About the Forgotten Daughters and Sons of Dittweiler
by Heinrich Becker (translated by Jim Andris)
The great wave of emigration to America in the 19th Century.
When a place like Dittweiler celebrates a Jubilee such as the one held this year, at the same time, we look back into the history and the past of these old communities. Very soon our interest gets caught up in an event whose range and effect is under appreciated. We're speaking of the Great Wave of emigration which occurred roughly in the period of time between 1830 and 1880. If in this inquiry we want to go beyond the tables, lists, and so forth to a clarification of the extent of this movement, an account of Walter Nicholas (Nikolaus) stands out.
In the above identified time period more than 1000 people emigrated from the three villages of the Kohlbach Valley. In 1837 the entire population of the Kohlbach Valley community amounted to 1256 residents. This comparison shows that we have here an event of immense extent. Scarcely one of the families residing here remained unaffected. Generally, a person had a brother, sister or some other relative who by necessity sought their livelihood in a foreign land. The expression "by necessity" casts a light on the motivation for the abandonment of family, home and associated community.
Possibly a few took this path in a foreign land out of adventure lust or wantonness, but in most cases there were economic reasons that occasioned these departures. Through continuous land partitioning, through strong population expansion, through a less than optimal agricultural technique and through a disadvantaged (for the Palatinate) economic politics of the Bavarian kingdoms, the situation in the Palatinate became so oppressive, that in one home village in the forty years of the last century, grocery lists of available provisions were put out. An existing list for the then 65 households gives exact information about the available quantities of corn, wheat, peas , barley, candles, potatoes, meat, sour vegetables, and dried fruit. The list was constructed in 1849 by then Adjunct Valentine Becker and remind us of the food rationing in the years between the two world wars.
The records of those who left are long; one finds members who were wealthy and under these, those who were not wealthy. Likewise, young as well as old are found. It's amazing, once one begins to comprehend the emigration situation that people took up the walking stick who left behind in this valley already married children. Examples are given of the fate of two families with existing records pointing to families living here today.
In 1852 the married couple Jacob Müller and his wife Eldred Katherine nee Wagner emigrated to Eldred, Pennsylvania. This couple sent back their daughter, Katherine, who was already married to Theobald Becker VII, to Dittweiler, their point of emigration. These are the ancestors of the "Mootzäbs/Schunke" clan, which is known _______ here. The family settled down later in Olean in New York state and by and by Jacob Müller was followed by a brother with family, a son and daughter with spouses, indeed, even four of the grandchildren of the daughter Katherine who remained in Dittweiler. In this way a regular colony of emigrants from Dittweiler developed in Olean.
This example demonstrates very well how the emigration advanced, through mouth-to-mouth propaganda, so to speak. One wrote letters home, described the advantages of life in the new world, and encouraged his relatives to come. These letters were passed on to the homes of relatives or acquaintances, ardently read and discussed, and so, in succession, followed brother, sister and other relatives and friends. In this way a genuine family emigration occurred in the Kohlbach Valley, and entire clans, with the names Horbach, Gerhardt, Kreis, Großclos, Hoffmann, Molter, Barth and Biehl almost or entirely died out even as they grew new roots in America.
Another married couple who left home after they said good-by to their already married children were Peter Becker and his wife Katharina Becker. This couple emigrated in 1868 to Tiffen, Ohio and found there their last resting place in the Bethel churchyard south of Tiffen. The daughter who was left behind was Philippina nee Becker and was married to Jacob Becker I. This couple is still today remembered in Dittweiler as the host couple "Veldewerts." The greater circle of the descendants of the "Veldewerts" Family Association sill existing in Dittweiler thus have buried ancestors in the Ohio earth.
The territory of our compatriots was, without exception, the so-called "German Belt" in northeastern USA, stretching across the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri. Clearly the most travelled corridor was the one that was in Washington County, which lay in southern Ohio and whose county seat was Marietta. And now to the reasons for, the extent of and the territory of our distant transformation.
A Special Multicolored Feather in Dittweiler's Jubilee HatA village that celebrates a jubilee decorates itself. All associations and clubs do their best to shape their ornaments and decorations optimally. Herein, I will go further and add my contribution to the festival decorations. What place in the Palatinate can maintain for itself that at least occasionally a piece of land on the other side of our planet bears its name? This fact is true of Dittweiler.
