Emigration History

American emigration from the Southern part of Oldenburg


A lecture delivered by Franz-Josef Tegenkamp before the Oldenburg Genealogical Society in Oldenburg and reported by Wolfgang Büsing in the Nordwest-Zeitung (newspaper) on May 17, 1997 with additional comments by Werner Honkomp marked as ***. (Translated by W. Fred Rump 10/29/97)


Emigration has not only been happening in recent times; as such it has been going on since the dawn of mankind. If we put aside pre-historical movements of entire people, we already find an exodus to the British Isles of people from our area in the 5th century. Similarly we find the German colonization of the Eastern territories, during the early Middle Ages, to also have occurred by people from our general neighborhood who were willing to take the risk of leaving. During the 16th and 17th centuries the direction turned westward again. In order to escape the ever-escalating economic difficulties, more and more single people or entire families went to look for better opportunities in the well to do Netherlands or in Frisia.

It should be said that this exodus ended after the 30 Years War because of the general decimation of the population via war, pestilence and the accompanying bad harvests and waste farms. It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that Northwest Germany again experienced emigration but this time in numbers which had not been experienced earlier.

Primogeniture was law in the Oldenburger Münsterland. This custom eventually resulted in the development of the Heuer system where farm children, who were not entitled to an inheritance, were at least provided with a roof over their heads along with a meager life which permitted them to stay in their general neighborhood. Yet, as the population kept growing, while simultaneously prices for food and other homemade goods were falling, the threat of possible military duty only added to the decisions of many farmers to simply follow the example of their South German brethren and leave to go to North America. Numerous letters and reports made their rounds to further the belief that America was the land of unlimited opportunity where everyone could make good and find milk and honey for their efforts. Because of the mostly very sad situation of each Heuer family a contemporary written account tells us that… „One can not blame these poor people when they trust the wonderful news which they hear about North America, when they belittle or even totally ignore the difficulties of the ocean crossing and their initial settlement difficulties, when they leave their beloved homeland, their relatives, their accustomed lifestyle and generally everything which they hold so dear, in order to settle down yonder and only hope that they will find a better homeland there.“ The number of emigrants became significant. For example, if one is to take the three parishes of Damme, Neuenkirchen and Holdorf, which together made up about 10,000 people, about 8000 left. Statistically 95% of the emigrants went to the United States. Once there they often settled together in closed communities, which structurally resembled those, which they knew from home.

The central region where most of these German settlements took place was in the American Midwest. Present maps still show the many old and trusted place names like Bremen, Hanover, Oldenburg, New Minden, Westphalia etc which remind of their origin by settlers from them in Europe. The instigator of the emigration from Southern Oldenburg was the former teacher and bookbinder, Franz Joseph Stallo, from the city of Damme, who emigrated with his family in 1831 and initially settled in Cincinnati. He wrote many letters in which he recruited those who had stayed at home. In 1832 the first group arrived because of his efforts in Cincinnati. Stallo had organized to purchase land about 150 miles to the north in Ohio, which he subdivided for sale to the new settlers. This place became known as Stallotown, but was later renamed Minster after the main city of Westphalia, Münster. Over time many additional emigrants came here from the Damme region to settle and prosper or move on to other areas.

Bremerhaven-1849In 1846 another family left to come to America. This was the Hermann Heinrich Tegenkamp with wife and four children. They came from the Bauernschaft Bahlen in the Kirchspiel Dinklage not too far from Damme. Anything, which could not be carried along, was sold to help with a fresh start in the US. The trip commenced over Vechta, through Wildeshausen and Delmenhorst to Bremen. They had arranged for passage through one of the many shipping agents that used to advertise the opportunities in America in local newspapers. A small riverboat, packed full of people, first had to take them to Bremerhaven where the larger trans-oceanic vessels lay docked. „The 128 passengers filled the little boat to the brim. Our possessions were stored in every little corner of available space and the river ride became a sign of the difficult voyage ahead. Yet, we were in high spirits because we were finally on our way to America.“

During this year of 1846 231 ships left Bremerhaven and these took 31,607 passengers to North America. Three other ships went to Australia and two to South America. The crossing took approximately 52 days. The unusual food, the strange way of cooking, terrible sanitation, pressing togetherness and lack of privacy, stormy weather and the ever-present seasickness made for a terrible adventure on the seas.
New-Orleans-1850During this time one of the more favorite landing places in the US was New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi. From there steam powered paddle wheelers could take passengers up to St. Louis and then up the Ohio to Cincinnati which was a common goal for many German immigrants. Until the completion of the railways in the 1850’s this waterway was the favored travel route to the American Midwest. Later the immigrants landed in the eastern seaports and took the railroads from there to their destination.

