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Germans and the New World
German immigration to North America marked its 300th year in 1983, although Germans played a role in American history from the "discovery" of the New World.  In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller christened this continent America, in the mistaken belief that it had been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci.  German settlers helped found Jamestown, Virginia in 1601.  Peter Minuit, from Wesel, Germany, purchased Manhattan Island from the Algonquin Indians on behalf of the Dutch West India Company in 1626, and later became the first governor of New Amsterdam.  The first all German settlement was Germantown, today a section of Philadelphia.  It was founded by thirteen Mennonite families who arrived from Krefeld, Germany on October 6,1683 in search of religious freedom.

     Many prominent names come from the ranks of German immigrants.  Baron von Steuben, born in Magdeburg in 1703, and originally a Prussian officer, served as Major General during the War of Independence and trained George Washington's troops.  He also devised a plan for a military academy that led to the founding of West Point in 1802.  Carl Schurz, born in Librar, near Cologne in 1829, supported the Union cause in the Civil War.  He was a student when he joined the German revolutionary movement of 1848.  The uprising was unsuccessful and Schurz, compelled by dreams of democracy, emigrated to America.  He later became Ambassador to Spain and ended his career as U. S. Secretary of the Interior.  The Brooklyn Bridge was built by Johann Augustus Roebling who was born in Muehlhausen, Thuringia, in 1806.  The great majority of German immigrants however, came from the lower and middle classes.  In general, they represented farmers, merchants and artisans who were seeking to escape an overpopulated and overregulated Europe and came to America for religious, political and economic reasons.

Crossing the Atlantic
The indentured system offered free passage to America in exchange for several years of labor.  Persons signed a contract of indenture that obligated them to three to six years of service.  Immigrants were also required to pay for relatives who died during the passage, if death occurred during the second half of the voyage.  Many did not survive the trip.  People were crowded under primitive conditions between decks on cargo ships and had to provide their own food and medical care on a voyage that could take up to one hundred days.  In spite of the difficult journey and restrictions on emigration imposed by the German authorities, the stream of immigrants continued in hopes for a better life for themselves and their children.

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