Following are accounts about life on the Engelmann farm, Shiloh, Illinois, beginning in 1833.
The letter is dated March 17, 1834, from New Germany-Engelmann farm, about ten months after they arrived at Shiloh Valley.
The sisters take turns writing to Gretchen, their sister who remained in Germany, describing the farm work they do.
The work out of doors in the open we find pretty heavy but the air is so soft and pleasant and lasting and when we gradually see the results of the work of our hands we get a great deal of pleasure from it. Le me tell you what our dear ones are doing today-our dear mother – as you see- she wanted to write to you but her hand trembled so from her work- so she is washing the fine clothes; Lottchen (a sister) is cooking; Sophie, Betty and Marianne (also sisters) are at present digging in the garden; Theodore and Johann (brothers) are making fence. So frequently Theodore with his horses drives by my window and gets rails that they split last week. It is the hardest work that the American farmer knows- they split pieces six to ten feet long and three to six inches thick out of large logs. While the young men had very sore hands still they had made about 1,000 pieces. While Koerner is teaching the two children- George is busy helping with the fence. Father (Frederick) who has not been quite well the past eight days is repairing and improving various tools, impliments and furniture, otherwise he is cutting trees, making plow and harrow, sleigh and yoke, and now is making a marker to lay off the rows for panting corn. He is a pattern of industry-only I sit here alone and write to you as mother will not let me work out of doors today, as I have not been quite well for several days- tho it does not amount to much, however I will help with the washing tomorrow. Diahrrea is a very common complaint here and at present Father, Theodore and I are suffering in various degrees….
If a block slides out of the wall into the yard it is just a stupid mistake of the builder-even tho the thermometer stands at twenty one degrees cold. In the warm season these little houses are all the better. We had four weeks of winter with some right fine cold clear days with deep snow and fine sleighing. On the 28 of December it was so warm we did not need a fire- and all of February was equally fine, with a clear sky and balmy air. March also, up to now has been pleasant and all the past week we have been digging in the garden and will get through today. We have sowed various things and one of these days will plant potatoes. We have some apple trees that will be in full bloom in eight days at the latest. Fruit tree seeds we have set out in abundance and last week Father visited the Hilgards (cousins who lived about two miles away) Edward and Theodore , the latter had another attack of fever. Edward gave him some buds for grafting; quince, pear and apple which was a real worth while present for without apples no orchard here is recognized as such.
Koerner has received an offer from a St. Louis publishing house to write a German column for an English paper (St. Louis Times.) He went to see about it- and while he did not take up their offer he made the man a proposition to write a complete German paper- very likely this will come to pass under good terms for Koerner. It will be decided in several weeks. The Americans have great respect for his knowledge and ability. The are also beginning to put much trust in the German doctors.
Just now everyone is very much taken up with the election of governor, there are three candidates. This morning Koerner was at the home of the one who will very likely be elected to buy a bushel of early potatoes. He lives four miles from us and is an industrious farmer, while he is rich he is reported to be very democratically minded. He is Master William Kinney.
Robert deV. Brunkow
On 27 August 2007 the St. Clair County Board approved purchase of Engelmann Farm in Shiloh, Illinois, for a county park. This volume of the Journal of St. Clair County History is dedicated to the history of Engelmann Farm in recognition of the county’s decision. The farm is both a historical site and the location of a pristine woodland. The articles in this issue review the historical significance of the farm and provide a window into daily life on a late 19th-century farm of a prominent German immigrant family.
