Embassy of the Czech Republic in Washington, D.C.

česky  english 

Advanced search

Article notification Print Decrease font size Increase font size

The First Czech Settler in America

This article was written by Mr. Mila Rechcigl, former President of Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU) and author of many texts on the history of settlement of Czechs and Slovaks in America.

                      FIRST CZECH SETTLER IN AMERICA

 

                                            ©  Miloslav Rechcigl, Jr.

Augustine Heřman (1) has the distinction of being the first known immigrant from Czech Lands who permanently settled in America (2) and one of the first naturalized citizens of Maryland. This remarkable person was clearly one of the most conspicuous and colorful personalities of the seventeenth century colonial America and it is no wonder that some American writers called "the first great American"(3) while Czechs immortalized him in the popularized fictionized novel Pán na české řece (The Lord of Bohemia River)(4).

 

The European Phase

Apart from the undisputed fact that he was born in Bohemia, very little is known about Herman's background and his early youth. According to one accounts (5) he was born in Prague - the ancient city of the Kingdom of Bohemia - his father was Augustine Ephraim Herman, a. wealthy merchant and councilor of Prague, and his mother Beatrix was the daughter of Kaspar Redel, a member of a patrician Bohemian Brethren family. Thomas Čapek (6), a noted historian of American Czechs, claimed that Herman was the son of an evangelical pastor of Mseno, by the name of Abraham Herman, who had to flee in 1621 from his native Bohemia because of religious persecution. However, no evidence has been found to support his supposition. Be that as it may, it should be noted that Heřman himself, on several occasions, stated that he was a native of Prague (7).

'

The date of his birth also was disputed, some claiming tat he was born in 1605, while others gave 1621 as the right year of his birth (8). The assertion (9) that the young Heřman served in the army of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden for a time and that he participated in the battle of Lutzen. Under Wallenstein in 1632, has not been substantiated with any reliable evidence. According to the latest evidence, he was likely born around 1621(7a).

 

Coming to America

The date of his first arrival in America is not known with certainty, but it is likely that he sailed to the American shores on a number of occasions during his employ by the Dutch India Co. One such sailing took place presumably in the year 1633 since, in that year, he was, purported to witness, together with Arendt Corssen, the purchase of lands, which included the site of the present city of Philadelphia, by the Dutch from the Indians (10). If Heřman

were born in 1621 (instead of 1605) one would have to seriously question his participation in such an important event, since it would have made him only twelve years old. (11).


What he did in the following decades is not exactly known. According to some sources, he may have been engaged in international trade with Brazil or Surinam, while according to others, he was making his name as "the first beginner of the Virginia tobacco trade (12).

 

The New Amsterdam Phase

By 1644 Heřman definitely took permanent residence in New Amsterdam Cthe present New York City, as the agent of a leading Dutch firm, Peter Gabry and Sons. Soon after he established himself as an independent merchant, trading in furs, tobacco and other important goods in the colonies. Among other ventures, he successfully introduced indigo to New Amsterdam "which grew well and yielded much" and which was of higher quality "than common" by European standards (14). With his partner George Hack, who was his brother‑in‑law, he became the largest exporter of tobacco in America. As one of the owners of a frigate, he also, for a time, engaged in privateering.

With his extraordinary and rapid success in business and his growing prosperity, Heřman soon became one of the most influential people in New Amsterdam. In 1647 he was chosen by the people of the Dutch Colony to represent them on the Board of Nine Men (15) - a body of prominent citizens organized to advise and guide the Governor of New Amsterdam on matters of the colony and its administration. As a liberal member of the Board, and subsequently its chairman, he early joined with others in opposing the dictatorial form of Governor Stuyvesant's government and was one of the signatories of a complaint ("Vertoogh") which was sent to Holland in July 1649 "to represent the poor condition of this country and pray for redress (16).

