In a recent series of posts about the deep history of Schönecken, Germany, I covered the human history and prehistory of the area from when Neanderthals roamed the area in the Middle Paleolithic (roughly 200,000–40,000 years ago) until the European Potato Failure of 1845–1846 caused famine across the continent. You can review that history here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Now that we know what was happening and when in Schönecken’s history, let’s review my Franz Gores’ decision to emigrate from the land where his forebears had lived for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Franz Gores was born on June 2, 1826, in the Schönecken area to Nicholas Gores (1800–1867) and Susanna (Wallerius) Gores (1799–?). The Gores, like everyone in Schönecken, were Catholic, and they had young Franz baptized at the church in Wetteldorf the day after he was born, on June 3, 1826.
Before we go any further into Franz’s life, let’s take a look at the lives of his parents: Nicholas Gores and Susanna Wallerius, who were both born at the very end of the 18th century in Schönecken.
His father Nicholas Gores (1800–1867)
Nicholas was born on March 29, 1800, during the period in which Schönecken was part of France, in the Département de la Sarre. French nobility flocked to Schönecken and surrounding areas in 1791 to escape the French Revolution, and by 1792, the area around Schönecken was under French occupation. The area would formally be annexed by France in 1797 as a result of the Treaty of Campo Formio. Schönecken would remain under formal French control until 1814, but under practical French control until 1818, so for the entirety of Nicholas’ childhood, he was a German-speaking citizen of France.
Nicholas was the fourth child and third son of Martin Gores and Anna Catharina (Gottlein) Gores, who themselves had been born and married in Schönecken. Martin and Anna Gores had nine children together:
- Franz Josep Gores (born October 29, 1793)
- Maria Catharina Gores (born March 4, 1796)
- Theodor Gores (born February 19, 1798)
- Nicholas Gores (born March 29, 1800)
- Susanna Gores (born March 28, 1803)
- Magdalena Gores (born August 26, 1805)
- Friederich Gores (born November 7, 1807)
- Maria Magdalena Gores (born March 14, 1810)
- Anna Catharina Gores (born ca. 1811)
Martin and Anna’s youngest daughter at the time, Susanna, died on March 8, 1805, just shy of her first birthday, when Nicholas was not quite five years old. Anna was four months pregnant with their next child (Magdalena) when Susanna died. Magdalena was born five months later, and then son Friederich was both two years after that. Magdalena only lived to be 3½ years old and died on May 9, 1809, when Nicholas was 9 years old. Martin and Anna’s next child, Marie Magdalena, was born 10 months after Magdalena died. Martin and Anna’s youngest child, Anna Catharina, was born in 1811.
While the loss of two children from 1805–1809 was devastating for the family, their family’s situation would soon get much worse. Martin and Anna’s son Friederich lived to be only 4½ years old and died on March 3, 1812, when Nicholas was 11 years old. Their youngest child, Anna Catharina died less than three weeks later aged just 1 year on March 21, 1812. That same day, Nicholas’ mother Anna Catharina died, aged 41. Nicholas’ father Martin was left alone with five children: Franz Josep (18), Maria Catharina (16), Theodor (14), Nicholas (11), and Maria Magdalena (2).
Within nine months, the 49-year-old Martin was married again, to a 30-year-old woman named Anna Lucia Pint. The couple were married on December 3, 1812, in Schönecken. The world grew darker and colder than normal in earliest February 1814 as ash from the explosion of the Mayon volcano in the Philippines began obscuring the sun. Martin and Anna’s family would have had little idea why the skies were darker, nor would they have realized it marked the beginning of the Great Famine of 1815–1816. The effects of this famine would devastate their family.
On December 11, 1814, a little over two years after they were married, Martin and second wife Anna welcomed their daughter Margaretha to the world. Nicholas’ stepmother Anna died just nine days after giving birth to their new daughter. Nicholas was just 14 years old. Baby Margaretha died a year later on December 17, 1815, just days after her first birthday. Six months later, on May 6, 1816, their 6-year-old daughter Maria Magdalena died. Nicholas was barely 16 years old.
In the space of 11 years—from when he was 5 years old until he was 16 years old—Nicholas lost his mother, his stepmother, his younger brother, his four younger sisters, and his baby half-sister. I haven’t found recorded causes of death, but the later deaths seem almost certainly due to the Great Famine of 1815–1816, and the earlier deaths were likely due to famine, poverty, and disease. Not only would this have been emotionally devastating for Nicholas and his family, but the fact that it all happened during the period that Schönecken was annexed by Napoleonic France could not have improved their attitude towards France, despite their shared Catholicism.