Yet, Cincinnati remained a favored first stop for many German immigrants. Many had just enough money to get this far. They then had to stop to earn money to be able to continue to their actual goal. Another reason to stop in Cincinnati was to earn some American dollars to be able to purchase some acreage further inland.

The Tegenkamp family got off the boat in St. Louis and there they joined up with the Cohorst family from their neighboring village of Schwege near Dinklage to make the rest of their trip over land. They traveled roughly 150 kilometers in an easterly direction to arrive in the German settled city of Teutopolis in 1846.

Today Teutopolis is still called the German City, but it is a small place of only approx. 1200 souls. German settlers had founded it in 1839. Now that they had arrived the family had to create arable land from the primeval forest. Everyone lived in blockhouses under rather primitive conditions. Yet, a description about the time in 1842 tells us: „The desire for cleanliness and order, the frugality and industry of the local farmers will soon change Teutopolis into a comfortable and happy place to live.“

Normally every settler started with 40 acres of land, which represented about 16 German hectares. By 1840 a simple church had been erected which was replaced in 1854 by a new and larger edifice. Nine members of the order from Warendorf founded the first monastery of the Franciscans in the US as a mission station. It was not be until the time of the First World War that German was the main language of the area. Plattdeutsch or Low German was the norm and the schools held their classes in German until then.

The Tegenkamp family settled down near Teutopolis in Green Creek, Illinois and was able to enlarge their farm to 280 acres by 1852. This land still was forested and the work to clear it by hand was difficult. Hermann died in 1891 at the age of 86 and he left his 6 sons a respectable farm. His descendants still live there and in a German settlement in Canada.

*** In May of 1872 another young farm worker left Germany from the Bauernschaft Brockdorf near Lohne. This was the 19 year old Johann-Herm-Hinrich Honkomp. We can assume that the young man’s good fortune soon lead to his 24 year old brother, Bernd-Hinrich, to follow him in May of 1873. Since the Geestebahn (railroad from Bremen to Bremerhaven) had been finished by then, their trip was somewhat less strenuous. Until the railroad was finished all Bremen to Bremerhaven passengers had to make the riverboat trip, which often took about three days, in these small and uncomfortable flat-bottomed boats. The trip across the ocean by now was also much quicker and took only about 2 weeks since by now the ships all had steam to help when the winds did not push the ships along their path. By now ships of the North-German Lloyd shipping lines ran on a regularly scheduled basis.
Bremerhaven-1890Both Johann and Bernd came on the same ship, the „Leipzig“. They traveled on the in-between deck along with most of the other 850 passengers. We can assume that both brothers also took the train to St Louis on the Mississippi, the Gate to the West.

They were able to establish themselves near St. Louis by leasing land in Clinton County, IL. They brought their parents over in March of 1880. Bernd-Henrich Honkomp was 61 at the time and his wife, Anna-Margaretha, nee Wilberding, was 63. They were Heuerleute at the Willenborg farm in Brockdorf/Lohne. Bernd-Hinrich in 1886 moved on with his parents to Florissant on the Missouri, which is today a suburb of St. Louis. The died there at the respective ages of 75 and 84 and were buried in the local Sacred Heart cemetery.

During the late 1870 the numbers of immigrants had slowed to where in 1877 only 30,000 people arrived in the US. Three years later this had risen to 85,000 and continued to escalate by 1882 to a high-point of 250,000.

The 19 year old Johann had met the 20 year old Angelina (Lena) Knelange from Crapendorf/Cloppenburg on the trip over. Her sister, Caroline, along with two others sisters, joined her in June of 1882.
Honkomp-Knelange-FamilyJohann and Lena married on Nov. 9, 1875 at the Roman Catholic St. Liberius Church in St Louis County, MO. Bernd and Caroline followed them in marriage on Nov. 9, 1882 also in St. Louis. (There must have been something about Nov 9). Johann and Lena stayed with their eight children in St. Louis and their many descendants left their trails in the city.

Bernd and Caroline took their 6 children to Wichita Falls, TX in 1906. The air in St. Louis was simply too humid for them. They bought farmland there and joined with other settlers to help form a Catholic parish and church for their use. Since then there are also many Honkomp families spread out over Texas.

In an American family history of the Honkomp-Knelange clan a tenant named Henry Tagenkamp is mentioned as living with Bernd Honkomp. Henry was said to be 65 years old and was from Germany. He left behind him his prayer book, which is today in the possession of Franz-Josef Tegenkamp in Lohne. Franz is sure that this „Tagenkamp“ was his great grand uncle who emigrated in 1868.

Other Honkomps, whose origin points to Steinfeld, today live in Cincinnati and Minneapolis. Each has its own history whose story still needs to be researched in detail. In total there are today over 120 Honkomp families in the US – more than in Germany.

It was through family history and genealogical research that the Tegenkamp and Honkomp families found each other again but far from their common homeland – the Oldenburger Münsterland of Southern Oldenburg.