Medium 9781574412864

Nassau Plantation

Views: 2264
Ratings: (0)

In the 1840s an organization of German noblemen, the Mainzner Adelsverein, attempted to settle thousands of German emigrants on the Texas frontier. Nassau Plantation, located near modern-day Round Top, Texas, in northern Fayette County, was a significant part of this story. James C. Kearney has studied a wealth of original source material (much of it in German) to illuminate the history of the plantation and the larger goals and motivation of the Adelsverein. This new study highlights the problematic relationship of German emigrants to slavery. Few today realize that the society's original colonization plan included ownership and operation of slave plantations. Ironically, the German settlements the society later established became hotbeds of anti-slavery and anti-secessionist sentiment. Several notable personalities graced the plantation, including Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels, Johann Otto Freiherr von Meusebach, botanist F. Lindheimer, and the renowned naturalist Dr. Ferdinand Roemer. Dramatic events also occurred at the plantation, including a deadly shootout, a successful escape by two slaves (documented in an unprecedented way), and litigation over ownership that wound its way to both the Texas Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

List price: $24.95

Your Price: $19.96

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

22 Slices

Format Buy Remix

Chapter 1. The Adelsverein

PDF

12

James C. Kearney

tic influence and poised to counterbalance the growing commercial and military dominance of the United States in the New World. Many individuals, likewise, pinned their hopes on the new republic: they dreamed of getting rich by speculating in cheap Texas lands or they aspired to create a fresh life in a wide open land frequently portrayed as a new Garden of Eden.

Germany, by contrast, appeared as a place of little or no opportunity.

Its intelligent, vigorous, and growing population had no outlet for their energy; no possibility for betterment in their homeland. This brought about a frustration and despair that cut across class lines from peasant farmers to the upper nobility. A massive exodus from Central Europe resulted, and the destination was, in the main, North America.

In the spring of 1842, twenty German noblemen and one noblewoman met at the residence of Adolph Duke of Nassau in Biebrich on the Rhine.2 They endeavored to fashion a program of important national significance whereby the opportunities of Texas would supply an antidote to the frustrations of Germany. In so doing they sought to enhance the prestige of the German nobility and also to increase their personal wealth by speculating in cheap Texas lands. In scope and audacity, the plan they eventually adopted holds a unique place in the history of emigration to the New World.

 

Chapter 2. Joseph Count of Boos-Waldeck

PDF

26

James C. Kearney

A suitable technician could not be found, so the expedition was reduced to the two noblemen and their servants, Wilhelm Ötzel

(Etzel) 2 and Johann Schwind.3 The two were given the dignified title of Jäger, or “hunter,” though it is not clear that either had ever done any hunting.

Power to act on the Society’s behalf remained in Boos-Waldeck’s hands, with one exception. Special instructions for the two, drawn up by Count Castell, stipulated that both men had to concur and sign should they decide to purchase land for the

Society. Moreover, in any land deal, they were to deal only with the government of the republic and thereby avoid unscrupulous speculators. Land fraud in Texas, it seems, had already attained international notoriety. The men were to contact G. A. Scherpf,4 whose book about Texas had helped shape Christian Leiningen’s enthusiasm for Texas. He was thought to be in New York. Finally, they were to be prudent with their cash since American banks could balk at promissory notes. On June 10, 1842, Boos-Waldeck and his party shipped out of Le Havre, France,5 on a three-master, the Lorena, and arrived in New York on July 18, 1842, after a thirty-eight-day passage.6

 

Chapter 3. The Plantation

PDF

40

James C. Kearney

currency of the republic, the notorious “red backs,” had been drastically discounted.2

The lack of close access to a bank or credit institution in Texas with European ties created problems for the Society. So Count BoosWaldeck opened an account with Messrs. Schmidt & Co., one of several banking establishments in New Orleans with European correspondents. Later, officials did business with Lanfear & Co., another

New Orleans firm with similar connections.

