|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
Title page of Useful Travel for America, animmigrant guidebook by Hans Rau, (Ulm, Germany; 1870)
Germans in the late Nineteenth Century
In contrast, the city of Lawrence had a total population of 39,000 in 1880 of which about 1,100 were Germans. Why this difference? Around 1850 German weavers from Saxony, Silesia and Bavaria, having escaped an economic crisis in their homeland, found work in the textile mills of Lawrence. More Germans seemed to have been attracted to Lawrence where their culture flourished through such support networks as clubs, churches, and the German school. This was not the case in Lowell, where Germans were not connected to a single, large employer like the textile mills. Later, however, the Harvard Brewery would become the common denominator for a more cohesive group of German immigrants.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the number of German and other immigrants from Europe increased greatly. Steamships had replaced sailing ships and trans-Atlantic passage was reduced to 17 days or less. Special passenger ships were built, and the railroad speeded up land transportation.
The Harvard Brewing Company 1898-1956
During prohibition many of the German brewery workers were laid off, since the Harvard Brewing Company was only permitted to produce soft drinks and "near beer." When prohibition was repealed in 1933 and the company was permitted to produce beer again, some of the former workers returned. Others, however, had taken new jobs or had left Lowell. By then, the German clubs no longer existed but many of the former brewery workers still remained in contact with one another.
The Harvard Brewery prospered and was one of the major tax payers of the city of Lowell. It also paid its employees well and they in turn, were loyal to the company. Many first and second generation Germans worked there, as well as other immigrant groups. Harvard beer and ale were well known and valued throughout New England. During World War II one of the employees was accused of spying for the Germans, and since Germans were the major stock holders at that time, the government enforced the Alien Property Custodial Act and took over the brewery. In the mid-1950s the Harvard Brewery declined and in 1956, was sold to a New York concern. Today only two buildings of the former Harvard Brewing Company remain, the rest having fallen victim to fire and urban renewal.
Artistic rendering of the Harvard Brewing
Company (courtesy of Gerald H. Roth).
The German Cultural Club taking part in the Lowell Folk Festival, 1992. (Photo by Uve H.W. Lammers).
One of the most influential early members was the late Ruth Scoggins, who twice served as club president. She helped define the goals of this organization: to uphold and pass on the German cultural heritage, and to build bridges of friendship and understanding with our fellow Americans.
In 1990, Germany was reunited. The country's economic prospects are good again and the influx of German immigrants is small. Now, 32 years later, the club has fifteen members and is actively seeking newcomers. The German Cultural Club continues to be community oriented. The annual bakery booth at the Lowell Folk Festival raises proceeds for worthy causes. This year two members of the German Cultural Club researched and presented the exhibition Two Centuries of Germans in Lowell at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center, while other members contributed by hosting the exhibit opening.
Chelmsford Historical Society
Exhibit Director for German Glassblowers and
Photography and video by Uve H. W Lammers
Exhibit Director/ photographer for Harvard Brewing Company: Eva-Maria Chase
Special thanks to the Riverside Players: Bernice Chen,