This paper was
based on my doctoral research on emigration from
Hessen-Darmstadt to Wisconsin. It was inspired by a
socio-historical approach, which was first articulated in 1960 by Frank
Thistlethwaite. He criticized historians for confining themselves to the
European or American side of the story, and encouraged them to examine the "process
of migration as a complete sequence of experiences".1 He challenged American researchers to make the "salt water
curtain inhibiting American understanding of European origins"2 more transparent, and admonished Europeans to
examine settlement patterns of immigrants and their adaptation to a new
environment, known as acculturation. This results in a new perspective "from
neither the continent of origin nor from the principal
country of reception".3 According to Robert
Ostergren, this approach allowed researchers "to view the migrant
experience from within rather than without"4 and to overcome the traditional view of emigration and immigration as
two different phenomena. A good number of such studies on Scandinavians in the Midwest have been conducted
since the late 1960s,5 but Walter D. Kamphoefner’s seminal book, Westfalians in Missouri,
has remained one of the few treatments on German immigrants.6 One of the major obstacles to that kind of project is to locate a group
from a small area in Germany which settled in a limited area in the United
States. I was fortunate to locate about 2,000 people from the small southwest
German province of Rheinhessen who formed group settlements in several counties
in eastern Wisconsin in the mid-1800s. My research included a number of German
and American sources, such as emigration records, German and American land records, the 1850 and 1860
United States Census manuscripts, church and civil records, immigrant
letters, and newspapers. This paper is only a brief overview of some of the
aspects of this research.7
Johannes Neeb, mayor of Nieder-Saulheim near Mainz, encountered a long trek of
emigrant families passing through his village. This scene moved him so much
that in the following night he dreamt that he was relocated to an unknown land.
Neeb wandered around and finally came to a signpost with names of places he
knew well: Mannheim, Oppenheim, Mainz, Darmstadt, and Alzey. Neeb was
flabbergasted. There were no hills with vineyards in the area, the landscape
was not dotted with small villages, and there was no sight of the majestic
Rhine River, just wide tracts of uncultivated land. Soon afterwards he met a
man who introduced himself as the Justice of the Peace of Oppenheim on the Ohio
River. In fluent German he told Neeb that many immigrants from Rheinhessen had
settled in the area and that they were living happily. The stranger invited
Neeb to stay, and Neeb, fond of the idea, wanted to shake hands with him.
However, he hit the bedpost and woke up.8
which was published in 1821 under the title Neu-Deutschland in Amerika,
had a basis in fact.8 Since the late 1600s, people from his area in
the northern part of the old Palatinate, later known as Rheinhessen, had
emigrated to Eastern Europe and North America. Neeb possibly knew that there
was a place called Oppenheim in the United States. It was not on the Ohio
River, however, but in the Mohawk Valley in New York State and had been settled
by Palatines 100 years earlier. Neeb’s dream also makes clear that people in
Rheinhessen knew that there were settlements overseas where people from their
immediate area clustered and which were a magnet for later emigrants. At the
time of Neeb’s death, in 1843, many villagers from his hometown were on their
way to the Great Lakes area of the United States, where they settled in a sparsely
populated wilderness called Wisconsin.
Structure of presentation
First, I will
briefly introduce you to the Rheinhessen homeland of many Hessian immigrants,
and discuss the socio-economic situation there in the first half of the
nineteenth century. Then I will explain why Wisconsin was so popular among
emigrants from the eastern part of the province, and how this chain migration
started. Afterwards I will outline the distribution of Hessian immigrants in
the various parts of Wisconsin in general and focus on areas where they
clustered: the Darmstädter Settlements in southern Washington County and
northern Sheboygan County, and the City of Milwaukee. In order to analyze the
acculturation process of these immigrants in the 19th century, I will discuss:
relationships to Anglo-Americans from the east coast who referred to themselves
as Yankees, marriage patterns, agriculture, beer and wine businesses, religion,
and attitudes toward the Civil War.
of emigration from Rheinhessen
Nieder-Saulheim was part of
Rheinhessen (detailed map of Rheinhessen in 1852), the smallest of the three provinces of the Grandduchy of
Hessen-Darmstadt (Illustration 1). Situated on the left side of the Rhine, Rheinhessen was under French rule
between 1797 and 1814 and was ceded to Hessen-Darmstadt in 1816.9 With a mere 531 square miles, its
territory embraced less than half the size of Dane County, Wisconsin. Most of its soil was fertile and
the mild climate allowed the production of grain and wine. With a population of
213,000 in 1840 it had about 400 residents per square mile which at that time
made it one of the most densely populated areas of Germany. As in most parts of
Central Europe, population growth had been immense within the previous 25
years. The number of Rheinhessians had increased by one-quarter, which posed
severe problems to an agrarian area where it was common practice among peasants
to divide up their land in equal shares among their heirs (Realteilung).
