Gottfried Duden

Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America

Excerpts from a paper presented by Dorris Keeven Franke April 19, 2002 the Annual Symposium of the Society for German-American Studies, in Amana, Iowa, titled Gottfried Duden:The Man behind the Book.© 2002 Not to be reprinted without permission of the author.

In 1829, Gottfried Duden published  at his own expense 1500 copies of a small book titled Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America in Elberfeld Germany[i]. Few books have had a greater impact on Missouri history.

In 1909, eighty years after Duden’s Report was published, A.B. Faust described Duden with,

His skillful pen mingled fact and fiction, interwove experience and imagination, pictured the freedom of the forest and of democratic institutions in contrast with the social restrictions and political embarrassments of Europe.  Many thousands of Germans pondered over this book and enthused over its sympathetic glow.  Innumerable resolutions were made to cross the ocean and build for the present and succeeding generations happy homes on the far-famed Missouri.”[ii]

In 1919 and ninety years following Duden’s Report, Duden’s first biographer William G. Bek begins with,

Duden was the first German who gave his countrymen a fairly comprehensive, and reasonably accurate, first-hand account of conditions as they obtained in the eastern part of the new state of Missouri.[iii]

In Mack Walker’s Germany and the Emigration 1816-1885 we find,

Duden’s enthusiastic book . . . fits its time with a gratifying neatness; for it first appeared in 1829, just as the Auswanderung to America was beginning to revive.  But it not only met a need and suited an atmosphere it helped appreciably to create them.  Duden’s descriptions of American landscapes and American resources were vivid, even lyrical.  He found American economic, political, and social conditions better than those of the Fatherland, and American intellectual and moral conditions just as good.  The color, timing, and literary qualities of Duden’s report made it unquestionably the most popular and influential description of the United States to appear during the first half of the century.  It was an important factor in the enthusiasm for America among educated Germans in the thirties; it served for decades as a point of departure for hundreds of essays, articles, and books, and innumerable thousands of conversations; it was a landmark in the life and memory of many an Auswanderer.”[iv]

Nearly one hundred twenty-five years following Duden’s Report, Charles van Ravenswaay in his epic The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing Culture tells us,

This timely work  . . . greatly stimulated immigration to the United States and caused thousands to make Missouri their destination . . . For more than a generation Duden’s writings formed the leitmotif of German settlement in Missouri, with the interpretation of his comments provoking endless discussion among those who came here.  Many immigrants continued to revere his memory as the father of the German migration, and even those who blamed him for their misfortunes seem to have had a grudging respect for that kindly, guileless man.[v]

Five years before his first arrival in the United States Gottfried Duden purchased the one hundred thirty-nine and twenty-six one hundredth acres of land that he later refers to as “his farm” in his Report. The funds for the amount of $69.63[vi] were deposited at the United States Land Office on February 1st, 1819[vii].  Godfrey [sic] Duden purchased this land at the going rate of $2.00 per acre in the southeast fractional section of Section 35 in Township 45 North Range 1 West for $278.52 plus interest of $21.94 for a total cost of  $300.46.[viii] In the very next entry following Godfrey [sic] Duden on the same day is another purchase by Jacob Haun[ix]of one hundred sixty acres of land just north of Duden’s in Section 25.[x] This is the property that Gottfried Duden arrived at, in Montgomery County (later Warren County) Missouri, and the farmer that he lived with five years later.

Duden was the fourth son of Leonhard Duden. He was born May 19, 1789[xi] in Remscheid, in the Duchy of Berg, where his father owned and operated an apothecary business. Duden attended the gymnasium at Dortmund.[xii] This was followed by law studies in the years 1806 through 1810 in Dusseldorf, Heidelberg, and Gottingen.[xiii] In 1811 he received a royal appointment in the Prussian Civil Service. “With a waiver of the legal age,[xiv] Duden first became an auditor at the Court (of law) in Dusseldorf, and then toward the end of 1811 Justice of Peace in the canton of Mülheim.  Duden was a very intelligent young man and had apparently finished his studies early. In 1813, Duden enlisted in the First Battalion of Second Bergian Infantry Regiment, which became the 28th Prussian Infantry Regiment.[xv] He participated that year as a volunteer (taking no pay) as a lieutenant and adjutant in the war against Napoleon. This experience gave the young man cause for reflection. He began to carefully plan his future.  Upon his return to Civil Service he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Mülheim, and then Richrath (Langenfeld) for three years. [xvi]

When Duden returned to the Courtrooms in Mühlheim and Richrath, he was bombarded daily with growing accounts of crime and poverty caused by the severe increase in population.[xvii] When he was appointed senior judge in Mühlheim in 1817, he declined the position.  He knew the interactions between the German government and the people better than most did at that time because he was sitting on the frontline.  The scene of battle had become the courtroom, where the people pleaded with their rulers for help instead of taxes, yet only received silence.

