By Rob Bowe
A movement that fueled and sent as many as 5,000 Lutheran immigrants to America from Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony and Silesia and other parts of Prussia to the US and Australia from 1839 till 1850. Prior to 1817, the Lutheran church was considered the “national” church of Prussia. It was in that year that, Wilhelm III, the Prussian emperor, in a decree, ordered the merger of the Reformed church, which was based on Calvinistic doctrine, with the Lutheran church which formed a new national church known as the “United” Reformed Church. Many Lutherans did not accept the merger base on doctrinal differences concerning the Sacrament of Holy communion.One asks why did Wilhelm III order the merger of the two churches? According to an article published in the Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly, published At St. Louis, Mo, USA. (Vol XX, April 1947, Wilhelm’s wife was Lutheran and he was Reformed . It has been reported that he desired to partake in Holy Communion with his wife but Lutheran ministers would not oblige him. They would only serve the sacrament to Lutherans. His solution was simple., merge the two predominate protestant churches of Prussia and he not only would be able to commune but in his eyes, he was doing his subjects a favor. The resulting national "United" Reformed church and mandatory membership for protestants was something that was enforced with less then varying degrees of success, throughout the Lutheran areas of Prussia. Some Lutherans either ignored or resisted. In 1831, the King outlawed the Lutheran church and the resulting religious and political turmoil in the land contributed to the hardships of the times.
The remaining Lutherans side-stepped the issue as long as they could and continued to practice their Lutheran faith. During this time, some pastors and teachers were jailed and worshippers fined for attending Lutheran worship services. Other economic sanctions were imposed on select Lutheran groups while Lutheran churches were seized and Lutheran schools were closed in some parts of Prussia including Pomerania. Now Lutherans were not allowed to gather in public to worship and resorted to private worship in homes. This to was eventually banned.
The stout of faith were unshakable and they became known as “Old Lutherans” or Old Lutheran Separatists. By 1838-39 “Immigrant fever” fueled by the desire for religious freedom was starting to grow in Pomerania and other parts of the Kingdom. The first “Old Lutheran” immigrant groups left for Australia and America. Of this first wave, some went to St. Louis, mostly Saxons, while Pomeranians and Brandenburgers went to Buffalo, New York. About 60 families continued on from Buffalo and settled near Milwaukee, at Town 9, know as Freistadt (Free City)Wisconsin Territory. In Kries Cammin, Wollin, Naugard, Saatzig, Greifenberg, Regenwalde and Stadt Stettin, the “Old Lutheran” movement gathered speed. In 1841, the Cammin Synod fell apart due to the religious turmoil. In Kries Cammin, letters were arriving from the immigrants who left in 1839 telling of the freedoms in Wisconsin and cheap land, $1.25 an acre.
According to the Tribsow, Cammin church history, Vergangene Tage, by Pastor Ernest Biatosch in 1841: “Immeasurable people left the established church (At Tribsow) and joined the now called, “Old Lutherans, a religious change that brought about a lot of turbulence….a meeting was held in Cammin and Jassow, they (Old Lutherans) hesitated to send their children to school and were stubborn when people tried to talk to them. Those that remained faithful to the Old Lutheran church were discouraged and decided to emigrate to America. “ They left “in droves” according to the Tribsow church history and even after Wilhelm’s death they continued to leave this country church for America. Many settled in Wisconsin. A total of eight separate immigration groups from this one country congregation alone went to America., totaling over 243 souls. During is final years as king, many "Old Lutherans" referred to Wilhelm III as "The old tryrant" and ill feelings ran deep in the hearts of many zealous Lutherans for this man. He died in 1840 and was succeeded by his son, Wilhelm IV, who lifted the sanctions placed on Lutherans , but the wheels of ill–will set in motion by his late father, Wilhelm III would burn in the hearts of many Prussian Lutherans for generations.
Even in 1846, 6 years into the new regime', memoirs of several who immigrated to SE Wisconsin from Pommern , Brandenburg and other Prussian provinces are filled with references of "church visitors (United church) from Berlin", putting pressures and threatening economic sanctions on the many of the Lutheran peasantry in the rural areas. This combined with tough political and harsh economic conditions which plagued Prussia were often reasons for immigration but for the Old Lutherans but it is clear that religious freedom was their prime concern. In “Vergangene Tage” Biatoschsays, “ In 1848 had a lot of unrest in the Tribsow church brought on by more political turmoil. This was a reason for its (more) emigration.” Wilhelm III had been dead for almost 8 years and despite the supposed lifting of sanctions by his son, the “National” church officials who oversaw the churches were from the “United” Church and were still creating hard feelings and unrest. These hard feelings would exist for several more generations. Overtones exist in family conversations and church lore even today.
Based on this is accurate to say that religion was the primary reason for several thousand "Old Lutheran Separatists” leaving Pomerania in the late 1830's to late 1840's. Most of these settled in south east Wisconsin, (Friestadt, Kirchyne,Milwaukee, Lebanon and Theresa) New York, and Australia. The names of these immigrants was documented by Herr Iwan, A Pomeranian pastor and historian. While his book, “Die Altluthrische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19 Jahrhunderts” is rare today, Clifford Neal Smith authored a synopsis of Iwan’s work which documents this movement. “Nineteenth Century emigration of “Old Lutherans” From eastern Germany, mainly Pomerania, and Lower Silesia to Australia, Canada, and the United States. This synopsis lists the 5000 immigrants who were considered Old Lutheran Separatists, their home, and year they immigrated to either America or Australia. This Publication is available through the Pommerscher Verein Freistadt, PO Box 204, Germantown, Wi. USA 53022 Oddly, in America the rifted between the Lutherans and the United reformers did not exist in he early days. When "United" church immigrants began to arrive in Wisconsin in the later1850's they went to established German speaking churches which where “Old Lutheran.