During this chaotic time, the Prussian king authorized a law that required for universal male conscription into the Prussian military. When a Prussian man turned 20, he was to be drafted into three years of compulsory service in the standing army, after which he spent two years in the active reserve, then seven years in the first levy of the Landwehr (which would be called to serve with the field army during a time of war), then seven years in the second levy of the Landwehr (which during a time of war would occupy fortresses and perform duties of home defense). While Schönecken was not yet part of Prussia, the 1814–1815 Congress of Vienna and the subsequent 1815 Treaty of Vienna made it clear that the Grand Duchy of the Lower Rhine to which Schönecken belonged, would be annexed by Prussia. If Nicholas followed the news of the time, he would have been aware that his future and the future of any sons he had would be inextricably linked to Prussia’s military.
His mother Susanna Wallerius (ca. 1799– ? )
Susanna was the eldest child of Johann Wilhelm Wallerius and Anna Maria Munkler, who had both also been born, raised, and married in Schönecken. Susanna’s father Johann had first married Anna Regina Gegen in Schönecken on May 8, 1781. Four years later, the couple had their first child—a boy named Ferdinand who was born on September 20, 1785. Their next three children all died very young between 1793 and 1795: Maria Clara (March 18 1790–August 27, 1793), Franz Georg (April 1–April 12, 1793), and Susanna (June 1, 1794–March 11, 1795). On April 1, 1798, three years after the death of their youngest child, Susanna, mother Anna Regina (Gegen) Wallerius herself died, aged 41.
Susanna’s father Johann was left a widower with a 13-year-old son Ferdinand. Johann quickly remarried a 35-year-old woman named Margaretha (“Anna Maria”) Munckler, who had been born in Eschfield, a small town 12 miles west of Schönecken. Anna Maria was pregnant by June 5, 1798. Susanna was born on March 5, 1799, and was almost certainly named after Anna Maria’s mother Susanna Munckler. Only 6 months after giving birth to Susanna, Anna Maria was once again pregnant, this time with twin girls. Seven months into the pregnancy, Susanna’s father Johann died at age 42, leaving a 15-year-old son Ferdinand, a 9-month-old daughter Susanna, and a 37-year-old wife who was 6 months pregnant with twins. Anna Maria gave birth to twin daughters Margaretha and Maria Catharina on July 29, 1800. Less than two months after giving birth to her twin daughters, and 16 months after her husband Johann died, Anna Maria herself died at age 38.
I do not yet know where or how the now-orphaned Susanna and her three siblings spent the rest of their childhood.
The family of Nicholas and Susanna Gores
Nicholas Gores and Susanna Wallerius had both been raised in Schönecken as German-speaking citizens of France, had both lived through times of incredible famine and poverty, and had both seen many members of their immediate families die as a result of the difficult living conditions. They certainly would have had a lot in common that may have helped draw them closer.
Nicholas and Susanna got married in Schönecken on June 27, 1822, when she was 23 years old and he was 22 years old. A year later, Nicholas and Susanna welcomed the birth of their first child, Martinus Gores, on July 4, 1823.
Nicholas and Susanna Gores had seven children together over the next 14 years:
- Johann Josep Gores (born October 19, 1824)
- Franz Gores (born June 3, 1826)
- Maria Anna Gores (born January 31, 1828)
- Martin Gores (born February 3, 1830)
- Anna Catharina Gores (born August 12, 1832)
- Margaret Gores (born June 2, 1834)
- Nicolas Gores (born July 11, 1837)
All of their children were born in Schönecken and baptized in the church in Wetteldorf. Their youngest daughter Margaret died on December 6, 1834, when she was only six months old. Their youngest son Nicolas died on November 20, 1839, when he was just 2½ years old. Their five eldest children all survived into adulthood.
The childhood years of Nicholas and Susanna Gores’ children
The Gores children grew up during a period of political and religious tension. Schönecken and the rest of what were now the western provinces of Prussia had never been part of Prussia before they became Prussian in 1818, and the citizens of these western provinces were regarded as outsiders by the rest of Prussia. Furthermore, Schönecken’s populace was primarily Roman Catholic, and their new king, Frederick William III, who ruled over the region from 1818 to 1840, was not sympathetic to its Catholic subjects. He sought to unite the country’s Lutherans and Calvinists into a united Evangelical Christian Church to present a united front against the Catholic Church.
