Who was Baby Buelow?

In the summer of 1878, Wilhelm Boldewahn fathered a child

The child’s mother was  Wilhelmine Buehlow and she lived in or near Oshkosh Wisconsin. Wilhelmine’s age,  her parents, and where her family came from are not known, but Wilhelmine sued Wilhelm for support and he was charged with bastardy. Bastardy was often a civil, not a criminal matter and used to determine paternity and secure child support for an illegitimate child. In Wisconsin at the time bastardy was treated as a criminal case. 

William was bound over for trial in May 1878 (before the birth of the baby) and jailed in lieu of a $100 bond. He was tried in September 1878, after the child was born.  He pled guilty, refused to provide a surety or bond to pay for the support of the mother and child and he was sentenced to 3 months in jail. After those 3 months he had no further obligation to support the mother or child. He spent a total of 8 months in jail.

No direct mention of  Wilhelmine or the child can be found after these events of 1878.

The Oshkosh Northwestern Mon May 13 1878

“A bastardy case drew a big crowd in Judge Sarau‘s court this morning. William Baldewande was arrested Saturday on a warrant sworn out by Wilhelmine Buelow, who was about to become a mother. William was lodged in jail until this morning, when the examination took place. Wilhelmine offered to settle the matter for $500, and finally reduced her figures to $35, which William still refused to fork over and had the case adjourned for a week.”

The Oshkosh Northwestern Mon May 20 1878

“The bastardy case of William Balderwande came up for final examination before Justin Sarau on Saturday. After hearing the testimony the court held that there was reasonable evidence that the defendant was guilty of the offense charge and held him for trial at the county court. The defendant was committed to jail in default of $100 bail”

The Oshkosh Northwestern Thu Aug 29 1878

The Circuit Court

The September term of the Circuit Court commences next Tuesday. The calendar consists of 63 issues of fact for the jury, 17 issues a fact for the court, six issues of law for the court, and 9 criminal cases. The criminal cases are as follows:…. State vs William Baldewande, bastardy….”

The Oshkosh Northwestern Tue Sep 10 1878

“William Baldewande, charged with bastardy, was next brought in. In the further corner of the courtrooms sat the girl on whose account William had been thus arraigned, with the 6-months-old responsibility in her arms squalling lustily. William’s attorney announced to the court that the prisoner was, and had been willing all along to marry the girl. The girl, Miss Buelow, announced her refusal to marry him unless he would give bonds to live with her and not run away and dessert her. The Court finally gave William until morning to think the matter over, and he was taken back to his chamber of reflection.

The Oshkosh Northwestern Sat Sep 14 1878

“The case of William Baldewande charged with bastardy was disposed of this morning. William was still willing to marry the girl, but the girl refused to marry him unless he could give bonds not to desert her. This William could not do and an order was entered that the defendant pay $50 for expenses and part maintenance of the child, and $1 week for its future sustenance. William was unable to raise the amount and has gone to jail for three months at the end of time he will swear out.”

Page 228

State of Wisconsin


Wm Baldermande Bastardy

Transcript from Justice Saurau’s docket

filed  May 18th 1878, Transcript shows that

Examination here before

Justice Sarau May 18th 1878. Defendant held

to bail in the sum of $100 to appear in Circuit

Court at next general term

This matter came up for final hearing

Sept 14th 1878

The defendant pleaded guilty

And Judgment was passed upon him

See judgment on file in the case

What happened to Wilhelmine and the baby after 1878?

For years, the identity of Wilhelmine and the fate of her and the child have remained a mystery. DNA results point to possible answer. It should be cautioned that much of the historical record and reports are inaccurate and contradictory – however the DNA connection seems to support that the mother was Wilhelmine Buelow, age 27 and the child’s name was Mary Fredericka Buehlow.

Wilhelmine Buelow was born May 22 1851 in Baerwalde, Kreis Neustettin. The village is 10 miles north east of Gruenwalde, Kreis Neustettin where Wilhelm Boldewahn’s family lived.

