Hello friends and welcome back to our virtual tour of Frontier Culture Museum! one of my most favorite places in the area.
We are doing a switcheroo this week — instead of visiting the English Farm as promised, we will be taking a tour of the German Farm.
In the past year, the English Farm has gone through some major renovations so my photos are, unfortunately, no longer current. No worries though. I have scheduled a trip to revisit the museum and take new pics so make sure to subscribe to stay up to date with the rest of the posts (I post weekly on Sundays at 9:00 am EST).
The Frontier Culture Museum is a living history museum dedicated to the life on the Frontier in the American Colonies. Its first settlers, their historic, social and cultural importance are highlighted through real-life replicas of 1600s, 1700s and 1800s households and farms. The museum is located in Staunton, Virginia, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and it is a delight to visit any time of the year (it is open 365 days/year) and welcome to all (except your pets due to the many number of animals living on its premises).
If you are new, check my first post in the series here to get all the details about the museum: what to know, how to find it, hours of operation and the first virtual tour of one of their farms: The West African Farm.
* the German, Irish and US/Virginia flags that greet the visitors at the museum’s entrance.
1700s German Farm
Germans were among the first to make their home in The New World. Between 1600s and 1800s, hundreds of thousands of Germans emigrated to the American Colonies. In just over 100 years, approximately 120.000 of them would dock in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, their main entry port. Many will settle in the area, whilst others would spread out to Virginia and Maryland, or keep moving south and west.
*a glimpse of the German farm, specific for 1700s.
Most of them came from the southwestern states of the Holy Roman Empire (at the time), particularly the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg areas, now found in Germany.
*map of the area where most of the German speaking population came from between 1600s and 1800s.
So many came and in such a short period of time that the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania (a British Colony at the time) was alarmed at the prospect of being overrun by the German speaking population and worried that very soon, German would replace the English language in the colony. To read more about how they dealt with the newly arrived immigrants (who did not speak any English!) go here.
Nowadays, the US Census Bureau estimates that there are approximately 45 million German-Americans living in US that have a full or partial German ancestry. That makes it about 15% of the total current US population.
Surprising to me was to find out that they represent the largest self-reported ancestry group in the States! larger than the Irish, African, English, Italian-Americans or even the Mexican one.
*staff person dressed in 17th Century attire.
Many of them came (as many other would over the years) to carve a new path in their pursuit of religious freedom. And what better place to do it than in “The New World”. They also fled the deprivation and waste that The Thirsty Years’ War left in its wake.
Mennonites, Baptists, Schwenkfelders, Moravians, Amish, or Waldensians, most German immigrants belonged to the main Lutheran and Reformed churches and they brought with them diverse and contrasting religious views.
Other worthy contributions would be their rigorous work ethic, intensive farming techniques, German dishes that are now staples in the American cuisine and a dedicated love for beer that culminates in the yearly celebration of Oktoberfest (which is also celebrated at the Museum).
Others came for greater economic opportunities. They arrived as redemptioners/indentured servants. To put it very simply, they had to have previously agreed to work in America for four to seven years in exchange for free passage across the Atlantic.
And work they did.
*the inside structure of the German farm and how it was built.
Basketry, fine handmade pottery and lavishly decorated painted furniture where skills that they brought with them and expanded upon in their new homeland. It helped them purchase vast lands, establish, solidify and expand their communities.
They were also the ones to bring over the tradition of the Christmas Tree (in 1821) and founded large breweries.
See down below some examples of period relevant tools/artifacts:
* a beautifully decorated chest.
*hand carved wooden clogs.
The German settlers ended up yielding a physical and cultural path in the midst of America, a true “German belt” that stretches from Pennsylvania to the Oregon Coast. They established the first kindergartens (which is a German word per se and literally means “the children’s garden”) and introduced what would later become all-American staple foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers.
