Friday, November 4, 2016

The German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven

One of the first places I headed when I arrived in Germany in October was to Bremen and nearby Bremerhaven. I had never been to these cities, but had read about them when researching the lives of several German immigrants who came to Arkansas in the nineteenth century.  It was from Bremen that the George Family and Rev. Gustav Klingelhöffer departed in March 1833 for Little Rock as part of the Mainzer Immigration Society seeking to establish a new German state. The journey and the first years in Little Rock were difficult, but the George Family became prominent citizens of the city. Klingelhöffer lived a long life as a farmer in nearby Perry County (see ).

Likely, Bremen or Bremerhaven (both are on the Weser River that flows into the North Sea; Bremerhaven is at the mouth of the river about thirty-five miles upriver from Bremen) was the point of embarkation for other Germans who came to Arkansas, including Peter Paul Loetscher and his family (see; Philip Dietzgen, a contentious man who edited the Arkansas Staatszeitung (see ; and Friedrich Kramer, who came to the United States in 1848 and after serving in the U.S. Army settled in Little Rock in 1857.  He was a successful merchant who was elected as a Republican to be mayor for a term lasting from late 1873 until 1875; in 1881 he was again elected as mayor, this time as a Demcrat, and held office until 1887.  

These men and their families were among the nearly eight million Germans who from the late eighteen century into the early 1970s departed from Bremen and Bremerhaven as emigrants.

The German Emigration Center

As the port from which so many Germans left their country, it is fitting that Bremerhaven is the site of an emigration museum that is part of the Deutsches Auswandererhaus (German Emigration Center). The museum opened in 2005 and expanded in 2012. In addition to the museum, the Center has a small library and a collection of donated materials (e.g., photos, artifacts, books) related to emigration.

A Wing of the German Emigration Center with the
Bremerhaven Harbor in the Background
The museum describes itself as an “experience,” “family,” and “migration” museum.  The experiential part of the museum starts when you buy your entry ticket and are given a boarding pass. With this boarding pass, you embark on a journey that parallels the emigrant journeys that are the museum’s focus. First, you enter a hall that is the waiting room for the travel to the new homeland; then you are on a wharf – the year is 1881 -- in front of the bow of a large boat that you will enter on a gang plank. After you are on the boat, you see how you will live in the crowded confines of the often squalid third class. Also, you get a look at how the better off lived in second and first classes. After the journey, you are at the Ellis Island immigration arrival hall seeking permission to enter the United States. When you are admitted, you find yourself in New York’s Grand Central Station. (See this site for some pictures of the inside of the museum: 

Your understanding of the journey is helped with recorded information that you can access in German or English. In fact, all exhibits and information provided to visitors are bilingual, so English speakers can have the same experience as German speakers. 

To enhance to the experiential part of the visit, each person entering the museum is assigned the name of German emigrant whose life story unfolds as the trip is made through the museum. The story is told in annotated documents, pictures, and recordings.  My assigned person was Richard Morgner (1926-1999), who, I learned, was born and raised in Bremerhaven, had been a German soldier in World War II, and had emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1954, traveling third class with just a few dollars in his pocket. In the U.S., he later became a millionaire.

In addition to the emigration experience, visitors have the opportunity to investigate an immigration experience by crossing a hall into an addition to the center that was added in 1912. This part of the experience is set up as a small shopping center from the late 1960s with a hairdresser salon, a used book store, a travel agency, and a department store.  Aside from the fun of looking at realistic old stores, the shopping center plays a role in researching another person assigned on the boarding pass, a person who immigrated into Germany. In my case, this person was Wilhelm Somplatski, a Pole living in East Prussia, who traveled every summer from 1881 to 1910 to work as a coal miner in the Ruhr region.  The story of his life, as well as some artifacts from it, are to be found in the “shopping mall.” For example, his picture is in the hairdresser salon and different personal items are in the vintage book store, etc.

The experiential element of the museum is engaging and seems especially valuable in making the Auswandererhaus a family museum. When I was there just before noon on a Thursday in late October, it was jam packed. A large portion of the attendees was comprised of families with children, plus a group of teenagers on a school trip made their presence known.

The museum is not cheap. The entry price is 13.80 Euros for adults. It is operated by a private company, though its building costs were financed largely by the Bremen and Bremerhaven governments. 

The museum has some impressive elements. For example, more than a dozen realistic mannequins dressed in 1880s garb stand on a dock in front of the hull of a large ship. They are waiting to board it on a gangplank that is visible. The inside of the ship is realistically depicted, including a view of the roiling ocean through port holes. Also mannequins are shown sleeping and dining in second class.

This experiential exhibition, in all, provides a good taste of what it was like to board a ship that would take you away from your home to live in a foreign land.  This experience is probably especially poignant for people whose ancestors made the trip.

