Wednesday, July 22, 2020

52 Ancestors - OLD COUNTRY: From Palatinate to Virginia

I sometimes look at today’s farms in Rockingham County, Virginia and wonder why early immigrants would come here. It’s mountainous. It’s rocky. The soil has a lot of clay. It looks like too much work to overcome for farming. Yet come they did when agents and advertising in colonial Pennsylvania lured German immigrants to Virginia where similar land was much cheaper.
View of Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive

In 1751 a representative of the Armentrout family made a trip to the valley of Virginia to check out the claims. He was so impressed with the limestone outcroppings that he entered into a provisional contract to purchase. He then returned to Pennsylvania with glowing reports that Virginia looked just like the home they left in Germany.

That story came back to me a couple years ago during our river cruise along the Danube River from Budapest through the Wachau Valley to Vilshofen, Germany. As I admired the scenery, I couldn’t help thinking, “Yep, these mountains really do look just like the ones in Virginia.” They are low mountains, lush with green trees. They are in sharp contrast to the tall stony, snow-capped Rocky Mountains of America and the Alps of Europe.
View during excursion on Danube River Cruise 2017
Virginia is indeed beautiful, so I understand why the German immigrants wanted to settle here. But why did they leave Germany in the first place?

Germans had been immigrating to American colonies since the earliest days. War and plundering of the lower and middle classes alike went on for years and years. Add religious persecution, and it is easy to see why my ancestors would have traded one set of hardships for the unknown. Could it be any worse? While their arrival was decades after William Penn had drawn Germans to his colony with the promise of religious freedom, it seems likely that was still a strong motivation.

Present-day map of Nassau - red marker shows
location of Irmtraut
The Armentrouts were Protestants of the Reformed Faith and were called Palatines, as they were residents of the Palatinate, a small state in the Holy Roman Empire along the Rhine. Today that area is the State of Nassau, Germany. There is even a small farming village by the name of Irmtraut straddling National Route 54. Most certainly my ancestors must have lived at least close by. The first mention of Irmtraut was in 879 when the Germunden Monastery was established.

The name “Irmtraut” means “Friend of the Valkyries” suggesting that members of the family served their liege lords in military service. It is likely, but not proven, that the Armentrouts who arrived in America descended from this old German family.

Once the Armentrouts made their decision to pick up sticks and relocate to America, they would have gathered only the possessions they could carry and traveled down the Rhine to Rotterdam to board the Samuel. The ship made one stop in Deal, England to load supplies and water. On 26 August 1739, 340 passengers arrived at the port of Philadelphia. Disembarking the next day were my ancestors: a widow Anna Elizabeth Ermantraudt (age 40) and her 7 children – Johannes, Anna Elizabeth, Johan Phillip, Johan Friederich, Christopher (or Christople), Johan Heinrich, and Johan George. All males 16 and older were required to sign an Oath of Allegiance to England
Signatures of the oldest sons and possibly uncle
Johannes Ermantraudt
Johan Phillip Ermantraudt
Johan Friederich Ermantraudt
Peter Hain 
NOTE: Ermantraudt is the spelling used most often for members born before 1800. The Anglicized spelling is used for those born after. Even then, there are variations.

So where was Anna Elizabeth’s husband? It is not clear whether he died during the voyage or in Europe. A passenger named Peter Hain accompanied the Armentrouts on the trip. It is believed he was Anna Elizabeth’s brother who perhaps had returned to the Palatinate to escort his sister and family. If they wanted or needed an escort, it is very likely that Anna Elizabeth’s husband had died before the trip even began.

For a time the Armentrouts lived with George and Veronica Hain until they could get settled and purchase their own land. George was Peter’s older brother. George had immigrated years earlier as part of the English project for settling German Protestants from the refugee camps around London to the Scoharie area of the New York Colony. There the Germans were put to work for the English Navy. Dissatisfied with conditions, many of the Germans left and moved into what is now Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Present-day Wernersville, PA
The oval shows approximately where the Armentrouts lived.
The Hains Church was located on land donated by George Hain.
Probably the Armentrouts were of some means. In less than 10 years, they managed to acquire over 500 acres of some of the best land in present-day Berks County. Yet, they gave it up to move once again to the valley of Virginia.

Armentrout, Russell S. Armentrout Family History 1739-1978

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.”

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. I have ancestors that came from Germany but I never thought about how similar the countryside in Virginia was to their homeland. It would explain why they moved from the northern part of the country to Virginia.

  2. Fascinating details. At this point, I'm just getting into my early Germanna immigrants in Virginia and have a lot more research to do.

  3. I often think of the courage and determination exhibited by the early immigrants. I wonder if America met their expectations and hopes. I just can't imagine hardships they endured. Good grief, I struggle with a five hour flight.

  4. Wow, I can't imagine her coming over with 7 children, even if she was accompanied with a relative to help her! Fascinating history here! Learned a lot of things I didn't know.