Subterfuge, spying and political maneuvering were the rule rather than a rarity. Duden said Germany had become a “country where hunger, avarice, and vanity have put so many wheels in motion!” Mistrust by the people of their rulers was warranted. Duden himself lost faith in Germany’s rulers to understand, let alone resolve these problems. Duden’s vision saw that the solutions to the problems lay in the far western frontier of the United States. The idealist saw himself as able to bring about the changes his country so badly needed.

Due to these social and economic problems the popularity of travel books was rising.  However, accounts disparaging the United States were increasing as well. The romantic tone of the current accounts served further to bring the issue to the forefront of discussions. Duden studied several accounts of the United States in English to which he would later refer his own readers.

Duden’s purchase of land in the United States set in motion a chain of events. He did not stop when his plans were altered by the death of a friend in the West Indies with whom he had planned to make the journey. In 1820 a Royal Cabinet Order appointed Duden procurator at the Court of Inquest in Mülheim and, after that office was closed, second assistant to the Chief procurator in Cologne.  “I myself was in the midst of the evils of overpopulation.  Stimulated by the process of education and the events of the times, I had made the conditions of men and the characteristics of the states the subject of many years of investigation.”[xviii]

Duden published Concerning the Significant Differences of the States and the Ambitions of Human Nature in 1822[xix].  This must not have achieved the goals Duden desired. He was critical of other emigration books written by authors who he was sure had never visited the places they wrote about. His resolve to experience emigration first hand increased. This was the only way Duden felt he could effectively give Germany the book it needed to make positive changes.  His motive in hiding his previous U.S. land purchase was fear, fear that it would diminish what he was trying to achieve by making some believe his purpose was land speculation.

In August of 1823, citing ill health, Duden requested a temporary leave from his duties, and moved to Bonn.[xx] Duden had requested a formal discharge even though he still had not found a companion that he felt suitable for the trip he planned.  Then in February of 1824 Gottfried Duden met Ludwig Eversmann. Born February 2, 1799 to a Berlin mining engineer, the twenty-five year old Eversmann had worked on family estates, eventually as an administrator of these farms, since he was fourteen years old.  When his military duties as a rifleman took him to Berlin in 1819 he lived with his brother Wilhelm. Eversmann, who had not studied English, and Duden left for the United States within six weeks after this encounter.

Duden had been a bachelor his entire life.  With Duden and Eversmann was Duden’s cook Gertrude Obladen,[xxi] three years Duden’s senior, who would see to their housekeeping. On May 30, 1824 the trio sailed for the Unites States aboard the ship Henry Clay in private cabins.  They arrived in Baltimore on August 14, 1824.  They traveled by coach, which they had purchased in Baltimore, to St. Louis, Missouri. Duden and Eversmann visited the St. Louis Land Office on Market Street, and on October 15, 1824 they jointly purchased one hundred sixty acres in Section 36 of Township 45 North Range 1 West; and one hundred one and forty-four hundreths acres in Section 12 of Township 44 North Range 1 West in Montgomery (later Warren) County.  The cost of that land was $1.25 per acre.  There they also secured maps of the area. Duden dated his “twelfth letter” from St. Louis on the Mississippi River on October 26, 1824.

With the property in Section 36 of 160 acres divided along a small tributary of Lake Creek, and property to call his own, Eversmann began building his own home. By October of 1825 he had completed a large two-story log home of oak. Duden continued to reside with Jacob Haun in a lean-to addition. By the spring of 1826 Duden had moved to his own farm.  On the property a small one room log cabin had previously been built. He wanted a larger home and hired one to be built on a small rise that overlooked the valley and the smaller cabin. Duden gave the area property owners permission to use the smaller cabin as a schoolhouse. Duden managed to live on his property just over a year.  With his housekeeper to take care of his daily requirements and Eversmann managing the farming chores on all of the property, Duden was free to spend his time investigating and writing about the area.

