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Germans Predecessors of the Puritans

Long before the Puritans, glorified in our Colonial History, thought of emigrating to America, Germans had already landed in several parts of the New World.  At the very time when the British "Heroes of the Sea," the Hawkins, Drake, Cavendish, Morgan and others were engaged in abominable slave trade and in plundering the Spanish Colonies, numerous German mechanics, artisans, traders and miners busied themselves with all kinds of useful work.

As early as 1538, Johann Cromberger, a German, establislied a printing office in the City of Mexico, and issued numerous books, that bear the notice "Impressa en la gran ciudad de Mexico en casa de Juan Cromberger."

From the Colonial history of Venezuela we know, that the German explorers, who came to that country in 1528 to 1546, also brought a printing press with them.  Besides, they took with them fifty miners, to explore the mountains of Venezuela.

Among the first English settlers, who came with Captain John Smith to Jamestown, Virginia, were also a number of German craftsmen, who had been procured by the British Colonial Office, at Captain Smith's suggestion "to send to Germany and Poland for laborers."

German traders also appeared in different parts of North America.  Soon after Henry Hudson had discovered the noble river which now bears his name, a German, Hendrick Christiansen of Kleve, became the explorer of that stream.  Attracted by its beauty and grandeur, he undertook eleven expeditions to its shores.  He also built the first houses on Manhattan Island, 1613, and laid the foundations of the trading stations New Amsterdam and Fort Nassau, the present cities of New York and Albany.  In what light Christiansen was regarded by his contemporaries, may be learned from a passage in the "Historisch Verhael" of the Dutch chronicler Nicolas Jean de Wassenaer, who wrote: "New Netherland was first explored by the honorable Hendrick Christiansen of Kleve ... Hudson, the famous navigator, was also there."

A few years after this enterprising German had been killed by an Indian, another German, Peter Minnewit or Minuit, became Director-General of New Netherland, the colony established by the Dutch at the mouth of the Hudson River.  Minnewit was born in Wesel, a city on the lower Rhine.  Not much is known of his earlier life, but it is stated, that he was a Protestant and for some time held the position of deacon in the Reformed Church.

When, during the Thirty Years' War, the countries of the Lower Rhine and of Westfalia, Ditmarsen, Friesland and Holstein were being ravaged by Spanish soldiers, Minnewit, like many other Protestants fled to Holland, to escape certain death.  In Amsterdam Minnewit entered the service of a trading company, for which he made several trips to the East Indies and South America.  These voyages were so successful, that the leaders of the "Dutch West India Company" selected Minnewit as a director-general for her colony, New Netherland.  They entrusted him with almost absolute power.  Minnewit arrived in New Amsterdam on May 4, 1626.  To secure title for the colony, one of his first acts was the closing of a bargain with the Manhattan Indians, by which, in exchange for such trinkets as colored cloth, beads, kettles and small looking glasses to the value of 60 guilders, or $24, the whole of Manhattan Island, containing about 22,000 acres, became the property of the Dutch.

By dealing fairly with the Indians Minnewit won their good will.  From them New Netherland had nothing to fear.  But the colony had dangerous neighbors, the English in Massachusetts, who started a number of settlements there and who claimed the whole Atlantic coast as far south as the 40th degree.  To protect New Netherland against an attack by these steadily encroaching neighbors, Minnewit erected a fort at the south end of Manhattan Island.

Under the able management of this German, the trading station developed successfully.  While in 1624 the output in furs amounted to 25,000 guilders, the export increased within a few years to 130,000 guilders.

Minnewit remained at his post till 1631. Soon afterwards he became the founder and first director of New Sweden, a Swedish colony at the mouth of the Delaware River.  Unfortunately this energetic man lost his life in the West Indies during a hurricane.  He had set sail with two vessels to open up trade relations with these islands.

His successor in New Sweden was a German nobleman, Johann Printz von Buchau, a giant in body and energy.  During his regime, which lasted from 1643 to 1654, the colony New Sweden became very successful and thereby aroused the jealousy of the Dutch, who, while Buchau was on a trip to Europe, attacked the colony and annexed it to New Netherland.  In 1664 it fell a prey to the English together with all of New Netherland.  As is well known, the English now named the colony New York, in honor of the king's brother, the Duke of York.

When this event took place, the colony already had among her citizens numerous Germans, of whom several held responsible positions in the Dutch West Indian Trading Company.  There were also German physicians, lawyers and merchants.  One of the latter, Nicholaus de Meyer, a native of Hamburg, became in 1676 burgomaster of New York.

To the most prominent men of that period belonged also Augustin Herrman, a surveyor, who made the first reliable maps of the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.

The unknown interior of the latter colony was first explored by a young German scholar, Johann Lederer. who, born in Hamburg, came to Jamestown in 1668.  Here he made the acquaintance of Governor Berkeley of Virginia, who sent him to explore the mountains in the western part of the colony, in the hope of finding a passage to the Indian Ocean, which was believed to be just beyond the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.  During the years 1669 and 1670 Lederer made three expeditions to the west and southwest.  It seems that he traversed not only Virginia, but also a part of South Carolina.  But in spite of the most heroic efforts it was impossible for him to cross the many parallel ridges of the Appalachian Mountains.  When he had succeeded in scaling one, he saw from its summit in the distance other still higher ones.  To cross them was impossible because of insufficient outfit and provisions.

Lederer's itinerary, written in Latin, abounds in highly interesting descriptions of the country and the different Indian tribes he encountered.  These notes were translated by Governor Talbot of Maryland into English.  Printed in 1672 in London, they constitute one of the most valuable documents in the history of the exploration of our North American continent.

Source: Rudolf Cronau's German Achievements in Amerika

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