1700s German Farm

Exhibit Overview

Germans were the largest group of non-English speaking Europeans to settle in colonial America. Between 1683 and 1776, roughly 120,000 German-speaking immigrants arrived in the colonies. Most came from the southwestern states of the Holy Roman Empire, particularly the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg on the middle and upper Rhine River.

The chief port of entry for German immigrants was Philadelphia, and from here they spread into the countryside in search of land. Many of the early arrivals settled in southeastern Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, but others pressed further west beyond the Susquehanna River and south into Maryland. Over time, German-speaking colonists found their way into the Great Valley of the Appalachians and, by the 1730s, across the Potomac River into the northern Valley of Virginia. In the decades that followed German settlers and their American-born descendents continued moving south and west, leaving a distinctive mark on American culture wherever they settled.

Contributions to American Culture

Germans carried their language and culture with them to the colonial American backcountry. In many places, including the Valley of Virginia, traditional German culture persisted through the mid-1800s before many of its traces faded. Pottery, painted furniture with lavish decoration, and the Pennsylvania, or “Kentucky,” Rifle were among the most dramatic German contributions. Germans also valued the freedom they found in America, though liberty was more personal than political for them, and they valued independence for their communities over public service.