Image: My Pomerania

She came to the US in 1874 on her own and stayed with Buelow relatives living in or near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the birth of the baby she resurfaced in Cripple Creek, Colorado where she married a recently arrived Swiss immigrant Henry Taube. They had son William in 1884 and returned to Oshkosh where William was baptized in the Peace Lutheran church in 1885.

There is no record of Baby Buelow during this period. In fact there will be no record of her for the next 15 years as many records from the 1880s and 1890s have been lost or destroyed.

However, sometime after 1885, Minnie Buelow and her husband Henry Taube moved to Streator, Illinois. There they had a second child – a daughter – called Minnie in 1890. She died at 16 months in September 1891. In 1892 the Taube’s had a second son, Albert.

What follows has been pieced together from newspaper reports in the local newspaper, The Streator Free Press. In 1891, around the time of the death of her daughter, Minnie began experiencing what the newspaper later called a “mental unbalance”. Then she began to suffer more serious health problems.

1893 – The Taube residence, 1008 South Bloomington Ave is listed for sale: “House; seven rooms; closets; price $1200”

1894 – Minnie was reported to suffer from a large tumor growing on her tongue. Her husband Henry Taube decided to take her to Chicago to have it removed, but a local doctor persuaded him to stay and allow him to remove it surgically. She is able to walk home after the surgery

1896 – March 3 – she and her husband go to Chicago to remove a cancer which had caused “throat trouble”

1896 – March 20, Minnie was reported to have been in hospital in Chicago for removal of a cancer. Mr. Henry Taube received a telegram saying she was not doing well and had ‘lost her reason’ and found her in ‘deplorable condition’ and brought her home.

1896 – April 17 – Minnie is judged to be insane and is taken to Kankakee, Illinois insane asylum. Cause of insanity was listed as the result of the cancer operation. In a later newspaper report, she was reported to have jumped into a well prior to her being committed, suffering minor injuries.

1897 – Jan 22 – Minnie walks home from the Kankakee asylum (52 miles, 20+ hour walk) in the middle of winter and declares herself well. Newspaper says she seems to be able to talk rationally and appears sane but will need to go before a board of inquiry.

1897 – February – June
A later newspaper article states that during this period, Minnie makes multiple attempts to kill herself. Her daughter Mary is reportedly present and prevents her mother from succeeding

1897 – June 1- June 16 – A later newspaper article reports that during these 2 weeks Minnie attempts to kill herself by hanging and drinking poison. Her daughter Mary prevents the attempts and the family pastor visits to talk to her mother

1897 – June 17 Minnie kills herself – the newspaper reports her body was found by her “14 year old daughter” Mary

1897 – Minnie Buelow Taube is buried in Riverview Cemetery Streator, LaSalle County, Illinois.

1897 – July 3 1897 – Henry Taube announces in the local newspaper that he plans to place his two sons [Albert age 6 and William age 13] into a Lutheran orphanage in Muscatine, Iowa

1897 – July- newspaper article states that Mary Taube who was “called here due to the death of her mother” had left Streator, Illinois and returned home to Oshkosh. This contradicts earlier newspaper reports that Mary was already in Illinois weeks before her mother’s death and that she is the one who found her mother dead.

1898 Jan – Henry Taube remarries to Mary Bauhofer – 6 months after his wife’s death. She is from Switzerland and recently arrived in the US

1900 – Now in Oshkosh, age 21, Mary Buehlow marries William Riedi, a day laborer at Reliance Flour Mills. She is 8 months pregnant. They settle in Oshkosh and go on to have 9 children. For many years the family name is spelled “Reedy” in town directories.

1903 – May 22 – Henry Taube attacks his second wife Mary Bauhofer and drives her into the street. She refuses to press charges

1905 – Son Albert is still in the Muscatine, Iowa orphanage – he is 13 years old. By this time William is over 18 and out of the orphanage

1922 – William Riedi, Mary Buehlow Taube’s husband dies in Oshkosh, WI. She is 44 years old with 9 children

1965 – Mary Buehlow Riedi dies in Oshkosh, WI at age 87. She is survived by her many children, grandchildren and her “step-brother” Albert in Milwaukee, WI

Go here to read the step by step analysis of the historical record and the possible DNA connections.

