Why They Left
Germans emigrated for
a variety of related reasons. Most were economical,
as people, especially the lower class rural farmers, found they
could not adequately live and feed their families. Economic
depression on the farms was due largely to agricultural
failures and the introduction of machinery. Farmers
in particular relied on spinning and weaving as their primary
source of income during the winter, but with the advent of English
machinery which could produce woven materials much faster, farmers
found they could not compete. In addition, Germany was
overpopulated and land was scarce. Family farms had been
repeatedly subdivided and given to children, to the point where it
was no longer large enough nor profitable enough to support a
family. With their livelihoods in ruin, the promise of cheap and
fertile land in America was a major temptation. In the mid
1800's, political and religious differences were also a leading
cause of German emigration.
Left and Where They Settled
traveled throughout Germany, spreading the word that
Germans who desired a better life were welcome in his
colony of Philadelphia.
Germans to flee their homeland were the Palatines, from
the Palatine region in central Germany.
||In the early
1700's, many Germans arrived in Philadelphia, PA, a
primary port of entry for German immigrants. Many of
these immigrants began settling the farmlands of
Pennsylvania. By 1728, Germans had begun moving
southward into the western counties of Maryland.
entering America in large numbers.
||One of the
largest waves of German immigration to America, many
settling in the Great Lakes area.
||A second major
wave of German emigration to America took place, due
largely to uprisings in German states from circa late
caused agricultural failures and food shortages in
Germany. This, coupled with land available in
America being advertised throughout much of Europe, drove
more Germans to emigrate. German immigration shifted
from mainly farmers and peasants to more intellectuals,
artisans, and industrial workers. By 1880, Germans
were one of the most prominent immigrant groups in
America. Many worked as carpenters, tailors, and
tradesmen in the thriving cities in America.
||A peak year for
post-Civil War immigration, after which German immigration
began to decline. By 1885 most of the large waves of
Germans had ended, as Germany grew into an industrial and
who desired to leave were required to apply for a “release from
the Prussian community of subjects”. This was done through
the senior civil servant of the district in which the person
lived. Information such as names, birth dates, military
duties, and existing debts (the payment of which many tried to
escape), was recorded and the application was sent to the
government of the administrative district in Minden. The
application was reviewed and a release certificate or license and
a travelling pass were issued
and sent back to the applicant. Once the applicant paid any
dues and back debts, he/she was free to leave the country.
the emigrant would sell most of his/her possessions, usually
because they were physically unable to transport them, but
sometimes, possessions were sold to in order to acquire the money
necessary to pay for the voyage. Some individuals borrowed
money from relatives, with the intention of paying them back when
they "made it" in America. Emigrants usually
travelled as steerage passengers, which cost about $16 from
Bremen to America. Bremen was the main port of
departure for German emigrants bound for America. Emigrants
thus began their journey via boat,
and later by railway, to Bremen. Ships leaving Bremen
travelled north up the Weser River to the North Sea and on to
America, sometimes stopping in Southampton, England. (see
Ships pages for further information).
decision to emigrate was nothing short of a brave and bold move.
Many rural Prussians rarely ventured beyond their own villages and
districts and only knew areas they could reach on foot.
Usually final, emigration meant leaving behind lands they knew and
loved ones who would not leave, or who could not afford to leave.
These brave souls faced a long and often dangerous sea voyage and
an uncertain future in America where, though they would be free,
life was not without its hardships. Indians, natural
disasters, and disease took many lives.
emigrants knew little English, if any. Logically, they
preferred to settle together, in areas where friends and/or
relatives had already settled. Here, they were among family
and friends who not only spoke the same language, but who usually
were more than willing to help support them in starting their new
lives. Many German immigrants settling in the Great Lakes
region arrived through the port of New Orleans, LA and then
travelled up the Mississippi River. Quincy, IL, situated on
the banks of the Mississippi, was one of the initial areas
settled, mainly by emigrants from Herford, and in particular, from
Elverdissen. In 1851 in Quincy, they established their own
church, St. James (St. Jacobi) Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Several of our Riepe ancestors settled initially in Quincy and
were members of this church.
ultimate goal of most of our immigrant ancestors was to acquire
their own land or farm. In America, they were able to purchase
farmland cheaply from the government, but it required immense
effort and time to clear and cultivate. Until time allowed
them to build log homes, families lived in "soddies",
homes made of strips of sod cut into "bricks", which
were stacked to form the walls of the soddy. On the
prairies, lumber for building a log cabin was scarce, and many
families just continued to live in soddies. Roofs were
generally constructed of layers of brush, grass, coarse hay,
willowy branches, and a thin layer of sod, and were interlaced
with rafter poles. In spring and summer, bright
"gardens" of flowers often bloomed on the roofs. Though
warm in the winter and cool in the summer, a soddy was not always
the most comfortable place to live. Most were only one
room, usually 12 x 14 feet or 16 x 20 feet. Families were
constantly pestered by snakes and other small animals who quickly
found the walls of soddies quite cozy and suitable for building
their own homes. Soddy roofs leaked terribly when it rained,
often drenching everything inside. The floors were generally
dirt, though in areas where wood was more plentiful, planks were
cut and laid down as flooring. Internal walls were sometimes
plastered and doors and windows were built into the walls.
typical soddy home, circa 1880
(from Prairie Visions)
tornados, floods, draughts, locust plagues, and other natural
disasters wiped out crops and homes. Many immigrants who
experienced such disasters were forced to start over again.
Indian attacks were a constant threat, as was disease.
However, the Germans were a hardy people who were used to farming
and hard work, and thus, they forged ahead and made a life for
themselves in their new country. Despite the hardships and
hard times, food was generally plentiful, the immigrants were able
to own land, and opportunity was great. This was more than
their old homeland could offer.