Emigration was regarded by many middle class families as the only remedy
against impoverishment, especially after a series of crop failures in the
1840s. In 1847, the Kölner Zeitung reported that among the numerous
families who were leaving Rheinhessen, "there was not even one, which
could be considered 'poor‘."10 According to the article, most of them were
worth between 4,000 and 5,000 Gulden ($1,600-2,000). A farmer, who had
auctioned his estate for 12,000 Gulden ($4,800)
explained his decision to emigrate with the following words: "You can
call me a wealthy man, but I have nine children. After my death, each of them
would not even inherit 1,500 Gulden ($600), and they would belong to the
paupers in this country and could not aspire to earn as much as to live without
sorrow. I therefore prefer to go to North America now with the funds I have at
my disposition, buy a large homestead for my family at a nominal price and thus
lay the foundation for a worry free future for my descendants." To
this category also belonged Jakob Best, a farmer and vinegar-maker from
Mettenheim. The father of the founder of the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee, Best sold his real estate for
8,000 Gulden ($3,200) before he went to America.11
In the mid
1800s, Wisconsin and other parts of the U.S. were the major, but not the only
destination of emigrants from Rheinhessen. For some time Brazil was popular
among the poor classes because provinces or plantation owners who tried to
stimulate immigration often paid the - otherwise unaffordable - overseas
Chain migration process
Not only people
from Nieder-Saulheim were caught by Wisconsin Fever between the early 1840s and
the Civil War. Nearly 2,000 people from Kreis Oppenheim (consisting of
130 square miles - less than four townships in Wisconsin) also chose this part
of the United States as their new home. In other parts of Rheinhessen as well
as in most areas of the three Hessian States (Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel,
and the tiny state of Hessen-Homburg), people preferred other regions of North
America and were not much attracted to Wisconsin - today the sister state of
the modern German federal state (Bundesland) Hessen. The figures of the
1860 Census clearly illustrate this. There were 123,879 German-born residents
in Wisconsin, but only five percent of them
(6,313) were classified as Hessians.12 Hessians, however,
constituted at least 7 ½ percent of all Germans in the U.S. in that year. They were
particularly strong in the states on the Northern Atlantic seaboard and the
Why, of all
places, was Wisconsin so popular among people from the Oppenheim area? The
answer is quite simple: there was a chain migration process taking place which
was typical for many migrations to the Midwest and other parts of the United
States. Instrumental in stimulating emigration from Rheinhessen to Wisconsin was Franz Neukirch
(1796 Mainz - 1865 Milwaukee), who was an educated
man.13 The Neukirch family had lived for
many years in Guntersblum near Oppenheim. Franz was a forester in a
subordinated position and was in constant quarrels with his superior, who tried
to get rid of him. In 1839, he charged Neukirch with having forged documents.
Neukirch declared he was innocent and was supported by influential people who
knew him. Nonetheless, charges were filed against him, and since things did not
look good for him, Neukirch decided to escape to America. Immediately after his
arrival in New York, he went on to Milwaukee and purchased 80 acres of
government land south of the city in the Town of Franklin. Neukirch's wife and
children joined him one year later. Despite his hard work, he found enough time
to write letters home to his wife, relatives, and friends, in which he praised
the advantages of life in the forests.14The soil on his farm was
fertile, he wrote, and the climate healthy. Game, fish, and a wide array of
berries and fruits offered enough food for the newcomer. It was very easy to
raise pigs and cows, because they did not have to be fed but found their food
in the forests. Neukirch was very fond of the close contacts he had with his
German and Anglo-American neighbors. Schools and churches were built
everywhere, as well as streets and canals. Inspite of low wheat prices,
prospects for agriculture looked very good to Neukirch, and he resumed: "Under
these circumstances every poor daylaborer, who is not needed in Germany, should come here,
where most Germans have earned enough money to buy their land after a short
period as laborers and thus have reached an independent and safe existence."15
made certain that her husband’s letters from Wisconsin were circulated in
Rheinhessen. Since Franz still had a good reputation, the mayor and others of
Guntersblum supported her in her efforts. When she and her children joined him
one year later in 1840, five more families from Guntersblum were also preparing
to go to Wisconsin.
As the first
Rheinhessian in the Milwaukee area, Neukirch’s advice was sought by many of the
immigrants who came in the following year. Johann Schätzel, who arrived late in
1840, was disappointed that all the land in Neukirch’s vicinity had been sold.16 In the land office in Milwaukee he met Valentin Pfeil,
another Rheinhessian from Gensingen, who told him that government land was still available north of Milwaukee in the townships of Mequon and Germantown and that he and people
from the Bavarian Palatinate - just south of Rheinhessen - had settled there.
Schätzel and the other four Guntersblum families took his advice and purchased
land there. In the long run, Neukirch was not happy with his life as a "Latin
Farmer". In 1844 he moved to Milwaukee and took over the brewery of
his son-in-law Johann Jakob Meier. His advice was still in high demand among
recent arrivals and one year later the Wiskonsin-Banner praised Neukirch
as a worthy pioneer of the territory. He had not published books on Wisconsin,
as others had done, but his efforts to attract people to settle in Wisconsin
were, the paper wrote, no less successful. Neukirch was credited with having "incited
with his truthful letters to Rheinhessen an almost irresistible Wanderlust
there [...] Thousands of Rheinhessians are living here, and we have not been
aware of even a single case, where one of them regretted his decision to come
By that time,
Rheinhessians and other Hessen-Darmstädters probably numbered less than a
thousand people in Wisconsin, but Neukirch had good reason to be proud of his
role as Hessian ‘colonizer’. His brewery flourished and he soon became a
wealthy and respected citizen of Milwaukee. As vice president of the German
Democratic Association of Milwaukee, Neukirch was a protagonist of the
political interests of the German element in the city. He continued to promote
immigration to Wisconsin, especially from Hessen-Darmstadt. As correspondent of
the Darmstadt-based, nationally circulated newspaper, Der Deutsche
Auswanderer (published between 1847 and 1850), his letters and accounts
reached a wide audience. According to an estimate of the mayor of Darmstadt,
about 2,000 Germans came to Wisconsin upon his advice.