Finally, New Orleans continued to serve as one of the major ports of entry for German immigrants bound for the Midwest.3 Consequently, there was a large German quarter where one could catch up on news from the homeland and be among native speakers.4

Boos-Waldeck and his party spent a couple of weeks in the city, and with the assistance of Charles Fordtran completed the initial purchases for the plantation. They departed New Orleans bound for

Galveston on February 14, 1843, on the steamer Neptune.5 The bill of lading listed eleven slaves, three wagons, and several thousand pounds of goods of all sorts.6 The eleven slaves included six men and five women. Except for one older man, Richard (fifty), all the men were around twenty years old. The women also were young with one, Hanna, being only fourteen years old. The slaves cost about $6,000.7

 

Chapter 4. Germany and Texas in 1843 and 1844

PDF

Chapter 4

Germany and Texas in 1843 and 1844

Decisions reached in Germany in 1843 put the Society on a path that would lead to financial disaster and relegate the plantation to a supporting role. Carl Count of Castell had his sights set much higher than a plantation, or a string of them, and he set about to insure that the Society adopted his vision. The plantation encompassed a little more than four thousand acres; a land grant amounted to hundreds of thousands of acres. Like gold fever, this was a mighty temptation, which clouded his judgment. Several letters by various members of the nobility testify to the count’s active involvement working behind the scenes to promote the Society. His friend, Carl Prince of SolmsBraunfels, supported him in his program.1

His efforts bore fruit in the second general assembly, which convened in Biebrich June 18 and 19, 1843, amidst an atmosphere of great optimism.2 All the initial subscriptions had been covered.

The program had, in fact, met with such enthusiasm that the list was expanded to thirty shares. Ten members attended, several with the power of attorney to act on behalf of others. Count Castell, for example, was empowered to vote for five other members.3 In the absence of Christian Leiningen, the founder and nominal president, Count

 

Chapter 5. The Runaways

PDF

64

James C. Kearney

ties of the plantation followed the general plan and concept of Count

Boos-Waldeck. He seems also to have been directly responsible for supervising the work on the Herrenhaus. It was left to the overseer,

William Bryan, who did live at the plantation, to take care of the dayto-day tasking of the slaves.

Judging from his reports and letters, Fordtran applied himself conscientiously to his duties. With fences to construct, fields to plow, and buildings to complete, both Bryan and Fordtran had full plates.

Fordtran had accompanied Boos-Waldeck to Galveston. He returned with a wagonload of supplies to Nassau Plantation on November 10, 1843. It had been a rather difficult trip due to wet weather and swollen streams. He detailed his return trip and the situation at the plantation in a long report sent to Boos-Waldeck, dated November

15, 1843.1

In the report, Fordtran mentioned that Wilhelm Etzel, the former servant of Boos-Waldeck, was happy and had big plans for the future.

He continued to be diligent in his work on the manor house but did not get along well with his associate, a man named Stuesse. In consequence, Stuesse had collected his wages, twenty-eight dollars, and departed even though his work was not completed. Fordtran thought it would be best to contract outside labor for the completion of the stall, which was to be built next to the manor house with dimensions of twenty-two feet by fourteen feet by fourteen feet. Fordtran also expressed concern about the condition of the oxen, which were so indispensable for the work of breaking the fields and transporting the rails for the fences. They were in bad shape, he reported, and only three pairs remained to do the work. He suggested to Bryan, the overseer, that he make the rails, of which 4,000 had already been split, lighter and shorter, and, therefore, reduce the work for the oxen. One can detect in this letter a growing rift between the two.2

 

Chapter 6. Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels

PDF

76

James C. Kearney

In the valley of the Guadalupe

Lives neither prince nor nobleman.

One knows not bond service,

The tithe, injustices,

No rules, no bans.2

A dashing, thirty-two-year-old German prince was traipsing across

Texas in 1845, the year Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the song; and, ironically, it was this German prince who would set the stage, more than any other person, for the beautiful Guadalupe Valley to become a destination for German emigrants.

Of all the personalities associated with German emigration to

Texas, Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels is by far the most intriguing—a man who has captured and held the public’s fascination.

A 1930 article in the Houston Chronicle with the somewhat lurid title, “German Prince once made Whoopee on Texas Farm,” illustrates this fascination. In it, Prince Solms is portrayed as a romantic and quixotic figure on the Texas frontier: dashing, haughty, extravagant.