The vindictive Stuyvesant never forgave Heřman for this humiliation and began to ruin him financially through various ploys and measures. It is an irony of fate that the two feuding men later became related through the marriage of Stuyvesant's sister to Herman's wife's brother.

This must have been low ebb in Herman's life, for within a short time he practically lost his entire fortune, contracted enormous debts and eventually was put in jail for inability to pay his debts. According to existing records, in May 1653, he was, however, granted liberty and freedom, having settled with his creditors (17).

In spite of his personal hate and aversion to Heřman, Governor Stuyvesant, nevertheless, recognized Heřrman's unusual qualities and talents, particularly in the diplomatic arena which were vastly enhanced by his apparent language skills. As an able surveyor and draftsman, Herman also acquired intimate knowledge of the territories which greatly strengthened his hand during negotiations over territorial disputes.

Almost immediately upon Heřman's release from jail, he was a bearer of dispatches from Governor Stuyvesant to the New England authorities in Boston regarding an alleged conspiracy of the Dutch and Indians against the English (18).


In 1659 Heřman was sent in the company of one Resolved Waldron to Maryland in connection with the Maryland‑Delaware boundary dispute between the English and the Dutch (19). Heřman kept a detailed Journal (20) of this mission, which clearly illuminates his effectiveness as a negotiator. It is believed that the independent existence of the present state of Delaware is mainly result of the very arguments which Heřman so ably used before Maryland Governor over the Lard Baltimore's claim to the South River (21).

In spite of their adversary roles, Lord Baltimore must have instinctively noted Heřman's talents and took a personal liking to him. It must have been during this mission by Heřman to Maryland that the idea of drawing the map of the Maryland Province first emerged. A good map of the territory would have been a great asset to the Province in assisting The officials to settle the recurrent territorial disputes between Maryland and its neighbors.

Augustine Heřman made a proposition to Lard Baltimore that he would be willing to make an accurate map of the entire Province, as well as of Virginia, in exchange for a piece of territory in the Maryland Province. Heřman's offer was graciously accepted in the letters dated September 1660, which stated as compensation for his services his Lordship would grant him ALands for Inhabitation to his Posterity and the Privilege of the Manor@(22).

These developments, coupled with the untenable hate‑love relations between Governor Stuyvesant and himself, convinced Herman that he should move to Maryland permanently.

 

The Maryland Phase

By 1661 Heřan brought his family and possessions to Maryland. He settled by the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay - in an area that is now Cecil County; Maryland  and partly in New Castle County, Delaware - on lands given to him by Lard Baltimore's liberal patents. He called his estate Bohemia Manor (23) in memory of his native country. His property was considerably increased by the addition of new lands that were granted ‑to him, namely "Little Bohemia" or "Bohemia Middle Neck," "St. Augustine Manor" and "The Bohemian Sisters." The total estate eventually contained between 25,000 and 30,000 acres of the most fertile land on the Atlantic Coast, ‑making Heřman one of the largest landowners in America in the 17th century. To assure undisputed ownership of this land, Heřman wisely made terms with ‑the Susquehanna Indians and paid them a compensatory sum for the territory.

In addition to all the privileges which had been vested in him in connection with the ownership of the manor, Lard Baltimore conferred on Heřman the special title "Lord" which was apparently one of the very few instances where a special title of nobility was conferred on an American without English roots (24).

After coming to Maryland it was Heřman's desire to establish a landed aristocracy like that in England which must have won favor with Lord Baltimore, who had been trying to establish an aristocratic society in his province (25). He also obtained a charter for founding a city for which he had chosen the name Ceciltown from Lord Baltimore (26).


Since Herman, as a foreigner, could not automatically convey or devise by will the lands given to him, Lard Baltimore issued an order in 1661, declaring Augustine Heřman a "free denizen" of the province, as if he had been born therein (28). This was presumably the first act of this kind in America which enabled one to hold lands, but it was not equivalent to full naturalization. So in 1663, Heřman petitioned (29) the Maryland General Assembly for naturalization for himself and his family, which was granted three years later (30). This is believed to be the first recorded case of individual naturalization in Maryland and one of the first such cases in the American colonies.