(Readable text for these newspaper articles are at the bottom of this page).

The Streator Free Press Fri Jun 18 1897 (originally printed in the Streator Times on June 16, 1897)

The Streator Free Press July 9 1897

The Oshkosh Northwestern 29 Sep 1965


The Streator Free Press Fri Jun 18 1897 (originally printed in the Streator Times on June 16, 1897)

Insane woman suicides 

Mrs Henry Taube hangs herself to a rafter in the cellar of her home

From Wednesday’s daily

Yesterday afternoon, about 4:00, Mrs Minnie Taube, the insane wife of Henry Taube, an employee of the Cathedral Glass Works, was found by her daughter, Mary, hanging by the neck from a rope attached to a rafter in the cellar of their home at 1008 South Bloomington Street. The girl, who is about 14 years of age, ran to the home of several neighbors and gave the alarm, and, in a short time, a number of men employed at Willey’s brickyard, a short distance away, reached the scene, and one of them cut the body down. The woman was probably dead when her daughter discovered her, as the men who arrived at the house a few minutes later stated that they saw no signs of life at that time.

Dr JJ Taylor was called for, and he and Officer Malloy went with the patrol wagon. The doctor pronounced the woman dead and immediately impanelled a jury who held an inquest and returned to verdict to the effect that it was a case of intentional suicide by hanging. The corpse was in brought up out of the cellar and prepared for burial by Henry Howland.

Mrs Taube is supposed to have committed the act between the hours of three and four o’clock yesterday afternoon. About 4:00, the daughter missed her mother from the house, and upon going to the cellar made the horrible discovery above related. The body was in a sitting position and rested partially on a 3 gallon crock which was turned upside down. The woman, it seems, had driven a half dozen nails into the side of one of the rafters which support the floor above. To two of those nails she attached a clothesline doubled; then she mounted the jar and tied the other end of the rope around her neck and again stepped to the ground. The rafters not being not more than 5 ft from the ground, and the woman finding it impossible to suspend herself in the air, she must have, with great determination, held her feet in the air until the rope had strangled her, when her body sank into the position in which it was found.

Two weeks ago the unfortunate woman made an attempt to hang herself in her bedroom, but the nail, to which she had attached one end of the scarf, broke, and her daughter, hearing the noise, came to her assistance and loosened the scarf which had choked her quite severely. The woman, we are informed, had also prepared to suicide at another time by soaking matches and water, with the intention to drinking the liquid .

Of late the daughter has pulled out a number of nails, driven by her mother in different parts of the house, probably with the idea of using them to carry out her plan of self-destruction .

Yesterday morning, Reverend Haskarl, pastor of the German Lutheran Church, the one which Mr Taube and family attended, called at their residence, and while in conversation was Mrs Taube, she said she had attempted to kill herself several times. He advised her not to try it again, but it seems she was determined otherwise .

Mrs Taube was born March 22nd, 1851, in Baerwalden Germany. She came to this country in 1875 and settled with relatives at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where she remained  until 1882 when she went to Colorado, where she met and married Mr Taube. There were born to them five children, three of whom – Mary, William and Albert, ages about 14, 12 and 5 years respectively – together with the husband, survive the deceased. The family has lived in Streator for about 10 years .

For five or six years Mrs Taube has shown signs of mental unbalance. Last fall she was sent to the asylum at Kankakee, but during the following January she escaped from that institution and walked the entire distance to her home in the city, where she has since remained. The funeral services over the remains of the deceased were held by Reverend Haskarl this afternoon, at the house, after which the internment took place at Riverwood cemetery. 


The Streator Free Press July 9 1897

Ms Mary Taube who was called here several weeks ago but the death of her mother, Mrs Henry Taube, left this morning on the Burlington, for her home at Oshkosh Wisconsin


The Oshkosh Northwestern 29 Sep 1965

Mrs Mary F Riedi

87, of 112 Broad Street, died Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. at Mercy Hospital. She had been ill for years .

