Johannes Fleischer, of Breslau, Silesia, arrived at Jamestown, Va., April 20, 1608 — the first German to set foot in the town English settlers had established the previous year. A new Web site called German Originality <www.germanoriginality.com> celebrates the 400th anniversary of his arrival and the heritage of the roughly 8 million German immigrants who followed.
After Fleischer’s grueling six-month journey, during which his ship had been presumed lost, the doctor and botanist planned to catalog New World flora. But he died that summer, when many colonists suffered from malnutrition and dysentery.
October brought the Mary and Margaret with five German glassmakers and three carpenters. The first wave of German immigrants, though, didn’t occur until 75 years later, in 1683. Francis Daniel Pastorius organized a group mostly of Quakers and Mennonites seeking religious freedom. Their settlement northwest of Philadelphia became known as Germantown.
According to the 2000 US census, more Americans claim German heritage than any other — about 42 million people, on 15 percent of the population. Their history is detailed in “Germans in America,” a four-part series that aired in March on a South Carolina PBS station. Watch for reruns locally or buy the DVD by calling (800) 553-7752.