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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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