Friday, May 11, 2012

European Settlers Americanize

Thousands of Germans arrived in the New World, starting in 1683. Most of them started on the mid-Atlantic coast. They sought religious freedom, economic opportunity, and political participation. They brought with them the richness of their culture - everything from music to recipes. They took part in the shaping of the United States, contributing their expertise in various fields.

The Muhlenberg family is an example: born near Hanover, Henry (Heinrich) Muhlenberg arrived in America in 1742, having been requested by settlers in Pennsylvania to be their spiritual leader; they wanted a German-speaking Lutheran pastor. Henry's son, Peter, was a major general in Washington's army and commanded the first brigade at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781; he later was elected to both the House of Representative and the Senate, before President Thomas Jefferson appointed him to a job in the executive branch. Peter's brother, Frederick Muhlenberg, was a member of the Continental Congress before being elected to the House of Representatives, where he became Speaker of the House. Peter's other brother, Gotthilf Heinrich Muhlenberg, avoided politics, and instead studied botany, becoming one of America's first noted scientific authorities on the subject. All three Muhlenberg brothers, Peter, Frederick, and Gotthilf, were trained as clergymen and served as Lutheran pastors early in their careers. Their brother-in-law, married to their sister Maria, was Matthias Richards, who was likewise elected to the House of Representatives after serving as a major from 1777 until the war's end.

The next generation of the family continued the tradition of excellence. Peter's son, Franz (Francis) Muhlenberg was elected to the House of Representatives. Gotthilf's first son, Henry Augustus Philip Muhlenberg, was ambassador from the United States to the Austrian Empire, after having served in the House of Representatives; Gotthilf's second son, Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, avoided politics and was a professor at Pennsylvania College. John Andrew Shulze was the son of Eve, who was a sister to Maria, Peter, Frederick, and Gotthilf; he was elected governor of Pennsylvania.

The Muhlenberg family provided generation after generation of scientists, military officers, and political leaders for the United States. They are merely one example of the many German families who settled here and worked for the common good. Historian Thomas Sowell writes:

With the passage of time, most German settlers spread out geographically, learned to speak English, and both absorbed and contributed to American culture. Philadelphia scrapple, German chocolate cake, cole slaw, and sauerkraut were among their many contributions to American cooking. German farming settlements spread north and south through the great fertile valleys of the Appalachian mountain range. By the late eighteenth century, there was an almost unbroken chain of German settlements stretching from the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York down through western New Jersey, central Pennsylvania, western Maryland, on down through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, through the Piedmont region of the Carolinas, and into Savannah, Georgia. Names scattered through this region still reflect those early German settlements. Upstate New York has communities with such names as Palatine Bridge, Germantown, New Hamburg, and Rhinebeck, as well as a region of the Mohawk Valley known as German Flats. New Jersey has its German Valley area and Pennsylvania its Heidelberg, Germantown, Muhlenberg Park, and King of Prussia. Maryland has its Frederick and cities named for early German settlers, Hagerstown and Creagerstown. The name of the German province of Mecklenburg was repeated in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and the village of New Mecklenburg in Virginia. Not all the communities established by Germans had German names. Harper's Ferry in Virginia, Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, and Hope Settlement and Ebenezer in Georgia were among many German communities with non-German names.

The names of both places and people tell the story of families, stretching back to 1683, but stretching forward to today and tomorrow - these same families are still serving as leaders and scientists.