undisputedly the catalyst for emigration from Rheinhessen to Wisconsin, however, he was not the
only one to stimulate it. In the years 1842 and 1843, for example,the exodus from the village of Selzen and its vicinity to WashingtonCounty was to a large extent
due to Philipp Laubenheimer, one of the earliest pioneers of the Town of Richfield and owner of a tavern
and sawmill there.18
Settlement in rural areas
A survey of the
1860 census manuscripts reveals that Hessen-Darmstädters were scattered in many
different counties, especially between Milwaukee, Lake Winnebago and Manitowoc, until the outbreak of
the Civil War (see Table 1).19 There were two major rural Darmstädter Settlements
in eastern Wisconsin, one in southern WashingtonCounty and a smaller one in
In 1860, 1,256 Hessen-Darmstädters
lived in Washington County (northwest of Milwaukee). They were the second
largest group of Germans after the Prussians. Two-thirds of the Hessians,
mostly from Rheinhessen, clustered in the townships of Germantown, Richfield,
Polk, and Jackson. Most of the immigrants in the Darmstädter Settlement
came between 1842 and 1848, and when the sale of government land came to an
end, the flow of immigrants rapidly diminished. During the late 1840s, new
arrivals went 40 miles north to the wilderness of the Town of Rhine in
Sheboygan County (the Elkhart Lake area) where they were joined by families who
had previously settled in Germantown. In the 1850s, Rhine became the magnet for
immigration from Rheinhessen, and developed into the most solidly Hessian
township in Wisconsin. In 1860, Hessen-Darmstädters and their children
constituted three-quarters of the Germans in Rhine and half of its total
population. This was unusual in Sheboygan County where only one out of five
Germans came from southern Germany.
outbreak of the Civil War, immigration to Wisconsin from Hessen-Darmstadt
quickly diminished and, as in the rest of Wisconsin, never reached great levels
again, as the figures of later censuses reveal. Until 1870 the number of
Hessian-born slightly rose to 6,661, but then dropped to 4,082 in 1880.20 These figures must be treated with caution, however,
because of irregularities in the keeping of the census, and also because many
people from Hessen-Kassel were probably classified as Prussians after the
annexation of their state by Prussia in 1866.
Relationship to other ethnic groups, marriage patterns
were by far the dominant group in WashingtonCounty and the northern half
of SheboyganCounty; their number even grew
after the settlement period.21 The Darmstädter
Settlement in WashingtonCounty was surrounded by
colonies of Pomeranians and Rhenish Prussians from the Hunsrück and the Cologne area. In Washington County German-born and their children constituted 58
percent of the population in 1850, and 68 percent in 1860.22 The SheboyganCounty settlement in the Town
of Rhine was next to group settlements of people from Thuringia, Saxony, Schleswig, and the tiny dukedom
of Lippe-Detmold. As a consequence, the other groups played a numerically
marginal role. While the presence of the Irish, who clustered in the Town of
Erin, continued to be felt, the percentage of Anglo-Americans in the county
dwindled from 17 to 10 percent between 1850 and 1860. The number of Americans
of German descent even rose to 80 percent by the turn of the century.23
the earliest settlers in the Darmstädter Settlements and their language
and culture were different from the Germans. They were mostly wealthier than
the immigrants during the settlement period, and like elsewhere, both groups
held quite a few stereotypes about each other. During the settlement process,
many Rheinhessians were dependent on assistance from Yankee neighbors. Johann
Schätzel in Germantown had a cordial relationship with his neighbor from
Pennsylvania who, together with other Anglo-Americans, had helped him raise his
log cabin in 1840. He wrote home to Germany that his daughter
wanted to marry a Yankee, and that he approved of it because they were also
Christians and moreover, natives of the land.24 Schätzel seemed to have been rather an exception to
the rule. As more Germans poured into the area, the interaction of the first
days decreased. Schätzel’s younger brother Valentin, who followed only one year
later, painted a scathing picture of the Anglo-Americans he knew. He wrote to
his father: "I have to let you know that an American doesn‘t have any religion like a European. He knows no other holiday
than the Fourth of July [...] Each of his words is
accompanied by curses and swears. If they can cheat a German out of his money,
they do so with joy, at least they cheat him wherever and however they can
[...]."25When reading German and English
newspapers and letters. one gets the impression that
Germans and Yankees were living in two different worlds. In 1843, E. R.
Woodworth, who lived just a few miles away from Schätzel, wrote a long letter
to his relatives in Massachusetts. He only dedicated one phrase to his German
neighbors: "Ther [sic] is a great many German Dutch come to this
Teritory [sic] they Seem friendly but not much for
Society".26 Considerable tensions
between the German majority and the Yankee minority, some due to political
issues, - seem to have arisen in WashingtonCounty during the mid-1850s.
They culminated in an 1855 lynching case, where a mob of Germans killed George
DeBar, a New-York-born farmhand who had murdered one of their compatriots.27
It is unknown
if Johann Schätzel’s daughter married the Yankee to whom she was engaged in
1840. She certainly would have been the talk of the area for a long time
because pioneers were more likely to be killed by falling trees than to marry
an ethnic outsider. There were enough Germans around from which to pick a
partner. The 1860 census manuscripts for nine selected counties in Eastern Wisconsin revealed 1,196 married
couples with at least one partner born in the Hessian states, and where it
could be assumed that the marriage took place in the United States.28 In ninety-four out of one hundred cases, both
partners came from German-speaking areas. Only a total of 21 were married to French (most of them probably German-speaking Alsatians), 19
to New Yorkers, 9 to Pennsylvanians, and 6 to Englishmen. It is striking that
only one Hessian was married to a member of Wisconsin’s second largest group of
immigrants, the Irish: he was a cigarmaker in Milwaukee.
the Darmstädter Settlements there was a strong tendency to enter
matrimonial bonds with partners from the same home area. Three out of four
Hessian-born residents in the Town of Rhine, who married in the U.S. before
1860, had Hessian husbands or wives. A few males even traveled back to
Rheinhessen, married there, and returned with their brides.29 Ten years later, after the end of the settlement
period, the situation was different. Marriages with people from other parts of
Germany had become more common, and the proportion of purely Hessian couples
declined to one third of all cases.
majority of immigrants pursued farming even if they had been artisans in
Germany. There were a lot of differences between farming in Rheinhessen and Wisconsin.30 The most striking was the size of the farm. Many of
the settlers emigrated from the village of Selzen where the average size
of a farm in 1817 was 3.5 hectares, a little less than nine acres.31 In 1860, every farmer in WashingtonCounty from Hessen-Darmstadt
owned 70 acres, 41 of which were improved, this
represented almost eight times as much land (see Table 3). In addition there
were almost no forests in Rheinhessen and fire and building wood had to be
imported from other areas and was very expensive. Rheinhessian immigrants
marveled at the prospects offered by the forests on their Wisconsin farms.
