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Prince Carl and the German Colonies

Vereins Kirche Frederickburg

Our next tour, November 7th through the 9th, will launch us into a fascinating and exciting culture—the German Hill Country. This is not to be confused with the Czech or Polish cultures which exist in and around the German settlements. Each are distinct, and each has kept their own beliefs and customs, even, in many cases including the language itself.

So, why did the Germans some to the New World?

Would you move thousands of miles away from home? Uproot your family? Go into debt to pay for the trip? Give up your entire lifestyle without any assurance that where you are going is better?  Make that terrifying leap into the unknown? Does it take desperation or determination?

One gentleman at a Road Scholar presentation I did in San Antonio last week, suggested that there is a difference between immigrants and settlers. Immigrants are those who adopt the cultural ways of the country they are coming to. Settlers, on the other hand, bring their culture with them. The Germans, if the towns of the Hill Country are any indication, were settlers, not immigrants. They brought their culture with them and have clung to it ever since.

The German families who came to Texas, and to other parts of the U.S. during the 1840s, were as much drawn as they were driven by problems in Germany. Much of what we now call Germany had been bits and pieces left over from Napoleon’s conquests, including Prussia as well as dozens of principalities.

German music and Country dancing at Gruene, Texas

After the fall of Napoleon in 1814, Prussia struggled to put itself back together. Not all the princes were willing to give up their personal control. Prince Metternich, of Austria, sought to crush any attempts at nationalization. The conflicts threatened many of the settlers who saw Texas as an opportunity to escape from political difficulties, religious differences, and forced induction into the German army.

Pennsylvania encouraged immigrants – hence the Pennsylvania Dutch, who were not Dutch at all, but Deutsch or German. Texas also encouraged immigrants and offered large land grants for the Germans willing to come and settle out in the Hill Country outside San Antonio.

Of course, the German settlers came for the land. Until 1836, anyone coming to the Spanish and then Mexican Empresario colonies received their standard League (4,428 acres) and Labor (177 acre) for each family. The cost was miniscule, about .12 cents per acre with easy time payments.

Boerne, a German colony

By the time Texas became a Republic, the land was no longer handed out like candy. The grants became smaller and smaller, from a section of 640 acres to 120 acres and finally to nothing at all. Land could be purchased from the stone-broke and insolvent state of Texas, if one could find the General Land Office, which was closed as much as it was open, since it had been inundated with false claims and illegal documents.

The German princes, not noted for their economic acumen, were interested in developing colonies in the New World. Twenty-one of them used their own personal wealth or the investments of other German nobles to start the Adelsverein, or the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.

In 1841, the Adelsverein company bought the Fisher-Miller land grant consisting of 3,878,000 acres or nearly 5,000 square miles right in the heart of the Penateka Comanche territory. Prince Carl von Solms Braunfels came to inspect the lands in 1844 but found the finances in disarray due to Fisher’s mismanagement of the funds. Prince Carl was unable to settle the grant. Instead, he purchased 1,300 acres on the Guadalupe where he established the town named for his own home, New Braunfels.

By the end of the year, Prince Carl was stone broke and had to be rescued by John Meusebach who paid for his return passage to Germany. Meusebach, himself an attorney and judge, arrived in Texas in 1845 and helped to establish Fredricksburg. But he, too, faced difficulties with Fisher and competition from other German members of the Adelsverein which finally went bankrupt in 1848.

Elegance in German homes

Meusebach did his best to help settle the small groups of German settlers entering Texas in the town of Fredricksburg. On the small grants of land the Germans eventually received, some as small as 10 acres, they were able to establish successful homesteads. They wisely made peace treaties with the Comanche and set up businesses which catered to the Gold Rush trade coming through Texas after1849.

Many of the subsequent German colonists, perhaps hearing of the financial problems in New Braunfels and Fredricksburg, chose to settle on the open meadows and green pastures along the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers they passed on the way inland. Many of the small German towns that dot central Texas are a result of these reluctant travelers.

As we will see when we visit some of these German towns, they have retained their culture, their language, their religion, their architecture and their annual festivals.