The former Mary Below was born in Streator, Illinois, on July 2nd, 1878, and came to Oshkosh when she was a young woman. She was married in June, 1900, to William M Riedi, who preceded her in death on January 11th, 1922

Mrs Riedi was a member of the Lutheran Trinity Lutheran Church .

Surviving are four sons, William, Carl, Lawrence and Harold Riedi, Oshkosh; two daughters, Mrs Henry Babler, Van Dyne, and Mrs Frank Willy, Markesan: one stepbrother, Albert Taube, Milwaukee; 13 grandchildren, 12 12 great-grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren .

Services will be held Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church with the Reverend KR going officiating. Burial will be at Riverside cemetery. Friends may call at Conrad Funeral home from 3:00 p.m. today until 10:00 a.m. on Thursday and at the church on Thursday from 11:00 a.m. until the hour of services

Leaving Germany

The following is an excerpt from a post written by Cindy and David Johnson and reposted to the “My Pomerania” website.The family in the article – the Priebe family – came from the same area as Wilhelm Boldewahn (Kreis Neustettin).

While Wilhelm Boldewahn did not arrive until 1870 (after the US Civil War), his wife Ernestine Dragorius came with her parents in 1865 during the height of the fighting. Like many Prussians, the Dragorius family entered the US through Canada to avoid the conflict. Since Wilhelm entered later in the 1870s, he was able to land in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Why did they leave?


“….. during the time when the last of the manorial system was being dismantled.  Farmers gained the right to personal freedom, to move freely, to buy land, and to buy themselves out of services.  Property transfers in nearby Grunwald where Karl’s sisters lived, also under the same manor Lord largely took place in the 1830’s. The cost of gaining freedom in Gramenz was ceding to the lord of the manor around 1/3 of the land worked by the farmer.  Giving up this much land was not easy.  Loss of access to woodlands, loss of protection from the manor lord during hard times caused many farmers to object to the liberation.

19th century politics did not make life easy either.  Prussia was modernizing and trying to expand, meaning taxes and wars.  Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806.  Reparations to France resulted in increased taxes.  Land nearby was ceded to the Duchy of Warsaw, bringing foreign powers near.  A few events that would have impacted the Priebes:

1813-15War of Liberation from France
1814Universal conscription
1816/17Widespread crop failures (the Gramenz area was minimally affected)
1827Expansion of schools
1830Liberation of farmers mostly complete in the Gramenz area. Reformed and Lutheran Churches merged
Poverty and famine through the ’40’s from crop failure and population growth.
1845/46Potato crop failures
1860-66Army enlarged under Wilhelm I.
1864German-Danish war…

For farming families, subdividing property between children became untenable at some point. Most of the Priebe members list farmer or laborer as their occupation on the ship manifest when they immigrated.  In other words, some of the members were full or at least part time farmers while others had to contract their labor because there was not enough land for all.  The prospect of all descendants owning their own farm in America looked very attractive.”

How Did They Leave?


In the early ’60’s an emigration agency began operating in the area.  Emigration to the USA from the area began in earnest.  Grunewalt lost 1/4 of its population to a single town in Wisconsin alone for example.  Emigration was complex, requiring:

  • A birth certificate, which the pastor of the parish would write out.
  • A statement of property.
  • A character reference to prove that they did not try to escape from their crime or debts,or the responsibility for an illegitimate child.
  • The consent of the local caretaker of the poor.
  • A document proving that the country of their destination would accept the emigrant.
  • Young men had to prove that they had complied their military service or were physically unable to do so.
  • They had to prove that they had enough money for the trip to the port, a waiting period there, the passage fare, and the first time in the new country.
  • Then they were warned of the dangers and risks of an emigration.
  • After all this had been compiled, they got a preliminary receipt, which allowed them to make a contract for the passage.
  • Then the planned emigration was made public (newspapers, public posting), to give creditors the possibility to claim their money.
  • Only when all this was done would they get their passport allowing travel to the port.

In 1873, the typical annual income for a family members was 630-650 Marks.  A ship ticket in steerage with food was 144-210 mark for an adult, 108-165 Mark for a child.  One year’s income just for a family of 4.  Transport, food and lodging to the port of Bremen or Hamburg, and from New York to Cleveland were needed on top of this. This was a huge expense.  It probably cost the Priebe family much of their property to purchase their move to the US.

