History of the Giessen Emigration Society

In less than five years after German attorney Gottfried Duden (1789-1856) first published Report on a Journey to the Western States of North Americain 1829, the Giessen Emigration Society (Giessen Auswanderer Gesellschaft) arrived in Dutzow, Missouri. Society leaders Friedrich Muench (1799-1881) and Paul Follenius (1799-1844) had been inspired by Duden’s picturesque descriptions of the Missouri River valley, in southern Warren County, about 50 miles west of St. Louis. After a year of preparations and correspondence with Duden, a Charter was drawn up and members enlisted, with the purpose of creating a Utopian colony, a new Germany, on what was then the far western frontier.

The two young men had met at the University of Giessen, becoming lifelong friends, with Follenius marrying Muench’s sister. Duden’s popular Report was read and studied by thousands contemplating emigration to the United States, but it was more because the political atmosphere in Germany at the time, than it was for the romantic prose. Muench wrote: “So it was that in 1833 P.Follenius and I establised the Giessen Emigration Society for the purpose of founding by degree a piece of new Germany on American soil, of attracting thither the best part of European Germans…” The grand plan was laid down in detail in the pamphlet, which soon went through two editions and was read in all parts of Germany. When five hundred members (see link below for list) were collected, the society was closed and preparations to depart were begun.

The two men had been revolutionaries, members of the Schwarzen Brueder in their youth, and now undertook forming this society with much thought. Duden himself was conferred with. An agent was sent to investigate the Arkansas territory, to see if it was suitable. The group needed land that was not a State yet to carry out their plan of forming a new “German” State, in the U.S.. But just as Follenius’ group was boarding, word came that the Arkansas territory was not suitable. Suddenly, all of the groups plans were changed. They agreed to meet in St. Louis!

Follenius’ group came aboard the ship Olbers, and arrived in New Orleans on June 2, 1834. Cholera was everywhere. The group started for St. Louis by steamboat but members became ill. Follenius himself was taken ill and had to stop in Louisville, Kentucky while others in his group went on. When he reached St. Louis, he found that the group had disbanded and the funds had been distributed incorrectly, with no regard to Muench’s part of the company.

Muench had worse problems back in Germany as the ship that they had booked was not at Bremen. They were asked to be patient, but this was difficult as lodgings were expensive, and all of the members had already sold all their homes and property in readiness for departure. After a week, the company was put up on an island, in a warehouse, to wait for their ship. Their wait would be for six weeks! Finally Muench was able to secure passage on the ship the Medora, which arrived in Baltimore on July 24, 1834.

Their travel across country was difficult and slow, hampered by greedy teamsters and steamboat captains. In Cincinnati, they met Johann Wilhelm Bock, on his way to Philadelphia. Bock had arrived with his small company, the Berlin Society in 1832. He informed Muench that Follenius and what was left of his group had settled in his village called Dutzow, near Duden’s farm.

This news upset Muench a lot, and caused his group to threaten to disband as well. But as their funds were in the hands of Follenius’ group – they thought – they had no choice but to follow Muench to Dutzow. By this time the plan was in shambles.

Follenius died in 1844, but Muench went on and became the most prolific of German writers. People would come from across the country to meet and speak with the old gentleman about topics like philosophy and religion. Muench used the pen name of Far West and published in periodicals and journals, in the U.S. and in Germany. Fond of his vineyard, he was a leader in establishing the Missouri wine industry. He served as a Representative in Missouri’s congress in the Civil War, spoke for Lincoln, and the end of slavery.

Muench never left the home he first settled near Duden’s place, on a hillside across the river from Washington, Missouri. From that farm, his skillful pen did much to accomplish the culture at least, which was born in the plans of the Giessen Emigration Society.

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