The Germans of
Washington County generally enjoyed a good reputation for diversified farming.
In 1853, the State Agricultural Society praised them noting that
although they did not cultivate as much land as Anglo-Americans,
they prepared it more thoroughly and, therefore, had higher production rates.32 This was confirmed by John Gregory, land agent in
Milwaukee, who wrote in a handbook for Irish immigrants in 1853: "I
have seen the truth of this proved in many parts of this State, but in no place
so fully as in the outskirts of Milwaukee, where an industrious and skillful
German makes more of an acre than a country farmer does of five."33 Far from being filiopietistic, I have to say: if this
was true, there couldn’t have been better immigrants than Rheinhessians. Land
in their home region was sparse and intensively cultivated for grain
production, the main products being wheat, rye, barley, and oats. In many
villages, especially on the Rhine, most families also
owned small vineyards. Cattle and other animals were kept mostly for domestic
purposes. Especially in the first years after their arrival in WashingtonCounty, Rheinhessians, like
other Germans, adopted only as many American farming methods as necessary.
During the self-sufficiency period they attempted to continue to farm the ‘German
way’ as much as possible. The manuscripts of the agricultural census reveal
that for many years there were considerable differences in production between
Germans and Anglo-Americans. The censuses also indicate that Yankees pursued
diversified farming from the beginning, as opposed to their compatriots in the
prairie counties. I will only mention two differences. Wheat was, of course,
king among all ethnic groups. In old WashingtonCounty in 1849, 93 bushels per
farm were produced by Yankees, who were traditional wheat farmers, and 72 by
Germans (see Table 2). Rye, a much less important
cash crop, was still a favorite of Germans who produced an average of 42
bushels - ten times as much as Yankees and Irishmen. This was due to the fact
that rye traditionally was used in Germany to bake bread, and the
immigrants wished to carry on this tradition. Germans in 1849 also produced twice as much barley as Anglo-Americans. The amount of eight
bushels per farm was still small and would expand within the next decades as
the demand of the breweries grew. Indian corn and maple sugar were products
Germans did not know from home, but they started producing them immediately
after their arrival, although on a much smaller scale than the Yankees.
later, in southern WashingtonCounty, there were still
considerable differences between Germans and Yankees, but they were gradually
leveling especially among the earliest immigrant farmers (see Table 3). The production figures of Hessen-Darmstädters, some
of whom had farmed in the area for almost two decades, show that the adaptation
of their farming techniques was farther along than that of all German
immigrants. Rheinhessians still produced almost as much rye and barley as their
compatriots, but they now put more emphasis on the production of wheat: with an
average of 128 bushels it was just in between the figures of all Germans (101
bushels) and the Yankees (155 bushels).
continued to be the principal occupation of the farmers in Washington and SheboyganCounties for two decades after
1860, but there were changes on the way. As the importance of Wisconsin wheat dwindled on the
national and international markets, dairy farming became more prominent, first
among Anglo-Americans and soon by other groups.34 By 1885 the acreage of
food crops and market cereals in WashingtonCounty were about equal.35
The 1860 census
reveals that not much cheese and butter were produced in the Darmstädter
Settlements. However, Rheinhessians there were more acculturated and
willing to learn the art of cheese making from their Yankee neighbors than the
rest of the Germans. Both produced 18 pounds of cheese per year which was twice
the German average. The number of cows increased steadily; cheese making had
become an important source of income for many farmers. In the Town of Rhine, the Hessian stronghold
of SheboyganCounty, dairy farming was
introduced later but much more intensively. The first cheese factory in Rhine was started in 1872 by
Helwig Feldmann who was born near the city of Darmstadt.36 Hiram Conover from SheboyganFalls had taught the
manufacturing process to Feldmann’s son, and Helwig’s wife even traveled to New YorkState for a few weeks to
perfect her skills. In 1885, the production of the township alone was almost as
high as that of WashingtonCounty.37
busy people and did not have much time for relaxation. Churches were the major
centers of religious and social life; - there were only a few secular Vereine
in the Darmstädter Settlements until the end of the nineteenth century.