In the Years to Come

At some point, the museum will likely need to update itself to address the experiences of more recent immigrants. It has recently added a short movie in its immigration section about the movement of Turks into Germany, which started in the late 1960s. At present, about 3 million people of Turkish ancestry live in the country. And, of course, more recently, Germany has been the destination for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. In a hundred years, their stories will likely inspire the same emotions among their descendants as felt by descendants of earlier emigrants today as they reflect on the emigrant experiences of their ancestors.

The Failed Quest for a New German State in Arkansas and Missouri, 1833 and 1834

(Note: this is a lightly updated blog published a couple of years ago on another site.)

I followed with great interest a traveling exhibit entitled Utopia: Revisiting a German State that was shown at the Missouri History Museum from late November 2014 until April 2015. [1]  The exhibit celebrated the 180th anniversary of the 1834 arrival of about 500 Germans, members of the Giessener Emigration Society, in St. Louis. They had traveled to Missouri to try to establish a German state there.

The origin of the exhibit could be traced to an East German student, Henry Schneider, who about three decades earlier had run across the story of the Giessener Emigration Society while doing research on a script for a screen writing class.[2]  His efforts to write a script based on the Society’s  experiences faltered, but a couple of decades later, in 2004, he mentioned the Giessener group to Peter Roloff, a Berlin film maker, who also became fascinated with its little-known story.

To learn more about the topic, Roloff assembled a group of friends in the summer of 2005 to discuss the Giessener Emigration Society and their research about it. The amorphous group, which called itself the Traveling Summer Republic (TSR), held annual summer meetings on the subject for several years. It invited some historians in Missouri who were knowledgeable about the Giessener Society to join the meetings. In 2009 and 2011, the group met in Missouri.[3]

The 20 or so members of the TSR -- historians, writers, film makers, photographers and artists -- curated the Utopia exhibit, which was managed and financed in part by the city of Giessen. They also wrote an outstanding and definitive book, Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, in both German and English, to accompany the exhibit, plus Roloff, the convener of the TSR, made two films about the topic.[4]   

The bilingual Utopia exhibit — spanning 3,000 square feet —opened in Giessen in November 2013, then moved to Bremen in April 2014. The exhibit had a brief stay in Washington, D.C. before the full exhibit opened at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis in November 2014. According to the curators, they wanted the exhibit to convey both the physical feel of moving great distances and the emotional discomfort of going from the familiar to the new and unknown. Roloff explained that the goal was for visitors “to feel somehow the texture of time, of wanting freedom, of being afraid and maybe not succeeding as you had hoped.”[5] A history of the exhibit can be found, in German, at this link:

The Arkansas Connection

For Arkansans interested in the history of German immigration, the Utopia exhibit had bittersweet elements that inspired some envy of Missouri’s success in attracting the Giessener Emigration Society.  The thing is, the Giessener group had been planning to settle not in Missouri, but in the Arkansas Territory. However, as the emigrants gathered in March 1834 to travel from Bremen to Little Rock, they learned that an affiliated group, the Mainzner Emigration Society, had a miserable experience in Arkansas after it had journeyed there a year earlier.[6]  Also they were told by a scout who had just returned from Arkansas that it was an unsuitable site for the planned German state.

The bad experiences of the Mainzner group and the scout were caused to some extent by bad weather and water-related illnesses. The settlers, who arrived in Little Rock in May 1833, and the Giessner Society scout, who visited the city in the late fall, encountered a severe cholera epidemic afflicting travelers on the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. Also they observed devastating flooding along rivers and streams in Arkansas. Beyond that, they learned the hard way that malaria was widespread in the territory and discomfort from summer heat was much greater than expected.

But what if Arkansas’ weather had been better in 1933?  I often wondered, as many years ago I researched the George family, who came to Little Rock as part of the Mainzner group, what would have happened if Arkansas had had less flooding, cholera, and malaria in 1833. Would the Mainzner group have had at least modest success? In the absence of negative reports about the Arkansas Territory, would the Giessener group have traveled, as planned, to Little Rock and settled in the Arkansas Territory? Then, would other Germans have followed the Mainzner and Giessener groups to the Territory? If all of this had happened as planned, would Arkansas have become the German state desired by the emigrants?

Perhaps examining the experiences of the two emigration societies can help answer the question of whether Arkansas had a chance of becoming the German state envisioned by the Mainzner and Giessener Emigration Societies.

German Emigration Societies Plan a New German State in the Arkansas Territory

The idea of leaving the numerous duchies, grand-duchies, princedoms, principalities, and other sovereign entities that comprised Germany in the 1820s and 1830s appealed to many educated Germans who hoped to escape political repression and an ailing economy.[7] Interest in emigration was especially high in the Hessen area of Germany, including its two largest cities Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, and in neighboring Rheinhessen, where the cities of Mainz and Worms are located.

When two Hessen brothers-in-law Friedrich Münch, a country priest, and Paul Follenius, a lawyer in the university city of Giessen, published a pamphlet in 1833 detailing a plan to establish a German state within the United States, the response was enthusiastic. The pamphlet was titled “Call and Declaration Concerning an Emigration En Masse from Germany to the North American States.”[8] 
In the “Call and Declaration,” the plan was summarized as follows:

It is our idea that the better part of the many Germans who have decided to emigrate should settle as a group, united as a whole in keeping with the purified and presently existing political form and received into the great federation of states, so that in this way the survival of German customs, language, etc. should be secured, so that a free and popular form of life could be created.”

