Historical Events Affecting the Germanna Immigrants

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Historical Events Affecting the GERMANNA Immigrants

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(Michael L. Oddinino began publishing some of his research on the Germanna Colonies Mailing List at Rootsweb on 19 September 2007.  I, as webmaster of this website, asked Michael if I could compile his work here on a page dedicated to the work.  He gave me permission and, thus, this web page.  Thank you Michael for the fine work.  This is invaluable historical background for our Germanna research. [GWD])


Historical Background of the German Immigration



Why Were the Germanna Immigrants Lutheran?

Understanding a little of the historical context of our ancestors can make genealogical work even more satisfying.  For example, the threads of history that are woven into the Germanna immigrants to Virginia story, actually begins with the Renaissance popes.

During the Renaissance, the papacy was attempting to strengthen its position as the international leader of the faith.  To gain support, the papacy cut deals with various monarchs of France, Spain, and England whereby those monarchs would support the papacy in Rome on spiritual matters in exchange for the monarchs’ ability to select archbishops, bishops, and other church officials in their respective countries.  Also, the funds derived from church properties in those countries would be shared with those monarchs.

No such deal was made with Germany, as there was no powerful central leader in Germany at that time.  Thus, Germany continued to have the church officials selected by the papacy, leading to German dissatisfaction over the number of foreigners in their country running the church, as well as the large flow of church funds out of Germany.  The popular sentiment against these foreigners and church policies provided a fertile ground for Martin Luther’s reformation ideas.

Lutheranism spread throughout Germany in the early 1500's.  When Charles V became the Holy Roman Emperor (essentially the ruler of Germany) he was already the King of Spain and had other holdings throughout Europe.  With Charles V’s attention primarily fastened on other countries, little was done to stop the spread of Lutheranism in Germany.  In 1526 Charles V needed help from the Lutheran Princes in Germany for his war in Italy against the French.  To obtain Lutheran support, Charles V conceded the legal right for Lutheranism to exist in Germany.

(Historical note: The Lutheran Princes weren't the only ones assisting Charles V's campaign in Italy.  Pope Clement VII, of the Medici family, maintained a virulent dislike of the Borgia family.  A prior Pope, Alexander VI, was the father of the famous Lucrezia Borgia.  Lucrezia was married to Alfonse d'Este of Ferrarra.  Clement VII took hostile actions against the rule of Alfonse primarily owing to the fact that Alfonse was married to a Borgia.  Subsequently, Alfonse joined with Charles V to help sack Rome and humiliate Clement VII.)

After a successful campaign in Italy, Charles V later attempted to reverse his previous concessions to the Lutherans.  The Lutheran delegates walked out in protest at a general assembly in Speyer, Germany, thus earning the name of Protestants.  The successful campaign of Charles V in Italy had other consequences which could hardly have been foreseen at the time.

In 1529, during the period that Charles V dominated in Italy, King Henry VIII of England sought from the Pope an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  Pope Clement VII, however, was a virtual prisoner of Charles V, a nephew of Catherine of Aragon.  Charles V refused to allow Pope Clement VII to grant Henry VIII the annulment.  Henry VIII's minister, Cardinal Wolsey, was helpless to secure the divorce from the Pope in such circumstances.  This led to Henry VIII's split with the Catholic Church and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.  The only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn was Elizabeth I, who became one of England's greatest monarchs and after whom the state of Virginia was named.

Not long after securing power in Italy, Charles V had other enemies to deal with in the form of the Ottoman Turks who were menacing the gates of Vienna.  In 1532, Charles V again granted Lutherans the legal rights they previously enjoyed and with the aid of Lutheran forces Charles V defeated the Ottoman Turks.

Religious conflict continued to plague Germany throughout the European religious wars down to the Thirty Years War which ended in 1648.  Germany was in tatters after all these wars and our German ancestors were still reeling from the wars’ economic effects when they finally looked to America as a place to begin anew.




The Thirty Years War:

In 1607 a handful of English settlers arrived in Virginia to begin the first permanent English settlement in the New World - Jamestown, Virginia.  Previous English explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh traveled to the New World and while they didn’t remain, they did confer the name of Virginia on this new territory, after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.  We’ve all heard the stories of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas, and the difficult early days of this first Virginia settlement.  And while Virginia was experiencing its difficult early days, Germany was still awash in religious turmoil.

In 1619, just twelve years after the establishment of Jamestown, Ferdinand II became the Holy Roman Emperor.  Remember, the name Holy Roman Empire was a title that bore little resemblance to reality, and in 1619 it consisted primarily of the German territories.  Voltaire’s description of the Holy Roman Empire as 'neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire' exposes the inaccurate label.  Also, after Charles V peeled off Spain and the Netherlands for his son Phillip II to rule, there was even less basis for the name.  The remaining German territories were ruled by Ferdinand II.  Thus, I refer to the area ruled by Ferdinand II as Germany, though not with the modern borders we know today, as it still gives a more accurate picture than the title it actually bore.

