In the late 1840s, America experienced two major migrations of humans. In 1849, the discovery of gold created a huge movement of people from all over the world to California, and history remembers those people as – the 49ers. In 1848, rebellions in Europe created a massive migration of people to Texas, and history would also remember them.
Who were these people that migrated to Texas from Europe that history would remember as – the 48ers?
In the 1840s, Europe still had Kings and peasants and still lived in a feudal-like system of existence. The average working-class European man knew it was time for a change. As a result, in 1848 many countries in Europe experienced radical social reform through social unrest like uprisings, demonstrations and mass assemblies. These uprisings would be called the Rebellions of 1848.
For centuries in Europe the aristocracy had promoted to the masses, social concepts like hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the “divine right of kings.” What the average citizen was really dreaming of, or hoping for, were ideas and concepts like liberty and equality. A rebellion could change all of that, or so thought the masses (rebels), who consisted mainly of middle-class and working-class people, who together shared a desire for reform and change, and who basically agreed on almost all issues. But, their roles in the rebellions were very different. It seems that while the middle-class would handle the role of “motivation, organization and financing” the rebellion, the lower or working-class would handle the “front line fighting.” Yeah, the working-class did not like that arrangement too much.
In 1848, the big event for social change in Germany became known as the March Revolution with large popular assemblies and mass demonstrations. Well-educated students and intellectuals who demanded German national unity, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly led them. But in the end, the middle-class and the working-class of the revolution would split up, and the conservative aristocracy would defeat the rebellion! This forced many Germans into exile because now their names were on government lists as rebel agitators who had to be found – and be dealt with harshly.
So now, Germans who wanted a better life would be forced to find that life, somewhere else. But where could the German people go to find these ideals of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of religion or the freedom to pursue your very own happiness? Many Germans chose Texas. For thousands of Germans the final destination of a 5,000-mile journey would be Galveston, Texas. From there, these immigrants would embark on a new life that was waiting for them there in the paradise known as Texas. Many stayed in Texas cities like Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio, and others settled in the rugged Texas Hill Country to form the western end of the “Texas German Belt.”
This massive German immigration to Texas would create a German Belt in central Texas of German-speaking communities. It is not known who coined the term German belt, but this mass colonization of German families in Texas was made possible, and became a reality, because of the migration equation that had to come together for this German migration to succeed.
The migration equation: A dominant personality + A device (in this case a letter) = Chain Migration. That’s the formula for a successful migration of humans - across 5,000 miles.
This migration to Texas in the 1840’s started with, what is known to students of human migrations as, a dominant personality or a true pioneer. This is an ambitious person, natural leader, who could take charge or make things happen. This pioneer was bold, and forceful, and who saw this great adventure in his life as the only solution to the rebellions and problems back home. And, this dominant personality had to know how to use his personality to convince others to follow him in migration.
A German by the name of Friedrich Diercks, known in Texas under his alias, Johann Friedrich Ernst, was for this historic migration of Germans to Texas – the dominant personality. Ernst came to America in 1829 with plans to settle in Missouri, but while docked in New Orleans he learned about large land grants in Stephen F. Austin's colony in Texas. Just two years later, Ernst received a grant of more than 4,000 acres of the most beautiful land that lay in the northwest corner of what is now Austin County, near Bellville. His 4,400 acres would form the nucleus of what would become the “German Belt” in Texas.
Now, we need a device to create a spark that can ignite and motivate normal people to change their lives and make a daring move to the other side of the earth. In this case, the device was a letter, or series of letters, to create an interest. The author of those letters was Friedrich Ernst who wrote to friends in Germany. And, it was through these America letters that he would reach and influence many people. Ernst described Texas in his letters as a winterless land with climate like that of Sicily. He wrote about game, fish and fertile rich soil, just here, waiting for German hands to reap the abundance of it. Taxes, he wrote, were almost nothing. Land could be purchased for a small fee and hunting and fishing required no licenses! “Friends back home, listen to me – this Texas is an earthly paradise!”
