Today’s title is a mouthful in the German language. Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft is a German term that gets translated as “emigration society” in English. I have often used the scaled-down version of this term, Gesellschaft, in several posts when describing the basic group that consisted of the immigrants, their leadership, and the way they were governed and organized. As near as I can tell, the Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft had its official beginning when a committee met on May 18, 1838 in Germany.
The leader of this organization from the very get-go was Rev. Martin Stephan.
Several other clergymen joined Rev. Stephan, and this group managed to gather about 700 German Lutherans to be a part of this organization. Their purpose was to leave Germany because as they were told, mainly by Rev. Stephan himself, that “No hope remains for maintaining the Lutheran Church in our land.” As was stated in their “Emigration Code”:
“Their place of settlement in the United States of America shall be chosen in one of the Western States: in Missouri or Illinois, or perhaps in Indiana.”
One aspect of the Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft was that there was to be a pooling of the people’s resources with the purpose of paying the expenses of the trip, the purchase of land in America, and the beginning of churches and schools in their new home. This is what is stated in the Emigration Code:
“The undersigned bind themselves for five years jointly to raise all church and community expenditures, as these will be fixed from year to year by a committee to be established by church and community. Each one shall contribute in proportion to his means.”
Quite a bit of money was gathered from the people who were going to emigrate to the United States. In our museum, we have on display the chest where this money was placed. This chest traveled to America aboard the Olbers, the ship on which Rev. Stephan was a passenger. Here is a photo of that chest.
I have had the occasion to help carry this chest. Even with two people lifting, plus the fact that it is now empty, it is a challenge to pick it up. It is hard to imagine how much it must have weighed when it was full. As near as I can tell, there was no German paper money in those days, so it must have been full of metal coins. Here is an enlargement of the caption that can be found with the chest in our museum.
As you can see, it says that in 1839, the Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft brought what amounted to $88,000 with them in their treasury. If you translate that into today’s money values, it calculates to be about $2 million.
Unfortunately, this fund was apparently greatly mismanaged by the leadership of the Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft, who were primarily members of the clergy. I will not dwell on those gruesome details today, but the bottom line is that by the time the immigrants arrived in Perry County, this money chest was about empty. Here is a page from the Book of Accounts that has been preserved over the years.
It was not long after arriving in America before the way the immigrants were going to be organized was changed dramatically. Instead of a system in which the clergy had almost all the control of the purse strings, it became a system which was much more aligned to American principles where the people had a voice in how their community money, especially in their churches, was going to be handled.
I will now take off my blog-writing hat and put on the hat I wear as the President of the Perry County Lutheran Historical Society. In that position, I am one of several people who is given the task of making sure our organization is operated responsibly. Just like the original Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft, our organization is one where we rely on people to contribute to our fund in order to keep our organization running properly. To put this in very simple words, we are always in need of money. The only way we will get any is if we ask for it, and in a way, that is what I am doing today.
The Perry County Lutheran Historical Society operates the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum. Many people think that since we have “Lutheran” in our name and are located across the parking lot from a Lutheran church that is part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, we must be subsidized by the LCMS. That is by no means the case. We do not get one penny from any Lutheran church body. We rely entirely upon people like you to support our organization. There are several ways that people help us right now.
- Visitors to our museum voluntary place donations into a box located in our lobby. We absolutely refuse to charge admission to visit our museum.
- Visitors purchase items in our gift shop. A percentage of those sales help support our museum.
- Individuals send us donations because they want to support our mission.
- People remember our organization when they are making end-of-life decisions.
- We have many volunteers who work at our museum, donating their valuable time which translates into saved money.
Before I go on, let me just mention why we need money at our museum.
- We have two paid workers, so there is some payroll to be handled.
- We have to pay the bills. In order to preserve our artifacts, we must maintain a climate-controlled environment. This involves heating and air conditioning, but also humidity control. We have pretty sizable utilities bills.
- There are costs for maintaining our property, inside and out. That maintenance includes preserving two log cabins.
- There are costs for providing the services we make accessible in our research library.
Not long ago, our museum’s board of directors began a new fund-raising program that we just so happened to name the Gesellschaft. As was the case in 1838, it is still necessary for us to rely on the ongoing support from people who want to support our mission of preserving the history of East Perry County. The Gesellschaft is a program in which we ask people to support our organization in a regular way. Participants in this program donate to our museum and are willing to receive gentle reminders from our director once or twice a year asking them to once again consider a donation. This program has already been a wonderful blessing to us, but we would love to have more people participate.
If you would kindly consider participating, you can do so in the following ways.
- You can send an e-mail to our director, Carla Jordan, asking for information. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
- You can call our museum between the hours of 10 am till 4 pm and ask for information about the Gesellschaft.
- You can make donations through our website. Click on the “Support PCLHS” tab on the menu. It will give a link to our Online Store which uses Square technology to enable people to donate using a credit card.
I promise to not put on my President’s hat on this blog too often, but I feel that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t doing all I could to help maintain our organization. And, by the way, you can also contribute to our organization by continuing to read this blog and telling others to do the same.