Term Paper: German Ethnic Group Living in America

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German Ethnic Group Living in America

German Settlers

Immigration to America is nothing new. People from other countries have been immigrating to America for several hundred years. America then was considered a new country and held the promise of freedom and a better way of life. So, it is no surprise that people immigrated from all over the world to grab a piece of the promise. It is often said that America is a melting pot and this is true. It is made up of many different races and ethnicities. Some foreigners came here by choice and some were forced to live in America. However people got to this country, there are many generations that live on after the early immigrants and this is what America has become today. It is a nation where one race no longer dominates, but a country that strives to provide equal opportunities for all.

The early immigrants to America were mostly from European countries. America received an influx of Irish, German, Italian and other European immigrants. It seemed as though most of them settled in urban cities such as Chicago, New York City and Boston. This paper will focus on the German ethnic group and explore such issues as where and why did they settle in a particular area in America, what distinguishes them from other ethnic settlers, how well they have assimilated into America culture and how have they been accepted by other ethnic groups.

II. WHY DID GERMANS IMMIGRATE TO AMERICA?

Some of the early German immigrants migrated to Britain because their country was constantly invaded and they wanted to escape to a place they felt was safer. Violent wars broke out and there were also religious issues to contend with. Many Germans wanted to live in a country where they could be free to practice their chosen religion without fear of persecution. After a while, many Germans began to immigrate to the United States. Industrialization and modernization were the main reasons many Germans came to live in America. Much like other immigrants, Germans came here for the promise of a better life. Although the Industrial Revolution did not begin in America, the country did not have the political issues that many European countries had. This isn't to say that America was without fault because during the time that many Germans immigrated to this country, African-Americans were still in slavery. But, slavery did not affect many immigrants because if they were fortunate enough to eventually become prosperous, they too could own slaves if they settled in the south.

III. WHERE DID THEY SETTLE?

Many did not settle in the southern states because slavery was coming to an end and the south was going through the Reconstruction. Because it had lost the majority of its slaves due to the American Civil War, the economy in the south was in a shambles and most of the prosperity during this time came from the northern industrialized states. This is where most immigrants settled.

It is understandably assumed that many immigrants to America settled in New York City because many did. This is one of the reasons that the city of New York is so cosmopolitan today. However, many of the early Germans settled in Pennsylvania. William Penn acquired part of Pennsylvania in 1681. He used the king's land grant to establish a colony dedicated to religious tolerance. Thirteen families immigrated from of Quakers, Amish, and Mennonites emigrated from Germany and settled on the land. Throughout the years, more and more Germans migrated to this area in Pennsylvania and it was eventually named Germantown (Eller 18).

In the late 1600's and early 1700's when Germans began migrating to the United States, slavery was a flourishing business. Slavery was for the most part contained in the southern states, but German immigrants who lacked funds or security for the sea freight had to essentially sell themselves for payment. They were not slaves in the same sense that the Africans were. They were more or less indentured servants and served a period anywhere from three to six years in exchange for passage to America. At the end of the term, the servant might be given clothes, tools, a small sum of money, or even a piece of land ("History of German Immigrants").

Being an indentured servant meant that sometimes people received harsh treatment. This may be one of the reasons that Christopher Sower, an early Germantown settler emphatically spoke out against the enslavement of Africans and many of the residents held the same belief as he did. Because of his outspokenness to this heinous act that was prevalent in America at the time, he was accused of treason, imprisoned, abused and had all of his personal property and belongings taken away from him ("Christopher Sower").

IV. DISTINCTION BETWEEN GERMAN AND OTHER SETTLERS

German immigrants wanted to come to America because of what this country represented and they did. But, they held on to their culture and their religion. Three of the most recognized cultures that were brought to America by German Immigrants is the Mennonite, Amish and Quaker cultures. The Mennonites are similar to the Amish. They settled in Pennsylvania, but are now populous Ohio, Indiana, Kansas and in many other states. There is confusion as to whether the Mennonites and Amish are the same. The two groups share the same Christian beliefs, but they differ on how they view their relationship with the world. The Amish believe in separating themselves completely from the rest of the world while the Mennonites do not feel that this is necessary.

The Amish settled in Pennsylvania around the same time that the Mennonites did and many still speak a form the same language that they spoke when they first settled.

These religions still exist today and although they are not as large as Christianity or Islam, there are many Quakers, Amish and Mennonites that remain in the United States today. Many Germans were Catholics when they left their country and came to America and they held onto this religion. These immigrants were able to assimilate into the American culture much easier than the Amish, Quakers or Mennonites did. This is one of the reasons that Germantown grew so fast. All of the people belonging to one of these three religions had much in common so they tended to stick together and form their own communities.

V. GERMAN INTEGRATION

Germans have managed to assimilate and integrate very well throughout the years into American culture. They have made many significant contributions to this country and many of these contributions are very well-known. For instance, a German John Roebling designed the famous Brooklyn Bridge. His son, Washington Roebling helped to build the bridge. Roebling was born in Germany in 1806 and eventually settled in the United States in 1831. Bockrath states that the bridge is sometimes seen as a symbolic connection between labor and capital at the end of the 19th century as well as a bridge between poverty and progress (1).

Another major contribution from the Germans is the Conestoga wagon. These wagons were used for lengthy travels during the mid-1700's and were built by German Mennonites. These wagons weighed about a ton empty and could travel about twelve miles per day ("Pennsylvania's Conestoga Wagon"). This doesn't seem like much distance now, but in those days twelve miles was a decent distance to travel. This wagon made it possible to transport goods between the different states.

The Brooklyn Bridge and the Conestoga wagon are but a few contributions that Germans have made to America proving that they were able to integrate into American society quite well. Many immigrants who came to America sought to fit in and become part of the fabric of America. While the first generations spoke mainly in their native language and learned very little English (but enough to function in society), future generations spoke almost all English and very little of their previous ancestor's native language. This is true of most all immigrants and the Germans were not exception. However, as Langer points out, the German immigrants held on to their native language much longer than most other ethnic groups that immigrated to America. German-Americans, he says, wanted to retain their native language and as such their children were taught German and English in school. Other ethnicities would often send their children to these schools because it became a fact that children at these schools often had much better grades than other schools (505, 508).

VI. RELATIONSHIP WITH THE INDIGENOUS POPULATION

The Native Americans are considered the first settlers in this country. Therefore, they are considered the indigenous population. The Germans and Native Americans actually got along quite well. One would assume that the Germans treated that Native Americans much like others that came here. They did not treat them poorly, though. The Native Americans were considered indigenous and so too were the Germans when they first settled in the United States. The two groups probably had more in common… [END OF PREVIEW]

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