Political émigré Friedrich Theodor Engelmann (1779-1854) and his wife, Elizabeth Kipp Engelmann (1781-1861), immigrated to the United States in 1833 and purchased the farm in August of that year. In December 1833 their second oldest child, Charlotte (later Charlotte Ledergerber, 1805-1856), expressed the aspirations of the Engelmanns and the party of educated German idealists who came with them to Shiloh Valley Township. In exchange for the liberty that they had lacked in the Old World, she said they would employ the “art, science, and culture” they brought with them to develop the New World. She hoped that “our new country and our new Germany, as we call the region we inhabit now,… will grow in time as it takes in all those who sacrificed their security for the liberty of the country across the seas where liberty was born—those who were fortunate enough to escape from the Argus of prison and serfdom.” The first residents of Engelmann Farm referred to it as the “Refuge of Righteousness on the Mississippi (Herberge der Gerechtigkeit am Mississippi).” Here political exiles found a safe harbor in the 1830’s, and other immigrants found temporary quarters before moving on to permanent homes. As Charlotte had hoped, those associated with the farm and the immigrant community that developed around it in Shiloh Valley made contributions to the science, culture, and politics of their adopted home.
The immigrants who like the Engelmanns remained on their farms contributed to the economic development of the region. Their accomplishments rested on hard work. The Engelmann Farm that Friedrich and Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Anna Engelmann (1869-1960), described in recollections printed in this volume was an orderly series of gardens, fields, vineyards, and orchards in the 1870’s and 80’s. That is not the farm that the first generation found when they arrived on the land in 1833. Gustavus Koerner acknowledged that the farm then had a solid cabin and excellent peach orchard but found neglected fields, broken fences, dilapidated outbuildings, and failed wells. It was primarily the energy of Friedrich Engelmann that renewed farm productivity. His youngest daughter, Elizabeth (later Elizabeth Scheel, 1819-1883), late in the winter of 1834 enumerated his current projects: cutting wood and repairing and fabricating furniture and implements, including plow and harrow, sleigh and yoke, and a marker to lay off the rows for planting corn. Theodor (1808-1889), the oldest son, with grim humor reflected on the hardships of the early years. “It was with father a firm principle … that work was so much more deserving the greater the difficulties under which it was done and the poorer and more unsuitable the work tools were with which one did the work. His teaching was acquired through the circumstances, through bitter necessity….”
The first article in this journal documents the issues Charlotte raised. Written to explain the need to preserve the property from development when the farm’s future was uncertain, it summarizes the history and significance of Engelmann Farm, identifying people associated with the farm and their roles in the development of the county and the country.
Part of the significance of the farm rests on the historic buildings on the property. The second article describes the two 19th-century homes on the farm.
Since much of the journal publishes recollections of Anna Engelmann, the third essay sketches her life. She was the last of the Engelmanns to own the farm. Her recollections—published here for the first time—provide in the three articles that follow a richly detailed account of daily life after the Civil War. She describes the farm layout and agricultural practices and even identifies the flowers in the garden. She delineates the network of friends and relations the Engelmanns established. The importance of the extended family is evident in her writings, and the reader learns from her of the role of family in caring for orphans. What the family ate, read, and celebrated is described in Anna’s writings. The Engelmann children were home schooled as well as attended public school, and Anna documents their education. Far from being an isolated, self-sufficient economic unit, Engelmann Farm was economically, politically, and culturally integrated into Shiloh, Belleville, and St. Clair County affairs.
Alice Lienesch, who was born on the farm, wrote the final article in this journal. She knew Anna Engelmann and recollects life on the farm in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Preservation of Engelmann Farm provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice, the ability, and the ideals of those who came before us. A walk through the woods the Engelmanns knew and past the buildings they erected may lead us to ask the question, “Do we measure up?” And, perhaps, it may inspire us to greater endeavor.
About the Author
Robert deV. Brunkow holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara. For 20 years he was a civil service historian for the U.S. Air Force. He was involved in the effort to preserve Engelmann Farm. He resides in Belleville, Illinois.
Translated and quoted in Ada M. Kett, “Belleville Germans Look at America (1833-1845),” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 40 (1947), 23-37, at 35.