And just like that, Germans were sold on Texas.
Within 10 years, Germans had established a number of rural communities in the vicinity of Ernst's land grant in south central Texas. Entire families, and even entire German neighborhoods, packed their belongings and headed to a new life. This chain migration process was a natural result of a dominant personality writing letters back home.
This movement of Germans to Texas was seen by a group of petty German Noblemen who saw an opportunity. They met to discuss the creation of an ambitious enterprise and created a corporation whose sole purpose would be to transport and colonize German peasants in Texas. Their organization would be called the Adelsverein; the "Association for the Protection of German Immigrants" in Texas.
Why did these noblemen choose Texas? They chose Texas as the site for their colony, in part because of the Ernst letters and, these petty noblemen thought that since Texas was a brand-new Independent Republic, noblemen and princes’ might be able to exercise some political control and influence.
Prince Carl (Karl) of Solms-Braunfels was the Commissioner General of the Adelsverein group. He, almost immediately, set out to spearhead the establishment of colonies of German immigrants in Texas. Prince Carl arrived on Texas soil in July 1844, making an exploratory tour as advisor to the Adelsverein, which owned the rights to the Fisher–Miller Land Grant. Afterward, Carl purchased an additional 1,300 acres (5.3 km2) on the Guadalupe River on behalf of the Adelsverein, where he established the colony of New Braunfels, Texas.
Eventually, the Adelsverein venture would not succeed. This new enterprise would turn out to be a complete financial disaster, but it did create and employ logistics that moved thousands of Germans, mostly peasants, to Texas. Thanks to these noblemen, between 1844 and 1847, more than 7,000 Germans reached the new land.
History remembers that Prince Solms and the Adelsverein group did succeed in establishing two Texas Cities. The Texas Cities of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. Prince Solms named New Braunfels in honor of his homeland.
The German settlers who came to Texas were generally solid middle-class people. They were land-owning families, artisans and some were university-educated professional people and intellectuals. But the majority were farmers with a modest experience in trade. The Germans were not poverty-stricken or oppressed.
Someone wrote this about German diversity in Texas: “The Germans who settled Texas were diverse in many ways. They included peasant farmers, intellectuals, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, atheists, Prussians, Saxons, Hessians, Alsatians, abolitionists, slave owners and townsfolk; frugal, honest folk and an ax murderer.”
The largest ethnic group in Texas derived directly from Europe is comprised of Germans. By the 1990 United States Census there were over 1 million Texans who claimed pure German ancestry and almost 2 million who claimed partial German ancestry for a total of 3 million or 18% of the total state population. By this count, Germans rank behind Hispanics and form the third-largest national-origin group in Texas. And, by some accounts more than 25% of Texans today carry Texan German DNA.
In the final analysis, history remembers that the 48ers came to play and did not waste time or opportunities. It turns out that many 48ers were dominant personalities; men and women who would make a difference right here in Texas.
Look at your state map: New Braunfels – Fredericksburg – Schertz – Luckenbach –Rosenburg – Gruene – Castroville – Boerne – Brenham – Giddings – La Grange – Nixon – Navasota – Schulenburg – Shiner, all German Cities founded by 48ers.
Admiral Chester Nimitz from the battle of Midway in WW2 and President Dwight D. Eisenhower were gifts from the 48er movement in Texas. Harry Wurzbach, William Menger, Emma Koehler and Carl Hilmar Guenther were prominent 48ers that called Texas their home.
The 48ers that settled here in Texas were, in my opinion, the best that Germany had to offer. They definitely left their mark right here, and in the end, Texas would be better off. I for one do appreciate the many contributions that were made, and legacies that were left behind, by these people that history would remember as – the 48ers.
The 48ers were true Texas pioneers and builders of this great state.
This post is dedicated to all 48ers descendants living today in Texas and around the world who continue to carry the torch handed down to them by the 48ers, Texas pioneers of our past, to the benefit of this great state, Texas.
Texas History – Never Forget!
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