In addition to being regarded as politically and religiously alien, the Gores family appear to have experienced another year of food shortages while the Gores children were young, as the Schönecken.com notes that 1831 was ‘another year of famine and hardship in the Eifel mountains’ (“Ein weiteres Hunger- und Notjahr in der Eifel”).
Although the Gores children were young during this time, they would have been aware of the hardships and would have witnessed the tension that the adults of the town felt due to being newly Prussian. Such tension and hardships can leave a lasting impression on young children.
Added to this was the ongoing threat of compulsory Prussian military service for men between the ages of 20 and 39. Their father Nicholas saw the end of his two decades of military service to Prussia in 1839, but his three eldest sons were about to start their military service in 1843, 1844, and 1846.
Nicholas’ father Martin Gores, a widower for 30 years after losing both of his wives from 1812–1814 and six of his children from 1805–1816, died on June 21, 1844, at the age of 80 years. The deaths of his wives and children were almost certainly due in part to the crop failures, the Great Famine, and the extreme weather changes during 1814–1816.
As a reminder, here is an account from Schönecken.com about the effects of the Great Famine on Schönecken (translation mine):
After the failed harvests of 1815 and 1816, grain prices rose by more than 100% in 1816, and wheat was no longer traded on the market in Prüm. People baked bread from rotten potatoes and overcooked turnips. Extreme famine broke out in the districts of Daun and Prüm. In those years, the infant mortality rate was very high. Poor associations were formed everywhere and in the Trier district donations were made for the needy Eifel population. Prussia even bought wheat from Russia to alleviate the need, but the deliveries came far too late.
Soon after the end of the Great Famine, wolf attacks on children began to happen throughout the Eifel. These continued for 20 years, until an Order was decreed in 1838 compelling communities to undertake wolf hunts to stop the attacks. My ancestor Franz and his siblings would have only known a world filled with fear of wolf attacks until he was 12 years old.
Due to encouragement from the Prussian government, and possibly partly in response to the crop failures of 1815–1816, most farmers in the Eifel focused on growing potatoes. This heavy reliance on a single crop caused widespread famine and death in 1845 and 1846 as potato blight struck the Eifel and greatly reduced potato harvests.
In 1847, when the Gores children were reaching adulthood, another series of crises befell Prussia and many of the German states: catastrophic crop failures, bread riots, economic recession, and government incapability. These hardships sparked the German revolutions of 1848–1849, called the March Revolution. Protestors demanded pan-German civil rights, a constitution, and a greater voice in government. The King Frederick William IV initially yielded to the protesters’ demands, but then clamped down on public demonstrations. This led to a stand-off between police and protestors that led to hundreds of civilian deaths. Within a week, the Kaiser agreed to convene a National Assembly to work on German unification and to draft a more liberal constitution. His initial promises did not bear out, and the King of Prussia used military force to crush the revolutionaries throughout the German Confederation.
In 1848, Prussia went to war (the First Schleswig War) in southern Denmark. The war would end up lasting three years and represented a decisive Prussian defeat with over 8,300 Prussians killed, wounded, or captured. This must have been concerning for the three eldest Gores sons, who would all have been of mandatory conscription age during this war.
During this time (actually, going back to the Prussian tax reforms of 1820), the Gores family would have also be burdened by oppressive and regressive taxation, a situation that led another local man who was just 8 years older that my ancestor Franz Gores—Karl Marx—to speak up politically and draft the Communist Manifesto as a way to protect Prussian workers from the predations of the wealthy and powerful1With radical demands that included a progressive income tax, the abolition of child labor, and free public education..