Most Rheinhessians were members of the Evangelical church, which in Rheinhessen
was founded in 1822 when Reformed and Lutherans
merged. They mostly founded United Protestant congregations (Vereinigte
Evangelische Kirchengemeinden) in Wisconsin. The earliest of them
was St. John’sEvangelicalChurch in Germantown, founded in 1843. In Germantown as in many other
places, each sizable German group had its own congregation. ChristChurch in Germantown was known as the "Hunsrücker
Kirche", and in the vicinity of Town Rhine people spoke of the "Darmstädter
Kirche", "Lipper Kirche" or "Schwarzwälder
Kirche" when they referred to St. Peter, Immanuel, or St. John, respectively.38
Some Rheinhessians embraced
denominations that were unknown in Germany. This was in part due to the fact
that Lutheran or Reformed ministers were scarce in WashingtonCounty until the 1860s. Another factor was
that German-speaking itinerant preachers of other groups were quite active; in Richfield their work among Rheinhessian
families was quite successful. By the early 1860s, three congregations were
founded in the Darmstädter section of Richfield: the united Lutheran-Reformed
church, the Evangelical Association (a Pennsylvania-German offspring of
Methodism), and the First Presbyterian Church of Richfield. The First
Presbyterian Church was founded in 1861 by a Presbyterian minister who had
served the united congregation for several years and convinced several of its
members of the advantages of Presbyterianism.39
Rheinhessians brought a philosophical heritage that was not approved of by most
Americans. Since the mid 1700s, and especially since the time of the French
Revolution, many people in Germany had outspoken liberal
religious views. They questioned traditional Christian doctrines, and founded
the so-called Deutschkatholische Kirche (German-CatholicChurch) in 1844.40 Rheinhessen was a major center of German-Catholic
activities, and congregations were soon found both in cities and in the
countryside. They increasingly became the forum for people who espoused more
political freedom and, therefore, were closely observed by the government and
suppressed after the Revolution of 1848 had failed. Some German-Catholic
preachers emigrated to Wisconsin. Among them were Eduard
Schröter, who had officiated for the congregation in Worms, and Heinrich Loose,
his colleague from Neustadt an der Haardt in the Palatinate.41Both were well known in Rheinhessen
because they held public addresses in many locations. Schröter became preacher
of the Freie Gemeinde in Milwaukee and was quite active in
founding freethinker congregations in Wisconsin. He also visited the Darmstädter
Settlements, and his views found much support among many settlers, to whom
he was no stranger.42 By the end of 1852, 30
congregations had been organized in Wisconsin. Among them were the Freimännerverein
von Germantown, the Freie Gemeinde der Towns Polk und Richfield, and the Freie
Gemeinde von Town Rhine.43 Most of these
congregations, however, were short-lived and ceased to exist by the mid 1850s
because of organizational problems and lack of support by members.44 However, many settlers in the Darmstädter
Settlements did not join any churches after the decline of the Freie
Gemeinden, and some of them even opposed the foundation of churches. A
pastor, who arrived in the Town of Rhine in 1859, was greeted by
a local with the words: "We don’t need any Pfaffen (priests), we are in a free country."45
Attitude towards the Civil War
As in the rest
of rural Wisconsin, life in the Darmstädter
Settlements was unspectacular. In 1881, an observer wrote about the Town of
Polk: "The changes for the past thirty years have
been uneventful and mark only the improvement and advancement which have come
to the honest and thrifty people who have subdued the forest and made it the
happy abode of peace and plenty."46There was one event in
those thirty years, however, which influenced the lives of many people; it was
the Civil War.
immigrants were not fond of sending their sons to war. After all, many young
men had left their country to avoid military service. In addition, most Germans
in Wisconsin sympathized with the Democratic
Party, and considered the war ‘Lincoln’s War’.47 In WashingtonCounty, the townships
contributed a lot of money for the support of the northern troops, but the
number of volunteers among German immigrants remained quite low until the end
of the war.48 Riots even occurred
when pressure was exerted upon immigrants by draft commissioners.49 In SheboyganCounty, things were somewhat different.
The Germans there, influenced by leaders such as the advocate Konrad Krez from
the Palatinate, were generally not as opposed to the war as their
southern neighbors.50 Soon after the outbreak
of hostilities, German papers carried appeals to volunteer with the argument
that Germans, as adopted citizens, should show at least as much patriotism as
the Anglo-Americans in the county.51 And especially to
stir-up the Rheinhessians, the Sheboygan National Demokrat published a
version of Yankee Doodle in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, which was
similar to the vernacular spoken in southern Hessen-Darmstadt.52
The war had
pushed acculturation a step forward. Immigrants who served served in the war
were more aware than ever before that they now were part of a nation which was
worth fighting for. In 1868, the residents of the Town of Rhine were praised highly
when they erected a war monument. A local newspaper
wrote: "The town of Rhine has taken the lead in
this county, in commemorating in marble [...] the patriotism and bravery of the
soldiers of that town who gave up their lives in the service of their adopted
country during the late war of the Rebellion".53 War monuments at that time were still uncommon in
rural areas of the United States and Germany, as a rule, but they
could frequently be found in Rheinhessen. In the 1840s, a number of memorials
were inaugurated there to commemorate the soldiers who had fought under
Napoleon, who was still held in high esteem by many veterans.54 So the early erection of the war monument with the
names of German and Anglo-American casualties was not only a patriotic gesture,
but also the continuation of a Rheinhessian tradition.
Hessen-Darmstädters in Milwaukee
spent some time in Milwaukee before they purchased
farmland; others, especially craftsmen, decided to stay in the city. In 1860,
one out of five Hessians in Wisconsin lived in Milwaukee.55 They came from different areas, but the proportion of
Rheinhessians was quite great. Many of them were in close contact with
relatives and friends in the Darmstädter Settlements. A young man named
Philipp Walldorf became aware of this soon after his arrival in the city in
1856. Reports that he enjoyed the nightlife of Milwaukee a little bit too much
soon reached his cousin fifty miles north in Town Rhine. His inappropriate
behavior was immediately reported to his parents in Germany who, in turn, wrote him
an admonishing letter.56
network of Rheinhessians in Milwaukee also had its good
sides. Many immigrants found work at businesses owned by people from their home
districts. This is especially true for the pioneer brewing industry in which
Rheinhessians played a crucial role. Most of the early German breweries in the
city were run, at least for a time, by brewers from towns within a 20-mile
radius in southern Hessen-Darmstadt. In 1844 Philipp Best from Mettenheim
founded a brewery on Prairieville Road which, under his
son-in-law Frederick Pabst, became the Pabst Brewery, one of the nation’s
giants in the business.57 In 1869 Best took over
the South Side Brewery, which for twenty-five years had been operated by Franz
Neukirch and his son-in-law C. T. Melms. In 1850 his brother Charles Best
opened the Plank Road Brewery which was sold after three years to Fred Miller,
an immigrant from Württemberg - for whom America’s second largest
brewery is named.58 Another early brewer
was Johann Braun from Partenheim. He was business partner of Neukirch until
1846, when he founded the City Brewery.59 Five years later, at
age 29, Braun was killed in a traffic accident and his widow married his former
employe Valentin Blatz from Bavaria, who united Braun’s
brewery with his own new business.60 Another success story
in the Milwaukee brewing business also
began with a young widow. After brewer August Krug died in 1858, his widow
married Joseph Schlitz, his clerk who had come from Mainz three years before.61 When the man whose "beer made Milwaukee famous"62 died in a ship accident on the Atlantic in 1875 he was one of
the city’s richest men, his company manufactured almost 70,000 barrels a year.63 Two more prominent Milwaukee brewers from
Rheinhessen in the second half of the nineteenth century were Jakob Obermann, a
shoemaker from Selzen, and Adam Gettelman, who was born in Germantown of parents from
Why did people
from a wine growing area play such a crucial role in the beer brewing business,
not only in Milwaukee but also in other
cities?65 Perhaps the answer is some
immigrants from southern Hessen-Darmstadt, such as Joseph Schlitz, had been
trained as coopers and were familiar with both the production of wine and beer.
