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Nassau Plantation

The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation

James C. Kearney

Publication Year: 2010

In the 1840s an organization of German noblemen, the Mainzner Adelsverein, attempted to settle thousands of German emigrants on the Texas frontier. Nassau Plantation, located near modern-day Round Top, Texas, in northern Fayette County, was a significant part of this story. James C. Kearney has studied a wealth of original source material (much of it in German) to illuminate the history of the plantation and the larger goals and motivation of the Adelsverein. This new study highlights the problematic relationship of German emigrants to slavery. Few today realize that the society’s original colonization plan included ownership and operation of slave plantations. Ironically, the German settlements the society later established became hotbeds of anti-slavery and anti-secessionist sentiment. Several notable personalities graced the plantation, including Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels, Johann Otto Freiherr von Meusebach, botanist F. Lindheimer, and the renowned naturalist Dr. Ferdinand Roemer. Dramatic events also occurred at the plantation, including a deadly shootout, a successful escape by two slaves (documented in an unprecedented way), and litigation over ownership that wound its way to both the Texas Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Published by: University of North Texas Press


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pp. i-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

My thanks first of all to the late Bill Stein, librarian, historian, and archivist of the Nesbitt Memorial Library in Columbus, Texas. Bill’s command of the names and dates of Texas history was humbling; his knowledge of the techniques and resources of research, indispensable. Bill followed this study from the beginning until his recent, untimely ...

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pp. 1-10

The idealistic and delusionary attempt by the Society for the Protection of German Emigrants in Texas to settle thousands of German emigrants on the Texas frontier in the 1840s is a story of epic pro-portions, which one scholar characterized as the greatest tragedy of German emigration to the New World in the nineteenth century, but ...

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Chapter 1. The Adelsverein

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pp. 11-23

Fascination for Texas, despair about Germany—these factors, broadly speaking—motivated a group of German noblemen to fashion an ambitious program of emigration from Germany to Texas in the 1840s. To governments and to individuals alike, the young Republic of Texas suggested exciting possibilities. Britain, France, and Belgium hoped ...

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Chapter 2. Joseph Count of Boos-Waldeck

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pp. 25-38

Joseph Count of Boos-Waldeck, the founding member of the organization most intrigued by slavery, volunteered for the expedition to Texas and was appointed leader. He was fifty years old, had the asked to go along. His request was granted on condition that he Once in America, the Society agreed to cover all his expenses, as well as those of his servant, as long as they were engaged in the ...

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Chapter 3. The Plantation

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pp. 39-52

In January 1843, Count Boos-Waldeck departed with Count Leiningen and Charles Fordtran for New Orleans to outfit his plantation with supplies and slaves.1 Strategically located at the mouth of the Mississippi River, New Orleans had one of the largest slave auctions in the South. As a port city it also had many stores in which to find a ...

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Chapter 4. Germany and Texas in 1843 and 1844

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pp. 53-62

Decisions reached in Germany in 1843 put the Society on a path that would lead to financial disaster and relegate the plantation to a supporting role. Carl Count of Castell had his sights set much higher than a plantation, or a string of them, and he set about to insure that the Society adopted his vision. The plantation encompassed a little more than four thousand acres; a land grant amounted to hundreds ...

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Chapter 5. The Runaways

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pp. 63-74

Meanwhile back in Texas, the first episode illustrating the incompetence of the German efforts to run a slave plantation by proxy was taking shape. Three slaves ran away from Nassau Plantation. Charles Fordtran, the Texas-German left in charge by Boos-Waldeck, documented his attempts to recover the slaves in a hitherto unprecedented way....

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Chapter 6. Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels

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pp. 75-92

About the same time as the slaves were eluding capture in Texas, Hoffmann von Fallersleben,1 a prominent German political lyricist of the forties, wrote a cycle of songs called the Texanische Lieder (Texas Songs). In them he gave eloquent voice to the frustrations and hopes that drove so many of his countrymen to forsake their homeland for ...