Among the taxes that the Gores family had to pay were the milling and slaughter tax (Mahl- und Schlachtsteuer), which taxed consumer staples like wheat flour, rye flour, pork, beef, potatoes, and butter. Because people needed generally the same amount of food to eat, regardless of their income level, and because poorer families paid a much higher percentage of their money in taxes on these staples, this was a notoriously regressive tax. The class tax (Klassensteuer) was levied on adults between the ages of 16 and 60. The class tax divided all Prussian citizens except nobility into five broad classes:
- Wealthiest citizens
- Wealthy bourgeois
- Moderately wealthy bourgeois
- Poorer bourgeois, farmers, and tradesmen
- Day laborers, servants, and wage workers
The nobility did not have to pay a class tax, nor did most citizens living in large cities. All other Prussian households had to pay one of five flat amounts depending on which ‘class’ they were. Farmers all had to pay the same flat rate, regardless of whether their crops failed or whether they were unable to sell their crops for a fair price. Tax assessments were based on income obtained during ‘normal’ years, and were not revised in response to annual fluctuations in income. What this meant was that if taxes were difficult to pay during a normal year, they became impossible to pay during any of the frequent crop failure years. But, as the taxes still had to be paid, poorer families would be forced to either sell land or equipment necessary to farm the land or to take out private loans at often usurious interest rates to pay their tax assessment.
The taxes didn’t end there. There were also land value taxes (on the value of undeveloped land), taxes on financial transactions, inheritance taxes, and more. Additionally, the money that Prussia generated from these taxes was supposed to be filtered back down to pay for local expenses like parish priests and public school teachers. However, the money allocated to supporting these positions was often insufficient, so local parishes and school districts had to levy additional taxes to make up the difference.
The cost of firewood became another unexpected drain on the family budget. Just a generation earlier, any family that needed wood for burning could just go to the local community forests and harvest dead wood. With the local forests having all been clearcut to supply charcoal for iron smelting over the past several decades, wood became a commodity that families had to purchase or barter for. Wood was needed not only for cooking and baking, but also for heating during the final years of the Little Ice Age (which didn’t end until about 1850), this placed an additional unsustainable economic burden on poor, rural families.
One final economic factor of the mid-19th century in the Schönecken area is Prussia’s refusal to maintain, improve, or build roads in the Eifel region, despite their extreme degradation during times of war. While this may not seem consequential, it effectively locked the rural population of Schönecken into poverty. Families would feed themselves by growing their own food and making their own butter. In good years when a family produced more than they needed, they might hope to sell their surplus to have money to set aside for leaner times. The market for these surpluses wasn’t other Schönecken area farmers, but was instead those who lived in towns and cities. As local farmers couldn’t get goods to markets in nearby towns and cities, poorer families weren’t able to realize this extra income.
The older Gores siblings—Franz, Johann, and Maria, all in their mid- to late 20s by 1854—would have been all too aware of the hardships faced by their parents, and that they, too, would likely have to have when they married and tried to raise their own families.
Intergenerational poverty, recurring famines, compulsory military service, a militaristic nation that seemed eager for war, regressive taxes, and no clear way to climb out of poverty given the lack of modern infrastructure in the Eifel must have presented a bleak view of the future for the Gores siblings.
There appears to have been light at the end of the tunnel, however, that came in the form of letters written home from family members or acquaintances that left for America and wrote letters home about how much better life was in America. I do not yet know who specifically the Gores heard from in America, but hope to investigate this angle further.
These letters from America were proving so successful in tempting others to emigrate from Prussia to the U.S. that on March 15, 1852, the Board of Directors of the Central Association for German Emigration and Colonization Affairs (Verwaltungsrat des zentral-vereins für die Deutsche Auswanderungs- und Kolonisations-Angelegenheiten) wrote an open appeal entitled “To all who want to emigrate” in which they tried to convince Prussians that the climate in America wasn’t as good as letter-writers reported, that the potential for profit wasn’t as high as letter-writers reported, that the available jobs weren’t as good as letter-writers reported, that Catholic priests weren’t as good as in Prussia, that medical doctors weren’t as good as in Prussia, that fever and sickness were widespread, and that emigrants would feel like they were abandoned in a lonely jungle with no one to help them and with no one who spoke their language.
The letter went on to state that people receiving such letters from abroad shouldn’t trust them, as the letter-writers may be lying to them, passing on unverified hearsay stories, or may actually be from agents of shipping companies trying to drum up business. The letter ends with this all-caps, bold-letter admonition: “STAY IN THE COUNTRY AND FEED YOURSELF HONESTLY!”
The letter failed to stem the tide of Western Prussians wishing to emigrate to the United States.