It is also interesting to note that Rheinhessians were among the wine dealers
of Milwaukee. John P. Kissinger from Selzen, and Adam Orth from Eich started their businesses in
the mid-1850s and frequently traveled to Europe and imported large
quantities of wines, especially from the vineyards of their homeland.66 Orth, an important client of winegrowers in his
native area, imported 104,000 gallons of wine from Hessen-Darmstadt between
1857 and 1867.67
As I have
demonstrated, Rheinhessian immigrants to Wisconsin were transplanted but
not uprooted. In a sense, mayor Neeb’s dream came true. Many aspects of the
lives of the Rheinhessians would have been very familiar to him, while others
would have been unrecognizable. Rheinhessians gradually adapted to their new
country, but at the same time tried to keep as much of their traditional way of
living as possible. Most adaptations were out of necessity, as was seen in the
switch from wine production to beer production. In agriculture they enlarged
their wheat production, but still maintained enough rye production to eat their
traditional foods. The antagonism between mainstream Protestantism and
German-Catholicism in Rheinhessen became more apparent in the free intellectual
climate of Wisconsin. Eduard Schroeter once
commented that - at least for a time - his humanist ministry on the banks of Lake Michigan was as successful as
during his time in Worms on the Rhine.68
In an area dominated by the
German element, the last cultural element to be lost was their mother tongue.
German remained the everyday language of many families in the Darmstädter
Settlements of Washington and SheboyganCounties until the second half of the
twentieth century.69 The
language was taught by parents and Sunday school teachers, but hardly in public
schools. In the settlements studied, the language handed down was the ancestral
dialect which was often far from standard German. Roland Schomberg had two
problems when he started to teach first graders in a public school in the Town
of Rhine area in the early 1930s.70 First of all, none of the children
had sufficient knowledge of English, the teaching language. Schomburg had to
teach them the basics of English in German. When doing so he encountered the
second obstacle. The children understood his high
German, but they replied in Hessian dialect, which he - who grew up speaking
Plattdeutsch just a few miles further east - hardly understood. And if mayor
Neeb met some of the elders today he could still speak to them in Rheinhessian,
just as I do today.
Table 1: Hessians in selected Wisconsin counties 1860
percentage of Hessians in Wisconsin
Fond du Lac
evaluation of 1860 U.S.
census manuscripts (people claiming birth in Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel,
2: Agriculture in Washington
County, Wisconsin 1849/50
Average production per farm (including
the townships of later OzaukeeCounty)
Number of farms
Value of farm ($)
Value of implements ($)
Value of animals ($)
Value of slaughtered animals ($)
Indian corn (bush.)
Peas and beans (bush.)
Maple sugar (pounds)
Author’s evaluation of the Agricultural Schedules of the 1850 Washington County
Table 3: Agriculture of various ethnic groups in the Darmstädter
Settlement of Washington County, Wisconsin 1859/60
Average production per farm
Number of farms
Value of farm ($)
Value of implements ($)
Value of animals ($)
Value of slaughtered animals ($)
Indian corn (bush.)
Peas and beans (bush.)
Value of Fruits ($)
Maple sugar (pounds)
Author’s evaluation of the Agricultural Schedules of the 1860 Washington County
Census (Towns of Germantown, Jackson, Polk, and Richfield).
I would like to
thank Joseph Salmons for the kind invitation to participate in the Max Kade
Institute's "Defining Tensions" Conference. I am also indebted to
Fran Loeb Luebke, Fred Horneck and others for their great support.
Thistlethwaite, ‘Migration from Europe Overseas in the Nineteenth and
Twentieth Centuries’, Comité International des Sciences Historiques, XIe
Congrès International des Sciences Historiques, Stockholm, 21-28 Août 1960, Rapports: V:
Histoire Contemporaine (Göteborg/Stockholm/Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksell, 1960), 34.
Thistlethwaite, Migration from Europe Overseas, 32.
Thistlethwaite, Migration from Europe Overseas, 34.
Ostergren, A Community Transplanted: The
Trans-Atlantic Experience of a Swedish Immigrant Settlement in the Upper Middle West, 1835-1915 (Madison: Wisconsin UP, 1988),
excellent case study on Scandinavian immigrants is Jon Gjerde, From Peasants
to Farmers: The Migration from Balestrand, Norway, to the Upper Middle West (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985).
6) Walter D.
Kamphoefner, The Westfalians: From Germany to Missouri (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987). A
German version was published some years earlier: Westfalen in der Neuen
Welt. Eine Sozialgeschichte der Auswanderung im 19. Jahrhundert (Münster:
F. Coppenrath, 1982) (Beiträge zur Volkskultur in Nordwestdeutschland, 26).
7) See my dissertation: Helmut Schmahl, Verpflanzt, aber
nicht entwurzelt: Die Auswanderung aus Hessen-Darmstadt (Provinz Rheinhessen)
nach Wisconsin im 19. Jahrhundert, (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000) (Mainzer
Studien zur Neueren Geschichte, 1). An English translation is in progress
with the kind assistance of Joseph Salmons, Fran Loeb Luebke, and others. For more information see my
8) See Johannes Neeb, Vermischte Schriften, Vol. 3
(Frankfurt: Hermannsche Buchhandlung, 1821, Reprint: Brussels: Impression
Anastaltique Culture et Civilisation, 1981), 102-111.
