Joachim Gans is not a familiar name to most of us. Nevertheless, his achievements were recognized in a dignitary-rich celebration at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on July 27, 2018. Gans was a skilled metallurgist who accompanied the 1585 settlement to assay the materials retrieved by the explorers. He was from a region of the Ottoman Empire that was later to become the Czech Republic. Certainly the sponsors of this voyage were disappointed by the lack of precious metals that were found, but Sir Walter Raleigh was wise to include a metallurgist among the colonists. A recent voyage to the North Pacific had returned with a shipload of fool’s gold.
Speakers at the outdoor celebration included North Carolina Senator Bill Cook, the Honorable Stephen B. King, Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Mr. Brent Lane of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at Chapel Hill and First Colony Foundation board member Eric Deetz. Later this year a historical marker honoring Joachim Gans will be erected along Route 64 near the entrance to Fort Raleigh. The marker will identify him as a native of Prague, and it is believed that he was the first Jewish person in the New World.
Archaeology in the 1990’s uncovered evidence of the metallurgy workshop, and the site has been declared to be the first science center in the New World. In September Deetz and First Colony Foundation volunteers will re-excavate a portion of the earlier dig to analyze features based on recent research at other sites in Virginia and North Carolina.