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The First 100 Years of the Kutschurgan and Selz Colonist Areas

Bosch, Anton. "The First 100 Years of the Kutschurgan and Selz Colonist Areas." Historicher Forschungsverein der Deutschen aus Russland, January 2016.


The Russian-Turkish War fought by Catherine II together with German Kaiser Joseph II ended on July 21, 1774 with the Peace Treaty of Küçük Kaynarci, which ceded to Russia the entire northern Black Sea region reaching to the Dniester. To start the development of the conquered hinterland, the Tsarina founded the harbor city Odessa in 1794. And in order to supply the city with agricultural products, Tsar Alexander I (grandson of Catherine II) found it necessary to issue the ukase of June 24, 1803, the sole aim of which was to import German farmers from the Rhine to the Black Sea.

The first twenty-nine families arrived from Swabia on August 3, 1803 and established the Liebental mother colony near Odessa. Desiring to “let in only competent farmers,” the Tsar issued a further ukase on February 2, 1804 stipulating that each family was to bring in 300 gulden and to receive from the Crown 60 desyatines of land (65 hectares [ca. 175 acres]). In this edict the Tsar reiterated that he would grant the settlers exemption from military service, freedom to exercise their religion, and use of their language, schools and churches, plus a thirty-year exemption from taxation. For administering the region, the “Kontor [Office] for Foreign Settlers” was established, with its seat in Josefstal near Yekaterinoslav (Dniepropetrovsk) and with Samuel Kontenius as its administrator. Overall supervision was entrusted to Duke Richelieu, Governor of all of South Russia.

Because the land conquered in the war had largely been divided among distinguished officers, the state did not possess “free Crown land.” This made it necessary for the Crown to “buy back” from private owners land tracts required for settling the arriving colonists. For example, an area totaling 30,000 hectares (ca. 61,000 acres) near the small Kutschurgan River, 65 kilometers [ca. 40 miles] north of Odessa, was acquired from Count Ponyatovski. [Note that a daughter colony with the name Ponyatovka would eventually be established -Tr.] On this tract, the following six Catholic mother colonies were founded: Kandel, Selz, Baden, Strassburg, Mannheim, and Elsass. In the summer, five different groups totaling 2,800 settlers arrived by land at a designated place. They came from Lower Alsace (59%), Baden (23.5 %) and the Palatinate (19.5%). Kandel and Selz each became a colony for some 100 families, both colonies receiving 6,500 hectares [ca. 17,640 acres] of community land. The other four villages each had sixty family farm properties and 4,000 hectares [ca. 10,800 acres] of community acreage. It so happened that that even during the initial allotment phase, the total available land tracts had already been fully distributed.

Selz was designated as the administrative center of the area. Each village put up its own church school, which was tended to by pastors and local teachers. In Selz and in Kandel, those first schools were still in operation in 2007.

Because the state was unable to guarantee the supply of building materials needed for constructing homes, Tsar Alexander I, per ukase # 47 dated January 9, 1805, ordered that the colonists “acquire personally” whatever was needed for home building. It was said that Duke Richelieu personally saw to the surveying of the land and to the establishment of the Selz tree farm (acacia trees). The settlers were to be personally responsible for getting their homes built.

The government demanded that the colonists concentrate initially on breeding silkworms and sheep, a directive that no colonists felt obliged to adhere to. They put in vegetables and all sorts of fruit trees, as well as grapevines for their own use and for the market. Various sorts of fruit, such as cherries, apricots, plums, apples, grapes and others were offered in northern Ukrainian markets in Kiev. The growing of grains was undertaken only some time later.

Per the colonist code, every ten farmers “democratically” elected a representative for the village council, and the latter determined their village mayor.  The mayor covered all village-related tasks, such as taking care of public places, schools, churches, streets, and all needed public work. He was also responsible for conducting property assessments, enforcing inheritance laws, acceptance and dismissal of individual farmers to and from the village, respectively, plus settling of disputes. Handling of serious crimes, such as stealing horses and murders, was left to the state courts. The six Schulzen [village mayors] designated an Oberschulze [chief mayor], whose seat initially was Mannheim, until it was transferred to Selz in 1820. Selz was then also designated as the center of its volost [district].

Population increases between a mere 2.5 and 3 % per year kept development within limits. By mid-19th Century the population increased from 2,800 to 5,700 souls, while the designated land tracts of the district remained the same. During the same timeframe, the number of homesteads increased from 453 to 950.

Land reform enacted in 1916 [?] made it possible to acquire additional settlement land and thus to establish new daughter colonies. By 1914 several such villages were founded in the neighboring area: three daughter colonies originating from Kandel, two from Baden, two from Elsass, two from Mannheim, and one from Selz. By 1944 these daughter colonies had developed into impressive villages that kept economic ties with their mother colonies. Population growth [without availability of more land – Tr.] also caused the inevitable “landless” farmers residing in the villages and development of “local” trades. They built up commerce by selling their products. For example, in 1910, in Selz and in Kandel there were 25 and 55 smithies, respectively, 115 basket weavers, dozens of carpenters, roofers, saddle makers, shoemakers, and makers of kegs and wagons. Prior to World War I, sales of their products on Ukrainian markets brought in up to 50,000 rubles per year.     

Dr. Anton Bosch, Nuremberg

[Captions and Quote:]

Photo caption on text page: Beautiful Selz on the Kutschurgan, with the parish church in Renaissance style, 1898. Painting by Edmund Goldade, oil on linen, 1989.

[Caption for the maps:]
Map section for the Selz colonial district bear Odessa. Left: the Kandel church in its current condition; above, the desecrated church in Mannheim (1978); below, right: The church in Selz, built in 1898. All three were Catholic churches.

“Heeding the call of the Tsar, throngs of them came to the Black Sea and settled near Odessa following prescribed procedures. There they built up their world under God’s blue heavenly tent!”
Anton Bosch (b. 1934), historian of the Germans from Russia.

[Notable January Events table:]

1/1/1926

90 years ago: a census resulted in a count of 1,238,549 Germans residing in the USSR; 393,924 of these in Ukraine and 379,630 in the Volga region, the two main settlement areas.

1/1/1965

50 years ago: the German-language daily newspaper “Freundschaft [Friendship]” is published in Zelinograd.

1/15/1841

175 years ago: Friedrich Parrot, natural history researcher and traveler, first to ascend Mount Ararat, dies in Dorpat.

1/15/1946

70 years ago: Founding of the “Assistance Committee of the Evangelical-Lutheran Germans from Russia.”

1/20/1916

100 years ago: Boris W. Stürmer becomes Prime Minister of the Russian Empire.

1/22/1796

220 years ago: Carl Ernst Claus, chronicler and researcher, discoverer of the Atheneum, born in Dorpat.

1/28/1766

250 years ago: Catherine II confirms the right of estate owners to banish obstreperous colonist to Siberia.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy Herzog for editing of this article.

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