Duden returned to Germany in 1827, with intentions to return to his farm on Lake Creek.[xxii] Before leaving he gave Ludwig Eversmann (now using the Americanized name of Lewis) power of attorney for his property for use in his absence.  In 1829 Duden published at his own cost 1500 copies of Report. . . The   printer was Sam Lucas at Elberfeld.  The book was immediately picked up and read by many who were considering emigration to the United States.  By 1834 the Swiss Emigration Society published copies of the first edition. Duden wanted to amend his first edition before reprinting, because of the criticism he felt he had unjustly received. Germans remarked “that the German farmer here did not have Duden’s book as much to thank for his good luck as to hard work, about which Duden who only plays the role of the educated observer, does not say much.  Also it is still very doubtful, if Duden’s book, even though it cannot be accused of being untruthful, it still cannot be declared free of exaggerations and having a sanguine perception of the situation here, so that its practical usefulness for the emigrating European, which one wants to ascribe to it here and there, is questionable.  In any case it cannot be denied, that some who are carried away and confused by the glowing and romantic descriptions, lost themselves in the dreams of his imagination, then upon seeing them destroyed by reality will easily turn bitter and not be able to find the necessary joyful courage.[xxiii]

The decision of Gottfried Duden to conceal his early purchase of land in Missouri prior to his arrival there, probably was made before he first left Germany. There is no evidence that he had discussed the matter with Eversmann or that Eversmann realized what parcels Duden already owned when they visited the St. Louis Land Office.  With the critics claiming that “some who are carried away and confused by the glowing and romantic descriptions, lost themselves in the dreams of his imagination,[xxiv] he knew the revelation of his early purchase would only add fuel to the fire. He attempted to correct the misconceptions came with the addendums made to his first Report.

When Duden continued to be blamed for all the failures, the idealist sought to rectify the situation with one last book on the subject. Its influence was thought to be so great and so one-sided that Duden himself felt called upon to publish in 1837 a ‘Self-Accusation Concerning His Travel Report, to Warn against Further Rash Emigration.’[xxv]

Intelligent enough to realize that his intentions would have been misjudged he attempted to keep his own affairs private. His life would be threatened he felt, if he returned to his farm at Lake Creek, though he loved to remind others of his cows still being raised there.

He may have misjudged his readers, as much as those who criticized him, and judging by the mistakes made by those who had failed to read his book closely enough. Finally, in his book of 1837 Duden bitterly states, “since he has failed in this expectation, he regrets that he did not write in hieroglyphics, so that only a few wise men and not the common herd might be able to decipher his story.” [xxvi] In spite of Duden’s warnings men had sold themselves to redemptioners, emigrated with no money, stopped east of the Alleghenies and immigrated through New Orleans during the summer months. Finally Duden said,  “Truly, I am often reminded of Harvey, the famous discoverer of the circulation of the blood, who regretted to his end that he had ever communicated his thoughts to the world, on account of the ceaseless attacks that were made upon him.[xxvii]

Duden felt his attempt to inspire Germans to emigrate was misjudged. Hindsight proves him to be a visionary, whose writings really did have the long term effects he desired. Even though we are now armed with this new knowledge of the man behind the book, the significance of his work is not changed. Duden’s book will continue to be a significant contribution in the history of immigration.  What he achieved is most important and what should be remembered, rather than what he has concealed. His foresight, determination and planning are now revealed. His report was a catalyst that precipitated the great chain of migration. Caught up so tightly in the events of his time, even he did not foresee what those 1500 copies would do. Consider the end result. Within his own lifetime he would not realize the significance of the contribution his book had made to German immigration.


[i] Duden, Gottfried,( as published on the frontspiece) Bericht  über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerika’s und einen mehrjährigen Aufenthalt am Missouri (in den Jahren 1824, 25, 26 und 1827), in Bezug auf Auswanderung und Uuebervölkerung, oder: Das Leben im Innern der Vereinigten Staaten und dessen Bedeutung für die häusliche und politische Lage der Europäer, dargestellt  a)in einer Sammlung von Briefen, b)in einer besonderen Abhandlung über den politischen Austland der nordamerikanischen Freistaaten, und c)in einem rathgebenden Rachtrage für auswandernde deutsche Ackerwirthe und Diejenigen, welche auf handelsunternehmungen denken, von Gottfried Duden. Gedruckt zu Elberfeld im Jahre 1829 bei Sam. Lucas, auf kosten des Bersassers. Elberfeld, 1829. The full title translated is Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America and a Stay of Several Years along the Missouri (during the Years 1824,’25,’26, and 1827)  Concerning emigration and Overpopulation or Life in the Interior of the United States and its Significance for the Domestic and Political Situation of the Europeons, Presented a) in a collection of letters b) in a special treatment of the political situation in the North American Free States and c) in an advisory supplement for emigrating German farmers and those who are planning to engage in trade. For convenience the excellent translation edited by James W. Goodrich, with George H. Kellner, Elsa Nagel, Adolf E. Schroeder, and W.M. Senner (Editors and Translators) published by The State Historical Society of Missouri and University of Missouri Press in 1980 is being used for reference.  Hereafter this is referred to as Report, with the page numbers of the 1980 edition.

