The First American Settler from Slovakia

by Miloslav Rechcígl, Jr.

Information concerning the arrival of the first Slovaks in this country is rather scanty and unreliable. Claims have been made that the first Sbovak to arrive in the New World was Stephanus Parmenius who in 1583 accompanied Sir Humphrey Gilbert to Canada to Newfoundland. To make it more credible some amateur historians came forward with the suggestion that his original name was Stitnicky. According to the available evidence, Parmenius whose real name was Istvan Paizson was of Hungarian origin and came originally from the city of Buda.

There was also a claim that two Slovaks, by the name of George Mata and John Bogdan, accompanied Captain John Smith on his historic voyage to Jamestown, Viriginia in 1608. This sensational “find” found its way even into the Congressional Record. Subsequently it was discovered, however, that this was a big hoax since these two individuals, whose ethnic origin was also claimed by the Poles, did not even exist.

The first individual of indisputably known Slovak origin to enter the territory of the United States was Isaac Ferdinand Sarosy. Trained as a Protestant preacher, Sarosy came to Pennsylvania in 1695 to join the colony of Francis Daniel Pastorius (1651-1720) at Germanopolia, later renamed Germantown. According to Pastorius’ account, Sarosy could not get used to the preacher’s work without fixed compensation. Disillusioned, Sarosy left Pennsylvania for Maryland where he intended sailingfor Europe. Noting more is known about his fate.

According to general belief the first immigrant of Slovak ancestry to permanently settle in America was a legendary Major John J. Polerecky (1748-1830). This information will need to be corrected, as well. In studying the early records of the Moravian Church, this author came across the name of a Slovak settler who preceded Polerecky in America by thirty five years.

The person in question was Anton Schmidt (1725-1793), a tinsmith by trade, who emigrated from Bratislava “for conscience sake” and settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1146. He was an adherent of the renewed “Unitas fratrum” and is buried with other Moravian Bretlnen in the old Moravian Cemetery n Bethlehem. His name is also listed in the Register of members of the Moravian Church.

Very little is known about him. He was married twice, first to Anna Catherine Riedt (in 1747) with whom he had five children, and the second time to a Jewess Beata Ysselstein who bore him six children. There are several references to him in Joseph Mortimer Lovering’s History of Bethlehem, in connection with his missionary activities among the Indians who gave him an Indian name “Rachwisteni.” On one occasion he set out from Bethlehem for Shamokin to rescue a fellow missionary who was captured by the Indians. On another occasion he was charged with the responsibility for burying the dead after the infamous massacre at the Mahoning.

Anton Schmidt’s name also appears among the vouchers, showing the items of expenses, as yet in existence, presented to the Continental Congress on behalf of John Bonn Varden of Philadelphia on October 23, 1779. The petition was read in Congress on October 26 and referred to the Board of Treasury, and on November 6 it was passed over to the chamber of accounts with directions to adjust the accounts. It is possible that the latter reference relates to Schmidt’s son who bore the identical name and who lived from   1740-1834.