During the, first few years of his residence in Bohemia Manor, Heřman continued to be engaged in various business activities, including shipping trade with New Amsterdam (31). However, as early as 1662, he apparently discontinued his career as a merchant in preference for the life of a country squire. He erected a large manor house commensurate with his rank and possessions on the Bohemia River, and there he resided, surrounded by his family and servants, whom he had transported from New Amsterdam. As was customary among English lords, he had his deer park - the walls of which were still standing in 1860 - and rode in his coach‑and four driven by livered servants (31).

However, Heřman soon became discontented with the monotonous life of a country gentleman and resumed active interest in public life that he had been accustomed to in New Amsterdam. Thus, in 1665 he is seen in the role of a Commissioner for Upper Baltimore County and in 1674 he was appointed one of the Gentlemen Justices and later Gentleman of the Quorum. He also held the title of the Justice of the Peace for Baltimore and Cecil Counties and from 1678 to 1680 he served as the Commissioner for Peace in Cecil County. In addition, he was made a Member of His Lordship's Council and held the rank of Colonel of the Militia (32).

 

Heřman's Map

The map (33), which took almost one decade to complete, was clearly one of the greatest of Heřman's achievements. It was engraved in London in 1673 by an outstanding engraver of the day, William Faithorn, and published the same year. The map consisted of four folio sheets measuring about 31 x 36 inches each, and engraved to 1:720,000 scale. Of the two preserved copies, one is in the British Museum in London, and another in the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R. L, where there is also a manuscript copy.

Lord Baltimore "had received no small satisfaction by the variety of the map" and "His Lordship, the King's Majesty, His Royal Highness and all others commented on the exactness of the work, applauding it for the best map that had ever been drawn of any country@(34). In the words of George Washington, a surveyor, in his own right, "It was admirably planned and equally well executed" (35).

The importance of the map can be attested from the fact that most maps of Maryland and Virginia, until the middle of the 18th century, were mere replicas of this map. Herřan's map was used in the boundary disputes between Virginia and Maryland as late as the end of the 19th century (36).

 

The Man, the Legend


Prom what has already been said, there emerges a portrait of the most unusual man - astute, vigorous, talented, accomplished, versatile, Renaissance, aristocratic, brilliant, a man of good education, a surveyor and skilled draftsman, successful planter and developer of new crops, a shrewd and enterprising merchant, bold and courageous in his temperament, and yet diplomatic and eloquent. It was stated that his statesmanship was untamed with selfishness and his diplomacy was the embodiment of sincerity.

Whether in New Amsterdam, or at his Bohemia Manor, people around him looked upon Herman as their elder statesman and repeatedly called on him ‑ to be their spokesman when quarreling with the New Amsterdam Governor, or negotiating peace with the Delaware Indians. When Stuyvesant sent his emissaries to Virginia, he specifically instructed them to make use "of the aid and tongue of Augustine Heřman"(37), who was in Virginia at that time, attesting again to Herman's unique abilities.

Heřman was a man of vision, far ahead of his time. He proposed, for example, constructing a canal to connect the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays in order to facilitate trade (38).  Although the idea did not get implemented until the early part of the 19th century, Heřman did construct a good wagon road from the Bohemia River to the Appoquinimuk Creek in Delaware which served its purpose of connecting the head waters of the two bays.

According to recently discovered evidence, Heřman was not only a skillful draftsman but an artist of some note, as well. In 1953 a rare oil painting depicting a view of New Amsterdam was exhibited in the Museum of the City of New York, which, following exhaustive tests, was attributed to Augustine Heřman. According to experts, this was one of the most important discoveries in American pictorial history, since the picture is believed to be the earliest oil painting of New York, as well as the earliest view of the city ever (39).