To be clear: the plan’s intention was for German settlers to “remain apart from the settled English and French American population….They did not want to become American.” Instead they wanted to “extensively cultivate German virtues, German customs, and the German language, raising their youth in conformity with this.” The goal was to replant their homeland, minus the political repression, in the United States.[9]

When the pamphlet was first published in March 1833, it quickly sold out, and a second edition was issued in July. It contained the rules governing the Society. They included a provision prohibiting aristocracy and slavery in the German Colony. Also, the rules stated that all authority of the Society, including any that was delegated, “rests alone in the totality of all voting heads of families, completely equal in rights and obligations.”

According to Münch, the pamphlet “was excellently received and encouraged us to become bold; thousands wanted to join us, and to help with the plans necessary for realization.”[10] The planned site for the new state was, tentatively, Arkansas, which was still a territory and in 1830 had just over 30,000 residents.

The idea was that similar societies and clubs would be set up “everywhere in Germany” and that these groups would remain in contact and support each other until “finally the chosen land (namely the so-called Territory of Arkansas…whither already early this year a large group has started) would be populated thoroughly with Germans.”[11]   The emigration would take place in waves until in about 25 years, 60,000 Germans would have settled an area. At that point, they could petition Congress to become a state.[12]

The Territory of Arkansas seemed inviting not only because it was not yet a state and had few people, but also because it was said to have delightful weather: there were reports that it was a “highland…with the enchanting climate of the Spanish plateau.” Little Rock was to be a “future Valencia.” In the “call and declaration” Arkansas was described as a region half the size of Germany, watered by the Arkansas, Mississippi, the Red and White Rivers. It was “blessed with all the riches of nature, healthy on its heights, with the climate of northern Italy, populated with colonies of benign Indians and scattered Frenchmen from Louisiana.”

Apparently, this optimistic description of Arkansas was based on travel accounts published during the first decade of the 1800s that were plagiarized, enhanced, and embellished in a chain of publications, including an 1832 emigration handbook written by H.W.E. Eggerling. That handbook was an important source of Follenius’ understanding of Arkansas’ climate and geography.[13]

According to Gert Göbel, an early German settler in Missouri who knew well several members of the Giessener group:

The society’s original plan was to found a settlement near Little Rock, Arkansas; a large complex of land was to be purchased, then of each member would receive 50 acres; the first houses were to be built communally and as close to one another as possible, just as livestock food stuff was to be provided from the collective account.[14]

The “call and declaration” prescribed that each home site of the Society’s colony should have at least 20 undivided acres. Beyond that, “Primary care should be taken that, even though agriculture will be the chief occupation, the layout should accommodate the conditions of a future town of crafts and trade.” In operating the colony, a “common treasury” would be maintained to cover “unavoidable common expenses.” Among those expenses would be the school teacher, the physician, and a clerk.

Related details of the plan, according to a German newspaper (The Hermit) story published in its April 11, 1834 edition were that the Society would purchase a large connected territory in Arkansas from the collective account and create a kind of metropolis with the name “Free City” (Freistadt). Then it would establish numerous villages from this central point outward. The settling of Freistadt and the surrounding villages would continue until the settlement had 60,000 citizens. [15]

It took only a few months in 1833 for the Giessener Emigration Society sign up 500 members, hold an organizational meeting, and begin preparing for the first wave of settlers to travel to the United States in the following year. In the meanwhile, a group affiliated group with the Giessener Society had departed for America in 1833. This group, the Mainzner Emigration Society, had assembled 160 to 400 people for the trip to the United States.[16]  According to Münch, “As they left Germany in March 1833, the leaders of the Mainzner Emigration Society saw themselves as the vanguard of the new movement.”[17] They expected the Giessener settlers to join them in Arkansas during the following year.

Arkansas: The Land of Missed Opportunity, 1833

On April 30,, 1833, the members of the Mainzner Emigration Society arrived in New Orleans on the Olbers, a 152-foot long sailing ship that had departed from Bremen on March 5th. Their 55-day trip took them to the West Indies and past Jamaica on their way to their final destination. The same ship would take the first group of Giessener Society settlers to New Orleans the following year.