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Chapter 7. Friedrich von Wrede

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pp. 93-102

There is no evidence of Prince Solms-Braunfels opposing slavery prior to his appearance in Texas in 1844. But after confronting it firsthand, his judgment about slavery is forceful and unequivocal: it is a “cause for shame,”1 a stain on human society, and a matter “unworthy” of the Adelsverein. Because Charles Fordtran was so closely associated with ...

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Chapter 8. Das Herrenhaus

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pp. 103-108

The tragic and unexpected death of Friedrich von Wrede, Sr., left the manor house to stand empty for several months. By placing the house a half-mile from the center of operations, Count Boos-Waldeck had placed class-consciousness above functionality, and this contributed to the inefficient administration of the plantation, as Friedrich von ...

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Chapter 9. The Plantation and Agriculture in Fayette County

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pp. 109-122

When Joseph Count of Boos-Waldeck viewed the Jack League for the first time in the fall of 1842, he found the area sparsely populated with nearly all the settlers engaged in rudimentary farming and animal husbandry in one way or another. Industry, such as existed, centered on a handful of sawmills and gristmills and a smattering of blacksmith shops and similar businesses playing a supportive role ...

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Chapter 10. Die Katastrophe

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pp. 123-152

October 29, 1847: a crisp fall pre-dawn morning at the compound of the Herrenhaus at Nassau Plantation. The distinct sound of the cocking of guns disturbs the morning calm. A shotgun blast suddenly shatters the quiet, followed by an eruption of gunfire lasting several minutes. Captain Frederick Somers, an Anglo-American, who had just ...

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Chapter 11. Otto von Roeder

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pp. 153-164

Eighteen forty-eight was a rough year for the Society both in Germany and in Texas. The shootout at the plantation set into motion the series of events which culminated in the dismemberment of the plantation. Confronted with difficulties at every hand and faced with rising debts, the Society was desperate for the good will of the citizens ...

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Chapter 12. Nassau-Rosenberg

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pp. 165-182

The von Rosenberg family was a prominent German family who spent the formative stage of their move to Texas at or near Nassau Plantation. Their extensive correspondence, published as Ancestral Voices, offers fascinating insight into the process of assimilation and establishing a new life in a new world, which included coming to ...

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Chapter 13. The Adelsverein, the Plantation, and Slavery

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pp. 183-206

It has become accepted usage to refer to the military conflict between the Northern and Southern states in the period 1860 through 1865 as the “Civil War.” This terminology, especially as it applies to Texas, is unfortunate because it is inaccurate and misleading. For Texas, the conflict represented a Second War of Secession. The First War of Secession ...

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Chapter 14. A Clouded Title

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pp. 207-218

“From 1850 on the affairs of the Society suffered very much due to a combination of factors. Many lawsuits were filed against the Society in 1847, 1848, and 1849, and judgments entered. The Society’s property, which according to an inventory of 1847 would have had a value of approximately $250,000, was sold, mortgaged, lost, wasted and gradually disappeared until almost nothing was left. Its claim on ...

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pp. 219-232

On March 30, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the act that readmitted Texas to the Union and ended Congressional Reconstruction. Once the turmoil and disruption of Reconstruction finally subsided and the Chandler suits had ended, the Jack League and the surrounding landscape settled into a new phase, a phase of bucolic tranquility ...

Appendix A. Boos-Waldeck Purchases

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pp. 233-236

Appendix B. Bourgeois d’Orvanne Inventory, July 1844

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pp. 237-242

Appendix C. Inventory, December 1847

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pp. 243-244

Appendix D. Slave Inventories

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pp. 245-246

Appendix E. Proclamation Concerning Slavery

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pp. 247-248

Appendix F. Descriptions of the Herrenhaus

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pp. 249-254

A Note on Sources and Abbreviations

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pp. 255-262


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pp. 263-318

Select Bibliography

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pp. 319-336


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pp. 337-355

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413434
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412864

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 19 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • German Americans -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
  • Nassau Plantation (Tex.) -- History.
  • Adelsverein -- History.
  • Texas -- Colonization -- History -- 19th century.
  • Texas -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 19th century.
  • Germany -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 19th century.
  • Fayette County (Tex.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Slavery -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
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