Explanations and Sample Contracts for German-Speaking Emigrants Wishing to Purchase Land in America

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Explanations and Sample Contracts for German-Speaking Emigrants Wishing to Purchase Land in America


By: Anonymous

Date: 1804

Source: © Bettmann/Corbis.

About the Photographer: Photograph residing in the Bettmann Archives of Corbis Corporation, an image group headquartered in Seattle, with a worldwide archive of over seventy million images.


The extraordinary increase in immigration to the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century was one of the wonders of the age. The huge scale of the movement and its seeming inexhaustibility captured the public imagination on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In these years, the overwhelming majority of immigrants to the United States came from northern and western Europe. After Great Britain, Germany provided the most newcomers with Switzerland also sending large numbers of German-speakers to the New World.

The first wave of German immigrants had arrived in the eighteenth century. From the start, many Americans were prejudiced against these newcomers. The Germans were regarded as especially resistant to assimilation, mostly because they maintained separate communities with a visibly different culture. Settling in the Pennsylvania German region, these immigrants were densely concentrated in a way that reinforced the influence of conservative German churches and the German language.

By 1800, the rise of a commercial agricultural economy weakened German insularity and forced them to begin assimilating. German-Americans increasingly were coming into contact with neighboring English and Scots-Irish settlements. The diminishing use of the German language in favor of English is one clear sign of the acculturation process set off by the need to do business with outsiders. Most of the German-language newspapers in the United States shut down their presses by 1815. At the same time, the German churches gradually stopped holding services in German. By 1820, the majority of German-Americans were second or third generation and had assimilated into American society.



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After a brief lull, German immigrants again began pouring into the United States beginning in the 1820s. This mass exodus from the Old World would continue until World War I halted most civilian transport ships. The new immigrants spread into the major cities of the Northeast and then across the plains of the Midwest. German institutions of all sorts grew dramatically. The great array of German organizations that flourished encouraged a misconception that the immigrants were forming structures to avoid assimilating into American culture.

The issue of assimilation has been frequently raised in the history of Germans in America. While eighteenth century Anglo-Americans complained about the refusal of Germans to blend into broader American society, nineteenth century native-born Americans took action to combat the perceived effects of such resistance to American social and political values. Nativists organized the Know Nothings in the 1850s as part of an anti-immigrant wave that swept through the United States in the decade prior to the Civil War. In response, Germans huddled within the fortresses of their churches, clubs, mutual aid societies, and rural communities. This German resistance to acculturation and involvement in the larger society persisted until World War I when anti-German sentiments left much of German-America in ruins.



Gordon, Milton M. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

Kazal, Russell M. Becoming Old Stock: The Paradox of German-American Identity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Trommler, Frank, and Joseph McVeigh, editors. America and the Germans: An Assessment of a Three-Hundred Year History. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.