John Fred William Riepe & Anna Wilhelmina [Luetger] Riepe Joseph Creighton Riepe, Sr. Bertha Fredericka [Riepe] Lord Ruby Fern Riepe & Otis Wendell Riepe Sophia [Peine] Riepe Josephine Catherine [Riepe] Ernst  







Why They Left

Germans emigrated for a variety of related reasons.  Most were economical, as people, especially the lower class rural farmers, found they could not adequately live and feed their families.  Economic depression on the farms was due largely to agricultural failures and the introduction of machinery.  Farmers in particular relied on spinning and weaving as their primary source of income during the winter, but with the advent of English machinery which could produce woven materials much faster, farmers found they could not compete.  In addition, Germany was overpopulated and land was scarce.  Family farms had been repeatedly subdivided and given to children, to the point where it was no longer large enough nor profitable enough to support a family. With their livelihoods in ruin, the promise of cheap and fertile land in America was a major temptation.  In the mid 1800's, political and religious differences were also a leading cause of German emigration.

When They Left and Where They Settled

 1682 William Penn traveled throughout Germany, spreading the word that Germans who desired a better life were welcome in his colony of Philadelphia.  
 1709-1710 The first Germans to flee their homeland were the Palatines, from the Palatine region in central Germany.  
 1728 In the early 1700's, many Germans arrived in Philadelphia, PA, a primary port of entry for German immigrants.  Many of these immigrants began settling the farmlands of Pennsylvania.  By 1728, Germans had begun moving southward into the western counties of Maryland.  
 1807 Germans began entering America in large numbers.
 1820-1830 One of the largest waves of German immigration to America, many settling in the Great Lakes area.
 1851-1855 A second major wave of German emigration to America took place, due largely to uprisings in German states from circa late 1840's-1851.
 1860's-1870's Severe drought caused agricultural failures and food shortages in Germany.  This, coupled with land available in America being advertised throughout much of Europe, drove more Germans to emigrate.  German immigration shifted from mainly farmers and peasants to more intellectuals, artisans, and industrial workers.  By 1880, Germans were one of the most prominent immigrant  groups in America.  Many worked as carpenters, tailors, and tradesmen in the thriving cities in America.
 1882-1885 A peak year for post-Civil War immigration, after which German immigration began to decline.  By 1885 most of the large waves of Germans had ended, as Germany grew into an industrial and prosperous nation.

The Emigration Process

People who desired to leave were required to apply for a “release from the Prussian community of subjects”.  This was done through the senior civil servant of the district in which the person lived.  Information such as names, birth dates, military duties, and existing debts (the payment of which many tried to escape), was recorded and the application was sent to the government of the administrative district in Minden.  The application was reviewed and a release certificate or license and a travelling pass were issued and sent back to the applicant.  Once the applicant paid any dues and back debts, he/she was free to leave the country.

Next, the emigrant would sell most of his/her possessions, usually because they were physically unable to transport them, but sometimes, possessions were sold to in order to acquire the money necessary to pay for the voyage.  Some individuals borrowed money from relatives, with the intention of paying them back when they "made it" in America.  Emigrants usually travelled as steerage passengers, which cost about $16 from Bremen to America.  Bremen was the main port of departure for German emigrants bound for America.  Emigrants thus began their journey via boat, and later by railway, to Bremen.  Ships leaving Bremen travelled north up the Weser River to the North Sea and on to America, sometimes stopping in Southampton, England.  (see Ships pages for further information).

Brave and Bold

The decision to emigrate was nothing short of a brave and bold move. Many rural Prussians rarely ventured beyond their own villages and districts and only knew areas they could reach on foot.  Usually final, emigration meant leaving behind lands they knew and loved ones who would not leave, or who could not afford to leave.  These brave souls faced a long and often dangerous sea voyage and an uncertain future in America where, though they would be free, life was not without its hardships.  Indians, natural disasters, and disease took many lives.

Many emigrants knew little English, if any.  Logically, they preferred to settle together, in areas where friends and/or relatives had already settled.  Here, they were among family and friends who not only spoke the same language, but who usually were more than willing to help support them in starting their new lives.  Many German immigrants settling in the Great Lakes region arrived through the port of New Orleans, LA and then travelled up the Mississippi River.  Quincy, IL, situated on the banks of the Mississippi, was one of the initial areas settled, mainly by emigrants from Herford, and in particular, from Elverdissen.  In 1851 in Quincy, they established their own church, St. James (St. Jacobi) Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Several of our Riepe ancestors settled initially in Quincy and were members of this church.

The ultimate goal of most of our immigrant ancestors was to acquire their own land or farm. In America, they were able to purchase farmland cheaply from the government, but it required immense effort and time to clear and cultivate.  Until time allowed them to build log homes, families lived in "soddies", homes made of strips of sod cut into "bricks", which were stacked to form the walls of the soddy.  On the prairies, lumber for building a log cabin was scarce, and many families just continued to live in soddies.  Roofs were generally constructed of layers of brush, grass, coarse hay, willowy branches, and a thin layer of sod, and were interlaced with rafter poles.  In spring and summer, bright "gardens" of flowers often bloomed on the roofs. Though warm in the winter and cool in the summer, a soddy was not always the most comfortable place to live.  Most  were only one room, usually 12 x 14 feet or 16 x 20 feet.  Families were constantly pestered by snakes and other small animals who quickly found the walls of soddies quite cozy and suitable for building their own homes.  Soddy roofs leaked terribly when it rained, often drenching everything inside.  The floors were generally dirt, though in areas where wood was more plentiful, planks were cut and laid down as flooring.  Internal walls were sometimes plastered and doors and windows were built into the walls.

A typical soddy home, circa 1880
(from Prairie Visions

Hurricanes, tornados, floods, draughts, locust plagues, and other natural disasters wiped out crops and homes.  Many immigrants who experienced such disasters were forced to start over again.  Indian attacks were a constant threat, as was disease.  However, the Germans were a hardy people who were used to farming and hard work, and thus, they forged ahead and made a life for themselves in their new country.  Despite the hardships and hard times, food was generally plentiful, the immigrants were able to own land, and opportunity was great.  This was more than their old homeland could offer.


Copyright © 2000-2010 Anne S. Riepe.  All rights reserved.
Last modified:  Friday, February 05, 2010 08:54 PM