In 1862, Albertina’s uncle August Priebe (30) who had been living in Schofhütte, Uncle Ferdinand (27) and Aunt Louisa (Priebe) Raddetz (27), children Johanna and Emilie;  Aunt Wilhelmina (Priebe) and uncle F.H. Raddatz (Ferdinand’s brother), children Carl, Reinhold, Emilie and Johanna; aunt Emilie (Priebe) and uncle Ernst Baumann and children Johann and Carl sailed from Hamburg on May 3 aboard the sailing ship Gellert owned by Rob. M. Sloman company bound for Quebec.  Albertina’s cousins of Carl and August Raddetz, children of Ferdinand and Louisa, were left with grandmother Louise.   The US was in the middle of the Civil war.  The family would skirt the fighting by entering in Canada.  In fact F.H. Raddatz would remain in Canada.  The rest of the family could join them after a home was established and safety could be confirmed.  From Quebec, Ferdinand, Louisa and their daughter Anna walked across Lake Erie in the winter to make their way to Cleveland.

In 1864, Louise (57) gathered the rest of her family and made the move to join August and Louisa in Cleveland.  Louise traveled with Albertina’s father Karl (34) and mother Mina (28), brother Friedrick (7), Emily (5), uncle John (17), aunt Albertine (15), and cousins August (7) and Carl Raddetz (6).  Albertina was no more than 4 months old.

From Gramenz, the family most likely traveled by horse cart either to Belgard where they could continue by train. It is also possible they went by cart to Köslin to go by ship to Bremen.  There they would wait days or weeks before embarking on the sailing ship Elise and Mathilda at Bremen about April 2 and arriving in Castle Garden in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan New York on Monday, May 23, 1864.

Plattdütsch: A Dying Language

My grand-mother Erna Boldewahn spoke German and English. My mother remembers sitting at the kitchen table with her mother and her mother’s cousin, Mary Schoblaski listening to them speak German.

  • The dialect was most likely a variation of Platt Deutsch (Low German)
  • Wikipedia says that the inhabitants of Pommern (Northern Prussia)  spoke the Ostpommersch (East Pomeranian) dialect
  • which is a variation of  East Low German
The language has mostly died out, but is still spoken in Brazil where many Prussians emigrated to in the 1800s.

Listen to someone talking about potatoes in Plattdütsch

Plattdütsch Underwegens: Das Kartoffeljahr

A woman singing a love song in Plattdütsch

Dat du mien Leevsen büst


A grandchild videotaped their grandparents talking in Plattdütsch.   If you go to the YouTube page there is an English transcript.

Oma un Opa snacken up Plattdüütsch

The Meaning Of The Boldewahn Name

What’s in a name?  Those odd immigrant names really took a beating in the US. Our German great-grand-father’s name was “Boldewahn” But it was spelled:


My favorites are:
and Baltimore

To be fair, the name was often spelled in the German church books as Bolduan. The Nagel family think that these spelling variations are due to how  cursive writing was taught in Germany before the 1940s. The script was stylized and ornate and is hard for many of us today to read. It was called the “Sütterlin Schreibschrift”. After WW2 the modern “Latin” script was taught that most of us are familiar with here in the USA.

William Baltimore 1884

Baltimore, 1884 Oshkosh City Directory)


William Bolderwack 1920
Bolderwhack (1920 Oshkosh Rural Address Book)

Oldewahn Wedding Anniversary 1930
Oldewahn (1930 Oshkosh, WI newspaper)


Boltewsku 1930 Census
Boltewahn or Boltewsku (1930 US Census)


Bolduan (German Church Register 1851, Gruenwald, Kreis Neustettin, Pommern)


So what is the origin of the name?

