A noble failure
In the year of its foundation, 1844, the Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas) went into business with various land speculators to settle German families in what was then the independent Republic of Texas.
Coming out of the Mainzer Adelsverein, an exclusive society of noblemen that had organized itself in 1842, the society’s goal was to provide economic relief for prospective, proletarian emigrants. Once settled, the expectation was that these emigrants would create overseas markets for German manufacture and subsequent profits for its founding members-cum-shareholders; some of them even hoped the colony would develop a new German social order. But, in the words of a novelist, between dreaming and doing laws intervene and practical difficulties. Indeed, in order to be viable, this mixture of philanthropy, idealism, and commerce required a massive scale of colonization.
It was this very requirement, which far exceeded its planning, managerial, and financial capacities, that was the society’s undoing. The land grants it needed were acquired through various avid land speculators. But these financial partners proved to be unreliable, while the Verein, in its turn, because of its lack of business acumen and unrealistic, conservative budgeting, couldn’t live up to its stated ideas and ideals; it went bankrupt in 1847. But even before that, inadequate management ‘on the ground’, in Texas, and its failure to provide sufficient materiel to transport their emigrants from the Gulf of Mexico’s coast to the tracts of promised land forced thousands of German arrivals that had been shipped off by the society to fend for themselves and set out for their promised lands in improvised treks after landing. On the legal side, moreover, the land grants, which carried the condition of certain numbers of settlers at a certain time, were cancelled on noncompliance all too readily by a near bankrupt Republic of Texas (which soon, in December 1845, became an American state).1
The legacy of this short-lived immigration society, and others like it, contrasts sharply with Ross’s view of a German, idealist immigration wave of the so-called lateinische Farmer, so named for the number of teachers, doctors, lawyers or clergymen whom the clubs of many a ruler’s police force compelled to emigrate to America after the suppressed revolutions of 1830 and 1848. It was they who, according to Ross, gave America as a whole a characteristic quality, as these immigrants were not mere settlers, but came to live in freedom and create a new, united homeland on American soil.2
Thus Ross obliterated from history the c. 7,000 people the Adelsverein put ashore at Galveston or Indianola, a substantial part of whom perished as a result of its insufficient preparations (compounded by requisitionings during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848). The vast majority of them were no freedom fighters, let alone founders of a German state abroad. They—and many like them—were farmers and laborers who had come to find a place under the American sun and make a living. In that respect they did not differ a great deal from the mass of immigrants who would come to America in the following decades, pushed out by famine, poverty or persecution, pulled in by real or imagined opportunities and freedoms. Here, American industries, more realistic and calculating, emerged as immigration brokers. For all practical purposes the era of nobility was definitely over.
Nico de Klerk
Louis E. Brister. Adelsverein. In: The handbook of Texas online. Austin: Texas State Historical Association - University of Texas; 2017,
www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ufa01 [accessed 2017 April 21]
Case: American journeys
1 Jefferson Morgenthaler. The German settlement of the Texas Hill Country. Boerne, TX: Mockingbird Books; 2007; 7-33.
2 Colin Ross, Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 182. See Library.