Gertrud Baecker and Fritz Engelmann, Die Kurpfaelzischen Familien Engelmann und Hilgard (Ludwigshafen am Rhein: Richard Louis Verlag, 1958), 47, 78 (hereafter Kurpfaelzischen Familien); Gustav Koerner, Das deutsche Element in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika, 1818-1848 (Cincinnati: A. E. Wilde & Co., 1880), 318. Near to the Engelmann home in Rhenish Bavaria was the castle of Ebernburg. During the Reformation the castle received the appellation of “Refuge of Righteousness” because a number of Protestant reformers found safe haven there. The story was well-known, so that the political reformers of the 1830’s could readily apply the term used by religious reformers of the 1520’s to their own haven above the Mississippi. Kurpfaelzischen Familien and some Engelmann descendants prefer the translation to read “Harbor of Justice on the Mississippi.” “Sickingen,” Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, www.Bautz.de/bbkl/s/sickingen-_f.shtml; Roland Paul, Institut fuer Pfaelzische Geschichte und Volkskunde, conversation with Robert Brunkow, 22 Oct 2008; Mary Armstrong to Robert Brunkow, “Your Manuscript” (E-mail, 11 Nov 2008).
Gustavus Koerner, Memoirs of Gustave Koerner, 1809-1896, Life-sketches Written at the Suggestion of His Children, ed. Thomas J. McCormack, 2 Vols (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Torch Press, 1909), 1: 291, 300 (hereafter Memoirs).
Elizabeth Engelmann to Margarethe Hilgard (Translated typescript, 17 Mar 1834).
Theodor Engelmann, “Reminiscences,” ed. Joseph C. Kircher, trans. Joseph Casimir (Typescript, 1951), 45.
The following letters are taken from Ada Klett’s article, Belleville Germans look at America, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society:
Theodore Engelmann, Gustave Koerner’s university friend and later brother-in-law, had a difficult time establishing himself in America. His father, Frederick, suggested he learn a trade and delay studying law. Theodore’s letters to his sister and fiancé in Germany paint a gloomy picture of becoming a success in America.
The first letter is to his sister:
Let me hint that a brooding mood of discontent has come over me which haunts me everywhere and makes this life hateful to me. I am a miserable, dependent man, without any will and any initiative of my own.
I have been trying to mingle with Americans to master the language . There is no opportunity for that on our farm, yet I wish to gain access to the sources of this country and to study them. So far I have not succeeded.
(Theodore says he found work as a tanner in Belleville) I would walk to the tannery early in the morning while the last stars shimmered in the sky and I would return when the setting sun’s trailing robe submerged behind the trees and the dark shadows of night draw near. There are no rest hours in America…I was so tired out that arms and legs were stiffened, and no desire left to linger long among the Americans for the sake of their language. There was even less thought of reading or writing-I sought my bed .(Theodore quit that job and returned to the farm)
I thought about being a storekeeper, but lived too far away from others. (He labors on the farm, which he says has poor soil) I waste my time and effort and I cannot go ahead following my own lights; yet (although I obey orders) it is rare that I earn Father’s approval. All this is disheartening to me, and all my thinking day and night revolves around the idea of how I could get away from home, find a way of earning my living and face the world on my own feet.
Quote from Sophie….”The more Germans come the nicer it will be. The Americans are very boring, particularly when you cannot talk with them.”
In 1838 Theodore wrote:: Germans of all classes and all degrees of education have congregated here. Some occupy a place next to the colored people; Germans are found in al classes of society and, finally, head the group of those concerned with science and scholarship. The American cannot understand how people from one and the same country can be so different, for the Americans are all on more or less the same level, having all had the same opportunities of schooling, and have used them equally; even lawyers and doctors do not train for their intellectual and scientific work any differently than shoemakers and blacksmiths do for their trade…Although the better people among both nations respect each other, they seek little contact except when their business requires it; in their social life they are completely separate….