9) For a
concise treatment of the historical and socio-economic background of
Rheinhessen and other parts of the Rhineland in the early 19th century, see
Jonathan Sperber, Rhineland Radicals: The Democratic Movement and the Revolution of 1848-1849 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991),
from the periodical Der Deutsche Auswanderer, 8/1847, col. 128. The
article was also printed in other German and German-American papers, such as
the Allgemeine Auswanderungszeitung,23 Feb
159, and the Wiskonsin-Banner, 1 May 1847.
11) See the
records of notary public Georg Jakob Saurmann from Bechtheim (Landesarchiv Speyer
K 1 Nr. 3386).
C. G. Kennedy, Population of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the
Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1864), liii.
Helmut Schmahl, Verpflanzt, aber nicht entwurzelt, 123-129 for a
detailed list of sources on Franz Neukirch.
Neukirch’s letters were printed in Der Deutsche Auswanderer, 2/1847 [no
date given], cols. 20-22; 3/1847, cols. 37-40; 27 May 1848, cols. 349-352; 3 June 1848, cols. 362-363; and Wilhelm Hense-Jensen,
Deutsch-Amerikaner bis zum Schluß des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Vol. 1
(Milwaukee: Deutsche Gesellschaft, 1900), 289-302.
15) See his letter, Milwaukee, 1 Dec 1839, quoted in
Hense-Jensen, Wisconsin’s Deutsch-Amerikaner, Vol. 1, 295.
16) Letter of Johann Schätzel, Milwaukee 19 Dec 1840, quoted
in Der Deutsche Auswanderer, 35/1847, col. 558.
17) Wiskonsin-Banner, 12 July 1845.
18) Laubenheimer was born in Dexheim in 1803. See his biographical sketch in History
of Washington and Ozaukee Counties (Chicago: Western Historical Company,
1881), 463, 733.
19) See Helmut Schmahl, Verpflanzt, aber nicht entwurzelt,
Chapter 6 (151-202) for details.
Francis E. Walker, A Compendium of the Ninth Census  (Washington:
Government Printing Office, 1872), 394-395; Statistics of the Population of
the United States at the Tenth Census  (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1883), 492-493.
following observations are based, if not stated otherwise, on the author’s
computerized database of the population schedules of the 1850 and 1860 United States censuses for Washington and Sheboygan counties.
22) WashingtonCounty in 1850 had 11,190 inhabitants
(excluding later OzaukeeCounty), by 1860
the number rose to 23,622. Author’s evaluation of census
23) See Carl
Quickert, Washington County, Wisconsin: Past and Present, Vol. 1 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke,
24) Letter of Johann Schätzel, Milwaukee 19 Dec 1840, quoted
in Der Deutsche Auswanderer, 36/1847, col. 574.
25) Letter of Valentin Schätzel, Milwaukee, 22 Aug 1841,
quoted in Der Deutsche Auswanderer, 35/1847, col. 557.
Historical Society of Wisconsin, File 1843 June 8: E. R. Woodworth
Richard N. Current, The History of Wisconsin, Vol. 2: The Civil War Era,
SHSW, 1976), 192-194; Joseph Schafer, ‘The Yankee and Teuton in Wisconsin’, Wisconsin Magazine of History
7 (1923/24), 164-168.
28) The 1860
Census did not list the relationship of people living in one household.
However, a plausible reconstruction of family structures was possible in most
cases. It was assumed that a marriage took place in the U.S. if the oldest child living in the
household was native-born. Also, couples less than 51 years old with no
children listed were included in my survey. Kamphoefner, Westfalians in Missouri, 112 used a similar classification.
Diefenthäler, who emigrated to Germantown in 1848, returned to his home
village Spiesheim in 1851 and brought his bride to America. See Portrait and Biographical
Record of Sheboygan County (Chicago: Excelsior Publishing Co., 1894), 531;
Ira A. Glazier / P. William Filby (eds.), Germans ToAmerica: Lists of Passengers arriving at U.S. Ports, 1850-1855, Vol. 2 (Wilmington:
Scholarly Resources, 1988), 449.
30) There is
no recent scholarly study on the history of agriculture in Rheinhessen. A good
introduction on farming in the area in the first half of the 19th
century is contained in Wilhelm Heße, Rheinhessen in seiner Entwickelung von
1798 bis Ende 1834. Ein statistisch staatswirtschaftlicher
Versuch (Mainz: Florian Kupferberg, 1835).
31) Landesarchiv Speyer U 184 Nr. 13: Generalmusterliste
(census) Selzen 1817.
Allgemeine Auswanderungs-Zeitung, 27 Aug 1853.
Gregory, Industrial Resources of Wisconsin(Chicago: Langdon and Rounds, 1853), 62-63.
John W. Hunt came to a similar conclusion in his Wisconsin Gazetteer, published
in Madison in the same year, (223).
Joseph Schafer, A History of Agriculture in Wisconsin (Madison: State Historical Society
of Wisconsin, 1922), 97-164; E. E. Lampard, The Rise of the Dairy Industry
in Wisconsin: A Study in Agricultural Change, 1820-1920 (Madison: State Historical Society
of Wisconsin, 1963), 47-89.
35) See Report
on the Productions of Agriculture, as Returned at the Tenth Census 
(Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883), 211, 324; Tabular Statements
of the Census Enumeration , and the Agricultural, Mineral and
Manufacturing Interests of the State of Wisconsin [...] (Madison: Democrat Printing Co., 1886),
Edwin L. Fisher, The Cheese Factories of Sheboygan County, (Sheboygan:
Sheboygan County Historical Society, ca. 1992), 9, 25.
37) Rhine produced 437,564 pounds of cheese,
Washington County 457,682. See Tabular Statements of the Census Enumeration
1885, 532, 573.
Communication of Fred Horneck, Elkhart Lake, WI to the author, September 1996.
Barbara A. Nelson / Margaret S. Holzbog, Richfield Remembers the Past (Richfield, WI: Richfield History
Committee: 1996), 72-73, 75, 77-78.
