Notes from reading Letters of a German American Farmer. This book was written by a schoolteacher whose schoolteacher father had received letters from 250 former students who had emigrated from around Eldena, south of Schwerin, Mecklenburg. Most had gone to Iowa, and in the middle of the 19th century. The author combined the letters and created a subject from a composite in order to tell a story. It is delicious reading and gives us insight into Mecklenburg village life as well as the emigrant farmers’ experiences.
Mecklenburg was the last German state to eliminate serfdom (1820). “And then the gentry used those laws to evict many of their erstwhile serfs from their estates into homelessness and poverty. In Fritz Reuter’s (author who wrote in Low German about Mecklenburg) book Kein Husung (Homeless) you hear the baron tell (a peasant couple), ‘if you don’t like it, go to America’, They did. Between 1853 and 1877, some 90,000 Mecklenburgers immigrated, almost one-sixth of the total population.”
Many references to the subject’s former teacher having taught hymns and other religious instruction in the village school. This suggests a non-seperation of school and church. Perhaps the teacher was paid by the baron/patroni/lord of the manor, as was the pastor. Christian serfs caused their master less trouble, religion providing structure and rules for good behavior.
In 1868 the passage from Hamburg to New York on a sailing vessel cost 29 German talers. That was the currency in Germany, but I don’t have the conversion to American dollars.
Song sung by German passengers on the emigrant ships:
Columbus was a happy man, a happy man was he.
He came to New America from his old Germany
And there he looked for ‘taters ‘cause he was hun-ger-rey.
In Mecklenburg, women milked the cows.
In 1900 in Iowa, one good cow cost $15 to 23. Farmers sold corn for 35 cents per bushel. One acre of land cost $100 to $150. If good land and close to a railroad, then $200/acre. Compare to $50 to $70 per acre in ca. 1875, and $3 to $10 per acre in 1850. In the 1890’s a man sold an Iowa farm for $150/acre and paid $50/acre for farmland in South Dakota.
In ca. 1870, (Iowa) farmers sold eggs for 8 cents per dozen. Young women earned $3 per week working on a farm, then $4 or $5 in ca. 1900. Hired hands received $4 or 5 in ca. 1870.
In ca. 1867, a day laborer in Mecklenburg earned 4 schillings a day.
One acre equals 160 German quadratruten. one morgen = 100 ruten = 3/4 acre. page 40.
A barrell holds 4 bushels.
100 German pounds = approx. 108 American pounds.(at least in the old days)
The occupation Schulze is not found in most German-English dictionaries. It can mean village mayor or sheriff.
Mensch (found throughout the book) = person, man.
Low German for Mecklenburg is Mekelborger, an umlaut over the o.
Low German for Burgermeister (mayor) is Burmeister.
New Years Eve in Germany is called Old Year’s Night.