The Extent of the Emigration
Since the 1830's in the South of Oldenburg there took place a wave of
emigration, the extent of which defies description in today's terms.
If we interpret the dimensions of the emigration, correctly, at the end
of the 19th Century, there were more farmer Holdorfer in America than there
were in Holdorf itself.
The Census of 1880 showed for the Community of Holdorf a total population of 1579 persons. By this date 1621 Holdorfers had departed. This disregards any natural increment among the departees; that is the offspring of those who sired children and grandchildren through 1880.
One thing about which here can be no doubt in connection with these
emigrants: These were not venturous oddballs nor marginal groups who did
not get along in the old homeland and would now try their luck in
America. The stream of departees was too broad for that. lt is quite
safe to assume that in each family one or the other member was among
those who departed.
The emigration left deep scars: Within individual families, in the circle of friends, in the Village Commnity as a whole. Let us review the population figures quickly. In 1828, just before the start of the emigration wave, Holdorf had 2334 inhabitants. Prior to the end of the 6entury (in 1890) the lowpoint in population was reached (1478). Since then there has been steady growth, but even as recentlyas 1939 the former high point has not quite been reached (2275).
The emigration, as also the loss of population, has assumed such proportions as to make it singular when compared to other communities. Recent statistic analysis shows clearly that in all of the former "Land Oldenburg" the District office of Damme, along with the Communities of Holdorf, plus Damme proper along with Neuenkirchen showed the largest number of emigrants. What is the cause for this disparity ?
The Underlying Causes of Emigration
This is not simply a question we ask ourselves; it was
asked at the time it occurred as well. For example, in 1830's the
Grand Ducal Government in Oldenburg requested an inquiry by
the Office in Damme about this phenomenon. Specifically, the inquiry
was to seek causes for the large numbers of this District emigrating.
Under date of 31 July 1834 a comprehensive report clarifies the problem. Three basic causes are cited.
- First, is the dire need of the Heuerleute, whose numbers increase disproportionally, and whose situation depends on an insecure, time-bound lease arrangement, for which competition is on the increase. Added to this are the frequently strained relations of the Heuerleute to the Colons. This brought on additional stress when time-bound circumstances turned even more unfavorable.
- In second place is named the reduction of munber of persons who made seasonal trips to Holland for employment purposes.
- The third reason, the report cites, is the fact that nearly all of the local inhabitants already have family members and friends in America, who make constant efforts to encourage left-behind family members to follow them to the New World. Undoubtedly, many of the reports of those who left earlier are exaggerated.Those who encourage people to remain are often accused of dishonest motivation or even lies. Thus opposing thrusts collide: One, the hopeless situation of the Heuerleute in particular, whose lot, due to increase in Population and the disappearance of side income, is becoming increasingly dismal and on the other hand, the magnetism and call from the New World, on part of family members and friends.
Entire families took courage to embark on the voyage across the Atlantic,
often including aged parents and infant children. It was primarily
youhg people, such as departing farmers' sons, unattached servants and
maids, who were attracted by better opportunstes for increased income and
gaining a measure of independence in the New World. A number
of young men saw an opportunity to avoid a six year hitch of military service
Let us now come back to the original question: Why was Holdorf, resp. Damme, particularly hard hit by this heavy emigration?
The reasons thus far cited prevailed throughout the region and are insufficient to explain the losses in the Damme area. Departing farmers' sons were everywhere, as were those subject to conscription; Heuerleute were in a situation, not substantially different from other areas. Certainly, the Heuerleute comprised a larger percentage of the Population in our area than elsewhere, e.g. the Northern part of the Vechta District. Thereby the potential number of emigrants was higher here than there. Yet this does not explain away the spontaneous breaking loose of the emigres in the years following 1830. Nor do the explanations of relatives and acquaintences satisfy, as it they do relate to the individuals studied. (Völkerding uses the phrase "avalanche")
A reasonable explanation can be found in the previously mentioned remarks by Johann Theodor Moormann. As he writes... it was here that a letter from the bookbinder Stallo (see earlier reference) arrived. In this particular letter Stallo praised America in a quite extraordinary manner. This brought on a great deal of commotion., causing nearly everyone to ponder how to best and quickest prepare for Departure for America. Tis occurred in the Spring of 1832. As Moormann writes elsewhere, there had been rumors circulating describing America as a "Lauleckerland" (loosely translated - Land of Milk & Honey, or Land paved with golden bricks) where,anyone could live free of any worry. However, it was Stallo, among the first of the local emigres, who was personally known to the folks at home. Moormann describes his profession and his precise family situation. Stallo's high recognition factor in Holdorf may rest on his having held the teaching position in Grandorf prior to his practicing his bookbinding activities in Damme, for a time. This served to establish confidence and gave his message substantial credibility and made his letters highly effective. Thus we can view Stallo as the individual who prompted the concentrated emigration activity in our area.
Acquiring Land in America
Not only did Stallo accelerate the emigration from bis home area,
he was primarily a pioneer of culture in the New World. At
just this time, around 1831 when he set foot in America, steamboat service
was inaugurated on the Ohio River. Stallo took advantage of this development
by acquiring land in the yet thinly settled West. In the vicinity
of Cincinnati, Ohio he stopped and began a settlement called Stallotown,
which was later renamed Minster.
Already in 1833, just two years after arriving in America, Stallo died in a rageing Cholera epidemic. Despite its brevity his Pioneer efforts marked an enormously life. Through his activity a substantial number of South Oldenburg emigrants settled either in Minster or its immediate vicinity. And if one finds frequent mention in reports from our emigres of Cincinnati, Minster or Oldenburg then this is not totally coincidental.
