Tag Archives: 1824

The German Heritage

St. Charles County’s German Heritage

Today 46 Million Americans list German as their ethnic background. Germans were arriving before we were even the U.S.,  when October 6, 1683, thirteen German Mennonites from Krefeld arrived at Philadelphia’s harbor aboard the ship Concord. Those families founded Germantown, the first German settlement in the original thirteen colonies. German-American Day, celebrated that fact on October 6th, died out in World War I, due to the anti-German sentiment that began then. It was revived in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan. Those families emigrated westward in the early 1800s with the western expansion and attracted the attention of the writer Gottfried Duden who published his book A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America. First published in 1829, it was about Missouri and started a whole new wave of immigration of Germans who didn’t stop in Philadelphia anymore.

And they came by the thousands! They filled the valleys and the hillsides, and brought us our hard working culture, our stubborn show-me spirit, and a love for family and a good bottle of wine. We have forgotten that more of our traditions are German in origin that those that are not!  The Kindegarten, the Gymnasium and even the Christmas Tree are from our ancestors. Many of those early emigrants came in groups, from Solingen or Osnabrück, and emptied out whole German villages. Or they came because they were wanting to continue their religious beliefs like the Saxony Lutherans that settled in Perry County, in southern Missouri. Or maybe they were all united by a love for political freedoms, such as the Giessen Emigration Society who were from many parts of Germany and many walks of life.

German immigrant Theodore Lock arrived in Loose Creek in 1841 and established the Lock mill with his family.  Many German families who settled in Loose Creek in 1851, also came from the Krefeld.  The community appeared in the German television series Germans in America. Missouri’s history is so filled with German heritage we often forget that it is even German. Small towns like Loose Creek and Dutzow are about to join the list of towns like Dortmund and Hamburg that have already disappeared. Large cities like St. Louis and St. Charles once so totally German that you didn’t even hear English, are rapidly loosing their German identity.

The Missouri Humanities Council’s initiative The German Heritage Corridor is being used by Heritage Tourism across the State to stop this loss, and preserve our Cities, Counties and State’s German Heritage. For more information visit the Missouri Humanities Council.

Gottfried Duden

Saint Charles County is one of the most predominantly German in its ethnic heritage in the State of Missouri. Missouri being one the most German in the U.S. as well, makes us one of the largest in the country. Ever wonder why that is? Some historians cite a small self-published book, published in 1829 by a German named Gottfried Duden, “A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America“.

Born May 19, 1789 in the city of Remscheid, the middle child in a family of five children of Leonhard and Maria Duden. His father, owner of a large pharmaceutical company, died when he was only six. He grew up and took on the profession of law, in a time when Germany was in a lot of turmoil. Following the Napoleonic wars, the huge population was suffering with famine, and huge taxes imposed by the rulers in response to a rising revolution. After seeing the successful rebellions, in America and France, many Germans felt that a united country would be stronger and able to defend itself, thus ending the years of wars it had seen. Young Duden listened to their problems and saw the young far western U.S., filling with the friends and family of the world famous Daniel Boone, as the place to be.

Emigration books, as they were called, were not a new thing at that time. Hundreds were being published at that time, suggesting emigration to Russia, England, and South America. Many written by authors that had never even been to the places they were writing about. How could their advice be trusted Duden wondered, and so he began planning a journey for himself. He bought land, in what was yet to be, the State of Missouri. He hired a professional farmer, named Ludwig Eversmann, and brought him and his cook Gertrude, and headed for his farm on Lake Creek, in the Missouri River valley west of Saint Charles. He stayed here from 1824 till 1827, writing a series of letters describing life that was first published in Germany in 1829, a best seller in its day.

For many, Duden’s book was the right words at the right time. Some were critical! They said everything was not the same in 1830s as he had described in his 1824 letter. Duden responded that they didn’t understand or get the point. He was accused of painting a picture in words, of a Utopia or Garden of Eden. Many Germans, such as Friedrich Steines, defended him saying

“while all is not exactly as he (Duden) described, in some ways it was better.”