In a comprehensive study of all documented emigrants, legal and illegal, from the Prüm District during the 19th century2Mergen, Josef (1953) Die Amerika-Auswanderung aus dem Kreis Prüm im 19. Jahrhundert., the Gores siblings were not listed among the names of those who had applied for permission to emigrate. Thus, they either applied for emigration permission in a different district (which seems unlikely, as their home district would still have been sent paperwork in that case), or they left without seeking official permission to emigrate. For now, I’ll assume the latter.
According to a list on the schoenecken.com, eldest sibling Johann emigrated illegally (“illegal ausgewandert”) and he was found on a list of conscientious objectors and deserters (“gefunden in Liste Réfractaire/Déserteure 1850-1901”). The list states that he was ‘refractory’ (“Réfractair 1858”—either a draft evader or a conscientious objector in 1858), so he was clearly in communication with the German authorities long after he arrived in the United States. This same list states that he died before 1863 (“vor 1863 verstorben”), which appears to be gleaned from the same list of deserters referenced above. Johann did not actually die until 1909, so perhaps he had his father or another relative report to the German authorities that he had died in America, to avoid potential future problems?
The excellent MigraBase database (http://www.wgff-migrabase.de/) lists no members of the Gores family or allied families (Linden, Wallerius, Munckler, or Gottlein) from the Schönecken/Wetteldorf area who travelled to America before the Gores siblings did so in 1854
This combination of hardship, famine, poverty, overtaxation, and compulsory military service obligations that had been endured for at least two generations may have provided the impetus to try to start afresh in America. Letters home from as-yet-unidentified family or friends may have provided strong motivation to follow through on these plans.
Whatever the cause, the Gores siblings were not alone in wanting to flee Prussia at this time. According to a timeline on Schoenecken.com, an unexpected wave of emigration to the New World began around 1847–1850, with over 260 people leaving the Schönecken area for America:
um 1850: Eine ungeahnte Auswanderungswelle in die neue Welt setzt ein. Weit über 250 Personen aus Schönecken wandern zwischen 1847 und 1922 nach Amerika aus, Wetteldorf (38), Seiwerath (7), Lasel (20), Nimhuscheid (19), Wawern (20), Feuerscheid (43) und anderen Orten der Umgebung (115).
I have found scant evidence for the family in Prussia or Germany after the death of son Nicolaus on November 20, 1839. Some genealogists claim that Nicholas’ parents—Martin Gores and Anna Catharina (Gottlein) Gores—died in 1850, but no evidence is presented in support of this claim. Nicholas himself appears to have remained in Schönecken with his and two youngest children, as church records in the archives of the Trier Diocese show that he was buried in Wetteldorf (less than ½ mile south of Schönecken) on June 2, 1867.
The three oldest Gores siblings—30-year-old Johann, 27-year-old Franz, and 25-year-old Maria—appear to have made their way to Prüm, just 4 miles northwest of Schönecken, and from there took a train to Aachen via Glaadt via Montjoie (now Monschau). At Aachen, they would have transferred to the Cologne–Antwerp mainline train.
Once in Antwerp, the the three Gores siblings boarded the William Laytin, a sailing ship taking 490 passengers to New York, where they would land on May 26th. The three siblings are listed on the passenger list. Johann was listed as having been a butcher (“Metzger”), and Franz was listed as having been a farmer (“Landwirt”) before they emigrated. No occupation was listed for Maria.
The passengers on the William Laytin were from Switzerland and Prussia, with a handful from the Netherlands, Belgium, and “Germania.” No one was listed as having died on the journey. The ship reached Castle Island, New York, on May 26, 1854. The ship was a very new ship, having just been built in Williamsburgh, New York, in 1854 to take cargo to Antwerp and to return with passengers. If not the return trip of its maiden voyage, the William Laytin was certainly on one of its earliest voyages when the Gores siblings sailed on her to the United States.
The Gores siblings continued from New York to the Minnesota Territory, settling in the Hampton township of Dakota County.
Their younger sibling Martin stayed in Schönecken and was married to Magdalena Nicolai on December 20, 1855, but later emigrated with his entire family in 1868. Younger sister Anna Catherina also emigrated at some point, as she wrote her will on December 10, 1896, in Hastings, Minnesota. Mother Susanna (Wallerius) Gores is also reputed to have emigrated to the U.S. and died in Minnesota, but I have so far found no evidence of this.
I’ll tell the story of the Gores’ siblings early years in America in a future post, but I can tell you this—life in America turned out better for Gores than they could have reasonably hoped.