Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Immigration
Image of a Native American man
Image of an African man
Image of a German man
Image of an Irish man
Image of a Scandinavian lady
Image of an Italian lady
Image of a Japanese boy
Image of a Mexican woman
Image of a Chinese boy
Image of a Cuban man
Image of a  Polish man
Picture of globe - clicking produces a Flash animated map showing the pattern of German immigration
Picture of clock - click to view global immigration timeline
Immigration German
Image of US map - piece 1 Home Vocabulary Potluck Interviews Resources Conclusion
Image of US map - piece 2

The Call of Tolerance

German immigrants were among the first Europeans to set foot in North America. They helped establish England’s Jamestown settlement in 1608 and the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam--now New York--in 1620. German adventurers could be found roaming the farthest reaches of the New World for many years afterward. It was religious tolerance, though, that first brought large numbers of Germans to North America.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, many European powers forced their subjects to follow an official state religion. Therefore, when William Penn toured Germany in 1677, spreading the word of a new kind of religious freedom in the American colonies, he found a receptive audience. Many Germans, especially Protestants, were persuaded to join him in his colony of Pennsylvania. Members of smaller sects, who were often persecuted in Europe, were especially eager to escape harassment, and German Mennonites, Quakers, and Amish emigrated in substantial numbers. Germantown, Pennsylvania--now part of Philadelphia--was established by 13 Mennonite families in 1683, and thousands of their fellow freethinkers and religious dissenters soon followed suit.

The journey to the colonies was not an easy one, though. Many of the first German immigrants came from the small Palatinate region in southwestern Germany. They began their travel by riverboat on the Rhine River, and then made their way to Holland. It took several weeks to reach an Atlantic seaport, and another eight to 10 weeks of difficult and dangerous ocean travel before they reached the shores of North America. To pay for their voyage, many impoverished immigrants resorted to selling themselves or their family members into indentured servitude--agreeing to be legally bound to an employer in America for several years, until their debt was paid. The conditions of indentured servitude could be very harsh; for instance, if an indentured child died before the contract was completed, the child's parents or siblings might be forced to work the remaining years of that contract, in addition to their own. Indentured servitude, unlike slavery, was entered into voluntarily, but it is still easy to see why German immigrants might have made a significant contribution to the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

Drawn by the prospect of inexpensive land, German immigrants quickly moved to settle on the fringes of the new colonies. Soon the river valleys of New York and Ohio were dotted with new German towns, and German settlements sprang up in Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Their stronghold, though, was still Pennsylvania. By 1745, more than 40,000 Germans lived in the colony, founding towns and villages with such distinctively German names as Manheim, Dunker, and Berlin. Many of these early communities maintain their German character to this day, especially in the Pennsylvania Dutch regions. (The term Pennsylvania Dutch was the result of Anglophone mispronunciation of the German word Deutsch, which means "German.") The Amish, who are members of an especially reclusive religious denomination, still speak German, reject modern conveniences, and retain the dress and way of life of the Pennsylvania German farmers of centuries ago.



Previous Page Next Page

2005
2000
1995
1990
1985
1980
1975
1970
1965
1960
1955
1950
1945
1940
1935
1930
1925
1920
1915
1910
1905
1900
1895
1890
1885
1880
1875
1870
1865
1860
1855
1850
1845
1840
1835
1830
1825
1820
1815
1810
1805
1800
1795
1790
1785
1780
1775
1770