Koerner helped him set up a business in 1835 in St. Louis, but it failed. This from a .January 20, 1836, letter to his sister in Germany: It is hard to think that a man of my age (28) should not be able to wrestle from fate a life satisfying and even comfortable in any county and among any nation. Ever since I broke away from home -where my strivings for independence and autonomy were constantly at odds with an unconditional obedience and submission to Father’s orders and dispositions- I have been of an even cheerful temper. The only thing that disturbs my serenity at times is the melancholy to which I give way in idle hours. It seems to me that I lead a worthless life; and indeed there can be no more pitiful lot than to be forced to work today so you can live tomorrow. If there weren’t the hope that later on one will be able to handle more liberally one’s activities, and their fruits, a man would do better to drown himself in the Mississippi…
(later he wrote of assimilating with Americans and learning the language) We, that is, Koerner and myself, figured that a person might be able to make quite a good living by being the agent in business deals between Americans and Germans, and doing jus t that and nothing else, and this induced me to open up an “Intelligence and Real Estate Office.” …Although my debts are still higher than my income, I see my overhead decreasing the more my business gets going, and I have every reason to believe that eventually it will be quite lucrative. I have at this moment over $100,000 of land for sale…My fee is four per cent on an average. Besides there is all sorts of incidental work: Make translations, write letters, transact business with th Justice of the Peace, hire out maids, etc. So far I have had to do may things gratuitously to win clients and the people’s confidence, but later I hope to secure business for which people ordinarily turn to a lawyer or a notary public.
Koerner explained why Theodore’s business did not prove lucrative : He was too straightforward, dislike to use persuasion, would not recommend a thing which he thought was not worth recommending-in a word, he was too honest to flourish in this line of business. He was not what the Americans call “smart.”
Theodore started a German paper in Belleville, Der Beobachter, in 1844.which lasted 13 months. It started again in 1849 and did better.
April 3, 1845, Theodore wrote to Hannchen Kribben, his fiancé, that he began his job as chief clerk of the Belleville Court and is sending her an engagement ring, By 1860, Theodore has a farm three miles south of Mascoutah and is growing grapes and bottling wine. Theodore died there in 1889.
Koerner and five other bachelors lived in the cabin on the upper farm. Sophie wrote December 10, 1833, : Koerner lives at the upper farm and comes down for meals only. He busies himself with literary work, the farm life is not at all to his taste. His mind wants food-and a farmer must almost totally starve his mind, for he is too busy by day and too tired at night to take time for it. Koerner wants to go to an American university this spring to train to be an American lawyer. Just now he is working on a critical evaluation of Duden’s work. You, my dear Hilgard, must not get angry over it (Duden’s book) until you have read Koerner’s essay and compared the two. Duden embellished things and lured many a family to come out here who would have done better to have remained in the Eastern states. For us, too, it might have been better by the beautiful waterfalls of the Mohawk than here in Illinois which has hills, but neither mountains nor water.
Lottchen Engelmann wrote :The laments that reach our ears here concern the household, the empty pantry, the boredom, the load of work, the poor quarters, and the joys we hear of. I ate a good squab today, coffee cake, etc. The chickens laid well, a cock was shot, or even a deer, the cows gave a lot of milk, the sun is warm today and we can dry the wash, etc. …I can assure you that I think by now it is good for us that we are here- in spite of al the obstacles, and griefs we have had to overcome, and will have to face in the future. I believe we shall live here very happily once you are all here and the dear families we are expecting (the Theodore Hilgard Sr. family) The essentials are here- a pleasant climate, if you adjust yourself somewhat to it in your housing and way of living; a rich soil, a pretty landscape, unlimited freedom and equality-everything else, beyond that rests within the power of those who live here, if God’s grace is with them.
Sophie’s older sister wrote of finding an acceptable suitor after fending off the advances of an elderly Polish military man: A moving contrast to these stories is Koerner’s and Sophie’s pure, innocent love. It does me good to watch them . I find a pure joy in their happiness-it brings up many a hallowed memory of similar emotions of my own.
Sophie wrote of the farm work routine to her sister in Germany in this January 1835 letter: