Saturday, October 17, 2009

Psalm-Singing in Germanna

In the annals of the history of Virginia, the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition of 1716 stands out because for the first time, an official colonial exploratory trip crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains, thus paving the way for future westward expansion. The journalist of this expedition was John Fontaine (1693-1767), son of my ancestor, the French Huguenot James Fontaine (1658-1728). His journal is the primary source of information for the events of that journey. In memorializing his impressions throughout his many travels, he left a valuable legacy for future historians.

In 1715, his journal records a land-hunting expedition in the area of Germanna, the German colony set up near modern-day Culpeper, Virginia. It is pleasant to note his encounter with a group of 9 families who were just pioneering the settlement and worshiped as simply as they lived. On Thursday, November 21, 1715, he recorded his observations concerning their fortifications, which also doubled as their place of worship (German Reformed Church).

Edward Porter Alexander, ed., The Journal of John Fontaine: An Irish Huguenot Son in Spain and Virginia, 1710-1719, p. 12, 88:

[Alexander writes:]

The two young men [John Fontaine and, presumably, John Clayton, the botanist] visited Germanna where Governor Spotswood had settled nine German families in nine houses in a line, each with its small sheds for hogs and hens. They were within a palisaded pentagonal fort with a blockhouse of the same shape in the center. The Germans were ostensibly protecting the frontier from Indians, but they were skilled ironworkers, and Spotswood intended to use them to mine and smelt iron -- quietly so as not to arouse the prejudices against colonial manufacturing of the Board of Trade. The Germans had their Reformed minister with them and used the blockhouse for daily prayers and two sermons on Sundays. They were most devout and melodiously sang psalms in their native tongue.

[Fontaine writes:]

This place that is paled in is a pentagon, very regularly laid out, and in the very centre there is a blockhouse made with five sides which answers to the five sides of pales or great inclosure. There is loop holes through it, from which you may see all the inside of the inclosure. This was intended for a retreat for the people in case they were not able to defend the pallisades if attacked by the Indians. They make use of this Blockhouse for divine service. They go to prayers constantly once a day and have two sermons a Sunday. We went to hear them perform their service, which was done in their own language which we did not understand, but they seem to be very devout and sing the Psalms very well. This town or settlement lies upon the Rappahannoc river 30 miles above the Falls and 30 miles from any Inhabitants.

(HT: Joe Holland)

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