On May 5th, about 140 of the German settlers continued their trip, going up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers to Little Rock. About 100 of them were on the Arkansaw steamboat; another 40 were aboard the Volant.  It was a bad time to be on these Rivers. According to one contemporary observer:

We have got cholera in its most aggravated type in this [Pulaski] county. Every boat that comes up the Arkansas is full of it….The cholera is five times as bad as it was last season…Great parts of our country have been inundated… All the farmers on the rivers are injured, and some completely ruined. This overflow will be another great source of sickness for those on the rivers. [18]

George Sandherr, who was in the group on the Arkansaw, wrote to his relatives in Germany, “The trip up the Mississippi and the Arkansas Rivers went fairly slowly because the ship was heavily loaded. During this time a young man, 14 years old, fell into the Mississippi and drowned. Also on this voyage, everyone had more or less violent attacks of the cholera. Ernst Kolb, from Göttenau, died of it after he was put ashore at the village of Montgomery.” [19]

The Arkansas Gazette reported on May 22, 1833 that the Arkansaw and the Volent had arrived in Little Rock earlier in the month.  The article observed:

The emigrants are mostly composed of families, appear to be to be intelligent and some of them quite refined, and have among them a due proportion of mechanics, farmers, etc. and the first party have their Minister, Physician, and Schoolmaster. All of them appear to be full-handed and some of them are wealthy.[20 ]

Only 140 of the Society members went to Arkansas because the others chose to go elsewhere. They could do so because the Emigration Society had dissolved itself due to bickering and disagreements even before the ship reached New Orleans; the “common funds” had been redistributed to the families.

This core group followed the original plan to travel to Little Rock. However, when it got there, its members could not agree on where to settle. Some wanted to buy land along the Arkansas River; others, who feared the River land would frequently flood, wanted less risky acreage. Ultimately, the 140 families ended up going to different five different locations, including one group to White County. The largest group, which included Gustav Klingelhöffer, a Lutheran pastor who was a leader of the Society, settled a colony near the North bank of the Arkansas River. That group regretted its decision in 1835-1836 when their lands were inundated and lives threatened by flooding.[21]

The emigrants who stayed in and around Little Rock were likely not too impressed with the city. It was a small, crude town of about 500 residents in a county of about 1,000 people. According to adventurer and writer Friedrich Gerstäcker, who first visited Little Rock in the later part of the 1830s, it was “one of the most awful holes in the United States.” When he returned a couple of years later, he found that the city had substantially improved, but he still did not like it, complaining that “every glass of water I drink tastes a bit like a corpse.”[22]

The lot of most of the settlers was a difficult one. In a letter Klingelhöffer sent to his brother in June 1834, a year after his arrival in Little Rock, he told of the toll that sickness has taken on him and other German settlers in 1833. He reported that he had a fever from January 1834 until the 10th of March. Beginning in June, he had cut back on his work “mindful of all the bitter experience from last year.”  He was restricting his work because “Much of what may be done in Germany, one must leave off here, if he does not want to ruin himself.” He mentioned that in the colony, a man named Knapp had recently died because he did a foolish thing: “He had malaria and during a fever, he lay down in a spring-fed brook to cool himself.”

Klingelhöffer complained bitterly about the behavior of Germans in his colony, saying they were the “lowest disgraceful creatures.” But, of course, he wrote, there are exceptions, and he mentioned those whose actions he found respectable. Among them was “Roth from Frankfurt,” a single man who was working a farm by himself. When Klingelhöffer’s wife asked Roth how he was getting along with “cooking and such,” He replied: “Quite well.” He elaborated, “I get up early, milk my cow, drink part of the milk along with bread and cheese spread. Then I work until noon, eat cheese and bread, work until evening, then eat the same thing, then before going to bed, I spend an hour with Knapp and Schön, who live nearby.”

At the conclusion of the letter, Klingelhöffer wrote: “I am just noticing that my letter has assumed too much of my present frame of mind. Do not be misled, however; the land is good, the constitution in good, the people are freedom-loving, but cold and egotistical.”[23]

The situation of the Klingelhöffer colony was grim when George William Featherstonhaugh visited it in November 1833, just a few months after it was established. He was in Arkansas conducting a geological survey for the U.S. government. He wrote:

[In some bottom land along the Arkansas River] we found some German emigrants temporarily hutted, who had gone through a variety of adventures since they left their native faderland [sic]:  they had been sick with malaria and were now recovering, but all their enthusiasm for liberty and America had evaporated; their resources, too, were nearly exhausted, and, enfeebled and disheartened, they seemed not to look forward with pleasure any more, but rather to revert to what they had left behind….These poor people were delighted to converse with me, and to find that we took an interest in them. I gave them a little money, of which they stood in great need to purchase meal... [24]

Traugott Bromme, who wrote a guide in 1846 for Germans eager to emigrate, painted a grim picture of the fate of the Mainzner settlers. First, he mentioned that he had warned several members of the group that, based on his first-hand knowledge of Arkansas, they should not settle there, but his advice had been dismissed by the group’s leaders. Then, he described the situation in which the settlers had found themselves:

The saddest was that the settlers suffered constantly from diseases; frequent flooding of the bottom land worsened the already very unhealthy air, causing numerous fevers from which hardly one of the Germans was spared, and a full third of the company and most unwarned successors ended up in a grave within three years. All of the survivors who were able departed, mostly to Missouri State, but those who were unable to sell their possessions unfortunately had to stay, even though they had no prospect of survive on their estates. Many unhappy members of [the Society] still vegetate in the low lands of Arkansas, cursing their gullibility and their leaders, who for the most part paid for their deafness with their lives. [25]

