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
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"
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
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
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.