Obituaries in America are entirely different than they are here in Germany. There, entire news articles are published about the life and living circumstances surrounding the deceased. So fell to me one such obituary from the year 1917, written on the occasion of the death of Johann Gerhard. He was the descendant of an emigrated Dittweiler family which originated from the current house of "Hannese" on St. Wendler Street. Thanks to the intensive study of the available sources of Dieter Zenglein, the dwelling places in Dittweiler of almost all of the emigrated families is known. Back to the obituary in the "Marietta Times" and the claim that in Washington County in Ohio a strip of land bears the name of Dittweiler. Under this announcement we read the following text:
"Herr Gerhard was the last survivor of seven families which came to this country together in 1834 from Germany. Most of these settled on Highland Ridge. For years this ridge was known as Dittweiler Ridge, this in recognition of the fact that settlers came here."With this passage from the mentioned obituary, we have the evidence for the claim made above, that our little home village, Dittweiler, has already been good for a strip of land far away in Ohio. In English this tract of land today bears the name "Highland Ridge" which we mentioned above as "Hochland-Hügelkatte." This part of Ohio lies north of Marietta, between the Muskingum River and Interstate 77. Both these geographic landmarks run north and south, as does Highland Ridge itself. On this high ridge is also the so-called Highland Churchyard. There we find numerous graves of former Dittweilerans, others from the Kohlbach Valley and former residents of the Kusel area.
When we look at a passenger arrival list from the port of Baltimore, we find in fact with a date of September 30, 1833, a group of Germans including A. Ahrend with wife and child. Indeed, I maintain that these first ones that we know of were greeted by people from the Kohlbach Valley. In an article from the German newspaper "The Pfälzer in Amerika" from 1897 we again find one of these very informative obituaries. We read then:
" At the ripe old age of 84 years, Mrs. Juliane Häberling nee Großcloß has died in Marietta, Ohio. She was born in Altenkirchen and came to America in 1832 and went directly to Marietta. … If Abraham Ahrend and his group were the first Germans in Washington County, then our Altenkirchen countrymen were the very first. "
About the living circumstances in the new home.From letter, diary entries and the look of land and dwelling structures it was possible for us to develop a clear picture of the life of the newcomer. The lay of the land was very similar to that of this town. A hilly, partially wooded landscape strongly recalls our West Palatinate. Just how similar these landscapes are may be clarified by the following considerations. During a visit here in the Kohlbach Valley an acquaintance showed the Zimmer couple from Whipple, Ohio pictures from here and asked if they recognized the area. After a searching examination came the answer, "Surely, this is a part of my daily drive to work." This example speaks for itself and shows that what the newcomers then saw reminded them of home. To be sure, the area where they settled was near the Ohio River. This fact brought with it the problem of flooding, which a person from the Kohlbach Valley would not be so familiar with, since the Kohlbach only occasionally overflowed its banks. In 1855 Peter Cloß of the "Coß-dienls" clan emigrated to Newport near Marietta with his wife and children. From his correspondence with relatives we know that after his arrival in 1855 he acquired a farm. Moreover, he lost it after a nasty experience with high water, and in the spring of 1865 build a new farm building, this time on the highest point in Washington County.
Just as the settlement structure in the new home was very different from what one who lived life in a village knew, so were the farms in the new settlement areas scattered across the land amid the property lines. The way to the next settlement was always a time-consuming affair and was only set out on for good reasons. Human contact happened chiefly with the family, with the people on the next farm and at the church meeting each Sunday.
In contrast to the scarcity of land here, these pioneers in America found sufficient possibilities for acquiring land. So, Peter Cloß wrote from Newport in Washington County that after his arrival he acquired a parcel of 100 acres of land with farm buildings, completely fenced in. It's already been mentioned that he lost this land parcel in a flood in 1865. Two acres were somewhat smaller than a hectare, that is, he possessed at the start of his business a bit less that 50 hectares, something that he would not have been able to acquire in Dittweiler. Furthermore, Peter Cloß maintained that the land was so fertile that he didn't have to use manure. Similarly also reported August Gerber of Altenkirchen, who settled in Henrietta in northern Ohio. He described his farm as follows:
16 acres of woods 12 acres felled wood, pasture 7 acres of meadow 8 acres pasture 8 acres of fruit 9 acres corn 16 acres of wheat 12 acres oats 10 acres of pasture for hayScattered throughout this arrangement stood the farm buildings; the different parts of the property were separated yet bound by roadways. One wonders if many of those remaining behind viewed the description with doubt and took it as bragging.
