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7 Arriving in Texas during the 1840s, German immigrants left behind them a land composed of a patchwork of kingdoms, duchies, and principalities steeped in feudal tradition and dominated by Austria and Prussia. Following Napoleon’s defeat of the German states, social reform had come with the abolition of hereditary serfdom and the establishment of municipal rights for cities for the first time. A system of elementary and secondary education was created, and citizens could now stand for civil offices.1 The impact of these reforms was apparent to the German colonists. Older members of the families could recall serfdom or knew of it from their parents. Most were the first generation to receive a public education. All of them knew how disunity in Germany had led to defeat and humiliation by the French. Social reforms notwithstanding, the living conditions in Germany were harsh. Lich writes that “Jobs were scarce, and laborers were poorly paid. Taxes were oppressive, and few people had more money than was required to buy the most essential necessities.” Compulsory military service prevailed at that time providing fodder for seemingly endless wars.2 In overpopulated areas, farms were fragmented to a critical level. Inheritance laws in northeastern Germany prohibited division of farms, and younger sons had to find what work they could in a job-poor market that paid only minimum wages. Farmers were poorly paid for their produce, and barter became an accepted practice due to the general lack of money. Women could only marry, but there was nowhere for them to start a chapter 1 “Murderous Passions Unleashed” 8 Chapter 1 home once they were wed. Industrialization posed a direct threat to the cottage industries that provided farmers with their supplementary income.3 Moreover, with Napoleon’s defeat, the German rulers began a program of vigorous repression to stamp out the sparks of freedom and reform. Against this backdrop of misery a group of nobles organized the Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas) commonly known as the Adelsverein (League of the Nobility) in April 1842 with the view of settling Germans in Texas.4 After considering the 4000-acre Nassau farm as a colony, the site was rejected because it was “too close to existing American towns for the Germans to be able to preserve their identity.”5 In its place the Adelsverein chose the Fisher-Miller Grant for colonization.6 It was a poor decision that cost dozens of lives. Testifying in 1893, John O. Meusebach7 stated: With the buying of that grant the doom of the company was sealed. They did not know what they bought. They undertook to fulfill what was impossible to ful- fill. They did not have the means nor the time to fulfill it. Neither of the contracting parties nor their agents had ever seen a particle of the land in question. The territory set aside for settlement was more than three hundred miles from the coast, more than one hundred and fifty miles outside of all settlements, and in the undisturbed possession of hostile Indians.8 The group’s first commissioner, Prince Karl von Solms-Braunfels arrived in Texas in 1844. Concerned with maintaining ethnic purity, he decided against using Galveston to disembark the settlers. Instead, he purchased a tract on Matagorda Bay initially christened Karlshafn (Karl’s Bay) and later renamed Indianola. Aside from its isolation there was little to recommend it. German colonist Carl Blumberg wrote that the area, infested by mosquitoes and rattlesnakes, was the “cemetery of the poor German” where families rested “under the open sky, subjected to the bad influences of an unhealthy climate, putrid drinking water, and frequent rain showers.” Summers were particularly bad “when dysentery, typhus, chills [malaria?], dropsy and other serious 9 “Murderous Passions Unleashed” illnesses” plagued the area taking “such a heavy toll that often families of eight to ten persons are wiped out in a few days.”9 Frederick Law Olmsted, following a trip through Texas in 1856, also noted the deplorable conditions at Karlshafn. “The country had been stripped of provisions, and the means of transportation, by the army. Neither food nor shelter had been provided by the association. The consequences may be imagined. The detail is too horrible. The mass remained for months encamped in sand-holes, huts or tents: the only food procurable was beef. The summer heat bred pestilences .”10 Into this gulag poured the families that would...


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MARC Record
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