[ii] Faust, Albert Bernhardt, The German Element in the United States, The Steuben Society of America, New York, 1927, Vol. I, page 441

[iii] Bek, Ph.D., William G., Gottfried Duden’s “Report” 1824-1827, 1919, page 1

[iv] Walker, Mack Germany and the Emigration 1816-1885, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1964, p 61

[v] van Ravanswaay, Charles, The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri: A Survey of a Vanishing Culture, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1977, page 23

[vi] Receipt number 1493 for the amount of $69.63, St. Louis Missouri Credit Receipts, Prior 1-4782, Under 1-499, Cash 1-504  1818-1822, The abstract book for St. Louis, vol. 2.  Top of the page begins with record of February 1819.  Account of monies received from individuals by Samuel Hammond Receiver of Public Monies for the Land District of St. Louis Missouri Territory on account of Lands Purchased or intended to be purchased from the 1st day of February to the 28th inclusive 1819.  Bearer of the cash is Dabney Burnett. On file in the National Archives, Bureau of Land Management, 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, VA 22153.

[vii] Box (Roll) S-2, U. S. Land Sales, Vol. 1, 1818-1827, page 12;Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, MO  “Abstract of all lands sold at the land office at St. Louis since its establishment and not relinquished to the United States up to & including the 31st Dec 1826 all of which previous to that day had been fully paid for.”

[viii] Cash receipt, Tract Book 1, Northwest Palmyra, Bureau of Land Management-Eastern States, Springfield, Virginia National Archives

[ix] F. Jacob Haun was born in 1791 in Pennsylvania. His father John Haun emigrated to the U.S. aboard the ship Neptune from Germany in 1754. The family moved from Pennsylvania, arriving in Missouri in 1793.  His father purchased 500 Arpens of land from the Spanish in 1802. On August 30, 1817 Jacob Haun married Mary Moody in St. Charles County, Missouri. They had nine children.  Jacob Haun died August 5, 1860 in Boone County where he was buried.

[x] Receipt number 1494 for the amount of $82.40, St. Louis Missouri Credit Receipts, Prior 1-4782, Under 1-499, Cash 1-504  1818-1822, The abstract book for St. Louis, vol. 2.  Top of the page begins with record of February 1819.  Account of monies received from individuals by Samuel Hammond Reciever of Public Monies for the Land District of St. Louis Missouri Territory on account of Lands Purchased or intended to be purchased from the 1st day of February to the 28th inclusive 1819.  Bearer of the cash is Jacob Haun. On file in the National Archives, Bureau of Land Management, 7450 Boston Boulevard, Springfield, VA 22153.

[xi] Duden gravestone in the old Bonn City cemetery.

[xii] Volksblatt für Remscheid und Umgegegend Nr. 93, Nov. 19th, 1856 “Nokrolog” (reprint from Kölnische Zeitung)

[xiii] Goodrich, James, Report, page 279, also Hartwig Prüßmann

[xiv] Goodrich, James Report, page 279

[xv] Hartwig Prüßmann, “Ein remscheider machte Propaganda für auswanderung nach Amerika” Die Heimat Spricht zü Dir, Nr. 5, Mai 1989, also Goodrich, Report, page 279

[xvi] Goodrich, James Report, page 279

[xvii] Goodrich, James, Report page 6 “In my earlier thinking I had become convinced that most of the evils from which the inhabitants of Europe, and particularly those of Germany, suffer are due to overpopulation, and are such that they cannot be effectively be alleviated without first achieving a decrease in population.”

[xviii] Goodrich, James, Report, p 6

[xix] Duden, Gottfried Ueber die wesentlichen Verschiedenheiten der Staaten 1922

[xx] Goodrich, James, Report, page 10 “Finally I shall mention that several years previous to this I have occupied myself consistently with the study of medicine and thought I was sufficiently informed to provide medical care for my own body.”

[xxi]Muench, Friedrich “Toward the History of German Immigragion” Deutsch-Amerikanische Monatshefte, Chicago, Illiniois, Volumn 1, June 1864, pages 483

[xxii] Goodrich, James, Report, page 282 “Because I myself suffer so much from seasickness I shall probably take my second trip to the interior of North America . . . “

[xxiii] Bock, Johann Wilhelm “”Report about the German Society in Warren and St. Charles County, State of Missouri” Neue und Alte Welt, H.A. Rattermann,Editor, Philadelphia,  June 27, 1835, 1st page bottom of the 4th column

[xxiv] Bock

[xxv] Walker, Mack, p 60

[xxvi] Bek, p 134

[xxvii] Bek, p 135

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