In the letters is often the fervent wish for communication from home and the plea for shorter intervals between these messages. The representation of the harvest cost takes up a big frame, it describes the weather calamities, especially good harvest yields and livestock transactions. An exchange existed between farmer and farmer. What is conspicuously clear is the very close connection of our Kohlbach Valley countrymen. There are no letters in which there are not descriptions of associations with old acquaintances and the present situation of companions in the new world. So writes Charles Cloß, son of the above mentioned Peter Cloß, who left Dittweiler as a child with his parents, in his diary on the 14th of April, 1878, that he is going to his neighbor, Scherer, with a letter from Germany in order to show it to him there. Another entry in this diary is about a conversation with neighbor Peter Barth. ("Barth" is an extinct Fronhofer name.) In a letter from 1858 Peter Cloß writes of his neighbor Daniel Müller from Brücken. In another diary notation from 1877 Charles Cloß mentions again Peter Becker, Johnny Barth and Jakob Morningstar. ('Morningstar' is an English translation of the German name "Morganstern.") Even if we aren't exactly certain that these are immediate neighbors, we get from this that they originated from the near surroundings of the Cloß farm.
The description of the burial of one of the children of Peter Cloß held in Kohlbach Valley contains a list of the names of the funeral participants. There are the speeches of sister Margaretha, brother-in-law Jakob Rietz, of Katharina Morbacher and Georg Stamm. Johannes Becker von der Brück perceived the function of the grave diggers correctly. (The expression "von der Brück" refers to a Dittweiler birthplace. Further mentioned are Adam Wagner and Adam Müller. The position of the church and churchyard naturally had a reference to a person from the Kohlbach Valley, which was on the property of the at that time well-known Jacob Müller.
This close band of our countrymen in a foreign land consists not only of a narrow circle in Washington County, no, that is in a letter form Katharina Becker from Tiffen, Ohio. Tiffen is about 140 km from Marietta as the crow flies.
The workaday farm.Our diary and letter writing describe to us the daily events of the Farm. Since we know that the largest of these estates were quite considerable, it is obvious that agreement on a single work location was not possible. So writes August Gerber from Henrietta, a tiny place in northern Ohio, to Altenkirche that the farm dwellings all had a bell, one possibility for communication. By this means the housewives could let those working in the field know that dinner is ready. Callers who had arrived could announce themselves in this way. If a fire broke out in the dwelling or farm buildings, which were made entirely of wood, there existed the possibility of calling for help with a pealing bell.
The already mentioned diarist, Charles Cloß, writes in his diary from 1877 that on the morning of June 16, 1877, he put in place the scaffolding for installing a dinner bell, and on the afternoon of the same day, with help from neighbors, the bell was in place. In German these bells were sometimes called "Mittagsglocke" or "Essensglocke." The work load for the individual appears to have been not so oppressive as in the homeland. Women's work especially seems to have been more confined to the house. So Peter Cloß wrote to his father in 1856 that work for the feminine gender in America is no so hard. Work such as threshing, mowing, laying wood, going grazing and carrying fodder is entirely restricted from women. Women working in the field commences only at sowing and harvest. The frequent mention of neighbors and connections with neighbors work allows one to conclude that helping the neighbors with their work was often practiced. Just so writes August Gerber in his letters that he obtained help from the neighbors much more frequently than was the situation in Altenkirchen. This characteristic of willingness to help is a part of the American national character which people who have something to do with them today discover.
A standing threat to the farm is the danger of fire. The buildings, both residential and work buildings, were all constructed of logs, but always, much wood was employed. Washington County lies approximately on the 40th parallel, which when compared with Europe, is somewhat southerly. With this in mind people lived with long periods of great heat in the summer months with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius. The already noted August Gerber opined that a fire department wasn't necessary. A fire played itself out too fast. One allowed the fire to burn out and inside of 4 weeks an new building was built. However, he noted with a twinkle in his eye, that one should take care not to allow the insurance papers to burn, too.