Coming from a family that was persecuted and had to flee its native land for religious beliefs, Heřman developed sympathy and a high degree of tolerance to different religious groups, regardless of their persuasion. Although the members of his family were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, Heřman aided in establishing a permanent Catholic mission on his lands (40).  He also provided a piece of his territory for the establishment of a Labadist Colony in America and made provisions in his Will for the founding of a Protestant school on the Bohemia Manor (41).

Scharf's History of Maryland (42), as well as other sources, related a story which illustrates another of Heřman's traits, namely his adventurous spirit and bravery. According to one version of the story, the Dutch held him prisoner of war in New Amsterdam at one time, under sentence of death. A short time before he was to be executed, he feigned himself to be deranges in mind, and requested his horse be brought to him in the prison. The horse was brought, finely caparisoned, Heřman mounted him, and seemed to be performing military exercises. On the first opportunity, he bolted through one of the large windows that was some fifteen feet above ground, leaped down, swam the North River, ran his horse through Jersey and alighted on the bank of the Delaware, opposite of New Castle and thus made his escape from death and the Dutch.

Heřman must have been inordinately proud of his Bohemian heritage. He customarily appended the word Bohemian or Bohemiensis to his name, as he did on his famous map, and repeatedly, referred to Bohemia in naming his possessions. In his petition for naturalization (49), he made special reference to his Bohemian background and to his native city of Prague. Most official transactions bearing his name were signed Augustine Herman Bohemien(sis), including his Last Will (44). Following his wishes in his Last Will a great Sepulchar Stone was erected on his grave with the engraved letters - "Augustine ‑ Herrmen Bohemian - the First Founder - Seatter of Bohemca (sic) Manner - Anno 1661" (45).

 

 

The Living Legacy

Notwithstanding his numerous accomplishments during his lifetime, the finest legacy Augustine Herman left behind can be found among his progeny. Although the Heřman male line and with it the Heřman name became extinct in 1739, Herman's three daughters and the female issue of his grandson left numerous descendants "filling the annals of the worthy and the rich." Based on various genealogical and other historical sources, this author has been able to identify and verify a number of distinguished personalities - US Senators and Congressmen, State Governors, Supreme Court Justices, members of the Presidents' Cabinets, and other men and women of substance - who are linear descendants of Augustine Heřman.

 

Epilogue

Seventeenth century America, as one historian put it, produced only a few great figures who can be regarded as strictly Americans. A few individuals who could be listed, like Roger Williams, Charles Calvert, Richard Leo, John Elliot or Cotton Mather were largely products of a local civilization who rarely took much interest in the affairs of other colonies.

"In the case of Augustine Herman it was different. As a first merchant of the only Dutch Colony in what is now the United States, he learned to know these folks and lived as one of them, joining their haggling, quarreling and suing each other. As a diplomat, he came in contact with the New Englanders, on the one hand, and also with the southern planters. Later, as a great land proprietor he learned to know more about the English colonists, living as successfully among them as he did formerly with the Dutch burghers. His estate was situated close to the center of Atlantic America; doubtless through his domains passed many of the celebrated visitors who came over from the Old World to take a look at the New World. Herman was neither a New Netherlander or‑ Marylander; he was, in the best sense of the word, an American@(46).

 

ENDNOTES

1. Dutch chronicles spell the name differently: Herman, Herrman, Harman, Harmans, Heerman, Hermans, Heermans, etc. Augustine Herman himself was not consistent either in the way he signed his name.

2. Thomas Čapek, The Čechs (Bohemians) in America (Boston and New York, 1920), p.9.


3. Francis Sims. McGrath, Pillars of Maryland (Richmond, 1950), p.190; Earl L. W. Heck, Augustine Herrman: Beginner of the Virginia Tobacco Trade, Merchant of New Amsterdam. and First Lord of Bohemia Manor in Maryland (Englewood, Ohio, 1941).