The quiet pastures and sturdy farm buildings of Nassau

Plantation in Fayette County, near Round Top, if suddenly given tongue, would tell a stirring tale of days when German noblemen rode spirited horses to death and made royal whoopee that burned up thousands of dollars in one wild night of merrymaking.3

 

Chapter 7. Friedrich von Wrede

PDF

94

James C. Kearney

all important positions and agencies. He particularly preferred men of the officer class.

The von Wredes, both father and son, seemed to fit the bill. Count

Castell most likely enlisted both in the service of the Society in Germany in response to Prince Solms’ desires. Friedrich von Wrede, Jr., arrived in Texas from Germany in August 1844 carrying official documents for the prince and thereafter became his constant companion.

Friedrich von Wrede Sr. arrived in Texas sometime in the late fall of the same year, also as an agent of the Society.

The elder von Wrede had earlier traveled extensively in the United

States and Texas with his family and returned to Germany in June

1843. In 1844, he published a guidebook in Germany about the American frontier with emphasis on Texas.2 In his earlier years, he had served as a cavalry officer in the Hessian army during the Napoleonic wars and had participated in the battle of Waterloo. During his first visit to America, he had often supported himself by giving lessons in equestrian dressage.

 

Chapter 8. Das Herrenhaus

PDF

104

James C. Kearney

It came to be widely known and celebrated as one of the finest houses on the Texas frontier.

When, for example, the celebrated Dr. Ferdinand Roemer visited the house during his travels in Texas in 1846, he described the house as charming and a cut above the average Texas frontier house.1

Friedrich von Wrede, Sr., never given to exaggeration, characterized the house as “schön,” or “lovely.”2 Later, in 1850, Amanda Fallier von

Rosenberg, spoke in a similar vein: “You also have no idea of what one calls a house in Texas—a rectangular room, high and airy, with a good roof is called here a house. Among these a house like ours, six years ago the best and still one of the best, is called a fort, a castle, a prince’s house, a manor house. Our house is called all these things in jest, but it is pretty and, I may add, romantic.”3

Boos-Waldeck had located the house on the crown of the most prominent hill in the league where a magnificent panorama opened up for 360 degrees. He put it about a half mile distant from the other buildings of the plantation: impractical, but socially palatable to a

 

Chapter 9. The Plantation and Agriculture in Fayette County

PDF

110

James C. Kearney

to agriculture. Economic activity of all forms was embryonic and disorganized. The intrepid pioneers prior to 1840 appeared to have spent as much collective energy fighting the Indians and organizing expeditions against the Mexicans as they did developing their farms and businesses.1

As the Indian threat waned and the pioneers gained confidence that they could successfully repulse any attempt by Mexico to reassert her authority, the situation began to change; slowly at first, then more rapidly, gathering steam in an almost logarithmic progression of growth and development. By 1850, scores had moved into the northern part of the county and established viable farms. The acreages were still large, on the average 427 acres, with, as a rough rule of thumb, about 12 percent of the land in cultivation and the rest reserved for grazing.2

In the county as a whole, there were slightly fewer than 10,000 acres in production, with about 80,000 acres in unimproved pasture. Fayette County, with a total area of 950 square miles (608,000 acres), had less than 15 percent of the land in use by 1850. Much vacant land remained upon which to settle fresh immigrants from

 

Chapter 10. Die Katastrophe

PDF

124

James C. Kearney

Bostick rushes out the door and, although fired upon several times, manages to discharge his shotgun. Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf, a SwissGerman artist and naturalist in the party of attackers, falls mortally wounded with three slugs in the cheek. Panicked by the unexpectedly vigorous defense and the mortal wounding of one of their own, the attackers withdraw in disorder, leaving their dying comrade behind.

Word quickly goes out and creates a sensation, for Captain Somers, a prominent Freemason, is well known and respected in the county. A posse forms and apprehends Ernst Sörghel, whose farm adjoins the plantation, but Hermann Spiess, newly appointed commissioner-general of the German Emigration Co. in Texas and leader of the party of attackers, flees on the slain Rohrdorf’s horse and eludes capture.1

Thus took place the most dramatic story associated with the plantation, an event that created an uproar both in Texas and in Europe.

