(Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, July 20, 2014) Three hundred years after the Germanna colonists arrived in Virginia, their descendents gathered Sunday to worship at the church the early settlers attended after expanding westward.
The gathering took place at Little Fork Episcopal Church, the Rixeyville-area sanctuary with the brick exterior, blue box pews and thick white-washed walls that remain nearly unchanged from the day it opened in 1776.
The primarily Lutheran colonists had limited options when it came to finding a place to worship.
On the colony’s 300th anniversary, their descendants hailing from all over the world, now representing various denominations, visited at the same church and heard a relatively unchanged message from Little Fork’s priest Brad Jackson.
Jackson’s sermon focused on people coming together and nurturing each other even if they are different.
The 57th annual reunion and conference kicked off this week with a special celebration marking its 300th anniversary of when the German colonists first settled in America.
The Germanna colony was a German settlement in present-day Culpeper and Spotsylvania counties that settled in two waves: first in 1714 and then in 1717. Virginia lieutenant governor at the time, Alexander Spotswood, encouraged the immigration by advertising in Germany for miners to move to Virginia and establish a mining industry in the colony.
Marc Wheat, Germanna Foundation president, said the anniversary was made more special by the arrival of a German delegation to celebrate the colony, including Volkmar Klein, the German parliament member who represents Siegerland.
He likened the 300th “jubilee” to biblical beliefs calling people back to their ancestral land.
“These descendants get to walk on the land of where their ancestors became Americans,” he said. “This is a wonderful and meaningful place for people and we are grateful to have this and thankful for being in Virginia for 300 years.”
For descendants, the foundation publishes histories and genealogical books, a newsletter, offers educational programs at the annual reunion, and offers group travel to Germany geared to the origin of the Germanna families.
Sunday was the culmination of the reunion, which included receptions, banquets, a genealogical conference, the Little Fork service and a picnic.
John Ragosta, a visiting professor of early American history at Oberlin College who has been a member of the parish for years, said the church’s history is intertwined with the westward expansion of the colonists.
Many of them stuck around the region, he said, based on the surnames found throughout history there.
“Walking in, if the Germanna folks from the 18th century looked around it would be very similar to what they saw then,” he said.
Bernd Julius was one of a delegation of about 35 from Germany who visited for the anniversary.
Even though he is Lutheran and used to a shorter church service than the Episcopalian weekly worship, he appreciated the ability to see where the colonists settled.
Julius is from Siegen, one of the cities in Germany where the colonists hailed from. He and others in Siegen have their own Germanna association that keeps genealogical records of the colonists and their descendants dating from the late 1700s.
“The anniversary was very special,” he said. “I was impressed.”
Bill and Helen Burch traveled to the area from Durham, N.C. Helen’s family, the Holsclaws, are Germanna colonist descendents.
This was the second time they had come to a reunion in Culpeper.
“It’s very touching to me to know we can come and do what they did,” she said.
Bill Burch said anyone with German ancestry in the area should look into a possible Germanna connection and attend the reunion.
“We’ve done a lot of research and reading,” he said. “But we learned a lot about the history of the colony here.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976