Wikipedia claims it: The first Ukrainian immigrant to America, Ivan Bohdan, sailed with John Smith to the Jamestown colony in 1607. Bohdan met captain Smith during the time when the latter had fought the Turks, was captured, and escaped captivity by fleeing through Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and other countries.
But his name doesn’t seem to appear on the lists of original settlers:
Bohdan arrived in 1608, a year after the founding of Jamestown. He and several other men, noted as Poles and Germans, were recruited by Capt. Christopher Newport at the behest of Capt. John Smith, then president of the Jamestown colony, because they possessed a variety of practical skills lacking among the English settlers who were struggling to survive. Bohdan, for example, was described as an expert in making pitch and tar necessary in the building and repair of wooden boats back then. Others were talented in making glassware, an important industry in the colonies.
Smith may have learned first-hand about the industrious Poles and Germans – and Ukrainians – in yet another possible connection with Ukraine. Serving as a mercenary, Smith fought in wars against the Ottoman Turks but was wounded, captured and sold as a slave. His escape route may have taken him through parts of what is now Ukraine, including Crimea, and then through the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
While I could not find much more information about Ivan Bohdan via the Internet, I wondered if he was part of the contingent of Polish workers who staged America’s first labor strike in 1619, a colonial example of democracy in action. The Virginia colony was about to hold its first election, but the English political leaders denied voting privileges to the Poles and other non-British settlers – despite their important contributions.
The Poles, however, decided to strike and took up the slogan, “No vote. No work.” The tactic worked, and English soon changed their stance on who could vote in America’s first legislative election.