News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 2, 2012

GENEALOGY: A look at the United States arrival ‘firsts’

Tammy Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Many people wonder when their particular nationality or ethnic group first came to North America and first settled in what is now the United States. I’ll be covering some of these “firsts” over the next weeks, in no particular order.

Swiss: The first known person of Swiss origin to come to what is now the United States arrived in Florida in August 1564 with a group of 200 French soldiers, settlers, and artisans. This man was Theobald/Diebold von Erlach, the son of Rudolph von Erlach and Barbara von Praroman. He was the third officer of the expedition. Their goals were to establish a stronghold in the area, to seek gold and silver, and to create a refuge where French Huguenots could safely practice their religion. They arrived at Ft. Caroline, which had been erected two years before by the French, near the mouth of the St. Johns River.

However, the group was in conflict with the Spanish, which claimed the area for its own. After a year of failure and starvation, most of the colonists were in the process of returning home when ships with 600 reinforcements and supplies arrived from France in August 1565. The French ships set out to attack the Spanish strongholds, but were caught in a hurricane in September 1565 and shipwrecked. Those who did not drown, about 350 persons, were captured by the Spanish and killed for being heretics and enemies of Spain. The place was later named “Matanzas,” meaning “Slaughter.” It is unknown whether Theobald/Diebold von Erlach drowned or was killed by the Spanish, but his life was ended.

Back on land, Spanish soldiers marched on the rest of the French settlement and attached. Forty to 50 of the French escaped and made it back to France. Out of the 200 remaining settlers, only 60 women and children were spared by the Spanish. Thus ended the French colony in Florida.

Hungarian: In 1840, Agoston Haraszthy was the first Hungarian to permanently settle in the United States (along with his cousin, Károly Fischer, with whom he was traveling). Haraszthy initially came to America to gather information for a book he was writing. He returned to Hungary in 1842 to arrange its publication and at that time brought his parents, wife, and children back to live in the U.S. and become citizens.

Haraszthy and his cousin first lived in Wisconsin, where he founded the oldest incorporated town in Wisconsin. First called Széptaj (“Beautiful Place” in Hungarian), then Haraszthyville, later renamed Westfield, it finally became known as Sauk City. His family was brought there in 1842. While in Wisconsin, he started a winery, managed a brickyard, owned a ferry on the Wisconsin River, and operated a passenger steamship on the Mississippi River, among other endeavors.

Haraszthy moved to California in 1849, settling first in San Diego. There, he planted vineyards and became known as the “father of California wine making.” He introduced more than 300 varieties of European grapes to America. He was elected to the California State Assembly in 1851, where he led a movement to divide the state of California into two separate states. He later lived in San Francisco and Sonoma. In 1854, a branch of the U.S. mint opened in San Francisco and Haraszthy became the first assayer in the United States.

He was known as Mokcsai Haraszthy Ágoston in Hungary (Hungarian names list the last name first and the given name last). He was an exception to the pattern of Hungarian immigration. Before 1848, there were actually few people of Hungarian descent who settled in the United States.