Having in recent generations suffered from the Thirty-Years’ War (ca. A.D. 1610–1660) and the economic downturn engendered, seven villages (e.g., Müsen, Trupbach and Oberschelden) in western Germany acted upon their desire for new life in a new land, America, where they both would live out their faith in peace from those who opposed such liberty of religious practice and would freely pursue enterprising economic prosperity. The occasion to fulfill their dreams arose as a result of acting Governor Spotswood’s desire to establish the mining industry in his Virginia Colony. Nassau-Siegen in Westphalia was a province known for iron-working and the region to which came an agent recruiting miners to develop the silver ores in Virginia and later also found the iron industry. (This area of Germany was where our 8th-century Saxon grandfather, Widukind, led raging pagan resistance from his wooden-palisaded hill-fort against the Christian empire of grandfather Charlemagne until he eventually came to see the truth of Christ and became an ardent convert hated today by neopagan Odinists as a traitor.)
Trusting firmly in Jehovah, the God of their fathers, perhaps 40+ German emigrants boldly ventured forth in the summer of 1713. Our family boasts five grandparents among these hardy few pilgrims: Philipp and Elisabeth (Heimbach) Fischbach with their young daughter Maria Elisabeth, and two single men, Johannes Spielmann (who later married Mary Elizabeth Fishback) and Johann Jost Merten. (See the individuals marked in yellow atop the “Germanna A.D. 1714 Pioneer Pedigree” chart.)
Link to the full high resolution image.
Arriving in the Virginia Colony in April A.D. 1714, 33 immigrants founded in Essex County the western-most point of English civilizations along the Atlantic seaboard (being the first settlers in what became Orange County in A. D. 1733). They named the settlement “Germanna” in honour of their culture of origin, enduring harsh, pioneer living conditions expanding into the wilderness. Fort Germanna was constructed as the first “Pentagon” in Virginia long before our current national military headquarters. This was a wooden palisade atop a hill (similar to the early mediaeval Saxon hill-fort such as used by Widukind).
At the center of their fort stood the heart, both spiritual and physical, of their community, the combination church and blockhouse. These Germanna pioneers were the first (or perhaps second) non-Anglican body to be granted a degree of religious toleration in varying from the established state religion and thus have a role in development of what became our American concepts of religious liberty as championed by later Christian citizens of Orange County like Rev. Elijah Craig (my 4th great-granduncle) and his influence on James Madison, father of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, esp. the First Amendment. Within this very first organized congregation of the German Reformed Church anywhere in America, they gathered to access the source of their spiritual power in Christ. In addition, the strong construction and loopholes for shooting provided a place of safety from physical danger. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing” (fellow Saxon Martin Luther). These rugged soldiers of Christ were classed as “Rangers” by official decree and given two cannons by the government in order to facilitate their use of Fort Germanna to protect the Virginia colony to the east from depredation by ruthless Indian savages.
In ca. A.D. 1719, the Fishbacks, Spilmans and Martins moved with others from Germanna to found the new settlement of German Town (or Germantown), where, 36 years later on land that had belonged to both Martins and Fishbacks, was born John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, principle founder of the U.S. system of Constitutional law, including the doctrine of judicial review.