The uneasy religious peace in Germany was shattered in 1618 with the onset of the Thirty Years War.  Ferdinand II was another militant Catholic counter-reformation leader who revoked many of the concessions earlier granted to Protestants.  Ferdinand II sent envoys to the Bohemian capital of Prague to advise them of these new laws.  His ministers were not well-received to say the least.  They were summarily thrown out a fourth-story window to their death.  (The word defenestration finds its roots in this action).  The war was on.  The Protestants in Bohemia sought troops from other Protestant states, such as the Dutch and the English, but only received some monetary aid.  Frederick, the Elector of the Palatinate, was made the King of Bohemia, which proved to be such a short tenure as to earn him the title of the “Winter King”.

Ferdinand II crushed the Protestant forces in Bohemia and then flooded the territory with Catholic forces.  The Jesuits were brought in, as well as many armed troops.  Spanish Catholic troops took over the Palatinate.  Soon Catholic troops were moving into northern Germany to establish control there as well.  This then led the Danish to enter the fray, with no small amount of encouragement from England, the Netherlands, and France.  Why Catholic France?  The French maintained an historical animosity against the Hapsburgs and their political interests overrode their religious ones.

The Danish army was defeated, owing in large part to the brutal warfare waged by Albrecht von Wallenstein.  Though working for the Holy Roman Emperor, Wallenstein did not pay his soldiers, but allowed them to pillage and plunder their way through Germany.  This approach paid no heed to whether they were looting friend or foe.  Germany was being gouged by this war.  After the defeat of the Danish, more Catholic power was flexed, including the issuance of an order that all land the Protestants had taken from the Catholic Church would have to be returned.  This meant the virtual destruction of the Lutheran Princes if it were to be carried out.  Protestants determined to continue the fight.

The Swedish army was then enticed into the war, again by the English, Dutch, and French.  Sweden also coveted territorial gains on the Baltic coast, giving further impetus to their entry into the Thirty Years WarKing Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden proved to be a masterful military leader reversing many of the earlier Protestant losses.  In 1632, at the Battle of Lutzen, the Swedish army defeated von Wallenstein’s forces, but Gustavus Adolphus was killed in the battle, which essentially deflated the Swedes.  Wallenstein survived and was hungry for his own power and proved disloyal to Ferdinand II.  Wallenstein’s treachery ended when he was assassinated, stripping the Catholic forces of a dynamic general.

As the Swedish forces gradually withdrew, the French determined to enter the war directly.  French troops reinforced the Swedes and Ferdinand II responded by bringing in Spanish troops to assist him.  Battles raged throughout Germany, with neither side able to gain a dominant position.  Finally, the parties obtained peace via the 1648 Peace of Westphalia.  The Thirty Years War was over.  Protestants and Catholics now enjoyed equal rights in Germany.  The costs of the war were extravagant.  It is estimated that a third of the German population died in the war.  Germany was in tatters and would remain that way for some time.

The Germanna immigrants undoubtedly knew this history well and the opportunity to escape a still war-ravaged Germany must have made the perilous Atlantic crossing seem like a risk well worth taking.

John Blankenbaker adds the following to this discussion of the "Thirty Year's War:

William Penn started recruiting residents for Pennsylvania by a personal trip along the Rhine River about 1680.  He published a material for distribution among the Germans.  He hired agents to recruit Germans.  The first response was one ship load of Germans who founded Germantown just outside Philadelphia.

Meanwhile in Germany, conditions were not good.  The French armies came more than once and they were very destructive.  Yet, the emigration of Germans in any numbers did not start until 1709.  Why the thirty year delay?  People who have examined the emigration records of the German villages found that in this thirty years the Germans were emigrating.  Not to the west, which involved an ocean journey, but to the east, where they could go buy land.  After people, such as the Mennonite Hans Herr, came, they wrote home and told others that it could be done relatively safely.  Within a few years the flood gates opened and all religions responded.



After The Thirty Years War:

Just prior to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, Louis XIV became King of France at age 5.  His life would have an impact on the Germanna immigrants that came to Virginia in ways that we will discuss herein.  In his adulthood, Louis XIV skillfully accumulated almost unfettered power in France.  He benefitted from the prior actions of Cardinal Richelieu, the First Minister under Louis XIII, father of Louis XIV.  Richelieu stabilized the finances of the French throne through various measures, including effective tax collection.  Richelieu also took action against the French Huguenots, who were allowed to continue practicing their religion but were forced to give up their military weapons.

