The German-American Community of 1875 in Northwest Lawrence Twp., Washington Co., Ohio
Searching standard histories of Washington County, Ohio will not yield much, if any, information on the extensive influence in the mid to late 19th Century of its German-speaking residents. The purpose of this article is to partially remedy this gap in the historical record. This history was primarily constructed from three different resources. The first source is a set of church records collectively know as The Berg Church Records, translated by Barbara Gerhart Matt. The second source is a small set of articles written by German and American genealogists Dieter Zenglein, Heinrich Becker, and Ernest Thode, to which might be added the genealogical research of Catherine Sams. The third source is the genealogy website of James Andris. To this might be added the Atlas of Washington County, Ohio published in 1875.
The development of a German-American community in various locations in Washington County, Ohio during the 19th Century needs to be understood against a background of "a Great Wave of Immigration" that took place during the period from 1830 to 1880. There was a so-called "German Belt" which stretched across the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri. Washington County, Ohio was the home of one of the most traveled corridors of this immigration. [Andris translation of Becker] Among the many factors leading to this massive movement of people were centuries of warfare and political struggle between various European states, a system of inheritance that divided land between several surviving sons, depletion of agricultural resources from over-farming, the promise to poor and middle class people of a life of political and religious freedom, protected from the whims of royalty and aristocracy, the avoidance of long terms of military service, famines and dreadful weather conditions, and a general excitement associated with the possibilities and dangers of resettlement.
One of the small but significant aspects of this large movement that has been well-described in a few sources is the development of the Berg Church in Fearing Twp., which borders Lawrence Twp. to the west. Zenglein, Dieter and Becker summarize details of what they call "The West Palatine Emigrant Community in Washington County, Ohio." They posit that emigrants of the West Palatinate favored the central part of Washington County because the terraine and climate reminded them of their homeland and because township political structure and size resembled the "joint communities" to which they were accustomed.
For example, Becker has written of seven families from Dittweiler who emigrated in 1834. They settled on Highland Ridge, in the western Fearing Twp. At first they were welcomed by a friendly English-speaking church, and they tried to start a community and a church of their own. According to Becker, the Berg Church was founded
From this nucleus, familes from the West Palatinate continued to immigrate to Washington, County, Ohio to Muskingum, Aurelius, Liberty, Lawrence, Newport, Fearing and Marietta Townships. (Zengein, et. al.)