What we see below is a root vegetable soup. By simply changing the vegetables and herbs with what they had on hand, it became a versatile and nourishing dish to be enjoyed all throughout the year. Sauerbraten (a sweet and sour pot roast), bratwurst (sausage) and sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) even retained their original German names in conversations in the English speaking world.
*meat and vegetables soups and stews were staples of the German cuisine.
*a look inside the kitchen pantry. Notice the hand made pottery which we previously mentioned.
The first wave of German immigrants purchased about 43,000 acres of land and founded Germantown, six miles north of Philadelphia. As the settlement prospered, many more Germans followed and soon their population swelled to dominate south central Pennsylvania. In fact, it is reported that up to 1 million Germans emigrated to the US by 1850’s!
By 1890, an estimated 2.8 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States. A majority of them were located in the “German triangle,” whose three points were Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. Their cultural influence was so pervasive that many schools around the area introduced German in schools as a primary or second language and up until the 20th Century, German was the second language most spoken in US.
One notable immigrant was John Jacob Astor (1763-1848) who left his village in Germany and arrived in the United States in 1784 with, reportedly, only $25 worth of money and seven flutes. He started a profitable fur trade and then invested heavily and successfully in real estate, making him the richest man in the country at his death, worth an estimated $20 million.
When I read about his life story, I couldn’t help thinking that he is truly a classic example of the American Dream — through hard work, perspicacity and determination, one can better their life in an unprecedented way and perhaps, impossible to achieve anywhere else, enjoying freedom of speech and religion, while acquiring riches beyond any wild imaginings.
It was THIS dream and this possibility that drove so many others to the Colonies/USA. And it still does, although I sense that nowadays, this dream has changed its shape, form or even its possibility drastically due to the current political and social climate of the US.
Another notable contribution: the Mennonite settlers from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania were the ones to design and build the Conestoga wagon, a specific heavy covered wagon that was used extensively in the 18th and 19th Centuries for migration southward through the Great Appalachian Valley along the Great Wagon Road. That is how many German settlers established themselves in Virginia.
As to not be confused with the wagons used in the westward expansion of the United States in which, for the most part, ordinary farm wagons fitted with canvas covers were used (also known as “prairies schooners“). A true Conestoga wagon would have been too heavy to be successfully used on the midwest prairies.
The one below it is NOT the Conestoga Wagon but, I was fortunate enough to see it for myself a couple of years ago during one my visits to Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. And if you are curious, you can see how it was put together in this short video.
*a regular wagon used by German settlers for their day-to-day chores and local transportation.
*specific time period wooden shutters.
For about the first 200 years after migrating, the German settlers mostly kept to themselves, marrying within their communities, speaking solely German and working hard to expand their communities. They only became politically involved in the affairs of the New World in the 18th Century. For a more detailed chronology of the settlers, read this.
They contributed heavily to the cultural patrimony of the United States of America, shaping its daily life to the core and quite frankly, I am surprised and saddened that there isn’t a more publicly visible representation of the German Americans and their heritage in our media. Some really interesting articles about this topic and the reasons for being so here, here and here.
*I think this is my favorite photo taken at the German farm :)
This post is by no means exhaustive but I hope it provided you with a glimpse into the life of the German settlers that came so courageously to the New World. After doing the research and reading about it, my impression is that these first settlers were hardy, industrious folks that were able to cultivate, above all else, a unique sense of independence, not easily afforded to them back home in Europe.
I thoroughly enjoyed researching for this post and I hope you’ve found something interesting in it. The resources used are interspersed throughout the post if you would like to read more about the topic and I highly encourage you to do so.
Did you find something surprising about the German-Americans in this post?
Are you of German descent perhaps? I am curious to read your thoughts, especially about the invisibility of this population’s descendants in the current US media and culture.
I hope to see you next week for our next installment. Fingers crossed for a clear, sunny day, perfect for photo taking so that we can finally visit the English Farm.
Lots of love,
*all photos taken by me with my Canon PowerShot SX60 HS in September 2016