This is the concluding part of a series on the Adelsverein.
The Adelsverein had a scheme of bringing Germans to Texas in order to establish a “New Germany,” but they had not fully inaugurated a detailed plan of implementation. Supposedly, any German that wished to migrate to Texas would pay the company the equivalent of $240, and in exchange the company would supply a homestead of 320 acres, implements, shelter, support structures — mills, gins, hospitals, stores, etc. — as well as transport via ship. They also agreed to provide a complimentary return trip to any who did not wish to remain in Texas after a year. What they did not say is how they would pay for all these perks since their capital investment, and the small payment of each migrant — did not approach the accumulated costs for their venture. Also, by the fall of 1844, the Adelsverien knew that their land grants were worthless.
The company pressed ahead anyway. Despite the fact that their plans were in ruins, they began to send travelers to Texas, a wave of emigrants that they had no way to accommodate and inadequate facilities to receive. Although they had originally placed restrictions on the number of families they would transport, after a few months of advertising more than 10,000 had signed on to the program, thousands more than they had promised. They immediately chartered ships and began to transport potential residents. In November 1844, the first Adelsverein ship anchored in Galveston Harbor.
The company had also hired a new representative to oversee their investment in Texas — Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels. He had traveled to Texas in the summer of 1844, and with Henry Fisher—who had already stolen thousands of dollars from the company—began to prepare for the Germans arrival. Prince Karl was a fervent believer in the project, unlike Fisher was thoroughly honest, but he also had no experience in managing such a vast undertaking. The lack of experience would hinder his effectiveness, although despite his naïve incompetence Texas history has afforded him a place of honor.
Karl did face a monumental task. The Adelsverein’s land grant was worthless, but even if it had not been the lands would never have served the company’s needs. They were more than three hundred miles from Galveston, and also deep in Comancheria. It was also wholly unsuitable for farming. Republic officials, even though the land grant was expired, agreed to give the Germans the land anyway. Karl advised the company against accepting and that they should look for something more suitable, but the nobles told him to prepare the grant for settlement. What Karl did not know was that the first ships had already left for Texas, and had arrived in Galveston before Karl — actually Henry Fisher — had made any arrangements for transport. Besides, Fisher had already stolen and spent most of the money the Germans had provided for him.
Karl’s antipathy to Americans in general and Texans specifically exacerbated problems. Karl, at best a committed German nationalist and at worst a xenophobe, feared that exposure to Texans, who he considered foul, vulgar, ignorant and ill-tempered, would cause the German migrants to lose their “Germaness,” which he considered to be a source of superiority. Thus, he moved their arrival point from Galveston to a barren island known as Indian Point one hundred miles south. All those who had landed at Galveston moved to Indian Point, and then other ships began to arrive, although Karl had not yet contracted for any shelter or supplies. The conditions at Indian Point were deplorable — a lack of drinking water, food, and shelter plagued the new arrivals and they suffered through a horrible winter.
Prince Solms-Braunfels decided to ignore the company’s order to continue on to the isolated original land grant, and in the late winter 1845 he left Indian Point to find a closer and more suitable settlement spot. He located one near a spring called Las Fontanas on the road between Austin and San Antonio. He bought more than 6,000 acres and then contracted to begin to move all the arrivals to their new home. Each household would receive a lot in the new town, which was named “New Braunfels” after the prince’s family lands in Germany, and a ten acre plot for cultivation outside of town. It was not what the Adelsverein had promised, but at least it beat suffering at Indian Point. Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels, however, would not long remain in the town that bears his name; shortly after the first group had arrived he resigned his post and returned to Germany — never to return to Texas again.
The Adelsverien was now near bankruptcy, which might explain why they did not cancel future sailings from Germany. Ships bearing German migrants steadily arrived throughout 1845 and 1846, most in Galveston when the company abandoned Indian Point after Prince Karl left. Because hurricanes and other natural disasters caused the destruction of many records, it is difficult for researchers to definitively say how many Germans arrived in Texas during the period of the Adelsverein, but estimates are as high as 8,000. As for the original aspirations of the nobles? That, too, disappeared when the United States annexed Texas in 1845; any dreams of a new Germany went away.
The Adelsverein also got a new Texas director in 1845 when the Baron Ottfried von Meusebach—soon to be known as John O. Meusebach — arrived from Germany. The company would finally find a competent administrator in the young German aristocrat. Meusebach found a mess; Karl had not only spent all the Adelsverein’s funds, he had also racked up almost $40,000 on debt. Meusebach appealed for more money to put the colony on sound financial footing, but the nobles responded with only $24,000. Meusebach made do with what he had, and was even able to establish a second settlement — Fredricksburg — not far from the original New Braunfels. The new director also sent a report to German newspapers in 1846, letters that described the horrible conditions and the financial problems of the settlers. Contributions helped alleviate the suffereing, and Meusebach was also able to negotiate a treaty of peace with the Comanches that gave the German settlers a sense of security.
Meusebach returned to Germany in July 1847, and while he did not leave behind a fully healthy colony, it was certainly one that had a chance of survival. The same could not be said for the Adelsverein. The now bankrupt company folded in 1848, but their colony actually thrived and after 1848 thousands of Germans independently traveled to Texas to join the original arrivals. Many of their descendants remain in the “German Belt” of Texas today.
East Texas Historical Assn. provides this column. Scott Sosebee is executive director,email@example.com.