Category Archives: Giessen Emigration Society

Giessen Emigration Society

In July of 1833, the organizers of those that became Members of the Giessen Emigration Society as found on the Ship Arrival Lists, Friedrich Muench and Paul Follenius published the Call and Declaration on the subject of mass emigration from Germany to the North American free states. They began with

“We the undersigned, together with many of our most respected friends and fellow citizens, have decided to leave Germany and to seek a new homeland in the states of North America. This intention awoke in us once we had become convinced that, as far as we are concerned, conditions in Germany, neither now nor in the future will satisfy the demands that we as persons and citizens must make of life for ourselves or our children. This is since we have become aware that only a life such as is possible in the free states of North America can suffice for us and our children. The political situation of that growing state is well known to those who are informed. Lands, especially in the almost immeasurable regions west of the Mississippi, have opened only in the most recent times by the perfection of the means of transportation, lands with which almost non on earth may be compared for richness and the beauty of nature. Swiftly the primeval forests are being cleared, swiftly arise country estates and cities, and the great waters permit the liveliest commerce with all parts of the earth.  It is our idea that the better part of the many Germans who have decided to emigrate should settle as a group, united as a whole in keeping with the purified and presently existing political form and received into the great federation of states, so that in this way the survival of German customs, language, etc., should be secured, so that a free and popular form of life could be created. This is our idea, whose execution appears grandiose and desirable, appears to us to be possible and not too difficult.”

This treatise went on to provide the major reasons for the creation of their society, their plan and their goals. After its’ conclusion it was signed by the organizers:

Paul Follenius, Court Advocate in Giessen and Friedrich Münch, Grand Ducal Hessian Pastor at Nieder-Gemünden (Alsfeld District)

To read a translation of the Call and Declaration

To see the ship arrival lists

Members of the Giessen Emigration Society

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Descendants revisit Utopia in Germany and Missouri

In the past few weeks, descendants of members of the Giessen Emigration Society, have been revisiting their family history on both sides of the pond!  While the exhibit Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America  has been on tour in Bremen, Germany at St. Stephanis Kulturkirche, several families from the United States have visited and admired calling it “Excellent!”

Sound studio
Sound studio

At the beginning of June, Paul and Sharon (Cookie) Stahlschmidt,  descendants of Anton Stahlschmidt’s son Engelbert, who was one year old when he arrived on the ship the Olbers in New Orleans, visited the exhibit in Bremen. Later they, Agnes Stahlschmidt and her sister Nancy Tsupros, who are descendants of Agnes Freymuth, another member of the Society; unnamed-1visited with Peter Roloff, while he was working on audio portions of his new documentary to be released in November. The film, also called Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America will be part of the St. Louis International Film Festival, and will be shown at the Missouri History Museum at 3 pm on November 23, 2014.

Kulturkirche-8855On the Fourth of July, Joan Koechig, her husband Martin from St. Charles, Missouri,  visited the Utopia exhibit for an All-American Kulturkirche-8843Barbeque, before the exhibit closed its run in Bremen. Now the exhibit is packed and ready for its transatlantic voyage to Baltimore, the same voyage members of the Society made to the U.S. in 1834. It will open in September in Washington, D.C. at the German American Heritage Foundation Museum there.unnamed-3

In November, it will open at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. It was at the Missouri History Museum’s Library and Research Center, that on July 15th, Janet and Wim Blees from Hawaii, visited with writer and historical consultant Dorris Keeven-Franke and Missouri History Library and Research Center intern Jaime Staengel and discussed the Blees’ recent donation. They were there to see the collection of their ancestor,  the Giessen Society’s founder Friedrich Muench. The collection in the archives contains many rare and important items relating to the Giessen Society, including Muench’s account book with notations about the members; and the portraits of he and his wife Louise Fritz, prior to their departure for America, which have recently been restored.

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The Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America exhibit shares the story of a large group of politically motived German emigrants in 1834, from all occupations, religions, cities and villages; and brings to life what it meant to be an emigrant bound for Missouri in the early 19th Century. It’s thought provoking images and words bring relevance to the subject of emigration, and its future.

Emigrants hope for a better future

This grapevine above is growing on a trellis on the island of Harriersand in the Weser River near Bremen. Not where you expect grapevines, but these are very hardy. Like the German emigrants that gathered here as members of the Giessen Emigration Society, in 1834, looking forward to a new life in Missouri, “where the sun of freedom shines”. Their ship, the Olbers had left with one woman ill on board, disease spread like wildfire, nearly killing the entire ship.  The second group was just beginning to gather in Bremen 180 years ago, only to soon learn that the ship that they’d booked, would never arrive. They would spend weeks on the island, some families even taking shelter in the huge old hausbarn on the island. Others pitched tents and some who could afford to, found lodging in the nearby village of Brake.  An emigrant needs all the funds they have saved for that new life.

Unless you have emigrated from one country to another, it is difficult to understand all one faces.  On one level, there is the heated discussions with family and friends, if one’s chosen to share that plan. Some don’t because of this. When the Giessen Emigration Society left Germany, there were close friends very angry with the leaders, Muench and Follenius’ and their decision, labeling them traitors to “the cause”. Some of these same friends would be imprisoned and executed within two years.  Others considered them leaving for an impossible dream, a Utopia.

On another more personal level when one is leaving behind all that one knows, whether good or bad, and giving up all one possesses in the world, it takes a great leap of faith.  One hopes one will find one’s destination everything needed, and hoped for. When one arrives, one often faces discrimination; labeled an illegal emigrant when one isn’t, simply because of a name, one’s  appearance or birthplace.

Others don’t understand how often emigrants make the best U.S. citizens. Why?  Because an immigrant has chosen, worked hard, saved, and has given up everything to be a citizen. Immigrants often know the Declaration of Independence better than a natural born citizen. Why? Because they studied it, believed in it and chose the U.S. because of those words.  Immigrants are very hardy stockholders in a better future for the U.S., because they have already paid a high price to make it their own.

One cannot go back.  America is a melting pot for so many, as nearly all of our families were immigrants once. Once our own ancestors came here with their own dreams pinned with hope for a better future.

Giessen Emigration Society boarding the Medora at Bremen in July 1834
Giessen Emigration Society boarding the Medora at Bremen in July 1834