Stallo in a real sense was a pioneer for these folks. Cincinnati served as a primary destination, quite infrequently as a permanent address. One was conscious of the fact that in Cincinnati there lived former Landsleute (fomer neighbors) who could be helpful. Thus one would stay there a while, look around to learn the lay of the land and resume contacts with relatives and acquaintences. Of primary concern was the acquisition of a tract of land, as the majority of the immigrants planned to become farmers. Land was cheap and for just a few hundred Marksone could acquire a strip the size of a farn back home. To a departing farmer's son back home the lot of "Onkel an't Für" (sarcastic term for Crown Prince of a pig sty) was his best expectation; in America his lot could be a stately farm, and with a bit of imagination he could picture a family of his own situated there. Even the Heuermann (singular, masculine of Heuerleute) who through great effort saved a bit from his work on a loom at home or from his wanderings in Holland could assure himself of a decent property. And those without any means whatever, could, due to high wages in America and suitable frugality, at, least in their mind, picture the day when they could afford to buy the land necessary for a farming operation.
Now a decision had to be made: Where (what town) would be the permanent place to put one's roots ? The earliest of the pioneers developed a system from which the later arrivals could benefit. They had acquired substantial tracts of land from the Government., with intent to subdivide and re-sell to the new arrivals. This system has be come familiar through the town of Oldenburg, Indiana where two individuals from Damme, Johann Heinrich Ronnebaum and Heinrich Blaspohl, founders of the town, acted as land buyers and agents. Not only vere they helpful to the later settlers, but they had control over who could settle in their commnity.
All these factors contributed to the noticeable concentration of South Oldenburgers in the Cincinnati environs, a phenomenon which was not atypical in the development of the American social structure. In a recently published study the American historian Walter D. Kamphoefner concluded that the make-up of settlers from the same home areas is a frequent occurrence citing Cincinnati as a glaring example. Kamphoefner designates this phenomenon as "chain migration". People from a given area in Germany departing one after another, in order to re-assemble in a given destination in America. Such a designated destination was generally wider than a single village, but rarely larger than a county. The area would be such wherein one would find his life's partner, and where one would meet others weekly or periodically, such as market towns and Schützenfeste (shooting meets) were held. All these factors apply to the Damme area. The emigrants re-assembled their village commnities in America and continued their old social ties. They did not, as one could suspect., enter a strange, nor hostile environmnt, certainly were not "rootless". The old sense of commnity prevailed, and continued in America for safety and security and for this reason was carefully nurtured. This should hot be underestimated, as starting a new life was demanding and by itself presented an enormous burden. Living quarters had to be erected, land had to be made arable and prepared for cultivation; tools were scarce, implements more so. In such a situation a hand froma relative, neighbor helped aver many rough spots. The awareness that in case of need one would not stand alone relieved many anxieties.
The most obvious presence of this sense of community are the numerous
marriages within a particular group of immigrants, certainly for their
first generation. Within the South Oldenburg group membership in the Catholic
Church played an important role, as belonging to the same confession in
those days was of pargmount importance. In general, it is quite true
that influence of the Church in the personal life of the new imnigrants
was not any less than it had been in the homeland. Quite soon after
arrival one would engage with his neighbors in the building of a House
of God; engaging the services of a Pastor in many cases followed
The lifestyles and customs left behind had not left their importance for the emigres; they -would soon be picked up without much difficulty. Most remarkable is the preservation of their dialect within an English speaking populace. In many families the German language was preserved throughout a number of decades, not "Hoch Deutsch" to be sure, but "Platt Deutsch". If later generations studied German in school that would have to be "Hoch Deutsch".
One fact seems to stand out: 'I'he concept of America being a Melting Pot, which robs every immigrant of his ethnic and cultural individuality in order to make him a "typical Yankee", is patently false. Certainly in the rural areas - and this is especially true of those who originate from our section - the cultural and religious values of their homeland were carefully nurtured, not simply for sentimental or memorial purposes, but as solid standards in daily life.
One emigrant of the early days who came from Holdorf deserves special
recognition in this context. He is Joseph Ferneding, born in Ihorst/Holdorf
in 1802. Upon completing his theological prepatatory training in April
1832 he departed for America, via the entry port of Baltimore. From there
he departed for Cincinnati and enrolled at the Seminary for Priests at
KY. In 1833 he was ordained there. He saw his task as being
a source for religious guidance and spiritual support to the far-flung
Catholic farmers of the land.
In 1849 he founded the St. Paulus Church in Cincinnati and remained as its Pastor until 1866. At the same time he was Head Administrator of a Catholic Orphanage in Cincinnati. When he died in February 1872 amajor figure of the emigration of South Oldenburg left with him.
A ditty in Platt Deutsch:
"Wenn Gott dei Junges giff, dann giff hei uck dei Bücksens dortau"
In Hoch Deutsch:
"Wenn Gott die Jungens gibt, dann gibt er auch die Hosen dazu"
or other words: " Wenn Gott die Kinder gibt, dann sorgt er auch für diese" (interpration by Web-Editor)
"If God gives you children - this obliges you to be charitable" (cannot guarantee accuracy, Eric)
der Mann ist noch hier = The husband remains home
Waisen = Orphans
Vorigen = same as above
nebst = along with
Erbpächter = Inherited, salable right to use a piece of land (generally farmland) requiring a yearly payment in form of part of the produce obtained