In Fayette County it provoked another shootout (and killing), led to a sensational trial, divided the county into factions, and prompted, according to one account, the formation of a secret vigilante committee composed of both Anglos and Texas-Germans. A future governor of Texas, A. J. Hamilton, served as an attorney for the Society while a former secretary of state, James S. Mayfield, emerged as a behindthe-scene conspirator on the Schubbert side. Because of Mayfield’s involvement, the shooting thrust the plantation (and the Society) into the forefront of the pro-slavery, anti-immigrant debate in the state, which had arisen prior to annexation, a heated debate in which Mayfield, a member of the legislature, had spoken vociferously in favor of limiting European immigration. Thus the affair had a significance that went well beyond any internal dispute within the German Emigration Co. Still, for the Society itself, the shootout was a disaster on several counts, for it exacerbated tensions, squandered time, money, and energy, and, in general, plunged the Society into disrepute at a time when it was desperate for favorable publicity. Little wonder then that the whole affair came to be known by the Germans as the Katastrophe (catastrophe).2

 

Chapter 11. Otto von Roeder

PDF

154

James C. Kearney

unrest manifested itself quickly in the Rhineland and Hessian provinces due to their proximity to France. Here the French ideas of liberty, fraternity, and equality had taken root among the students and the middle-class Bürger of the cities. Revolutionaries even briefly occupied the city of Mainz, which was in a sense the birthplace of the

Society. In one of the more dramatic episodes in all of Germany, a mob of 30,000 farmers, apprentices, and handworkers, armed only with pitchforks, scythes, and axes, descended upon the Wiesbaden castle of Adolph Duke of Nassau. When the duke promised reforms, the crowd peacefully dispersed.2

The old order in Europe was confronted with an explosion of frustration and resentment from the common man: the exclusion from political life, the denial of basic freedoms of expression and assembly, the lack of religious freedom, the absence of economic opportunity, the onerous burden of late-feudal privileges—all these factors combined to threaten the noblemen in Germany from within even as their plans from across the sea floundered. The turmoil of the revolution compromised the Society in Germany in many ways, especially in the ability to raise funds.3

 

Chapter 12. Nassau-Rosenberg

PDF

166

James C. Kearney

business careers, rising to positions of prominence. As a group they were also extremely civic-minded. They established schools, churches, and clubs in many communities across the state.

They were also prime participants in an unpleasant but fascinating episode concerning the plantation; they left an extensive record of their move to and assimilation in their new country; and, finally, their presence in the Round Top area acted as a magnet to other educated Germans so that the small town and surrounding community eventually emerged as one of the more refined German settlements in Texas.1

The record they left is generally in the form of letters; most, but not all, translated and published by the family.2 Collectively, this correspondence offers a rich, absorbing, and multifaceted record of the trials and tribulations, as well as the simple joys and pleasures, of frontier (or quasi-frontier) life in Texas in the 1850s with particular reference to Nassau Plantation. Additionally, Amanda

 

Chapter 13. The Adelsverein, the Plantation, and Slavery

PDF

184

James C. Kearney

Secession was above all about slavery. The slaveholding power elite in Texas joined with the other Southern states to withdraw from the

Union for the primary purpose of maintaining and expanding slavery when it had become clear to them that they would not be able to take their slaves with them into the new territories of the West which were then opening up.

To be sure, Texas (as did two other Southern states) held a referendum on the question of secession and close to 70 percent of the male population cast their vote in favor. This left a substantial minority, however, including the governor of the state, Sam Houston, who were opposed to secession, and this produced a cauldron of seething tension, hostility and, at times, naked violence, representing the true

“Civil War” for Texas of the period. Indeed, with the surrender of the

Confederacy at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, the bloodshed did not come to an end in this other civil war. Rather, it ushered in another phase where the “lost cause” became a pretext and cover for terror and lawlessness, rendering Texas the most violent state in the Union for a decade after the war had ended.

