie and the Mohawk rivers. When in their camp near London, the Germans had met several Mohawk chiefs who had invited them to settle among them, and the crown had granted the necessary permission. But when the colonists arrived at New York Governor Robert Hunter decided that they ought to be made to repay the expenses their support and transportation had caused, and in order to accomplish this he sent them to the pine forests of the Hudson to make pitch until their debt was liquidated. The enterprise failed completely. The poor Germans were without tools or implements and had not even the most necessary means of subsistence. Hunter did not furnish them with the promised rations, took away their rifles, because he remained in constant fear that they would go away, and thus made it impossible for them to hunt game. Their children were taken away from them and apprenticed to Englishmen in New York, and two years elapsed before the first crop could be gathered. In their despair the settlers revolted against their oppressors but were quickly subdued by British troops. But the man to meet the emergency arose. Johann Konrad Weiser, who, as one of the leaders of the settlers, had incurred the special disfavor of Governor Hunter, and whose children had been taken away from him, persuaded about one hundred of the more enterprising spirits to follow him to the Schoharie. They set out in the winter of 1712, in deep snow, pursued by soldiers, and arrived at their destination after suffering terrible hardships. When they arrived among the friendly Indians they were well-nigh starved and exhausted, and in addition they were greeted by a formal order from Hunter to return forthwith to their camp on the Hudson. But the Indians offered to protect them and the Governor did not have enough troops to risk a war with the Mohawks. The new settlement flourished, and Weiser’s little band was soon joined by many of those who had remained behind. Before many years had passed a string of villages dotted the shores of the Schoharie and of the Mohawk but the troubles of the Germans were not ended. The English and Dutch colonists looked upon the independent farmers who tilled their own land with envy and hatred. They wanted to own the land and rent it out to tenants working it. A feudal state with the aristocracy possessing all the land was their ideal. They attacked the crown titles of the Germans and constant quarrels were the consequence. Weiser went to London to get justice, but failed, was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Years later he returned, an old man, but not broken in spirit. Rather than submit to the demands of the English and Dutch landholders he decided to move his tents again. In 1723 he started out as the leader of thirty-three families, taking their women and children with them. Guided by Indians they followed the Schoharie into the mountains till they reached the head waters of the Susquehanna. Down this river they went to the mouth of the Swatara and then along its shores to the region that is now Berks County, Pa. Here they found at last the peace they had been looking for so long. They were given the land they needed, and not far from where large numbers of their countrymen had already settled. Their trials were ended. What they accomplished in Berks County will be told when the settlement of Pennsylvania by the Germans is described, but it must be mentioned here that they would never have succeeded in their search if they had not made friends of the Indians. Weiser and his son, Konrad, were just in all their transactions with the savages, treated them kindly and were not only never molested but frequently assisted by them when they needed help. They retained their influence over them until they died. Konrad Weiser became justice of the peace, colonel in the militia and official interpreter for the government of Pennsylvania, for he spoke the languages of all the tribes in the territory east of the Mississippi. His services were constantly required for negotiations with the Indians. His daughter married the Rev. Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg, who had come to America in 1742, and her two sons, General Peter Mühlenberg and Friedrich August, president of the Pennsylvania convention which ratified the Constitution of the United States, and first speaker of the House of Representatives under Washington’s administrations, played import ant parts in the establishment of the independence of the United States of America.



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