contents ©2016 by Harold Pfohl
EARLY YEARS PART 5 – BRUSS SIBLINGS– LEGACY OF SERFDOM, INTENSELY DOGMATIC RELIGION, LIMITED MEANS – COURAGE
In 1859, Carl Brüss, age 29, his wife Friedericka, 28, their infant baby, Augusta, Carl’s sister Albertina, 26, and some brothers, left Trieglaff, near Greiffenberg in the Prussian province of Pomerania (see map: TRIEGLAFF, POMERANIA) for America. The parents, Daniel and Helene (nee Goetzke), did not accompany them. Albertina’s marriage certificate of Dec. 22, 1863 to Joachim Lüders notes her parents as deceased.
The culture of the region was very different from the culture that prevailed in the Schwerin, Mecklenburg region of the three families previously discussed, Niemann, Lüders and Fromm. The Pomeranian region of Prussia had been farmed by serfs under subjection to aristocratic Junkers (prn. yoonkers) landowners for centuries. Additionally, the Brüss family and the aristocratic lord of the estate were intensely dogmatic “Old” Lutherans. In order to understand the Brüss family it is necessary to expand on their experience in Prussia which was the determining factor in their lives in Wisconsin. The Prussians were a hard people, but also, hard on themselves.
Poor – Limited Financial Means
The siblings settled in Jackson Township, Washington County.
The family seems to have been rather poor. Carl struggled as a laborer to save $626 with which he purchased ten acres of land and on which he made his home. The plat from the 1870s above shows 20 acres. Judging from current aerial photos that land is lowland, now heavily wooded, no longer occupied and not well suited for tillage.
Given that abundant land was available in those years at low cost why did the Brüss siblings not settle on better land and more of it? Their financial means were certainly very limited and that was part of the legacy of serfdom (more on that below). But, if that was the case, why not go north when the Homestead Act of 1862 was implemented and one could secure good farmland for the labor of improving it?
The answer may well be their religious affiliation. Old Lutheran congregations in the vicinity provided the comfort of like-minded coreligionists.
Legacy of Serfdom
The palatial von Thadden residence in Trieglaff
Few plantation homes in the antebellum American South could hold a candle to this palatial residence.
Serfdom was the common condition of farm laborers in the great estates of eastern Prussia. A serf could not leave the land, children were bound to the land and to serve the heirs of the nobility owning the estate. Unlike slaves, the serf could not be bought and sold, but the prospects for prosperity and for advancement in life were nil.
In 1806 Prussia was defeated by Napoleon. This caused a major internal bloodless revolution, a series of major reforms in Prussia. One result was the abolition of the egregious system of serfdom in 1807. The Brüss siblings’ grandparents would have been serfs. The Brüss siblings were born a generation later (Albertina 1833, Carl ~ 1830) and were raised in a culture in which the social and cultural distinctions between farm labor and nobility were little changed albeit the economic structure had changed radically. Cultural inertia is long lived.
Subsequent to the abolition of serfdom farm laborers could own land and were free to come and go as they pleased. The negative consequence was that the noble families no longer had any obligation to the peasant, and could hire and fire whom they pleased. The Brüss were fortunate. The von Thaddens were extraordinarily good and decent people, caring a great deal about their fellows.
The von Thadden family was distinguished in Prussia for its public service and its deep religious convictions. The great German Chancellor and Prime Minister, Otto von Bismarck, was a friend of the family and frequent guest. The head of the estate at the time of the emigration of the Brüss siblings was Adolph Ferdinand von Thadden. He was concerned about the well-being of the farm laborers across Prussia, and delivered lectures on the subject in agricultural conferences.
The legacy of serfdom: ignorance and impoverishment. Even with ambition, if knowledge and financial means are lacking the barriers to realizing ambition are huge. By the time the Brüss siblings were young adults in the 1850s the situation would have been improved but cultural inertia is difficult to change with any speed.
It is likely that the Brüss strained every conceivable resource to the limit in order to emigrate to the New World where they, too, could own land. It must have taken an enormous amount of courage for them to emigrate. They were at a great disadvantage when compared to the other three families whose stories have previously been told.
“Old” Lutherans – Intensely Dogmatic, Uncompromising
Brüsses were “Old Lutherans,” refusing to compromise their religious dogma in order to accommodate the Prussian Government’s desire to consolidate various Protestant creeds into a uniform state church. Persecution and harassment resulted from this religious fortitude: ministers were prohibited from holding services, performing marriages and sacraments, etc.