In this 1903 book about the origins of German and Jewish names  you can find the family name listed under  the “Bold” entry
Gotish (East Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths):  balths
Old High German ( 700 to 1050  AD): pald, bald

Middle High German ( 1050 and 1350 AD):   balt or kühn (audacious)

The origin of the Italian word: baldo
Baldevin – Old High German variant of Baldewin (“Bald” and “Vin”)
Vin means “friend”

Ancient Germanic *-winiz = ‘friend’ 

Old Norse – vinr = ‘friend’
Swedish – vän = ‘friend’
Danish – ven = ‘friend’ 
Old High German – wini = ‘friend’
Old English –  wine = ‘friend’  or wini = ‘friend’ 
Boldewan (17th Century)
CONCLUSION: Boldewahn means “Bold” “Friend”


The best way to search for the name is to use “wildcard” symbols 
Ex: B*ld*w**n
Will capture:

The Boldewahns (Prussia, Germany)

(Take me straight to the photos)

Recent Updates

The Short Version. In the early 1800s, my grand-mother’s families were ethnic Germans living in Prussia, in what is now Poland but what was, at the time, then part of the German Empire. Both of my great-grandparents emigrated to the US in the  mid-1800s where they met in Wisconsin and were married.

Posen and Pommern

Albert Rheinhold William Boldewahn

Map Neustettin Pommern1939

My great-grandfather was Wilhelm Boldewahn. His full name was Albert Rheinhold William Boldewahn but he preferred William. His family came from the village of Gruenwald in the northern part of Kreis Neustettin (County Neustettin). Kreis Neustettin was located in the northern part of Pommern, Prussia.

Wilhelm was born on May 30, 1851 to Johann Boldewahn and Charlotte Freiberg. He had two siblings: Wilhelmine “Minnie” Fredericke Auguste (born 1845) and Henriette Louise (born 1847). Minnie married Martin Adam Pommerening on July 31, 1863 in a church in Gramenz, Kreis Neustettin and stayed in Prussia. Sister Henriette emigrated to Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1870 and married Johann Schabloski on August 27, 1870.

Gruenewald84Postcard “Greetings from Gruenwald in Pommern”

Wilhelm emigrated to Wisconsin via the port of Bremen, arriving in  Baltimore on April 1876 on the ship SS Braunschweig. After living in Oshkosh and working in a saw mill, he married my great-grandmother on July 17, 1880.  In 1905 they established a farm in Vinland. The farm was sold in 1929 and the family returned to Oshkosh. They had three children: Otto, Meta and Erna.  William died on May 30, 1937 and a picture of his grave in Riverside Cemetery can be found here

Uta Härtling has written a detailed and comprehensive “History of Gruenwald”. 

You can download a copy of the PDF file here (this is password protected please email me for the password)

Family names that appear in the Boldewahn family tree: Freiberg, Abraham. By marriage: Luebke,  Kohls, Nimmer, Kalbus, Jeske, Stueck

Ernestine Wilhelmine Dragorius

My great-grandmother was Ernestine Wilhelmine Dragorius. The name has many different spellings over the years: Dragerius, Dragurius, Dregonis, Dragorus, Drigolias, Tragorius and even Gregorius.

Ernestine’s family settled in the western part called Posen inside the “county” or Kreis Czarnikau

Kreis Posen circle

Ernestine was born on September 16, 1859 in Romanshof, a small town situated near the cliffs overlooking the Netze river. To see a map of the area from the early 1900s go here.

It is unclear when my great-grandmother emigrated to the US, but it was at a relatively young age. In the 1900 US Census, Ernestine gives her emigration date as 1865.  On her marriage certificate, she lists her father as Frederick Dragorius and her mother as Caroline Koenig.  An Ernestine Dragorius, age 6 arrived in 1865 on the ship Othello from Hamburg  to Quebec City with her parents Frederick and Louise Dragorius.  On the shipping form, their residence was listed as Putzig Hauland, Preußen (Germany). Putzig Hauland is located along the river Netze in Posen, a few miles south of Romanshof.  This would make her birth date 1859 which approximates Ernestine Boldewahn’s birth dates as reported in the 1920 US Census.

In a newspaper article about her 50th wedding anniversary, Ernestine said her family emigrated to the US when she was 1 year old – this would place their emigration date in 1860, not 1865.  In her obituary, she was said to have emigrated when she was 3 years old, which would place their emigration date in 1862.

