“Grüß Gott” in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience

This online exhibition is a condensed version of “‘Grüß Gott’ in Rensselaer County: The German American Experience”, which was originally part of the Rensselaer County Historical Society’s Millennium Project in 2000.

Meant to spark community interest and involvement in researching and documenting the history and heritage of a particular ethnic, civic or cultural group, the original exhibition and this online version, were the culmination of many months of extensive research conducted by Dr. Thomas Reimer, Exhibit Curator.

The original exhibition included a historical exhibition at RCHS, a series of oral histories, a cookbook with historical information and recipes, teaching packets from the Times Union, and a number of activities by the ambitious German Heritage Project Committee, chaired by Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, professor emerita of Russell Sage College.

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.

The Golden Century

A second wave of German immigration began in the nineteenth century. Germans represented three percent of Troy’s population between 1870 – 1900 and four and a half percent in the county between 1870 – 1900. Despite these low percentage rates, they created a network of religious, civic and social organizations as well as a number of prosperous businesses.

The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.