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Hoffmann’s verse reveals skepticism for emigration plan

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Possibly you, as I, have never heard of August Heinrich Hoffmann (von Fallersleben) (1798-1874). A renowned German poet, Hoffmann had a philosophy of freedom that was one of the strong factors leading to emigration to Texas from Germany.

The translated poems and the info for this article were sent to me by Dr. Robert Govier who had received the poem from a mutual friend of ours, Dr. Preston Kronkosky (both NBHS graduates).Govier has translated letters found in Volume 9 from the Prince Solms papers and they are available at the Sophienburg.

One of the poems, “Ein Guadalupelied” (A Guadalupe Song) was written by Hoffmann somewhere between 1841-45, about the time that the immigration plan to Texas was begun.

“In the Valley of the Guadalupe
There is no Master and Servant;
No one becomes Despotism’s Victim,
We all are free People,
We all have one Law, one System of Justice .” (excerpt)

Hoffmann was never in Texas, and yet we may glean something of the German mind at the time when we realize the themes in the poem. They advocate a classless society without nobles, a government with severely limited authority, and individual freedom of thought. Govier believes that Hoffmann thought that these ideals could not be achieved as long as nobles were in charge of the emigration project.

In 1818 when Hoffmann was a university student, he joined a secret fraternity rebelling against the status quo, using the power of the pen in journalism. German scholars call this group “young Germany” and students and intellectuals belonged to it. They wanted freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, emancipation of women, and a united constitutional Germany. In the 1840s, Germany consisted of two kingdoms (Prussia and Austria) and possibly 37 Principalities of which Solms-Braunfels was one. The ruling nobles were still desperately trying to hold on to their power, resisting a unified Germany and individual freedoms.

The freedom movement brought about by the French and American Revolutions had an effect on German society. Whereas the Adelsverein (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas) was organized in 1842 by 21 noblemen and was interested in relieving over-population in Germany and establishing a market for German industry overseas, most of the German immigrants were interested in freedom and a fresh start in Texas. After unsuccessful previous Texas land negotiations, the Adelsverein sent Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfelsto Texas in 1844 to pave the way for the first group of immigrants. He purchased 1,111 acres of land along the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers (NB). The Adelsverein was very successful in convincing the Germans to emigrate and in December of 1844, the first group of an estimated eventual 6,000 arrived on the coast at Indianola and made their way inland to NB and the “Valley of the Guadalupe”.

The first settlers to the colony of NB reached the banks of the Guadalupe River on Good Friday, March 21, 1845, and by so doing, accomplished their first step toward freedom and liberty.

The rest of the story reveals that probably because of poor management and lack of understanding of a frontier, the Adelsverein had financial problems from the start and went bankrupt by 1853. Basically the immigrants were on their own. The Count of Castell, as a representative of the Adelsverein, approached Hoffmann in 1846 with a deed to 300 acres of land if he would go to Texas, but he refused. The Adelsverein wanted Hoffmann’s approval of the project, thereby getting the approval of the German people. Hoffmann had written a poem called “The German National Treasury” in which his feelings about the immigration project were revealed, full of sarcasm and satire. He reflects that although the peoples’ longing for liberty and freedom caused them to emigrate, he is skeptical about the venture due to the Adelsverein’s motivation for the project.

Hoffmann’s poems are written in German script (Fraktur) and this form of writing, although beautiful, was abandoned even in Germany. The Sophienburg is looking for anyone who can read this script and help translate. Contact director@sophienburg.com

“The Guadalupeleid” by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben