German influence in the Shenandoah Valley… even into the Civil War

Posted on September 23, 2012 by


I posed a question yesterday

But, how far back, before the 1850s, is it necessary to take such a study?

Of course, I meant, specifically… how the varying sentiments during the Civil War era South came to be… and how they might be traceable  to earlier points in time.

Again, as one who concentrates heavily on the Shenandoah Valley, I look to the cultural differences that existed in the same area… which had existed for many, many years leading up to the 1850s. In thinking about this, I also pose another question…

Was there any carry-over of the pre-colonial mindset of the German-Swiss, even as far removed as the Civil War era?

I have a theory, but it’s one that I’m still testing.

One of the most simple features that suggest that there might be influence is the fact that there were still people of German-Swiss descent in the Shenandoah Valley, speaking and writing in German… well into the middle 19th century. To cling to that much suggests that some may have clung to even more. Was it because of religion that these folks held onto vestiges of the old world? Perhaps… and in some, it may have been more strong in some than others.

I should be clear, however, that… by the time of the Civil War, the length of time for any influences left over from pre-colonial German immigrants equated to an average of between 100-120 years. German-Swiss immigrants began pouring into the Shenandoah Valley, mostly from Pennsylvania (…and also from the descendants of Germanna Colony settlers, just across the Blue Ridge) as early as the 1720s, but there seems to have been a particularly strong surge between the 1730s and 1750s. So, again, we’re dealing with cultural influences that were able to carry over for about a hundred years.

I suggest that the influence varied… stronger in some than in others, and this was, I believe, based very strongly on religion.

What should be obvious in this is that there was a religious-based disdain for the institution of slavery. It even impacted the Hebron congregation, in the early 1700s, with Rev. Klug (who actually succeeded my ancestor, Rev. John Casper Stoever, after Stoever’s death on the voyage back from Germany) and his decision to go against the ideology of Halle (he appears to have been one of the very first who expanded his personal belief in “property” and began traveling down the path of slave ownership… I should write a post about this at some not-to-distant point).  Granted, Halle’s influence was on the Lutherans, but there was similar influence in other religious practices in the Valley… and most certainly in those of the Brethren ideology.

But the disdain for slavery wasn’t the only religious-based influence projected as far forward as the Civil War era. There was also an ideology that was centered on expectations of government and allegiance. I may tap into this further in another post within the week.

So, again… how far back do we have to go to begin tracing the factors that influenced decisions regarding Civil War sentiment in the South?

It depends on where one might be focusing, within the South… and what may have trickled down over the years within that specific area… and, in some cases… even traceable to the cultural mindset of immigrant ancestors. I’ll also add that it is, in the case of some of German ancestry, taking in consideration the way in which they adopted the practice of slave-holding… or accepted the culture that centered on slave-holding… how they had become Anglicized, and adopted practices that modified the traceable influences of their ancestors before them.