The Importance of the Germans at Jamestown
by Gary C. Grassl, President The German Heritage Society of Greater Washington, D.C.
When we commemorate the first
Germans at Jamestown, we must not exaggerate the importance of these few men to the physical survival of the first permanent English Colony. Their assigned task of producing glass as a profitable product proved
impractical; nevertheless, they produced the first "industrial" commodity in English America. The remains of their furnaces constitute the oldest existing structure in English America, the only one harking
back to the earliest years of Jamestown. The house builders were placed in an untenable position by captain Smith when he sent them to the Indians: There they had to serve with unswerving loyalty two implacable
enemies--Powhatan and Smith--an impossible task. Nevertheless, they contributed to the construction of Jamestown. The sawmill wrights made every effort to build mills, so important to the economy of the new Colony, but,
like the majority of the early settlers, they succumbed to the diseases of the new land before they could complete their task. The mineral specialists leave behind an intriguing mystery. We learn no more about them than
what is in the letter from the Colony's secretary. The story of the first Germans at Jamestown is the same as that of the first English: Initial failures that laid the groundwork for eventual success. The Germans at
Jamestown probably all died without descendants (except the young man who returned and who may have left German descendants of a Jamestown settler).
The importance of the Germans at Jamestown is that they
were among the first settlers of Virginia and English America, that they were valued for their skills, and although small in number, they were representative of the millions more to come. When we remember the first
Germans at Jamestown, we can say with pride that Germans took part in the settlement that may be called with more justification than any other the place where the American nation had its beginning. They were thus
present at the creation of this nation.