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'In Quest of Free Land': Saga of Migrations of Germans Told in Book

"'In Quest of Free Land': Saga of Migrations of Germans Told in Book." Lodi News-Sentinel, 3 August 1965.


“What do we want with this vast worthless area, this region of savages and wild beasts, of deserts, of shifting sand and whirlwinds of dust, or cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever put those great deserts or endless mountain ranges, impenetrable and covered to their base with eternal snows?” Daniel Webster, 1850.

American Plains or Russian Ukraine – the description was the same. No one wanted to settle in such forsaken land. Who in his right mind would take his family to an area which was beaten by winds, frozen with the colds of the most severe winters, barren on any building materials but the earth itself?

Maybe you could place yourself in the position of a man who has a large family – perhaps 12 children – and a farm which sustains the family but is not large enough to be cut into six pieces for the sons when they marry and establish homes for themselves.

The political atmosphere is such that at any time you could be called into the army to satisfy the ambitions of the ruler. Wars with Holland, wars with Poland, wars with Spain, wars with France – would it, never end?

Sons, nephews, friends of long standing have been pressed into service. The country would soon be decimated and the land ruined. Already the quartering of foreign troops has taken more food than you can provide without endangering the lives of your family.

Weather is Enemy

Even the weather itself seems to have turned against you: the seasons have changed so that you can’t plan for the planting and harvesting of crops, the soil itself seems tired. Every thing you grow is just poorer in quality and you have to grow more to get enough.

Oh, to get out of this and have some breathing space! It’s bad enough, but now the rents are to be higher and taxes are so high that we might as well quit. What use is it to strain against the weather, the soil and the armies only to be taxed out of existence?

But that isn’t enough: Coupled with the emotional strain of the material life – one’s religious is being threatened, too. A man has to express himself as he sees fit in matters of religion! What’s wrong with meeting with friends of like conviction and studying together – must see be dragged off the streets like a criminal and thrown in jail?

Message From East

Ah, but wait! What is this you hear from the East? Complete religious freedom and tolerance; no taxes; no military service except voluntarily; cheap land for families; ownership of land by a colony and unlimited purchase of land for oneself; gifts of 300 rubles for purchase of buildings and cattle; loans without interest; one’s own schools and churches; money handed to you as you cross the border; free tickets to families – it’s unbelievable!

Why should Katherine be that interested in you? True – she is related to King Frederick of your country. Oh yes, you’ve heard of the movements toward Russia by the French writes, and the Italian artists and the British navy men, but why should she wish to give so much land to you – the peasants?

She needs you! She has a large country to develop into a great country. She needs what only you, the farmer, can give. You know the land. You can bring your families, your traditions, your knowledge and teach people how to use the land.

She needs you!

Who can let an appeal such as that go by? What else could a hard-working, oppressed, frugal, land hungry German do but go where he could work, rear his family, practice his religion? Behind, poverty; forward, advancement. There was no choice.

So, off they went. Whole villages from Wurttemburg, West Prussia, Hessia. This was like no other migration. Before this time (1762), individuals had traveled to other countries and gradually became mixed with the residents of the new land. They took on the dress and customs of the destination, learned the language, attended its schools, fought its battles.

But these migrating Germans went in family and community groups and settled in entirely new areas which had been just open to colonization, which was untouched and barren, and thus never came into contact with the natives.

Colonies Established

Over an area covering 15,000 square miles, 2,000 colonies were established. In the Volga, Black Sea, South Caucasas, North Caucasas, Wohlynia, between 1763 and 1863, the Germans settled and raised there families. By 1800 there were 400,000 in the Volga region, 60,000 in Odessa. When the time for the second migration came, 300,000 went to America, over a million stayed behind.

Life in the Dorf was very difficult in the beginning. Adjustment to the new climate, one season of bumper crops, the next – drought. Those who hastened to witness the appearance of Christ on Mt. Ararat (as the prophecies fortold) suffered at the hands of the Mohammedans. Food was scarce, malaria was rampant and housing was poor.

But the Dorf was planned and built. A long row of houses, along a wide main street, built in similar pattern. Each house was surrounded by gardens and yards. On the outskirts were the orchards for fruit and shelter. Outside this circle, the fields stretched for acres. This plan proved to be the most satisfactory as the colonists had the vast expanse of land on which to plant.

This incidentally, was the same plan used by Charles Weber when he began his settlement in French Camp, here in San Joaquin County.

Houses of Sod

Sod houses became the first homes of many people because there were no other materials available. Some had large kitchens, bedrooms, front rooms with extra barns for animals. Some had the animals in attached barns so that house and barn were under one roof.

Church and school, granaries, storage sheds, horse barns, mills, all buildings necessary to the maintenance and development of good farming communities were built. As times became more prosperous, the homes were built of better materials.

When the Dorf consisted of 3,000 persons, “daughter” colonies were started. These developed in the same manner and the regions became field after field of wheat and crops to sustain the country.

As stated above this migration was different. While the Germans were in Russia for a hundred years, they never stopped being Germans. Because of the provisions of the Manifesto of Katherine the Great, they had their own schools and did not learn Russian. They did not join the army because of their religions beliefs and thereby did not mingle with the Russians.

Such was their complete separateness that after settling in America, they still maintained the same customs, language and traditions as though they had never left Germany.

The background material from which this story has been prepared in from a most commendable book written by Adolf Schock, professor of psychology at San Jose State College. It is called “In Quest of Free Land,” published in the Netherlands by Royal Van Gorcum Ltd, Assen.

For anyone who is interested in his own heritage, this book cannot be recommended too highly. The information which Professor Schock has acquired was obtained from primary sources in Germany where he spent one year.

Copies may be obtained from Ernest Scmierer, Peltier Road.

Reprinted with permission of the Lodi News-Sentinel.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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