Gustave Koerner – Emigration
Gustave Koerner and fellow members of a German student group planned to overthrow the government in his hometown, Frankfurt am Main. The coup in April of 1833 failed and Koerner was wounded in the fight. He escaped Germany dressed as a woman to pass by border guards. An arrest warrant was issued by Frankfurt officials. The bottom of the warrant lists Koerner’s physical description: Age 23, Height 5’2″, blond hair, brow/forehead-free, eyebrows- light brown, nose- average, mouth- average, chin- round, face- oval, face color- healthy, other identification- is wounded
He joined the Theodore Engelmann family in France and sailed to the United States, seeking a new life. His new life would include Theodore’s daughter, Sophie Engelmann, whom he married three years later. His trip from New York to St. Louis introduced him to scenes of American slavery, which he predicted would one day tear the nation apart. Arriving in St. Louis, Koerner witnessed slaves working on the riverfront and vowed he would not live in Missouri, a slave state, so the Engelmann party looked east and located a farm to purchase at Shiloh Valley, Illinois, which was a free state. Complete details of Koerner’s student days and emigration are included in Volume 1 of his memoirs, which is available online.
The restoration of Belleville’s Gustave Koerner home, on Mascoutah Avenue at Abend Street, will stand as a testament to one of Belleville’s most illustrious citizens. Koerner joined Abraham Lincoln, Horace Greeley and others who, fired by the passions of the times, came together to create the Republican Party in 1856. Koerner became a close Lincoln confidant, helped write the 1860 Republican Party platform, and managed Lincoln’s drive to the presidential nomination at the party’s convention. Koerner was an ardent anti-slavery proponent and, as a German emigre, played a key role in allying western America’s German population with the Union cause.
The Koerner House Restoration Committee, working with a team of consultants, has prepared an Historic Structure Report. Selective demolition of the structure’s modern components commenced in May 2005. Once complete, the home will be opened as a museum, where Koerner’s life and political career will be interpreted.