Perhaps Bromme was showing some schadenfreude in his description, and things were not quite so bad. Nevertheless, we do know that within a few years of their arrival, many, if not most, of the 140 emigrants who arrived in Little Rock in 1833 had left the state or died. However, several stayed and some, such as the George Family in Little Rock became prominent local citizens.[26]

Why, aside from the abysmal weather and health problems in 1833, did the Mainzner Society’s settlers fail?  Writing in the 1860s, Münch suggested that Klingelhöffer and his group were so taken by the glowing reports about Arkansas that they left for America without really thinking through their plan. He wrote, “They left before plans were really complete, before they had the advantage of receiving feedback from a commission to be sent by the Giessener Society.” He agreed with Traugott Bromme’s assessment blaming the difficulties encountered by the Mainzner group on haste and poor planning.[27] As will be discussed later, other, larger factors also impeded the success of the Society.

The story of Arkansas’ unsuccessful German settlement faded from history over time. However interest in the group started to revive as post World War II researchers became interested in Gerstäcker’s rich accounts of his travels in Arkansas during much of 1838 to 1842.[28]  Although Gerstäcker did not tell the story of the Mainzner settlement, he described in his book Wild Sports in the Far West his encounters with several Germans who had come to Arkansas in 1833 as part of the group. He became especially good friends with Klingelhöffer, who Gerstäcker stayed with on his farm in Perry County.

The efforts to document the story of the Mainzner Emigration Society got a great boost in the 1970s when a descendant of German emigrants became interested in it, and as an amateur historian and genealogist, undertook a remarkable investigation of the topic. We know as much as we do about the 1833 Mainzner Emigration Society largely because of the work of Ruth Yingling Rector, whose ancestor Sebastian Jüngling had emigrated in the 1840s to White County, Arkansas, along the Little Red River, where his sister, a part of the 1833 group, had located with her husband and children.[29]

Rector’s research, which began in 1975, took her to archives in Germany several times. She, with a collaborator in Germany, managed to identify about 110 of the 140 settlers who were part of the 1833 group.[30]  Also, she located letters that the wife of Klingelhöffer mailed to her parents, starting just before the Olbers departed for New Orleans. Although illness stopped Rector from writing a planned book on the topic, her decade of work left a rich trove of documents, research papers, and other materials that are now in the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. 

A few years after Rector’s death, her work was taken up by Shirley Schuette, who wrote about the 1833 emigration in her master’s thesis (which should be a book) and in other papers, including a recent publication in the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. Using Rector’s materials and her own research, Schuette has written the most complete account of the 1833 Mainzner Emigration Society.[31]

Even though the arrival of the Mainzner Emigration Society settlers in Arkansas in 1833 has not been celebrated in Arkansas as the Giessener group is being celebrated in Missouri, its story recently has been told more fully than ever. Likely other related documents await discovery in some musty archives in Germany, and in future years will we know even more about the group and this small element of Arkansas’ history.

Finding Utopia in Missouri, Sort Of

The 500 people selected to be members of the Giessener Emigration Society were a balance of different types of craftsmen, agriculturalists, and people working in professions. The Society leaders did not welcome poor, lower class applicants such as farm hands, day laborers, journeymen, and others without skills or education. These types of people were deterred from participating by the high cost: those selected had to pay upfront for transatlantic transportation, a passport, money to be used to buy land, and other common costs.[32]

After the goal of 500 participants was reached, Society members began the often difficult and usually painful process of preparing to depart from their jobs, homes, and homeland. They divided into two groups; one was made up of emigrants who could depart earlier than the others.

Two ships sailed from Bremenhaven in 1834 to take members of the Giessener Emigration Society to the United States. The first ship, the Olbers, took about 240 Society members to New Orleans under the leadership of Paul Follenius. It departed on March 31, arriving on June 2nd, a troubled 63-day trip.

Shortly before it departed, the group heard the report of two men who Giessener Society had sent to scout possible settlement locations in Arkansas and Missouri. They warned Follenius and the group against settling in Arkansas, telling them that “The climate there was unsupportable; the land was boggy and unusable in many places. The best territories were already in the hands of slave owners.”[33] Further, they reported that the “Klingelhöffer Society had dissolved and was in sad shape,” plus they had in November encountered there a foot of snow.”[34]

One of the scouts, a trusted and good friend of Münch, wrote him privately, “For heaven’s sake, do not leave your position! America may be a good land for a sturdy worker, but not for an educated German.” [35] But it was too late. Münch had left his job and was in the middle of preparations to depart.

At the beginning of the voyage, several passengers on the Olbers came down with smallpox and deaths followed, including a young child of Follenius. In addition to the problems caused by sickness, the conditions on the ship stirred discontent among the society members, in part because while most people were in steerage, some wealthier members of the Society had booked themselves into cabins.