 

Chapter 14. A Clouded Title

PDF

208

James C. Kearney

the half-shares to come from the emigrants were lost from view and prejudiced in every conceivable way. Their debts did not diminish; rather they increased through such things as the cost of litigation until it would be almost impossible to say exactly what the Society owed. The worst thing about the whole affair was that neither the

Society, nor its creditors, nor the emigrants derived any benefit from this situation, since the first quickly lost, one after the other, all their property as well as their right to property in the grant, and the creditors received no payment for their demands. Indeed, the prospects for it grew slimmer by the day. Only Fischer and Miller were partially satisfied on account of a judgment in 1848 they had against the Society for a substantial amount.

“And for the majority of emigrants in respect to the grant and the prospect of finally obtaining valid titles, they were led astray by speculators and ended up selling their certificates at artificially low prices.

 

Postscript

PDF

220

James C. Kearney

most a hundred acres with enough surrounding acreage to pasture the draft animals and milk cows. Houses and barns sprang up on the new farmsteads and the old log houses began to give way to buildings of planked construction as sawed lumber became less expensive and more readily available.

Most of these family homesteads aimed at self-sufficiency. A few head of cows, pigs, and (perhaps) sheep plus a well-tended garden and an established orchard satisfied most of what a family required.

Still, cash was needed for cloth, food staples, and other odds and ends. There were taxes to pay and perhaps a mortgage on the land to defray. Cotton and corn served as the cash crops. Cotton was the mainstay, underpinning the economy in this part of the state for decades until the devastation of the boll weevil and the reality of low prices forced a new model. The pest first appeared in 1898 in Austin and Fayette counties. At first it confined itself to river bottoms, but after a while spread to the upland farms.3 It reached a high-water mark of destruction in 1921 with an estimated 34 percent reduction in the crop.4 Cotton, however, lingered as an important crop, with production peaking in the early 1950s. The introduction of mechanical tillage and chemical fertilizers allowed production to rise for many years even as the total acreage declined.

 

Appendix A. Boos-Waldeck Purchases

PDF

 

Appendix B. Bourgeois d’Orvanne Inventory

PDF

 

Appendix C. Inventory, December 1847

PDF

Appendix C:

Inventory, December 1847

(Fayette County Complete Records C, 28, 29)

“3 Cots and 2 Bed Steads, 8 Mattresses, 9 Pillows, 3 German Blankets, 4 Pine Tables, 2 pr And Irons, 1 Looking Glass, 1 Candle Stick, 1 pr Snuffers, 1 Candle Shade, 2 Ewers, 4 Bowls, 2 Chamber [pots?], 2

Small Tumblers, 1 French Coffee Pot, 4 Small Glass Jars, 6 Dishes—6

Bowls, 2 Tea Pots, 3 Sauce Dishes, 1 large Dish, 1 Doz. Cup Plates, 1

Sugar Dish, 1 Cream Pitcher, 1 Sprinkler, Lot Empty Bottles, 2 Small

Demijohns, 1 lot wire, 1 pr Small Scales, 1 Box window Glass, 1 Pistols, 3 Skillets, 1 Oven, 1 Frying Pan, 1 pr Waffle Irons, 1 Tea Kettle,

4 Water Buckets, 1 Churn, 7 Stone Jars, 3 Tin Pans, 3 Glass Tumblers,

3 Dishes, 1 Tea Pot, 1 Sugar Bowl, 6 Tea Spoons, 3 Kitchen, 3 Spoons,

1/2 Set knives & Forks, 1 pr Candle Moulds, 1 pr Shovel & Tongs, 2

Wash Tubs, 1 Water Barrel, 1 Grind Stone, 1 Keg Nails, 9 Carpenters’ Planes, 7 Wood Clamps, 15 lbs. Tobacco (damaged), 30 lbs. Steel,

1,000 lbs. Iron, 100 chickens, 28 Ducks, 15 Turkeys, 12 Geese, 11

 

Load more


Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
PDF
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000023623
Isbn
9781574412864
File size
10.5 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
PDF
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata