Germans in Missouri

How “German” is Missouri? While many residents today would say “it is VERY German” we often forget just how it became so German. It didn’t start out that way at all.

The Louisiana Territory was added to the United States in 1804, by Jefferson purchasing it from France, making it the far west. At that time, its’ few thousand inhabitants were mainly French-Canadian fur traders, Spanish (who had owned the territory up until a few years prior) and American pioneers.  Daniel Boone had been invited by the Spanish, and had supposedly brought 100 of his best “friends and followers” along in September of 1799. Following Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the settlers started flowing in from the eastern states of Kentucky and Virginia. By 1815, westward expansion and the U.S. government literally shoved the original inhabitants, the American Indian tribes, out with “peace and friendship” treaties. From then on, we were all immigrants.

Gottfried Duden

In Germany, conditions prompted an attorney named Gottfried Duden, to purchase land in the new territory. After it became a State in 1821, he came and lived in Missouri from 1824-1827. In 1829, Duden published A Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America extolling all of its virtues, like wide open land, abundant food, but most of all, the freedoms one had. He had advised that emigrants settle in groups, as this was still quite primitive conditions, and for the safety of the families.

The first to arrive

It wasn’t long after that Germans started coming. By 1832, “Baron” Johann Wilhelm Bock, had sold his estate in Germany named Dutzow, and funded the first group to purchase land adjoining that of Duden’s, which soon became Dutzow. Between 1832 and 1834, approximately 2,000 more Germans from areas around Soligen, and from Osnabrück, had arrived and settled along the Missouri River west of St. Louis.

Societies bring thousands

In 1834, one of the most organized of groups, the Giessen Emigration Society, had arrived. Originally they had plans to settle in Arkansas territory, in order to create a German “State”. When scouts had returned with advice against that, their destination became Missouri. Their plan was also to create a nucleus for further emigration.

Between 1834 and 1837, over 30,000 Germans emigrated to Missouri, with 7,000 taking up residence in St. Louis and almost doubling its population. First on the south side of the city, near Soulard Market, the immigrants took hold. It was said you could walk the streets there all day and never hear a word of English and forget you weren’t in Germany!

At the same time, in Philadelphia, the stronghold for all things German up to that time, a group of Germans thought that Missouri should be the place for all Germans. Creating the Philadelphia Settlement Society, they sent an agent to Missouri to purchase land, and then sold “stock” shares for that land, to Germans all across the United States (and in Germany too). Soon, the settlement took hold, gained its independence from the former society, and became the city of Hermann, Missouri.

Many Germans that were Lutheran were wanting religious freedom. Martin Stephan corresponded with Duden, and brought 700 to the U.S.. Coming in through New Orleans, on five ships (one ship,the Amelia had been lost) in 1839, they purchased land in Perry County. Soon after their arrival, discord led to C.F. Walther taking the lead in their settlement. The floodgates of German emigration to Missouri had opened.

In less than a decade, the young State of Missouri had begun to be one of the most “German” in the country, with St. Louis a major contender. Soon, several villages, cities and counties would be entirely German. With them came all of their German customs and traditions. Their societies for singing, their Turnvereins for gymnastics, sports and social meetings, and other cultural pursuits. Churches, usually one of the first buildings built, had “relief” societies as well as the social. And one of the most favorite social activities of all would soon find its’ place in the wineries, also making Missouri a major contender in the wine industry.

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2 thoughts on “Germans in Missouri”

  1. It is impossible to separate the 1830s German settlers in Eastern Missouri from the large German population that settled in the nearby Illinois counties of Randolph, Monroe, St. Clair and Monroe who also were arriving in the 1830s and continuing up to the Civil War.

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    1. You are absolutely right Ed. They were the same in so many ways, except one. Tolerance of the issue of slavery. But who could have forecast the Civil War in the 1830s? Missouri’s Germans had to work at bringing more Germans to have a majority, and keep the State for the Union.

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