4. Published in Prague (1946) under the authorship of Jaroslav Koudelka.

5. H. Armin Rattermann, "Augustin Herrman," Deutsch‑Amerikanisches Magazin 1(1887), pp. 202‑25, 524‑38. The author unfortunately did not cite his sources so that the identity of Herman's parents could not be verified despite serious efforts by the researchers,

6. Thomas Čapek, Augustine Herrman of Bohemia Manor (New York, 1928).

7. Maryland Archives 2 (1884), pp. 144‑145.

7a. Paul G. Burton,"The Age of Augustine Herrman," N. Y General Biogr. Record 78 (1947), pp. 130-131. Some of the confusion relating to the date of Herman's birth stems from a penciled notation "Aetatis 63" on his Last Will of 1684 which would place his birth in 1621

8. Earl L. W. Heck, op. cit. (note 3), p.5; Thomas Čapek, op. cit. (note 6); Paul G. Burton, "The Age of Augustine Herrman," N. Y General Biogr. Record (78 (1947), pp. 130‑131. Some of the confusion relating to the date of Herman's birth stems from a penciled notation "Aetatis 63" on his Last Will of 1684 which would place. his birth in 1621. The authorship of the note could not be ascertained, neither could the date when it was introduced in the document.

9. E. L. W. H., "Herrman, Augustine (c.l605‑1686), Dictionary of American Biography 8 (1932), 592; Francis Sims McGrath, op. cit. (note 3);p. 190.

10. E. B, O'Callaghan, History of New Netherlands (New York, 1846), Vol. 1, p. 156.

11. Paul G. Burton, op. cit. (note 8) is of the opinion that the reference to Augustine Herman as a witness to land purchase in 1633 may be based on an incorrect interpretation of the original Dutch text. However, until a firm evidence is provided, this suggestion must be considered as a mere speculation.

12. Anon., "Augustine Herrman," N.Y. Geneal. Biogr. Record 22 (1891), pp. 1‑3; Herrmann Schurich, History of the German Element in Virginia (Baltimore, 1898), pp. 37-39.

13. Calendar of Historical Manuscripts in the Office of the Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y. Dutch Manuscripts 1630‑1664 (Albany, 1865), Vol. 1, p. 28; 1. R. Brodhead, History of the State of New York (New York, 1853). Vol. 1, p. 476.

14. Edwin R. Purple, "Contributions to the History of the Ancient Families of New York," N.Y. Geneal, Biog. Record 9 (1878), pp. 57‑59; Adrian van der Douck, Description of the Netherlands, 2nd ed. (Amsterdam, 1656), p. 156; reprinted in Coll. N.Y. Historical Society, 2nd ser., Vol. 1 (1841), p. 156.

15. J. R. Brodhead, op. cit. (note 13), p. 475; E. B. O'Callaghan, op. cit. (note 10), pp. 36‑39).

16. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of New York (Albany, 1856), Vol. l, p. 258;


J. R .Brodhead, op. cit. (note 13),p. 505.

17. Calendar of Historical Manuscripts, op. cit. (note 13), p. 132.

18. Ibid., pp. 204, 278, 331; Brodhead, op. cit. (note 13), pp. 554, 666‑69.

19. Calendar of Historical Documents, op. cit. (note 13), p. 339; Brodhead, op. cit. (note 13), Vol. 1, p. 666; Arch. Maryland 3 (1885), pp. 366‑ 378; Francis Vincent, A History of the State of Delaware (Philadelphia, 1870), pp. 325‑357; Christopher War, The Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware 1609‑64 (Philadelphia, 1930), pp. 290‑309; O'CaIlaghan, op. cit. (note 10), pp. 381‑389.

20. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Vol. 2(1858), pp. 88‑98, 99‑100.

21. Vincent, op. cit. (note 19), p. 343; Ward, op. cit. (note 19), p. 308; O'Callaghan, op. cit. (note 10), p. 388.

22. As reported in Herman's Memorandum or Journal of the first foundation and seating of Bohemia Manor and Bohemia River Middle Neck Adjacent and Appendant. Published as an Appendix in MarylandFund Publications, No. 30 (Baltimore, 1890), p. 29.