Through a farmhouse I made a discovery from an odd intuition. During a stay in America in the year 1988 members of the Dittweiler Cloß family took me to a still standing farm building of Peter Cloß, which he build in 1865. The structure of the building is log cabin. The area is 8 x 18 meters. It's a two-story building. Across the middle of the first floor ran an approximately 2.5 meter corridor with steps to the second floor. Both the rooms to the right and left of the mentioned corridor were somewhat large, the one serving as a living-dining room, while the other served as what is called "Gute Stube" in Germany. The kitchen lay in a lean-to side wing. The bedrooms for parents and children were in the 2nd floor. I was astonished over the fact that they permitted themselves the luxury of wallpaper in those times. As finishing for the rough log cabin wall about 10 newspapers served to compensate for the crude unevenness. The other farm buildings, certain to have been built a bit less solid, are decayed and no more to be seen.
These people appear to have taken the West Pfälz penchant for celebration with them to the foreign land. Frequently, Charles Cloß writes about so-called "frolics" which are nothing else than small festivals on the farm with relatives and neighbors. These would commence after the definite work such as plowing and threshing was finished. Sometimes we also discover details such as "father-in-law plays the violin" or "by the time I went home, I was somewhat 'high'" which means nothing else than that he had a bit too much to drink.
In daily work events we experience our countrymen at their best. We know that a high proportion of Kohlbach Valley emigrants took over their farms from English settlers who had lived there previously and who were not very successful in their efforts to colonize. In a book about the history of Washington County author Williams writes: "This highland is now settled by people of German ancestry; they acquired prosperity from the fruits of cultivating land that others rejected."
In a little pamphlet about the history of the Berg Church, which is still to be described, Mrs. Donna J. Berg Betts writes: "These Germans were quite clever in their farming and they put their sweat and muscles into their new occupation with much enthusiasm. Most of the farms to which they dedicated their skill were about 50 acres big. The greater majority of these German settlers were satisfied with their effort."
German Language & Kohlbach Valley Dialect in Ohio?Our relatives testify to the somewhat regrettable experience that not a trace of German language or indeed, Kohlbach Valley dialect, is to be found in Washington County as well as other settlement locations. In southern Pennsylvania and there mainly in relation to the Amish community one finds many which speak a dialect that can be recognized as Pfälz. This form of the German language is generally customary in their church services.
One doesn't expect this at isolated settlements located in completely different linguistic surroundings such as perhaps in New York, Michigan, Indiana or at isolated locations in Ohio. Indeed, one notices at first glance that one such concentrated settlement such as in southern Ohio also has brought with it a linguistic persistence. This occurs not only for the emigrants themselves, but also for the next generation. To be sure, one can also read in the correspondence that parents describe with pride how successful the children are in school and what progress they make in learning the English language. At the end of a letter from the year 1865 from our already mentioned Peter Cloß, he permits his daughter, Carolina, to write greetings to uncles, aunts, cousins, and the grandfather in English. The son, Karl, (the later diary keeper, Charles) writes his greetings to his cousins and likewise hes grandfather in the German language. The son, Martin, who had already been born in Ohio, also greets in English. The preceding correspondence is written in German because of the lack of knowledge of English of the relatives back home, while the previous diaries are written in English. How is this quite rapid adaptation to be explained?
We're going to attempt once again to go into this thinking of the afflicted in this situation. Reminiscence about the old home was certainly full of recollections about dear people, parents, sister and friend. On the other hand, there were also reflections on need, deficiency, and a privation that was so great that it had lead to the abandonment of this home. this knowledge generated precisely the conviction that there was no going back. The future of this generation of emigrants and, all the more, the subsequent generations, lay exclusively in this new land. They knew and this people knew that building a future, professional, commercial success, even in agriculture is coupled to the capability of its communications. We can [also] figure out from this [correspondence] that the generation of emigrants again gave their mother tongue to the next generation.
Mrs. Barbara Gerhard Matt, a visitor from Missouri, who grew up in Washington County as a newcomer from the Dittweiler Gerhard clan reported that as a child at home she experienced German as the secret language of the elders. Should something be said that the child shouldn't understand or that a child's mouth shouldn't repeat, then German was used. From the fact that Mrs. Gerhard Matt is today around 60 years old, plus the fact that these memories of an older child go back about 10 years, we arrive at the year 1940. The older people who at that time were using German as a secret language were already grandchildren or great grandchildren of the first generation emigrants. If it is realized how hard it is to get a child to spend time with a language which is strange to it, without lessons, only in the sphere of the home, then we begin to realize that it takes a powerful dose of love home to accomplish this. These considerations put the introductory remarks about the regrettable experience in a somewhat new light.
