In 1983, the Max Kade Institute was founded on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the first German settlement in America. Now 325 years ago, thirteen Mennonite families from Krefeld had settled a few miles north of the newly founded town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their settlement was soon to be known as “Germantown.” While those Krefeld immigrants were the first German-speakers to successfully establish themselves for generations in America, they were not the first Germans to arrive on the continent. In fact, Germans were among the earliest European arrivals in Jamestown, Virginia. In October 1608, 12 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of five unnamed German glassmakers, three carpenters called Adam, Franz and Samuel and a Swiss-German mineral expert, one William Volday (or Wilhelm Waldi), arrived in Jamestown on the English ship “Mary and Margaret.” In 1620 a group of four saw mill wrights from Hamburg as well as two German miners recruited by the Virginia Company of London followed.
The German craftsmen were to help accomplish the Virginia Company’s mission of manufacturing tradable goods in the new world, and establish a livable space that could accommodate England’s overpopulation. However, like most of the earliest English Jamestown settlers the German colonists perished before they could accomplish their goal or leave any significant personal mark on America. Today only archeological finds give evidence to those early attempts at manufacturing. The remnants of a “glasshouse” with three ovens made of river boulders cemented together with clay was excavated in 1948. It is believed to be the earliest European manufacturing site on American soil. There is a record of “a trial of glass” being brought back to England in December 1608, but the glass trade imagined by the Virginia Company never took off. Today the remnants of the “glasshouse,” the worksite of the first German-Americans, can be visited in Historic Jamestown: http://www.nps.gov/jame/planyourvisit/glasshouse.htm