23. Herman's Memorandum, op. cit. (note 22); Thomas Allen Glenn, >Bohemia Manor and the Herrmans," in Some Colonial Mansions (Philadelphia, 1897). pp. 123‑138; James G. Wilson, A Maryland Manor, Maryland Fund Publications, No. 30 (Baltimore, 1890); George Johnston, History of Cecil County. Maryland (Elkton, Md., 1881); Charles Payson Mallery, Ancient Families of Bohemia Manor: Their Homes, and the Grapes (Delaware Historical Society Papers, No.7, Wilmington, Del., 1888).

24. Wilson, op. cit. (note 23), p. 14.

25. Earl L. W. Heck, "Augustine Herrman and the Labadists," in Charles B. Clark, ed., The

Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia (New York, 1950), Vol. 1, p. 243.

26. George Johnston, History of Cecil County, Maryland (Elkton, Md., 1881), p. 40.

27. Maryland Hist. Mag. 3 (1908), p. 170; Maryland Arch. 3(1885), pp. 398‑399.

28. Arch. Maryland 1 (1883),p. 462; 15 (1896), p. 18.

29. Ibid., 2(1884), p. 144; 15(1896), pp. 18‑19.

30. Ibid., 3(1885), pp. 401‑402; 41(1923), p. 344.


31, John Ladnum, History of the Rise of Methodism in America (Philadelphia, 1862), p. 277; Charles Peyson Mallery, op. cit. (note 23).

32. Arch. Maryland 15 (18,96). pp. 38, 41, 69, 70, 77, 177, 326; 17 (1898), p.43.

33. "Virginia and Maryland as it is Planted Inhabited this Present Year 1670 Surveyed and Exactly Drawne by the Only Labour and Endeavour of Augustine Herman Bohemiensis." - For a detailed description and analysis of Herman's map, see Edward Bennett Matthews, The Maps and Mapmakers of Maryland (Baltimore 1898), pp. 368‑86; and Karel J. Kánský, "Augustine Herman: The Leading Cartographer of the Seventeenth Century," Maryland Hist. Mag. 73 (1918), pp. 352‑359. According to Herman's own account he was engaged in the preparation of his map for nearly ten years and spent about $200 sterling, a large sum of money at that early period.

34. Herman's Memorandum, op. cit. (note 22), p. .32.

35. Kánský, op. cit. (note 33), p. 355.

36. Matthews, op. cit. (note 33), Vol. 1, p. 369; P. Lee Phillips, The Rare Map of Virginia

and Maryland by Augustine .Herrman(Washington, DC.,1911),p.3.

37. Purple, op. cit. (note 14), p. 59; Brodhead, op.cit. (note 13), p.683.

38. Vincent, op. cit. (note 19), pp. 373~374; 3, 7. Scharf, History of Maryland (Baltimore,

1879), Vol. 1, p. 374; Heck, op. cit. (note 25), p.. 245.

39. Cited by Káanský, op. cit. (note 33), p. 354.

40. "Mission of St. Francis Xavier, Cecil County. Maryland," Records of the American

Catholic Historical Society, 23 (June 191 3); Kansky, op. cit. (note 33), p. 353.

41. Heck, op. cit. (note 25), pp. 241‑250; Edward Noble Va1endigham, Delaware and the Eastern Shore (Philadelphia, 1922), pp. 202‑113; Gilbert Cope, >Copy of the Will of Augustine Herrman of Bohemia Manor," Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biog, 15 (189l), p.325.

42. Scharf, op. cit., Vol. 1, pp. 429-31.

43. See note 29.

44. Cope, op. cit. (note 41), pp. 321‑326.

45. The engraver must have been an unskilled laborer judging from uneven lettering and numerous misspellings.

46. Heck, op. cit. (note 3), pp. 113‑114.