About the Berg Church in Washington CountyJust as today folks from the Kohlbach Valley are proud of the beautiful Baroque Church in Altenkirchen, so it was with these people 150 years ago. And so it is understandable when the lack of a church and church community in America was found to be a need and steps were taken to rectify the situation. At their arrival, our countrymen found an English speaking evangelistic church community which welcomed them. From time to time the English speaking pastor held a service in German with the help of a translator. After different starts with establishing a community and a churchhouse on Highland Ridge, on November 30, 1846 a good contract was closed between Peter Berg as seller and Christian Schimmel, so that Georg Peter Lauer as representative of the buyers could form the "Second Protestant Evalgelical Church" over a plot of land. Peter Berg was the emigrant from Altenkirchen who came to Ohio with his wife, Margaretha Mörshel in 1841. Georg Peter Lauer came from Dittweiler in 1840, where he was Adjunkt, to Ohio with his wife Margaretha Müller. Subsequently, this business was almost an internal Kohlbach Valley affair. Church property also had a district for the burial of deceased community members. The first burial was of former Fronhofer resident Peter Biehl on 9/11/1846.
Mrs. Berg Betts reported in the already mentioned pamphlet on the Berg church, that this also had led to the building of a one room schoolhouse. The school building was undertaken around 1875. The former Altenkirchen teacher, Daniel Hirsh, arrived in Ohio after temporary stops in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. There he held both preaching and teaching positions. The exact point at which his service began is not known. The end of his service in the pupit was in 1873. Daniel Hirsch, a strong personality from the emigrating community, died on May 18, 1983 and found his final resting place in the Berg Church.
The Berg Church is made from logs; its dimensions are about 10 x 15 meters. After repeated damage, the church was renovated or rebuilt several times. Until the year 1918, sermons were preached exclusively in German, after that, in German and English. After 1930, preaching was only in English. In the early part of 1955, the services were cancelled at the Berg Church; the community went to Marietta to St. Paul's Evangelical Church, which was placed in service in 1913. One of the last christenings to be performed in the Berg Church was that of Diane Berg; in this way the life circle of the church was closed, which from start to finish was bound to the name "Berg." After this ending of active utilization, the old church building was consigned to oblivion. Thistles and thorns grew there, and a "Thornrose Sleep" set in.
Above all, it is Dean and Rita Zimmer and the owner of the mentioned pamphlet on the Berg church, Donna Berg Betts, we have to thank that later the church was remembered and the work of renovation was undertaken. With wonderful initiative and inspiration, they voluntarily put their free time and money into the project of restoring the church and its attached churchyard. After these preparations, the initiators announced a "Homecoming Festival" in 1986. The invitation drew 245 descendants of the old settlers who had built and used the church. The guests came from the near surroundings, as well as all parts of the U.S.A. Likewise in 1986 this circle of friends celebrated American Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve in this old new church. Since that time this circle has annually offered a harvest festival. From that time on, ecclesiastical annual celebrations and commemorative days would be celebrated in the Berg Church irregularly. In the year 1988 during a visit, I had the opportunity to see the Berg Church. The married couple Dean and Rita Zimmer had the hospitality to take me to the place where the church stands in an open field. The exterior is quite unremarkable. As already mentioned, the architecture is log construction, the exterior has undergone scaling over the planks. Since there weren't any bells in the church, there wasn't a need for a steeple.
For anyone who knows the Altenkirchen church, the interior is quite interesting. Immediately, one notices, namely in the back part, that the construction of this little church had the Altenkirchen church in mind. The division shows, as in Altenkirchen, a middle row and two side rows of benches. Above the back part is found a loft, which is also stretches between two wooden pillars. A balustrade (parapet) of the loft runs evenly from the right to the left side. Old fellow-citizens (of Altenkirchen) will remember that that until the 1956 renovation, the Altenkirchen loft was exactly the same. Likewise, the transition of the sidewalls and ceiling exhibits a strong square "end of loaf" [Kantenbruch] just like in Altenkirchen. The altar side of the church nave is no longer in original condition. Through a renovation in 1934 the altar was removed and replaced with a "bühnenartiges" pedestal. Over the entrance, in appreciation of German heritage can be read "Faith, Hope and Charity." Again, above I reported about the annual homecoming festival that is being celebrated at the Berg church. It would be a great event if at one of these festivals far distant relatives from the entire old home could be present at this celebration.