[ The First Germans in America ]

While individual Germans had been in America as early as 1608, 1683 is rightfully celebrated as the beginning of group immigration from the German states. The first to arrive as a group were religious dissenters who landed at Philadelphia aboard the Concord in Mid-August 1683. Francis Daniel Pastorius, an agent for a land purchasing company in the city of Frankfurt am Main, organized the original party of settlers. It was a group largely made up of nonconformist sects such as the Mennonites, Amish, Moravians German Quakers, and other Protestant minorities, notably dissidents of the Reformed and Lutheran persuasion.

These settlers were from Krefeld, Frankfurt and the Palatinate. Germantown, the settlement they established near Philadelphia, became a point of entry for later waves of German immigrants to Pennsylvania. By 1689, the settlement had grown so large that it had to be incorporated. Germantown's citizens were pious, peaceful, industrious people, who quickly established southeastern Pennsylvania as a leading agricultural region.

Over the centuries, the community has continued to cling to the language and culture of its native land. Descendants of the first German immigrants are called Pennsylvania Dutch - an Anglicization of the word "deutsche" meaning "German."

The eastern counties of Pennsylvania became the center of German immigration to America during the colonial period, but there were several other important areas of settlement. One of these was New York state, including the Mohawk Valley region around Utica and the area around Schoharie. The latter area was settled by so-called Palatines, Protestant refugees from the Palatinate in southwest-central Germany. The Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia was also an important area of German settlement in colonial times. Other areas were in Georgia and the Carolinas. Salem, NC preserves many historic buildings reminding one of early German settlement there.

When the first American census was taken in 1790, Pennsylvania's German population was put at 225,000 which amounts to a third of the state's entire population. If we further count those Germans who in the course of the 18th century settled in the English colonies of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, especially those from the Palatinate, Baden and Wurttemberg, and include their children, then Americans of German origin were about 9% of the total population of the youthful United States around the close of the 18th century.

The term "German-American" refers to immigrants from German-speaking areas and their descendants. In the narrow political sense, the term "German-American" can refer to emigrants from Germany and its given geographical area in a specific historical period.

Taken in the broad ethno-linguistic and cultural sense, German-Americans also include immigrants--and their offspring--from Austria and South Tyrol, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, Germans from Russia and the Balkan countries, and Jewish-German immigrants. In earlier centuries most of these areas were within the boundaries of "Germany."

Before the "homogenizing" processes of the 20th century, there were many more distinct differences in how people live in the various German-speaking regions. It was often possible to tell where someone came from by observing how he or she was dressed. And there were -- and still are -- numerous regional customs and traditions.


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