After getting to New Orleans, the group headed by steamboat to St. Louis. Unfortunately, the cholera epidemic that that afflicted the 1833 Mainzner group was still around, hitting the Giessener group very hard, with 40 dying. In the middle of the trip, Follenius became very ill and had to leave the boat to recover. By that time, the group had had enough: they decided to dissolve the society and distribute the common funds; when the steamboat got to St. Louis, the emigrants scattered.[36]  

In the meanwhile, departure date of the second ship was unexpectedly delayed from early May to June 3rd.  Although 260 society members had traveled to the Bremen area in late April for the voyage, the ship that was to take them, the Eberhard, sank on its return trip from America.[37]

The month-long wait was painful and expensive. When a replacement ship, the Medora, was finally procured, only 197 of the original 260 emigrants were on the ship as it departed on June 3. The voyage lasted just over seven weeks, arriving in Baltimore at the end of July. While the passengers liked the two-year-old ship, they disliked the captain, complaining he fed them with spoiled meat and gave them rank water to drink. After arriving in Baltimore in late July, the society members were on their own to meet up in Wheeling, Ohio to travel together down the Mississippi to St. Louis.

News of the problems with the first group reached Münch before his group boarded the steamboat to travel to St. Louis. Though the settlers were upset by the news, he convinced them to continue the trip as planned. When they arrived in St. Louis, they found the Society’s finances were in disarray because of the haphazard distribution of common funds to the first group. According to Münch, “The worst thing was that while Follenius and his family lay sick in Paducah, the treasurer and the bookkeeper had taken the cash to St. Louis, and there had divided the money among the surviving members, in what now appeared a very inaccurate manner, and then deposited an amount smaller than was due us, in St. Louis.”[38]

Seeing the hopeless situation, the remaining members of the Society voted to dissolve it. Accusations and disputes followed. At the last large meeting of the Society in St. Louis, “furious fights and riots broke out as well as the threat of violence against Paul Follenius, because he had been taken to be responsible for the financial misery.”[39]

After the Society dissolved, several of its members – including Münch and Folleius -- moved to an area near St. Charles, Missouri. Although the settlers lived near each other, they were not part of a communal settlement. Münch become a successful farmer, writer, and politician. Also, he was among the leaders that helped insure Missouri did not become part of the confederacy.[40]

Looking at the history of the Giessener Emigration Society, Dorris Keeven-Frank, executive director of the Missouri Germans Consortium, observed, “Of course, the Giessen Emigration Society was a complete failure.” Nevertheless, she noted, “The immigrants [who had been members of the Society] succeeded individually in building lives in America, although they saw enough in the New World to know that it was far from utopia.”[41]

Did Arkansas’ Weather in 1833 Change the Course of U.S. History?

Back to the question of whether Arkansas had a chance of becoming the German state envisioned by the Mainzner and Giessener Emigration Societies if the weather had been better. The answer seems to be  “no.” The experiences of the two Emigration Societies suggest that weather was a minor factor in their failure. Even with the best weather and mildest health problems in 1833, the Mainzner Society’s colony in Arkansas would most likely have failed because of human nature and because of the reality of life in Arkansas.

It was no accident that the Mainzner Society fell apart before its arrival in New Orleans and that the members of the first group of the Giessener Society ended their participation in it before arriving in St. Louis. Although each group was made up of educated people who disliked the political situation in their home states, most group members had not known each other before they joined the Society. They were not bound to each other by blood, friendship, or religious beliefs. Without ties stronger than dislike of the political situation in Germany, they had little basis for deep mutual trust or shared sacrifice.

The problems of a lack of mutual trust and an unwillingness for shared sacrifice were compounded by the absence of strong leadership. As voluntary associations with democratic decision making rules, Society leaders could not make decisions to force people to do anything they did not want to do (outside of actions required by the written Society rules). Thus, to be effective, the leaders needed to be highly persuasive, preferably charismatic. Apparently, the leaders of both Societies leaders were neither.  

Without effective leadership and trust, the two Emigration Societies faltered as they faced the inevitable hardships and the need to overcome difficult hurdles to achieve their goals. Neither was able to overcome even the initial stresses of a long and miserable journey. As the discomforts and illnesses increased, the Society’s bonds were not strong enough to hold the group together.[43]

Even if the Mainzner Emigration Society had been able to overcome its human problems, it likely would have been unable to create a successful colony in the Arkansas Territory or in other nearby states. As Rolf Schmidt observed in his chapter in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, “neither in Missouri nor Illinois nor Arkansas was there enough settlement area for a common enclosed colony.”[44]

The Arkansas Territory was particularly unsuited for a large settlement. The state was still mostly an undeveloped wilderness. Aside from slave holders growing cotton in its south, most of its residents scratched out a subsistence living by small scale farming and by hunting. Creating larger farms, as Bromme pointed out in his 1843 guide, would have been difficult because “Wheat did not grow there; cotton was too often damaged by frost to be sustainably cultivated for profit; and there was no market in Little Rock for the remaining products.”[45]