Louis XIV built on these foundations to develop a remarkably strong government.  He reorganized the French bureaucracy, seeing to it that more competent individuals were assigned to the three areas he deemed key:  the military, the law, and tax collection.  His minister of war, Marquis de Louvois, is generally recognized as the father of the modern military.  Under Louvois, the army first saw a hierarchy of ranks, which explains why even in the United States military we still employ French terms for ranks, e.g., Sergeant, Colonel, and Lieutenant.  The first use of military uniforms took place in the French army while Louis XIV reigned.

Versailles was built by Louis XIV to be a safe power base slightly away from what he considered to be the more dangerous Paris.  By inviting French nobles to stay at Versailles, Louis could keep watch over them with his multitude of spies and observers.  The visiting nobles were often compelled to throw lavish parties at their expense, resulting in the need to borrow funds from Louis.  Thus, Versailles became a great vehicle for Louis XIV to tighten his grip on French power.

Louis XIV wanted to be the dominant power in Europe, which meant that war was inevitable.  In war, Louis was not so successful.  After losing the War of Devolution (1667-1668 over Louis XIV’s disputed claim to the Spanish throne), and the Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678 unsuccessful French attempts to control the Netherlands), Louis started the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697) in an attempt to claim German territory along the Rhine.  It would be interesting to know if any research reflects whether any of the Germanna immigrants were veterans of this war with Louis XIV.

Before the War of the League of Augsburg, Germany (technically still the Holy Roman Empire) was ruled by over three hundred separate princes under the very diminished central power of the Holy Roman Emperor.  Two German states became dominant, Brandenburg-Prussia and AustriaFrederick I was granted the title of King of Prussia and advanced his military strength to a great degree while the Hapsburgs in Austria likewise grew in strength and conquered the Ottoman Turks in 1683 at The Battle of Vienna.  Leopold I not only defeated the Turks but he also captured much of Hungary from the Turks.

The Germanna immigrants were undoubtedly influenced by these historical events taking place in their country before they departed.  Economic factors that affected the Germans in Germany at that time were the population decreases caused by the Thirty Years War, famine, and other factors.  The local rulers enjoyed extensive powers, and German nobles, in an effort to keep people in their territories, began to exercise much stricter controls over the lives of the peasants.  This only further exacerbated the economic woes of the country

Thom Faircloth makes the following observations :

It is highly probable that Nicholas Yeager's brother Adam, who was a soldier in the Rhineland Pfalz, would have served defending the Palatinate (Pfalz) against Louis XIV.  We are searching for a connection between Adam the brother of Nicholas and Adam Yeager of Woodstock, who was the father of John Yeager of the Piney Woods.  This Adam migrated into the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania in the 1730s as part of Jost Hite's promotion of his grant in the Valley.

(Note from GWD, the webmaster of this website:  The area being discussed is "Rheinland-Pfalz" in German, and "Rhineland-Palatinate" in English.  So, if you see those two terms, or combinations thereof, seemingly used interchangeably, that is the reason.  By either name, they are one and the same.)

The claim that Louis XIV made to Rhineland Pfalz and the Saarland was this:  His brother was married to the Palatine Elector's daughter Elizabeth Charlotta.  She was known as Lisa Lotta and her vast correspondence from Paris and Versailles back to Heidelberg is amazing to read.  She sometimes wrote 12 letters a day.  She had nothing else to do because her husband was more interested in his boy friends than in getting her pregnant; however, in order to keep the brother from advancing a claim or hatching a plot to take the "Sun Throne", he used Lisa Lotta's claim to the Electorate, after her father's death, to stake his claim and start the Augsburg War.

Finally, at the end of these many wars, which began with the Thirty Years War, the population of the town of Ötisheim was 10 families.  Before the above cited wars it was 1,300 families.  In order to populate the land with new serfs, the Princes of the Pfalz, as well as Baden and Württemberg, invited foreign Protestants to come and farm the free lands.  Ötisheim is the German home of the Broyles family.  They were originally known as DeBreuhl and were probably Waldensians from Waldese (pronounced Valdese), France.  There is a Waldensian settlement one mile from the town hall of Ötisheim.  The area is also full of Huguenots, Mennonites, and Anabaptists, all of whom came from Catholic countries to take advantage of the vast farmlands available in Germany.

The economy of Germany would not recover for many, many years.  Even the isolated Germanna settlement in frontier Virginia must have been a welcome respite for those who carried the memories of a turbulent Germany with them to America.


The "general" area of the original Germanna immigrant community is now the home of the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, which continues to do great work in promoting research into the history of colonial Virginia and the immigrants that contributed to it.  Germanna Community College resides next to the Foundation's Visitors Center.

