In 1824, a German named Gottfried Duden came and lived here in Missouri for three years. He returned to Germany where he self-published “A Report on A Journey to the Western States of America” in 1829. Thousands read his book. Some called him “The Dreamspinner!”
Why? Because his book spoke of a place where you had the freedom to say whatever you wanted – without censorship. There was no King – in fact you elected your government. You could go where ever you wanted – without a travel pass. You could marry and have whatever job you wanted, and didn’t need the government’s permission to do it either. And besides that – you could buy whatever property and live where ever you wanted – that all your hard work could afford you! You didn’t have to spend years doing military service fighting for a King. You didn’t have to be the oldest son to inherit the family farm. There were schools for your children. And you could attend whatever church, and be whatever religion you wanted. There was more land than anyone could ever need. You ate more meat in a month than you did in a year in the homeland. And best of all you were free!
He suggested that Germans travel in groups for safety. If something were to happen to the head of the family, the woman and children would not be stranded in a strange land where they didn’t know the language. In the 1830s, they came in huge groups! First there were small societies, then larger groups and more organized like the Giessen Emigration Society, then huge groups like Martin Stephan’s Lutherans that settled in Perry County. They all came to the land of opportunity – where the sun of freedom shines! Thirty thousand Germans came to Missouri between 1834 and 1837 alone! 7,000 of them settled in St. Louis, on the south side, where it was said you could spend the day and never hear a word of English.
The Philadelphia Settlement Society saw that the east was not where Germans were going anymore. The Germans started a stock company, sent an agent to buy 5,000 acres of land, and started selling shares. That settlement became Hermann, Missouri, which is why Hermann is so very German.
Then all of those Germans who came began writing their own letters home! Back home they shared them after church on Sundays and in the biergarten with their neighbors and friends. Some had written “while not all is as Duden says- in some ways it is even better!” The letters all said “Come! Come to Missouri!” Today 46M Americans still claim German as their heritage, the largest of all cultures.
At the Missouri History Museum is the first exhibit of its kind, about German emigrants. Made in Germany, by Germans, in conjunction with American historians, and it tells the story of a German emigration Society in 1834. But it does a LOT more than that. It is the story of WHY they came, and HOW they came, and WHAT their lives were like once they came here. About how they felt about slavery and what they did in the Civil War. It is filled with beautiful photographs, and videos, and films.The Giessen Society started out to create a German state, and then the Germans came and made Missouri one of the most German in the entire U.S.
This exhibit is about to close. There is only a few days left to see it. Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America will close on Sunday, April 19, and return to Germany. Come see it before its gone. If you are looking for more information either visit the Missouri History Museum or see our lists of Events going on the closing weekend!