The development of a large, viable colony would have depended on its ability to sell crops and other goods outside the territory. However, Arkansas still had only crude means of transportation. Even the Arkansas River provided only sporadic transportation links to the outside world (according to Featherstonhaugh, it was navigable only four months a year).  Göebel wrote about the Arkansas territory at the time: [“C]ommunication with the rest of the world was sparse and irregular because out of this wilderness, other than the annual cotton crop of the large slave holders, there was little or nothing to get from there.”[46]

If it had been possible to build a large colony in the Arkansas Territory, the Mainzner Emigration Society likely could not have done it with the type of settlers it brought to Arkansas. It lacked the laborers and famers who could have supplied the needed back-breaking work to tame a wilderness. Like the Giessener group, “many participants [of the Mainzner group] were simply not capable of the difficult manual labor involved.”[47] The advice Munch’s friend had given him also applied to the Mainzner group: Arkansas was no place for educated Germans.

Regardless of settlement opportunities in the Arkansas Territory, the Mainzner group would likely have chosen to avoid Little Rock (and the Arkansas Territory) if its members had known of the city’s and the territory’s reputation as a place where criminals came to escape the law. As Arkansas historian S. Charles Bolton wrote, “Arkansas Territory was a violent place where duels occurred frequently, brawls were commonplace, and murder was something about which the average citizen might reasonably worry. Moreover there was a significant population of counterfeiters, horse thieves and other professional criminals. In truth both lawlessness and shiftlessness were important parts of Arkansas Territory.”[48]  

Gerstäcker summed up how people saw Little Rock in the late 1830s:  It was “a backward looking corrupt place, and the boatmen on the Mississippi sing, not without reason”

               Little Rock in Arkansas
               The damnest place I ever saw.[49]

It seems doubtful that educated Germans would desire to live in such surroundings even if they had been successful in developing their colony.  Clearly, the Arkansas Territory could never be mistaken for a potential Utopia.

Enjoying the Utopia Traveling Exhibition

The realization that Arkansas most likely was not robbed of a German state by bad weather made it easier for Arkansans to enjoy the celebration of the Giessener Immigration Society’s arrival in Missouri and, through the exhibition, to learn more about its own 1833 German settlement.

The members of the Traveling Summer Republic did an outstanding job researching this part of Germany’s and Missouri’s history, impressively unearthing facts about what happened and why, plus vividly telling the story of the Society. Their work as presented in the exhibit, the book, and the films should enrich the knowledge of everyone interested in the history German immigration in the United States.


[1] For more information about the exhibit, see this web sites: . For more information on the topic, go to .

[2] See Henry Schneider. 2014. The America Weary, Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, Edition Falkenberg. pp. 289-292.

[3] For the best summary of the history of the exhibit, see:  For information about the Traveling Summer Republic, see

[4] The book, Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, can be ordered from this link:
For information on the movie, see

[6] The Mainzner Emigration Society has also been called by various authors the Rheinhessen Immigration Society and the Wormser Emigration Society. Apparently, it did not have an official name. I first became interested in the 1833 German emigrants in the middle 1970s when doing historical research on a prominent Little Rock family, the George Family, who were part of the group.  See Dan Durning. 1975. Those Enterprising Georges: Early German Settlers in Little Rock. Pulaski County Historical Review, June.p. 21-37.  This article is available at this link:

Recently, the story of the Mainzner Emigration Society was told in an article in an issue of the Arkansas Historical Quarterly that was devoted to article about Friedrich Gerstäcke:  Shirley Schuette. 2014. Friedrich Gerstäcker’s Friends in Arkansas. Arkansas Historical Quarterly, LXXIII (1), pp. 102 – 114.

[7] A good discussions of the reasons for emigration from Germany in first part of the 1830s can be found here:  Maps of the small states in Hessen are in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, pp. 318-319.

[8] This title is used by Dorris Keevan-Frank in an on-line article, The 1833 Call for Emigration: The Giessen Emigration Society, at this link:  Schuete (2014, see note 6) translated the German title as “Invitation and explanation in regard to large scale migration out of Germany to the Free States of North America.” Another translation, “Call and Declaration on the Subject of Mass Migration from Germany of the North American Free State”, is used in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p 94. The German title is:  Aufforderung und Erklärung in Betreff einer Auswanderung in Grossen aus Deutchland in die nordamerikanishen Freistaaten.  A translated copy of his brochure can be purchased through this link:

[9] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 98.
[10] Münch quoted in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 93.

[11] Münch quoted in Hella Hübsch and Ruth Rector. n.d. Emigrants to Arkansas, 1833: On the search for names and places of origin of a German traveling group. Manuscript in the Rector Papers at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies,

[12]  Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 72.

[13] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 71.  The second edition of H. W. E. Eggerling’s book, Beschreibung der Vereinigten Staaten von Nord-Amerika (1839) is available as a free Google book at this link:
The “call and declaration” pamphlet, after describing the benevolent environment of Arkansas, stated that “we shall not depart until we are thoroughly informed on the conditions there.” It suggested that the Society would send a commission to scout the areas to be settled, which it did.