After emigrating to Wisconsin, Ernestine‘s father worked in a saw mill.  He died  in 1882 when she was 23 years old.  Her mother passed away in 1881. Both were buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in unmarked graves.

Ernestine died on Jan 28, 1935  at the age of 75. She too was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  A picture of her grave can be found here.

Erna Boldewahn

My grand-mother, Erna Boldewahn married my grandfather, John Kamuchey on March 8, 1926 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Erna and John eventually moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had 9 children. Info about Erna’s family is found in the Kamuchey section.

Life in Prussia in the 1800s.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s many ethnic Germans emigrated to East Prussia. While Germans had always settled in the areas now owned by Poland, after the Protestant Reformation  of the 1500s, many Protestant Germans were forced to leave Poland’s primarily Catholic holdings. This left the Polish nobility with fewer skilled workers to develop their lands so they they slowly started to invite Germans back to work for them. Leaflets were sent out to Germany, promising free travel, financial assistance in setting up their farms, and religious freedom. These new settlers settled into “colonies” with German names.   The colonies would negotiate the rights to the land from the Polish nobles and were able to set up their own schools, churches and laws.

Unfortunately, the area suffered from significant political unrest with numerous military actions. At one point in time the area was held by Germany, Poland, France, Russian and even Sweden.  During this time many of the legal rights negotiated by the German settlers fell by the wayside and in some areas Protestant churches were destroyed.  However, all that changed in the late 1700s when the area was partitioned and  divided between Germany, Russia and Austria.  But whether Polish or German,  the  constant warfare had its impact.  Rising tax rates meant that land became prohibitively expensive to buy.  Waves of disease and crop failures swept across the area. In 1842, a cholera epidemic killed almost half of the population of the city of Czarnikau. Potato blight in 1845 caused widespread famine. This was followed by disastrous weather conditions in the mid 1850’s.  Steep declines in grain prices in the years 1880-1886, caused by imports of  cheap cereals from America and Russia, and an accompanying drop in wool prices severely reduced farm revenue.

It is no wonder then that mass numbers of Germans left Prussia to move to the United States where land was cheap and plentiful.

Why Wisconsin?  

Of the more than 100,000 foreign-born Wisconsinites in 1850, only 48,000 could claim English as their native language. Nearly one-half of these English speakers were Irish. Of the non-English speaking immigrants, the Germans were by far the most numerous. Norwegians constituted the second largest group, followed closely by Canadians of primarily French descent.

Between 1852 and 1855, the Wisconsin Commission of Emigration actively encouraged the settlement of European immigrants in Wisconsin. Pamphlets extolling the state’s virtues were published in German, Norwegian, Dutch, and English and were distributed throughout Europe as well as in eastern port cities. Advertisements were placed in more than nine hundred newspapers. By 1855, however, the rise of antiforeign sentiment, or nativism, led to the dissolution of the commission.

Wisconsin’s foreign-born population continued to increase, though, owing to the efforts of the Commission of Emigration, the propaganda produced by land speculators, and the letters sent back to Europe by immigrants encouraging friends and family to join them. Although not as statistically significant in the overall population as the Irish, Germans, and Norwegians, many other ethnic groups left their mark on particular areas of Wisconsin, including the Finns in Douglas County, the Danes in Racine County, and the Italians in Kenosha.” Source: Wisconsin History Turning Points

“When [linguists]  set out to study the area’s census, church and court records, [they]  had no idea the language had thrived for so long. The year 1910 was already a full generation after the mass migration had dropped off, yet Salmons discovered not only that many in Hustisford and other farm towns were still bilingual, but that a sizeable portion was monolingual.

“It turns out a lot of these people were born in Wisconsin,” Salmons says. “And a fair number were born of parents born in Wisconsin. That is, these guys were not exactly killing themselves to learn English….In other words, there were taxpayer-funded bilingual public schools in the U.S. a century ago.”  Source: In Rural Wisconsin, German Reigned For Decades

Additional reading:





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