Why Missouri is so German

Over 46 Million people in the U.S. list their ethnic background as German. It is still the largest ethnic group in our country. Missouri is one of the most “German” in America, and is part of our country’s “German Belt” across the northern tier. St. Louis anchors the “German Triangle” along with Cincinnati and Milwaukee which has the largest concentration of German culture. Did you ever wonder how Missouri got to be so German?

Part of the Louisiana Territory purchased in 1804, Missouri became a state on August 10, 1821, or 196 years ago. Its’ settlers had been here for decades thanks to trailblazers like Daniel Boone and Jacob Zumwalt.  Both had friends and family whose heritage was German. It came as no surprise when a German named Gottfried Duden arrived to investigate the possibilities for settlement in the fall of 1824. Duden, who came equipped with a professional farmer and cook was a wealthy lawyer with a philanthropic need to see Missouri for himself.

In Germany, the end of the Napoleonic War combined with famine had created severe Sands_Hinrichtung 1820 - LoResoverpopulation problems. Principalities, Kingdoms and Bergs were needing to raise ever increasing tax money for the King. A growing revolution by young men in fraternities among the Universities was giving rise to an era of subterfuge, censorship and other horrible atrocities. Hundreds of books about emigration were being published but Duden realized that none were written by someone who had ever actually visited Missouri.

From 1824 to 1827 Duden lived with a young farmer named Jacob Haun, whose family had come with those early Boone followers. Duden traveled the state, from Mine a Breton to the Booneslick to St. Louis, while maintaining a home base at a little settlement he called Lake Creek. [Today’s Dutzow across the Missouri River from Washington, Missouri and about 50 miles west of St. Louis.] He recorded his visit in the form of letters and published them in a small book called “A Report of a Journey to the Western States of North America” in Germany in 1829. He recommended that immigrants travel in groups for safety as this was still very primitive and untamed territory.

Just the right words at just the right time! He described a countryside that was beautiful and resembled the homeland, and was filled with valleys just perfect for growing grapes. Better than that, the land was inexpensive and there were thousands of acres available. Anyone could buy it! You didn’t need the Kings permission. There was no King, no military draft or taxes! No permission to marry, move, or travel.  Your children could be educated. You were able to choose your religion and decide who should inherit your property. This was where the “sun of freedom shone”.

During the decade of the 1830s over 120,000 Germans would immigrate to the United States. Of those, over a third or 40,000, would chose Missouri. One-fourth of those would settle in St. Louis and double its population. The rest spread out across the Missouri River

IMG_0212
Pink is German. Russel L. Gerlach, Settlement Patterns in Missouri, Univ of Missouri Press; First edition (June 1986)

valleys and created what we call the German Heritage Corridor today.  As a result of Duden’s book a majority came in”settlement societies” as he recommended. Those early arrivals would also write their own letters home to their friends and family.  Read in the wine and beer gardens, after church on Sunday, and circulated among their closest friends they urged them to join them in this land of opportunity!

By 1900 St. Louis was one of the most foreign born cities in America, and over half of all of those were German. Many counties and cities large and small were over half German, with many of those already second and sometimes third generation Germans. Missouri became one of the most German states in America. Today we are proud to claim “my ancestors were German!” as they celebrate our heritage in the Oktoberfests, wine gardens, and celebrate German American Day. The Mannerchor, Liederkranz, cultural and heritage societies still exist. Everyone knows “Missouri is so German!”

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