[14] Gert Göbel. 1877. Länger als ein Menschenleben in Missouri. Verlag Wiebusch und Sohn, St. Louis, quoted in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 94. For a biographical sketch of Göbel, see Walter D Kamphoefner and Adolf E. Schroeder, Gert Goebel and the Giessen Emigration Society, in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, pp. 267- 283.  

[15] The first page of the newspaper is reproduced in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 106 and quoted on page 98.

[16] The actual number of members of the Mainzner Emigration Societies who traveled to the United States is not known. The New Orleans landing records for the date of their arrival are missing. Some writers state that the 140 people who went to Little Rock were about a 1/3 of the total membership of the Society; others assert that only about 20 did not go to Little Rock, indicating a total of about 160 people were in the group.

[17] Münch quoted in Shirley Schuette. 2005. Strangers in the Land: The German Presence in Nineteenth Century Arkansas. Master Thesis for an M.A. in Public History, UALR

[18] Hiram Whittington. 1986. Hiram Whittington Letters in Authentic Voices: Arkansas Culture 1541-1860, Sarah Fountain, ed. University of Central Arkansas Press. 

[19] Report of Louis Reuter concerning the emigration of his brothers-in-law [Carl and George] Sandherr to America in 1833” in Ruth Yingling Rector. n.d. A German Emigration to Arkansas, manuscript in Rector papers at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

[20] Arkansas Gazette, May 22, 1833, transcribed in Rector, A German Emigration to Arkansas (see note 19)

[21] Schuette, 2005 and Schuette 2014 (See notes 6 and 17).

[22] Friedrich Gerstäcker. 1844. Streif- und Jagdzüge durch die Vereinigten Staaten Nord-Amerika, volume 2 (1844), p. 29. Available as free Google e-book.  Published in English in edited form as Wild Sports in the Far West.

[23] Dr. Carl Walbrach. 1931. Ein Auswandererbrief Gustav Klingelhöffers aus dem Jahre 1834. In Heimat in Bild, No 38.  A photocopy of this article and its translation (translator not specified) are in the Rector Papers at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. The quotes are from the translation.  For more on Klingelhöffer, see this link:

[24] William Featherstonhaugh. 1844. Excursions through the Slave States, pp. 167-168 (Free Google e-book).

[25] Traugott Bromme. 1846. Rathgeber für Auswanderungslustige. (Free Google e-book).

[26] Dan Durning. 1975. (See note 6).

[27] See Bromme (1846) note 25; Friedrich Münch.1864. Zur Geschichte der deutschen Einwangerung. Deutsch-Amerikanische Monatsheft für Politik, Wissenschaft und Literature, vol. 1, p. 484 (Free Google e-book).

[28] Clarence Evans, a native Arkansas, did the most interesting and detailed research on Gerstäcker’s travels in Arkansas. Two examples of his early publications are:  Clarence Evans. 1947. Friedrich Gerstäcker: Social Chronicler of the Arkansas Frontier. Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 6, pp. 440-449 and Clarence Evans. 1951. Gerstäcker and the Conwells of White River Valley. Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 10, pp 1-36. Evan’s papers are available at the Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock.

[29] Ruth Yingling Rector. A German Emigration to Arkansas. (see note 19). See a story about her papers at this link:

[30] Hella Hübsch and Ruth Rector. 1982. Auswanderer nach Arkansas (USA) 1833. Auf der suche nach Namen and Herkunftsorten einer deutschen Reisengesellschaft.” Hessische Familienkund, June, 117-122 (a copy of this article is in the Rector papers at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies).

[31] Schuette, 2005 and Schuette 2014. See notes 6 and 17.

[32] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 93.

[33] Briefe von Deutschland aus Nordamerica. 1836. Quoted in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 94.

[34] Münch 1864, p. 487 (see note 27).

[35] Münch 1864, p. 487 (see note 27).

[36] Letters from Germans out of North America, 1836. Quoted in Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 140.

[39] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 144

[40] For the story of Münch and other Germans in Missouri after 1834, see Dorris Keevan-Franke “Missouri – “Where the Sun Shines,” Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, pp. 173-260.

Farley Grubb. 2011. German Immigration and Servitude in America, 1709-1914. Routledge
and Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung. 2006. Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000, Working Paper No. 81.  Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, February, 2006. Access here:

[43] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 147.

[44] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 146.

[45] Bromme. 1846. (See note 25).

[46] Göbel 1877, p. 147 (See note 14).

[47] Utopia/Aufbruch in die Utopie, p. 84.

[48] S. Charles Bolton. 1993. Territorial Ambition: Land and Society in Arkansas 1800-1840. The University of Arkansas Press, p. 2.

Friedrich Gerstäcker. 1844. Streif- und Jagdzüge durch die Vereinigten Staaten Nord-Amerika, volume 1, p. 139. Available as free Google e-book.