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Robert Jones
Author, Translator
Charleston's Germans: An Enduring Legacy
Reviews
Jones’ study of the establishment and dilution of a community of German residents in Charleston, South Carolina, up through the mid-war period of the 20th century stands as a notable contribution to the history of Charleston and the “Lowcountry,” the history of Germans in America, and the complexities of American assimilation and acculturation. Noting that it’s possible to “grow to adulthood in a Charleston family of pure German heritage without being cognizant” of much of that heritage and lineage, or feeling a connection to that cultural identity, Jones digs into 19th century German immigration, breaking down the factors that led to “little Germanies” springing up in American cities, and examining the Charleston enclave’s experiences with the Civil War and a South in transition, and—in the 20th century—nativist anger following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1917.

In inviting prose of welcome clarity, Jones considers the economic and social challenges of German life in “a patriarchal planter society that ruled over an economy based to a unique degree on an enormous slave population,” offering compelling portraits of pioneering North German settlers, starting in the 1830s. He introduces boot- and shoe-makers, tobacco importers, the proprietor of the Teetotal Restaurant (established 1859), and reveals, through wrenching correspondence, the plight of a mother whose circumstances were so dire that she petitioned the Charleston Orphan House to admit—and then return— a pair of her sons.

The vivid storytelling, often drawing on contemporary press accounts, persists into the 20th century, with accounts of discord at the German-American Trust and Savings bank, as Charlestown’s regional power diminishes—and as Germany wages war in Europe. Anti-German sentiment, Jones argues, may not have been as fervent in Charleston as in other American cities, but in it Jones sees the start of an accelerated process of assimilation. This highly readable history makes the case with insight and persuasive power.

Takeaway: An engaging history of Germans in Charleston, South Carolina, and the fading of a cultural identity.

Great for fans of: Roots in the Rhineland, Alison Clark Efford’s German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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