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First Germans at Jamestown 1

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by Gary C. Grassl, President The German Heritage Society of Greater Washington, D.C.

The first seeds of this country were planted at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in what is today the United States of America. The first English settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607; the first German, in 1608. Therefore, Germans were present at the creation of this nation. The Germans who came to Jamestown in 1608 and subsequently in 1620 were the forerunners of the largest nationality to immigrate to the United States since its founding in 1776.

The first Germans to reach the Jamestown Colony came aboard the English vessel Mary and Margaret captained by Christopher Newport. They left England around July 1608 and arrived in Virginia around 1 October--12 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. They consisted of up to five unnamed glassmakers and three carpenters or house builders--Adam, Franz and Samuel. They came in a group of about 70 new settlers, including several Polish makers of pitch and tar, soap ashes and potashes. Jamestown at that time consisted of nothing but a small wooden fort on a peninsula of the James, a river, which flows into Chesapeake Bay near modern Norfolk, VA.

Among the settlers was a Swiss German mineral prospector called William Volday by the English; his original name was probably Wilhelm Waldi. He accompanied Captain Newport on a search for precious metals shortly after their arrival. This was done by order of the organizers of the Colony, the Virginia Company of London, a stock company. The colonists believed that they had found a vein of silver beyond the falls of the James River, but they were forced to return when their supplies ran low.

The Germans and the Poles faced precarious conditions at James Fort, which had been built on the north bank of the James River by June 1607. More than half of the original 105 settlers were already dead by the first autumn.

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