German Mineral Specialists at Jamestown in 1620
by Gary C. Grassl, President The German Heritage Society of Greater Washington, D.C.
We learn from a letter
dated 12 June 1620 by John Pory, the secretary of the Jamestown Colony, that "two Germans skillful in mines" have been sent to Virginia by the Company in London. Pory tells Sir Edwin Sandys, Treasurer of the
Company, that he intends "to make trial of their skill." When Pory called the Germans "skillful in mines" he meant more that they were miners; in the 17th century, the term encompassed all aspects of
winning metals, such as prospecting, mining, assaying and smelting.
When the Virginia Company of London employed these German mineral specialists, it followed an English tradition harking back to King
Henry VIII. Mineral experts from Germany played an important role in establishing or modernizing the English mineral and metal industry under Queen Elizabeth I. The German mineral specialists Jonas Schütz and Gregor
Bona (Gut) accompanied Martin Frobisher, the seeker after the Northwest Passage to China in 1577. Master Daniel the Saxon accompanied Sir Humphrey Gilbert when he tried to establish the first English colony in the new
World in 1583. Joachim Gans, a German Jew from Prague, and German miners took part in 1585 in Sir Walter Raleigh's attempt to establish the first English settlement in what is today the United States.
Secretary Pory had high expectations of finding precious metals. Unfortunately, there were few metals for the two German mineral specialists to discover in Tidewater Virginia, while the natives still controlled the
Piedmont and Appalachian regions. The Colony finally began some initial iron production early in 1622 at falling Creek, just south of modern Richmond. The German mineral specialists may have had a hand in this.
Unfortunately, the Indian massacre of 22 March 1622 wiped out that enterprise along with one fourth to one third of the population of the Colony.