The Germanna Foundation's annual reunion continues to grow in popularity as the historical lectures and events always enrich those who attend.  The map below shows the location of the Foundation next to Germanna Community College on Route 3 between Culpeper and Fredericksburg, Virginia:


The Germanna community in Madison County, Virginia was primarily Lutheran.  The Hebron Lutheran Church was their primary place of worship.  Ironically, it was Joseph Oddenino who painted the interior of the Church in which many of the Germanna families worshipped.  Mary Elizabeth Delph then married Joseph's son Francis Lawrence Louis Oddenino who came to Virginia to be with his father.

The Germanna community enjoys a rich history and researcher par excellence, John Blankenbaker, shares his research on the German families' history both in the new world and the old world.

For more background on the origin of the Germanna immigrants, we are again indebted to our cousin, John Blankenbaker (the red highlights are my own to demonstrate an ancestor in our tree and I have added the links):

From John's Note Nr. 326:

On the 24th and the 25th of April, the Pennsylvania chapter of the Palatines to America held their spring conference with Dr. Alfred Hans Kuby as the featured speaker.  Dr. Kuby lives in Edenkoben, in the Palatinate.  He is known as a minister, historian, and genealogist.  In one talk, he gave glimpses of life in Edenkoben during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Around 1670, Edenkoben had 500 inhabitants.  As a result of the Thirty Years' War the population had been greatly reduced from earlier numbers and it was many decades before the population was rebuilt.  One way in which the population was rebuilt was by emigration from other Germanic regions [such as Austria and Switzerland].

Dr. Kuby documents that between 1653, shortly after the end of the war, and 1699, there was a total of 50 families who came from Switzerland to Edenkoben.  (One of these families has a Germanna name, Amberger, but I would not claim there was any relationship to the Germanna family.)

In 1715, three families came from French regions, one family came from Flemish regions, one from Italy, and one from another region in Germany.  There was therefore a wide diversity of people living in Edenkoben.

In the next year, the pattern was similar.  Perhaps there is a connection to the large number of people who emigrated from German regions in 1717, as these movements of people may have indicated very unsettled conditions.

The ruler of the Palatinate was Catholic and that was the favored religion.  If one wanted to hold a public office, one must be a Catholic; however, a majority of the people were German Reformed and a smaller number were Lutheran.  There were difficulties for the Protestants, but the climate was not oppressive.  The Protestants had to observe the Catholic holy days.  They could not do any work on these days, not even washing clothes at home.  If they were caught, they were fined, with the fine going to the Catholic Church.

We now know that many of our Germanna people have origins outside the region from whence they migrated to America.  For example, Christopher Zimmerman's ancestors came from the Canton of Bern in Switzerland.  As you climb the Willheit [Wilhite, Wilhoit, Willhite, Wilhoite, etc.] tree, you find Swiss origins for that family.  Many of the Germanna families had ancestors who had migrated into Germanic regions from other places.  The Blankenbakers, for example, started on a path that originated in Austria and stopped first in Bavaria before moving west, close to the Rhine River, on lands of the Bishops of Speyer (now Baden).  The Harnsbergers appear to have emigrated directly from Switzerland to Virginia but one cannot be sure that they did not do this is a two-stage move.  They may have moved to a "German" region but left almost immediately for the New World.

For more information on the areas of Germany from which our Germanna ancestors emigrated, go to John's Note Nr. 327, which continues the above discussion.

For the Index to all of John's "Germanna Notes" go here.


Here is a map of Germany showing its location in Europe and the state divisions wihin Germany.  Most of the Germanna immigrants came from the western and southwestern area of Germany often called the Palatinate:

When conducting genealogical research on Germann families, one often comes across the term "Palatinate" as an area in Germany.  Go to the next page to see definitions of what "Palatinate" means, where it is/was located, and other discussions of the area.


There is a Mailing List (also known as a Discussion List or Discussion Group), called GERMANNA_COLONIES, at RootsWeb.  This List is open to all subscribers for the broadcast of their messages.  We urge more of you to make it a research tool for answering your questions, or for summarizing your findings, on any subject concerning the Germanna Colonies of Virginia.  On this List, you may make inquiries of specific Germanna SURNAMES.  At present, there are about 1200 subscribers and there are bound to be users here who can help you.

If you are interested in subscribing to this List, click here.  You don't need to type anything, just click on "Send".  You will shortly receive a Welcome Message explaining the List.


(GERMANNA Historical Events, Copyright © 2008 Michael L. ODDEINO.)

(GERMANNA Historical Events Website, Copyright © 2008 George W. DURMAN.)

This material has been compiled and placed on this web site by George W. Durman, with the permission of Michael L. ODDENINO.  It is intended for personal use by genealogists and researchers, and is not to be disseminated further.


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