From the Orange County Review: Three centuries ago, 42 people—men, women and children from nine family units —left their homes in the Siegerland area of southern Germany in hopes of making a fresh start in the frontier wilds of what is now Orange County.
J. Marc Wheat, president of the Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, described the colony at a 300th anniversary jubilee event last week as “embryonic America.”
Their descendants and the descendants of a second group of colonists who came three years later, now number in the millions, spread throughout this continent and the world.
About 400 of them, including 35 present-day Germans, attended five days of events July 16-20 organized by the Germanna Foundation that included guided tours, presentations on history, genealogy, archaeology, barbecues and picnics, worship services at historic churches and a dinner and fund-raising auction.
As the name of each settler was read during a Roll Call of Honor Saturday at the Culpeper campus of Germanna Community College, groups of his or her descendants stood in respectful recognition: —Johann Juste Albrecht … Melchoir Brombach … Johannes Kemper … Johann Merton … Jost Cuntze …
To many of those attending, the names are as familiar as the names of their own children or grandchildren.
“I’m a direct descendant of Deiter Heite, who came over in 1774,” said J.B. Hitt II of Louisville, KY. “I’m tied into several of these Germanna families.”
Hitt has attended several of the annual reunions sponsored by the Germanna Foundation.
“It gets better every year and a lot of it has to do with the community and how they make us welcomed,” he said. “I’ve been treated well by everybody.”
“I just recently discovered … that I got my Hoffman name from one of these original settlers,” said Keith Hoffman of Arlington, a trustee and treasurer of the foundation. “The work of the foundation is about history and it’s about honoring the people who came before us, and giving them respect.”
“This is my ancestor,” said Carroll Strickland of Huntsville, AL, pointing to the name Melchoir Brumbach on her conference credentials. “He was one of the first group.
“My mother said when she was a little girl, people used to tease her about looking like a little German,” Strickland said. “It caught me by surprise, but she looked at me and said, ‘Well, I was a little German!’ “
Strickland travelled to Virginia with her grandson, 9-year-old George Jennings of Montgomery, AL.
What did George like best about the conference?
“The doughnuts,” the fourth-grader said without hesitation, then added: “I’ve learned a lot here, especially about archaeology and stuff like that. And I’m learning a lot about my ancestors. I didn’t know any of this stuff until I came here, so it has been pretty cool.”
Carl Hedges of Carthage, Texas, admitted, “I’m not a direct descendant, but I’m married to one.”
The Hedges went on one of the periodic tours to Germany sponsored by the Germanna Foundation in 2009. “That was a fantastic trip, and we’re having a fantastic time being here,” he said.
Betsy Anderson of Casanova, in Fauquier County, was on hand to welcome busloads of Germanna descendants to a reception at The Oaks, her mother’s home in Warrenton.
“It’s not every day that you run into 140 cousins,” quipped her first cousin, Robert Britton of San Francisco, CA “It was marvelous to see them all coming up to the house and greeting them, thinking, ‘Oh, we’re all related!’”
Patty Boykin of Atlanta, GA, a direct descendant of Virginia’s royal Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood, who financed the sea passage of the Germanna colonists, is looking forward to even greater things from the Germanna Foundation. She’d like to see the site of Fort Germanna and the Spotswood house built later on the site become a major tourist destination.
“(John D.) Rockefeller (Jr.) started with a mud road in Williamsburg,” she said. “If they restore that house and clear the woods looking down to the Rapidan, it’ll be just fantastic! I think it has great potential.”
After many years of negotiation with previous owners and the state, the Germanna Foundation was able to acquire the 179-acre site, located just north of Route 3 in Locust Grove last fall.
Ellis Hitt of Westerville, Ohio, a trustee of the foundation and chairman of its buildings and grounds, said there are elaborate plans to make the site more accessible to the public, but the project will take time.
“Next spring, we’re going to start looking for the fort — all the walls,” he said. “We think we know where one full wall and parts of two walls are, but the fort was much bigger than people think it was.
“We’ve got probably 1,000 years of history to dig through,” Hitt said. “It’ll take 40 or 50 years worth of work, but each year we’ll make a little progress.”
Wheat, the foundation’s president, has said the site, which includes the fort, the adjacent town, and the ford and ferry over the river, plus the Spotswood house and dependencies is the most important undeveloped archaeological site in the country.
“Jamestown, Williamsburg and Germanna are the three legs of the stool of the founding of America,” he said.
The Germanna Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization founded in 1956. Its purpose is to preserve and promote the history of the colony through land conservation, preservation of historic structures, education and international relations.