“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: Lords & Peasants

The Dutch West India Company granted land in the upper Hudson Valley to the Van Rensselaer family in 1629. A number of Germans settled in this area beginning in the 1640s. Johann Carstensz from Schleswig and Hans Vos (Fuchs) from Baden are among the early residents of Rensselaerwyck. When the German settlers intermarried with their Holland kinsmen, they quickly vanished as an identifiable group. In addition, English speakers early on subsumed the Netherlanders and the Germans (Deutsch) under the common label of Dutch.

Thousands of Palatine Germans, fleeing from the invading French armies, settled in the upper Hudson Valley in the early eighteenth century. Some became tenants in the scarcely populated East Rensselaerwyck. Their first village, “Hosek Road,” the area known today as Brunswick, was settled by such pioneer families as Johannes Jung, Johann Freidrich, Phillip Kelmer, Ludwig Schmidt, Johann Schneider and Johann Hayner. In the 1750s, the families of Hans Lautmann, Jacob Best, and George Brimmer were residents of the North Petersburgh area. Berlin was inhabited by members of the Gottfried Brimmer and Reuben Bohnenstiehl families while Sand Lake was settled by the Joseph Sipperly and Michael Reichard families.

The French and Indian War in the late eighteenth century brought sorrow to the villages throughout Rensselaerwyck. Like other colonials, Germans served in the militia, paid taxes and many were affected by enemy raids, including the Brimmer family. In 1754, one Brimmer child was killed and two others were kidnapped.

The spiritual center for German families was Gilead Lutheran Church in Brunswick. Under the ministry of Rev. Nicholaus Schwerdtfeger, the parish included a few African-Americans. Many Germans were persecuted for their neutrality during the American Revolution and after the war many, including Rev. Schwerdtfeger, emigrated to Canada.

The influx of settlers from New England after the revolution changed the German villages. At Gilead Lutheran Church Rev. Anton Braun introduced English services and German was abandoned after 1812. This marked the assimilation of the German population. When the New York State Legislature created several townships in 1806 – 1808, three towns Nassau, Brunswick (Braunschweig) and Berlin were named after German cities.