In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Germans in the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archival Guides
  • Eighteenth-Century Guidebooks and Descriptions
  • Atlantic Networks
  • Bridging the Atlantic
  • The German Homelands and Migration
  • The Mid-Atlantic Colonies
  • The Southern Colonies and Louisiana
  • Georgia and the Salzburgers
  • Germans and Native Americans
  • Germans and Africans
  • Lutherans and Reformed
  • Moravians and Other Religious Groups
  • Germans and the Revolutionary War
  • Genealogies and Migrant Lists

Atlantic History Germans in the Atlantic World
Philip Otterness
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0111


The scope of the German Atlantic world is somewhat limited when compared to the Atlantic worlds created by the colonial empires of Spain, France, Britain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. There was of course no centralized German state in the 17th and 18th centuries (the period usually encompassed in Atlantic world histories). Prussia and Austria, the two most powerful of the hundreds of German-speaking principalities of central Europe, looked eastward rather than westward when formulating their foreign policies, and the people living in these states also tended to move to the east rather than across the Atlantic. The German-speaking people who did look across the Atlantic did not have the opportunities or advantages that would have existed in a colonial empire operated by a German state. Rather, they were primarily migrants, often peasants from the Rhineland region of the German Southwest who went to British North America in search of economic opportunity. Others were motivated more by religion and the chance to establish religious communities free from the restraints they faced in Europe. Whether they moved for economic or religious reasons, their story involved encounters with other migrants and Native Americans and the gradual creation of new communities in America. Besides the many migrants, German-speaking merchants and traders also sought a place for themselves in the Atlantic world. Although the lives of some of these merchants are set forth in the works listed in this bibliography, a more extensive account of their activities can be found in the Oxford Bibliographies Online article Atlantic Trade and the European Economy.

General Overviews

A general history of the Germans and the Atlantic world is yet to be written. Lehmann, et al. 2000, a collection of essays related to the topic, perhaps comes closest. Trommler and McVeigh 1985, although dated, provides a sense of the German Atlantic connections. Faust 1909 is old but remains one of the few comprehensive histories of German-speaking people in North America. Roeber 1987 and Roeber 1991 provide overviews with an Atlantic perspective and suggest topics yet to be explored.

  • Faust, Albert. The German Element in the United States. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909.

    Comprehensive history of German settlement in colonial America and the United States. Proud account of German contributions to American history. Obviously dated, but no other work covers the topic so extensively.

  • Lehmann, Hartmut, Hermann Wellenreuther, and Renate Wilson, eds. In Search of Peace and Prosperity: New German Settlements in Eighteenth-Century Europe and America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

    Probably the most comprehensive overview of German migration in the 18th century. Examines German migration within Europe as well as to America but has a strong Atlantic focus. Includes fourteen essays on a wide array of topics, including an essay by Wellenreuther on recent research in the field.

  • Roeber, A. G. “In German Ways? Problems and Potentials of Eighteenth-Century German Social and Emigration History.” William and Mary Quarterly 44 (1987): 750–774.

    DOI: 10.2307/1939743

    Describes research on German migration as it stood in 1987. Roeber’s focus is mainly on the work of historians in Germany and provides insightful critique of their work. Article demonstrates just how far the field has developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries but also points to topics that still deserve further consideration.

  • Roeber, A. G. “‘The Origin of Whatever Is Not English among Us’: The Dutch-Speaking and the German-Speaking Peoples of Colonial British America.” In Strangers within the Realm: Cultural Margins of the First British Empire. Edited by Bernard Bailyn and Philip D. Morgan. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

    Concise overview of German migrations to colonial America, including a review of the networks, especially religious, that supported these migrations. Although much has been written since this essay was published, it remains a useful overview of German migration, migrant networks, and the transfer of German culture to North America.

  • Trommler, Frank, and Joseph McVeigh, eds. America and the Germans: An Assessment of a Three-Hundred-Year History. Vol. 1, Immigration, Language, Ethnicity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

    First third of the book is devoted primarily to the 18th century. In a series of essays, some of the most prominent historians of German migration to early America explore the structure of this migration and the image and identity of the new arrivals in America, especially in Pennsylvania.

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