In the late 1830s and early 1840s, “Old Lutherans” from this area of Prussia founded churches in and near Freistadt, Kirchhayn, Jackson, Random Lake and other locations in Wisconsin, upstate New York, Ontario, Indiana, and even Australia. By the time of the Brüss emigration several thousand members of the movement were well established in the New World. Much correspondence with relatives and fellow “Old” Lutherans back home in Prussia occurred.
The principal organizing figure for the movement was a former Prussian military officer who had also been a favorite at the court of the King, Heinrich von Rohr.
Greiffenberg (very near Trieglaff) and the region in the vicinity of Stettin (see map: STETTIN & POINTS OF ORIGIN) were centers of this movement. Adolph von Thadden, Lord of the Trieglaff Manor, was a deeply committed member of the movement, and so were many of the laborers and farm hands who worked on his estate. He would have had a great influence on the Brüss family.
Von Thadden was a compassionate man. It is entirely possible that he thought emigrating was a good idea for the welfare of the siblings and assisted them with the financial means to travel to Wisconsin.
Source: “Trieglaff” by Rudolf von Thadden
Members of the movement were the earliest Lutherans to settle in Wisconsin. While a few thousand members emigrated the numbers weren’t massive. See Wisconsin below:
Source: OLD LUTHERAN IMMIGRANTS
For more information on the “Old” Lutherans, see footnote at bottom of post
Profound concern over religious dogma continued to be a dominant element in the life of the Brüss family. A religious dispute split the Immanuel Lutheran Church (now deconsecrated and an historical landmark) on Mill Road, southeast of Jackson.
As a result of the schism, Carl and Friedericka joined with other like-minded members to form their own church. The sole remaining physical evidence of the group they formed is tiny Zion Lutheran Cemetery on Church Road a few hundred yards south of Highway 60 about three miles east of Jackson where members of the Brüss family are buried.
The cemetery dates to 1876; very likely the schism took place shortly before then.
Albertina lived with her brother and his family until late 1863 when she married the recent widower, Joachim Lüders. (see post: Lüders) Albertina was regarded as a “difficult” woman. Joachim died a few weeks after their son William’s wedding to Augusta Nieman in 1899. Regarding Mother, William said to Augusta, “Now what do we do?” – referring to her difficult nature. Albertina lived until 1906, dying of cancer, leaving behind three fine children with good families, and one son who had a serious problem with beer. She and Joachim can look down on their descendants with justifiable pride. They include numerous engineers, scientists, professors, entrepreneurs and an Olympic silver medalist.
Carl and Fredericka had three girls and two boys; the boys died during childhood.
On December 1, 1895, Fredericka died at age 64. Carl remarried on November 11, 1898 to Maria -?- In his old age he sold his land for $1,050 with the agreement that he and Maria could live on it until the end of their days. Carl died on Christmas Day, 1915 at 84 years of age.
NEXT – SECTION II – SETTLED AND PROSPERING, THE 1890S
Footnote re: Old Lutherans:
The Old Lutheran emigration lasted from 1835 to 1854. According to Iwan’s 1943 book, which admittedly is an incomplete listing of emigrant names, the exit from Prussia during that time was a total of 4977 to America, 2139 to Australia, and 18 to Russia, for a total of 7134 people. The largest number of these came from Pomerania, with 2567 going to America, 25 to Australia, and 3 to Russia. All of the names, former homes, occupations, and family relationships are listed in Iwan’s book. Most notably, Martin Stephan and his fellow Saxons are not listed and there are also many missing names among the emigrants from Posen. By comparison to the emigration numbers, the population of Pomerania in 1855 was 1,289,134. Ironically, religious persecution soon came to an end in Prussia. King Friedrich Wilhelm III died in 1840 and was succeeded by Friedrich Wilhelm IV. He disagreed with previous policies, freed pastors from prison, and restored religious freedom over a period of years. However, the Old Lutherans had already lost their churches, sold farms and homes, they were not allowed to call themselves Lutherans, and the distrust was so strong that many continued to emigrate until 1854. Those Old Lutherans that stayed in Prussia formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Prussia which retained its identity until 1972 when it merged with other Lutherans of Germany. Prussia became a state in the unified Germany in 1871.