Skilled German Craftsmen
The first Germans arrived in Jamestowne in 1608 aboard the vessel Mary and Margaret under the command of Captain Christopher Newport, who had served as captain of the historically successful voyage to Jamestowne the previous year.
The Germans — about five glassmakers and three house builders — were recruited to work by the Virginia Company of London and encouraged to establish residency in the New World.
By 1620, German sawmill wrights arrived and moved farther inland along the James River. Needing swift-moving waters to power the wheels of the sawmills, they tried occupying lands controlled by the Native Americans. They also tried recruiting additional workers to build the sawmills. But within seven months, all but one German died, either from starvation or disease. The lone German survivor sailed back to Europe.
Regions and Years of Settlement
Virginia's Germanna Settlements
The first Germans to actually settle in Virginia came in 1714 and were miners from the northwestern Siegen region of Germany. About 42 of them settled in present-day Orange County in Central Virginia and excavated the iron ore found in the Rappahannock River basin.
They were followed by 100 Germans from the northern Baden-Württemberg region in 1717 who were sold as indentured servants to Governor Alexander Spottswood in Spotsylvania County in Northern Virginia.
A third and smaller group of Germans came in 1721 and settled at the Little Fork in Culpeper County in Northern Virginia. Many of them were relatives of the German emigrants of 1714. By 1727, the Germanna settement had nearly reached as far west as the Blue Ridge Mountains!
Learn more about German settlers at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
the Great Wagon Road
Between the years of 1683 and 1775, the second generation of German emigrants — numbering about 100,000 — came down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania.
They were fleeing war, ruinous taxes and religious persecution in Germany and first sailed to Philadelphia, where religious freedom was welcome. Along each side of the Great Wagon Road, people farmsteaded. Good land had already become occupied, so the Germans kept traveling southwestward to Virginia and the Carolinas.
Shenandoah Valley Settlers
Many Germans settled in Rockingham and Shenandoah counties in the northern Shenandoah Valley around the 1740s. A German mill was built as far south in Fincastle, Botetourt County. The influence of these German settlers can be still be seen in the region's architecture — log cabins and two-story barns built into hillsides called bank barns.
By 1790, about 28 percent of the white population were Germans living between Strasburg in Shenandoah County and Harrisonburg in Rockingham County. One of their leaders, Jost Hite, had been granted 100,000 acres that he resold in family farms of 100-500 acres.
See a German farmstead at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton. The German farm originally stood in the small farming village of Hördt located in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Germans in the Blue Ridge Highlands
Germans also settled in the Blue Ridge Highlands around Franklin County in the late 1700s. Visit the Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum in Ferrum. See a Virginia-German farmstead, and learn some of the old German traditions and regional folklore.
Other German Sites & Events
Blue Ridge Highlands
Wytheville - Visit the Wohlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre in Wytheville with its Matterhorn Lounge, a full-service restaurant specializing in German favorites, and its Edelweiss Gift Shop. In the spring and summer, enjoy the Bier Garten with live entertainment every weekend.
Blackstone - See a fully restored Revolutionary War era tavern — Schwartz Tavern, which means "black" in German, and it became known as "Black's." Another tavern in Blackstone was operated by a man named White. The crossrods stops for stagecoaches was named "Black's and White's" after the two rival tavernkeepers!
Madison - The Hebron Lutheran Church was built by German settlers in 1740 and is the oldest Lutheran Church in countinuous use in the United States.
Lovettsville - Learn about the German settlement at the Lovettsville Historical Society Museum, and research your family's roots through various genealogical records.
Waterford - Loudoun Valley Vineyards features a glass-walled tasting room and wraparound decks overlooking the vineyards. Taste wines made with German grapes, and enjoy special events, such as Oktoberfest.
Middletown -Belle Grove Plantation presents its annual Of Ale and History: Beer Tasting Festival every May, featuring 60+ beers to taste.
Last Updated: 1/21/2020