In Hartford Wisconsin, Reformed and Lutherans combined to from the Peace Lutheran congregation. Ironically, Peace church(Wisconsin Synod) was shepherded by Adolph von Rohr for over 50 years. von Rohr, was the grandson of Heinrich von Rohr, one of the persecuted organizers of the Old Lutheran immigrations and himself a pastor. The elder von Rohr was a leader at Freistad and Buffalo, New York and had served jail time in Prussia because of his "Old Lutheran religious activities.
This author is descended from the early SE Wisconsin Old Lutheran immigrants groups with roots in Tribsow/Grambow Cammin, Langkafel Naugard, and Alt Damerow Saatzig. I have heard this religious issue discussed at the dinner table and proclaimed from the pulpit. It is part of university courses in some Lutheran Universities and high schools in America and while my Pomeranian Old Lutheran Heritage is a source of source of pride, we also need to revisit the cheap land issue concerning available unsettled land in Wisconsin territory. The US government opened it to settlement in the late 1830's at $1.25 an acre. In Pomerania, a full farmer or bauer would have at least a morgen, or some 30 acres. Many Pommern farmers did not control any were close to that and the land was worn out and they were overtaxed. In fact, many were victims of a decaying feudal system which made them about the same as the old southern USA sharecroppers. Many lived in their homes and farmed at the pleasure of a large landowner.
A thaler, (Pommern money) was worth a little less than a US dollar, but no where in Pommern could you buy farm land at the price of $1.25 per acre. In Wisconsin, 40 acres was $60, 160 acres, $200! Cheap land and religious freedom combined fueled immigration fever in these "Old Lutherans". We also must not forget that many pooled money to form immigration. The wealthier people put money into these funds , while the poorer people could borrow from it to finance a trip to America.
Often times a wealthy person would purchase a quarter section (160) or more for cash and then family or friends would take a 40 acres plot of it of it on installments financed by the landowner.Once we get into the late 1850's, 1860's, a new generation has evolved and the issues for immigration are different and yet family letters and word of mouth from Old Lutherans in SE Wisconsin, New York, and Missouri. They have references to God's guidance" and freedom to worship as they pleased.While we cannot deny that this would be a strong influence and that ill-will still existed toward the national church, now the big difference to those who were leaving Prussia was the economics of the times and war.
In my clan, I had an immigrant ancestor, a great- great grandfather whose family weathered the church controversy of the early 1800 to mid-1800’s. Johann Callies and his wife Maria Panch, along with son Johann Jr. stayed through this all in Langkafel, near Plugarde, Kries Naugard, but Johann Jr. finally gave it up after he was forced in to the military in 1864-65. He finished his obligation and was sent home. He was recalled back to fight in 1866. This was part of Austria/Hungary conflicts. When he returned home the 2nd time unscathed, he left for Wisconsin, arriving in 1868 in the town Theresa, Dodge County, some 40 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
Based on his actions it would be inaccurate to say he came for religious reasons. He wanted out of the hard times and I am certain, that he, through letters from friends and possibly earlier immigrating families found a community of people who spoke the same language and conveniently they were Old Lutherans.
By this time all the government land in this part of Wisconsin was sold and the price of developed land was rather high. A quarter section was now valued at a minimum of $1,000. Johann Callis Jr. married a widow, Caroline Budahn (geb Firks) within 6 months of arriving and took over 160 acres of developed land and 6 step -children. Now... in a light hearted sense that was an opportunity! He went from Fuslier (foot soldier in the Prussian Army0 to a good-sized land-owner of an established farm in few slick moves! In Theresa, township at the time, most farms ran 40 to a max of 120 acres. So 160 acres made my ancestor one of the larger landowners in that township!
Other Lutherans, who immigraated in the later 1850's into1860’s and beyond, have also referred to "freedom of religion," It tends to be a manifestation of thankfulness to the earlier generation of Lutheran Separatists, who asn "pilgrims" in their own right, discovered and established faith based communities , then passed the word back via letters to the folks in the old country about the opportunities in America which included religious and economic freedom.
To this day, the history of the early "Old Lutherans" immigrants, a people of a Stout and zealous faith is passed as part of the lore and heritage to the descendants of the Pommern and other Prussian "Old Lutherans" who came to SE Wisconsin, Buffalo, New York and St. Louis, Mo.
In Texas, Minnesota, Iowa and other places where settlements of "German" Lutherans occurred, the time frame tends to be in the 1850's and later and in all likelihood, ill feelings concerning the earlier Lutheran persecutions were still a subject of discussion and overtones, especially if there parents were part of the early "Old Lutheran" groups or the next generation. I do not believe newly arrived immigrants of the 1860's could have had religion as a tremendous motivating factor for immigration considering th war and economic conditions that existed in Prussia.
Lets back track to the 1830's -1840's again. One cannot over look the fact , that Catholics(Katolische) in Prussia were tolerated by the government of Wilhelm III and yet they are immigrating to SE Wisconsin and other places, settling close by the Old Lutherans by the mid to late 1840's. For them, religion was not an immigration issue but economic opportunity and cheap land were, especially with lands opening up in the states west of Wisconsin and the advent of the railroad. By the 1860’s a train ride from SE Wisconsin to many parts of Minnesota was possible and it was with ease many opportunities seekers came into the newly opened government lands and the flood gates now opened as many Prussians left their homeland for opportunity in “Amerika.”
Copyright © 1999 - 2015 www.pommernland.de