The Memorial Foundation of the Germanna Colonies in Virginia, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization founded in 1956.
Its purpose is to preserve and make known the history of the Virginia Germanna Colonies, their operations under the patronage of Alexander Spotswood, his residence and activities at Germanna and in the surrounding area.
The name Germanna, selected by Governor Alexander Spotswood, reflected both the German immigrants who sailed across the Atlantic to Virginia and the British Queen, Anne, who was in power at the time of the first settlement at Germanna. Though she was to die only months after the Germans arrived, her name continues to be a part of the area.
The Germanna Colonies consisted primarily of the First Colony of 42 persons from the Siegerland area in Germany brought to Virginia to work for Spotswood in 1714, and the Second Colony of 20 families from the Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg area of Germany brought in 1717, but also include other German families who joined the first two colonies at later dates. At the time, the Germanna area was the westernmost outpost of colonial Virginia.
Although many Germanna families later migrated southward and westward from Piedmont Virginia, genealogical evidence shows that many of the families intermarried for generations, producing a rich genealogical heritage. See list of Germanna families
Historic Germanna owns about 170 acres of land on the original Germanna peninsula, on the south side of the Germanna Highway, State Route 3, (about 15 miles east of Culpeper and 20 miles west of Fredericksburg, Virginia) surrounding the 100-acre Locust Grove campus of the Germanna Community College, which Historic Germanna donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of founding the College. This property is Historic Germanna’s Siegen Forest, with several hiking trails and thousands of feet of frontage along the Rapidan River (also named after Queen Anne – the Rapid Anne). This property is also the site of the Foundation’s Brawdus Martin Visitor Center, which houses the Germanna Museum and the Evelyn C. Martin Genealogical Research Library.
Historic Germanna became the steward of a 62 acre archaeology site in 2014, having secured an easement for the perpetual preservation of the site.
“With each newly discovered feature and artifact, Historic Germanna’s archaeological efforts are uncovering the layers of overlapping lives that made the world we see around us today.”
1714 Fort Germanna
Located on the northern end of Virginia’s piedmont region, Germanna originated as a fort community located on a bluff overlooking the south branch of the Rappahannock River (what we call today the Rapidan River). Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood settled 42 men, women, and children (German-speaking immigrants from the area of current day Siegen, Germany) in a five-sided, palisaded fort he called Fort Germanna. Archaeologists from the University of Mary Washington (UMW) found remnants of what they believe to be the 1714 Fort walls while digging at the site in the early 1990s. Archaeologists today continue the search for more of the fort and artifacts associated with the lives of the German immigrants.
At the start of the 1720s, Spotswood began construction of a grand home at Germanna. Thanks to a visit from William Byrd II, it would come to be known as “the Enchanted Castle.” Archaeologists found the ruins of this significant brick and stone structure in the 1970s. UMW excavated the Enchanted Castle over a 10-year period. The current Germanna Archaeology program has pushed beyond the footprint of this substantial home, and have found that archaeology of Germanna was profoundly shaped by Spotswood’s occupation of the site.
Over recent years, Germanna Archaeology has reached further out into the community of Germanna. In the woods to the west of the Enchanted Castle, archaeologists are examining the remains of what is believed to be the first Spotsylvania County Courthouse. The “village” included a courthouse, a church, jail, stocks and pillory, as well as an ordinary to serve citizens on court days and travelers moving westward crossing the Rapidan via the natural ford or ferry.
Gordon Farm and Plantation
Current archaeology finds remains from the Gordon occupation of the site. The Gordon family operated a plantation and farm at Germanna from the 1790s until the 1880s. Agricultural use of the land is evident at the current sites. Remnants of structures can be found in the woods to the east of the Enchanted Castle’s ruins.
In documenting the wider landscape through archaeology, a “community” of Germanna becomes clearer. Germanna became a place inhabited by immigrant German speakers, of indentured servants and enslaved laborers. It is also a place long inhabited by Indigenous peoples long before the 1714 fort and continuing well after. Historic Germanna sites hold a myriad of stories of people who created and maintained this place over its long and significant history.
Germanna descendant and Foundation member John Blankenbaker provides a timeline snapshot of the Germans’ odyssey to America:
First Colony Timeline:
Late spring of 1713: the people left Nassau-Siegen, apparently not in a single group.
Summer of 1713: the people arrived in London.
January 1714: they left for Virginia on an unknown ship.
Late March 1714: Spotswood first learns from Col. Nathaniel Blakiston, the agent for Virginia in London, that Germans are coming.
April 1714: the Germans arrived in Virginia.
1716: they started mining operations at the silver mine.
1718, early in the year: they were instructed to search for iron.
During 1718: the search for iron continued and a statement in a courthouse says they worked until December of 1718 at mining and quarrying. Also during the year they made their commitment to buy land at “Germantown.” By December of 1718, Spotswood says he spent about 60 pounds on the endeavor so there was no iron furnace.
January 1719: they moved to Germantown. Pastor Haeger may not have moved at this time. By this time they had completed the four years of service they committed themselves to in London.
Someone else built the iron furnace after the Germans left.
Second Colony Timeline:
1717: Eighty-odd Germans from Wuerttemberg, Baden, and the Palatinate agree with Capt. Tarbett in London to take them to Pennsylvania in the ship Scott.
1717/1718: Capt. Tarbett hijacks the Germans to Virginia where they become indentured servants of Lt. Gov. Spotswood.
1719/1722: Some of the Germans who left in 1717 arrived in Virginia at a later time.
1723/25: Spotswood sues many of the Germans.
1725: Most of these Germans move to the Robinson River Valley.
1733: Johann Caspar Stoever becomes their (Lutheran) pastor.
1740: The German Lutheran Church (Hebron Lutheran Church today) is built with funds raised in Germany.