To the Germans that needed to get government permission to move, marry, or even cut firewood, American’s freedoms were enviable. Where your family ate more meat in a week, than they did in a year back home. Where estate law ruled the rights of inheritance to the eldest child, the right to own as many acres of land as you could afford, and leave it to all of your children was unbelievable. The right to vote and chose your rulers and the freedom to say whatever you thought of them, without fear, was amazing. You decided what church you wanted to attend, what kind of school your children would have, and yes they would receive a free education. You decided your own profession and your own future. What was there to not like?

There will always be some anxious to criticize though. The language and the customs were foreign. They had slaves in some states, allowing a profit and making some wealthy aristocrats. The weather was not like Duden had described. (Who has seen more than two identical Missouri winters or summers?) Sometimes, we have to find something or someone to blame for our failure. Duden tried to defend himself, as further editions of his book were published, and thousands continued to immigrate.

The decision to emigrate is a personal one, and there were as many reasons as there were Germans. Historians estimate over 20,000 came to Missouri during the 1830s. Many of those wrote letters home to family and friends, urging them to come, in what is known as chain migration. Today those letters could be compared to tweets and You Tube gone viral! Apparently it is sometimes easier to trust your friends, than a wealthy attorney.

Duden died on October 29, 1856, in Germany, without ever returning to his beautiful Missouri farm with its cows, as he had originally planned. His book “A Report on a Journey” lived on, with many attempting to follow his suggestions. And come they did! Today, many Saint Charles County residents and family historians trace their ancestors back to Germany. As Missouri became a gateway to the west for American pioneers, it became home to generations of Germans, with towns like Hamburg, Melle, and Cappeln. Many of us still today think Duden definitely got it right!

Gottfried Duden

Ever wonder why so many Saint Charles families trace their ancestry back to Germany? Some would say a visitor in 1824 might just be the reason.

In 1829, Gottfried Duden published at his own expense 1500 copies of a small book titled Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America in Elberfeld Germany. In 1909, eighty years after Duden’s Report was published, A.B. Faust described Duden with, “His skillful pen mingled fact and fiction, interwove experience and imagination, pictured the freedom of the forest and of democratic institutions in contrast with the social restrictions and political embarrassments of Europe. Many thousands of Germans pondered over this book and enthused over its sympathetic glow. Innumerable resolutions were made to cross the ocean and build for the present and succeeding generations happy homes on the far-famed Missouri.”

In 1919, ninety years following Duden’s Report, Duden’s first biographer William G. Bek begins with, “Duden was the first German who gave his countrymen a fairly comprehensive, and reasonably accurate, first-hand account of conditions as they obtained in the eastern part of the new state of Missouri.”

In Mack Walker’s Germany and the Emigration 1816-1885 we find, “Duden’s enthusiastic book . . . fits its time with a gratifying neatness; for it first appeared in 1829, just as the Auswanderung to America was beginning to revive. But it not only met a need and suited an atmosphere it helped appreciably to create them. Duden’s descriptions of American landscapes and American resources were vivid, even lyrical. He found American economic, political, and social conditions better than those of the Fatherland, and American intellectual and moral conditions just as good. The color, timing, and literary qualities of Duden’s report made it unquestionably the most popular and influential description of the United States to appear during the first half of the century. It was an important factor in the enthusiasm for America among educated Germans in the thirties; it served for decades as a point of departure for hundreds of essays, articles, and books, and innumerable thousands of conversations; it was a landmark in the life and memory of many an Auswanderer.”

Nearly one hundred twenty-five years following Duden’s Report, Charles van Ravenswaay in his epic The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing Culture tells us, “This timely work . . . greatly stimulated immigration to the United States and caused thousands to make Missouri their destination . . . For more than a generation Duden’s writings formed the leitmotif of German settlement in Missouri, with the interpretation of his comments provoking endless discussion among those who came here. Many immigrants continued to revere his memory as the father of the German migration, and even those who blamed him for their misfortunes seem to have had a grudging respect for that kindly, guileless man.”
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