40) On the
history of the movement in South West Germany see Peter Bahn, Deutschkatholiken und Freireligiöse. Geschichte
und Kultur einer religiös-weltanschaulichen Dissidentengruppe, dargestellt am
Beispiel der Pfalz (Mainz: Gesellschaft für Volkskunde in Rheinland-Pfalz,
1991) (Studien zur Volkskultur in Rheinland-Pfalz, 10).
41) On Schröter see J. J. Schlicher, ‘Eduard Schroeter the
Humanist’, WMH 28 (1944/45), 169-183, 307-324; on Loose see Peter Bahn, Deutschkatholiken
und Freireligiöse, 331-332.
42) See his autobiographical essay ‘Zehn Jahre in Amerika dem
freien Menschen- und Gemeindethum das Wort geredet und doch nicht verzweifelt’,
Blätter für freies religiöses Leben 7 (1862/63), 91.
43) See Wiskonsin-Banner, 5 Oct 1853.
44) See Blätter für freies religiöses Leben 1
45) See Louis von Ragué, Lebensbilder aus der Innern
Mission! Pastor Louis von Ragué. Erinnerungen aus seinem Leben und Wirken
(Hoyleton: Evangelische Waisenheimat, 1912), 24.
History of Washington and OzaukeeCounties, 425.
Frank L. Klement, Wisconsin in the Civil War: The Home Front
and the Battle Front, 1861-1865 (Madison: State Historical Society of
Wisconsin, 1997), 26-31.
48) See History
of Washington and OzaukeeCounties, 363-368.
49) See Lawrence H. Larsen, ‘Draft Riot in Wisconsin, 1862’, Civil War History 7
50) On Konrad Krez see Wolfgang Diehl, Konrad Krez –
Freiheitskämpfer und Dichter in Deutschland und Amerika (Landau: Pfälzische
Verlagsanstalt, 1988); Portrait and Biographical Record of Sheboygan County,
51) See, for example, Sheboygan National Demokrat,1
version of the Yankee Doodle in the Sheboygan National Demokrat
of 7 Sep 1861 reads as follows: "Yänky-Dudel: Der Däd und ich, mir
wor'n im Camp,/ Mitsammt 'm Cäpten Gudwin,/ Un do hen mer die Buwe g'sehn,/ So
dick wie hästi Pudding./ Un do wor Capten Waschington,/ Uuf'm
schöne Gaul, gar rausend / Der hot den Leut die Orders gewe - / Es waren viele
Tausend./ Chor: Yänky Dudel halt's nau uff,/ Yänky Dudel Dändy,/ Meind die
Musik un den Step,/ Un faß' die Mäd recht händy /[...] Un Unkel Säm, der war
aach do / mit Zwiwel un mit Kuche,/ Un hot se verschwapt vor Zuckersach -/ Des
hot er hehm g'numme./ S'wor so en Fun, ich kann's net all / Verzähle, was ich
g'sehn;/ Ich had mei Hut gezoge nu / Bin hehm zu meiner Mämme [...]"
53)EvergreenCity Times, 20 June 1868, quoted in Eleanor Kuhn, The
Town Rhine Monument to Civil War Dead (s.l.: Sheboygan County Landmarks,
54) See Wolfgang Bickel, Rheinhessen. Zeugnisse seiner
Geschichte (Frankfurt am Main: Diesterweg, 1994), 86.
Hessian-born are listed on the census manuscripts. Their number may have been
considerably higher because the census taker of the 5th and 8th
wards disregarded the instructions to record the names of German states where
immigrants were born.
Philipp Walldorf’s comments in a letter to his parents in Dolgesheim, dated Milwaukee, 11 May
1858. In possession of Frau Irma Walldorf/Uelversheim.
Philipp Best and his family see Thomas C. Cochran, The Pabst Brewing
Company: The Model of an American Business (New
York: New York University Press, 1948), 3-69.
Jerold W. Apps, Breweries of Wisconsin (Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1992), 113-121.
Frank A. Flower, History of Milwaukee (Chicago: Western Historical
Society, 1881), 1457-1458; Apps, Breweries of Wisconsin, 99.
60)Milwaukee Sentinel, 29 Mar 1851; Flower, History of Milwaukee, 1462.
Howard Louis Conard, History of Milwaukee from Its First Settlement to the
Year 1895, Vol. 2
(Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Co.,  ),
62) For many
years after Schlitz’ death, this was the slogan of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing
Company. See Apps, Breweries of Wisconsin, 102.
Flower, History of Milwaukee, 1463; The United States Biographical Dictionary and
Portrait Gallery of Eminent and Self-Made Men: Wisconsin Volume (Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York: American
Biographical Publishing Company, 1877), 382.
Obermann see The United States Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery
of Eminent and Self-Made Men, 196-197. In recent years, a history of the
Gettelman brewing business was published: Nancy Moore Gettelman, A History
of the A. Gettelman Brewing Company (Milwaukee: Procrustes Press, 1995).
founders of Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis were also from that part of the Rhineland. See Rudolf Cronau, Drei
Jahrhunderte deutschen Lebens in Amerika (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1909),
Conard, History of Milwaukee, Vol. 2, 368-370.
67) Staatsarchiv Darmstadt G 1 Nr. 110/4: "Decennial
Report of Importations from Hessen-Darmstadt Uebergeben von Hrn. Weinhändler
Adam Orth gebürtig aus Eich Kr. Worms", enclosure of a report by
Ludwig von Baumbach, Consul of Hessen-Darmstadt in Milwaukee, 3 Feb 1868.
68) See Blätter für freies religiöses Leben 7
Geiger from the University of Wisconsin in Madison is currently working on a
dissertation on German dialects spoken in SheboyganCounty.
Communicated to the author by Roland Schomberg in September 1996. See also his autobiography, ... And That’s The Way It Was!
(Sheboygan: Sheboygan County Historical Society, 1986), 23-28.