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Germanna settlement is subject of lecture

In the colony of Virginia, Germanna was a settlement of German immigrants.


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Germanna was a settlement of German indentured servants in the Colony of Virginia, settled in two waves, first in 1714 and then in 1717. Cathi Clore Frost presented a program to 30 members of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society (JGS) on Saturday, July 27th about “Germanna,” a name selected by English Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood, reflecting both the German immigrants who populated the settlement and the British Queen, Anne, who was in power at the time of the first settlement.

The Germanna Colonies consist of the First Colony of 42 persons from the Siegerland area in Germany brought to Virginia in 1714 and the Second Colony of over 20 families primarily from the Baden-Württemburg area of Germany brought in 1717. Both groups were indentured to Spotswood.

Genealogical evidence shows that many of the families later migrated southward and westward after completing their indentured service and intermarried for generations, producing a rich genealogical heritage. Today, the Germanna Foundation database of descendants exceeds 125,000 people.

Frost, who lives in Oregon, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Germanna Foundation. Before speaking to the JGS, she attended and lectured at the Foundation’s 62nd Annual Conference and Reunion that took place in Virginia from July 18th through 21st. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia in 2019 is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly convened in the colony. Special events and interpretive programs have taken place throughout the year. Heralding “Virginia’s Red Letter Year of 1619,” Germanna Conference sessions included the long-range effects of importing slaves and bringing women across the ocean to marry frontier post single men in addition to the freedom to participate in representative government.

Frost, a genealogist and author of numerous publications and books, has ancestors who settled in the Second Germanna Colony. She repeated, for the benefit of JGS members, a conference session she conducted titled “Germanna 101.” The influence of the Germanna settlements has spread across the United States. Members from the original settlements migrated out of Virginia and some settled in East Tennessee at Broylesville in Washington County. Frost’s ancestors included families who traveled to and settled in the State of Iowa.

Apollo 11 astronaut and Germanna descendant Buzz Aldrin visited Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, Virginia in 2014. During his visit Aldrin met with students as part of his ShareSpace Foundation’s effort to inspire children to study science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. On this occasion, Buzz was presented with a copy of his genealogy tracing back to the Germanna Colony’s founding in 1714. The Germanna Foundation helped establish Germanna Community College by donating the land 50-years ago for the Locust Grove campus to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of founding the College in 1969 – the same year that Buzz walked on the moon.

In her program, Frost detailed the harsh living conditions that caused Germans to emigrate. Most were from the poor or laboring classes of society. The First Germanna Colony was recruited under the belief that Virginia had minerals, particularly silver, that could be mined. Their European diet was limited to grains and root vegetables. Meat was seldom available.

The settlers previously had suffered through nearly endless wars and French army invasions in addition to extremely cold winters. The migrations were proceeded in 1708-1709 by “The Great Frost” that saw temperatures dip to the coldest levels in Europe in 500 years. Animals froze to death, the Rhine River was completely covered with ice, and the King of France awoke from a sleep when his beard froze. Taxes were burdensome.

The settlers brought little when they sailed to America. An attempt in 1711 to colonize New Bern, North Carolina failed when the immigrants were attacked by Indians and most were killed. In Virginia in 1714 Fort Germanna, home of the First Germanna Colony, was constructed and became the westernmost settlement of the British Empire. Today it is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites in the nation.

The Germanna settlers had religious beliefs that embraced the Calvinist Reformed or Evangelical Lutheran faiths. There were also some Catholics in the group. Attendance at the Church of England services in Virginia eventually was not required. In 1740, the Hebron Lutheran Church in Madison County, Virginia was constructed and is still standing. The building represented good German construction methods and the fruits of a fundraising trip by members in Europe. In 1801 a pipe organ which is still in use was added to the church. Hebron is the oldest Lutheran Church with continuous use in the United States. Attendees at the 62nd Germanna Foundation Reunion could worship there on Sunday or at the nearby Little Fork Episcopal church in Culpeper County.

In Virginia, members of the settlements found abundant game was available in addition to cropland and timber that could be sold for ship masts. They also collected pitch and attempted winemaking. Original settlement tracts were small but eventually the Germanna colonists moved out to areas where they could obtain multiple acres. Frost said that one of her family members eventually owned 1,000 acres of Virginia land.

Frost also talked about the benefits of and limits to DNA testing. She emphasized that original research is needed before using this type of testing to supplement genealogical records. Of great value to members of the Jonesborough Genealogical Society were her listing of sources of research, both internet and on site at various library and courthouse locations.