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“Tenax propositi” or “finish what you begin”

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach (later John O. Meusebach) and Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels represented two philosophies and cultures of Germany in the early 1800s. Prince Carl was a feudalistic, aristocratic, ultraconservative wanting no change in the politics of Germany. It was a collection of feudal kingdoms. Prince Carl was chosen as the commissioner general of the Adelsverein, a group of aristocrats who formed an organization for the purpose of sending immigrants to Texas. Meusebach was the second commissioner general. He was one of the young Germans that wanted the unification of the Germanic states. This would, of course, take away the rule by the individual aristocrats.

Prince Carl’s background was one of military schooling emphasizing the strict following of rules. His was raised as an aristocrat in a German state where the aristocracy made all the decisions for everyone.

John O. Meusebach, although from a family of aristocrats, his name after all was Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach, grew up in a household of intellectuals. Students, university professors, artists, musicians, scientists, and philosophers were frequent visitors. The Grimm brothers, Alexander Humbolt, the poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben. were all part of a group of friends of Meusebach’s father. They were a group that could basically be called free-thinkers. The group believed in individual freedom, freedom for all, separation of church and state, and freedom from oppression. They were against military conscription. Fallersleben’s poem about Texas, although he had never been there, tells it all:

The world with its joys
Is a spring gone dry.
Without freedom, the fountainhead
Of virtue and of light. (Translated from German)

Upon their departure to Texas, Fallersleben wrote “The Star of Texas” as follows:

Off to Texas
Where the star in the blue field
Proclaimed a new world

Prince Carl and the members of the Adelsverein advertised land in the Republic of Texas. The Adelsverein hoped to establish a market for German goods. They envisioned a colony in Texas to be another German state. The idea of individual freedom was not at the top of the list.

But it took a certain type of person to immigrate to Texas. They had to give up everything back home and strike out into unknown territory. Prince Carl played a large part in organizing the immigration. Once he got here though, his aristocratic philosophy did not work. The military uniform did not help the immigrants farm. Lucky for them, many were farmers back in Germany.

Many Americans found Prince Carl comical with his mannerisms and his garb of the old military uniform, the hat with the rooster feathers and the sword hanging around his waist. Much has been written about how the prince had no admiration for the Americans and Texans. Mentally, put yourself in frontier Texas and imagine what Prince Carl would look like to you. He also had 20 soldiers dressed in the same manner.

Prince Carl stayed in Texas two months after the immigrants crossed the Guadalupe and right before he left NB, he raised an Austrian flag on the grounds of the Sophienburg Hill and shot off the cannon. Is that symbolic? At the same time, a group of immigrants went to the Main Plaza and raised the flag of the Republic of Texas. The “off with the old, on with the new” philosophy is pretty clear. Once the immigrants had a taste of their own destiny and freedom, there was no turning back.

When he arrived in Texas, Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach dropped his old name, changed it to John O. Meusebach, thereby declaring his transition to a new way of life.

Let’s look back at the events leading up to Meusebach’s arrival. Meusebach had been lead to believe that the immigration project was extremely successful and that the finances were in good shape. He was to meet with Prince Carl who would show him the financial status of the project. Unfortunately, the prince did not meet Meusebach when he arrived in Galveston. Instead, D.H. Klaerner, agent for the Verein in Galveston met Meusebach and told him of the dire financial straits, about drafts and overdrafts coming into his office.

Klaerner said that with the five Bremen ships arriving in July, November and December, 1844, only 200 out of the 439 immigrants had actually survived and reached New Braunfels.

Meusebach was then determined to take the same route from Galveston as the immigrants, and all along the way to the settlement of New Braunfels, he was presented with bills from people who found out he represented the Adelsverein.

When he got to New Braunfels, he went to present himself to the prince only to be told by J. Jean von Coll, treasurer of the Adelsverein, that the prince had left to go back to Germany. When asked for an explanation of the finances, von Coll told Meusebach that the prince did not require a record of promissory notes and that no accounting was necessary until all funds were used up. Von Coll said that one big expense was the prince’s food. He required fresh meat provided three times a day. The colonists wrote home about this extravagance because in Germany meat was scarce.

Meusebach decided to overtake the prince who was in Galveston on his way to Germany. When Meusebach got there, he was greeted enthusiastically by the prince because the creditors of the Verein had detained him because of debt. Meusebach on his own letter of credit, assumed the debt. He also supplied the prince with travel money. Prince Carl blamed von Coll for the financial woes. Meusebach wrote a letter to the Adelsverein telling about the financial situation and it was to be delivered by the prince to the Adelsverein. The letter was never delivered and Prince Carl never mentioned the financial situation to the Adelsverein upon returning to Germany.

Back at the colony, one of the first moves by Meusebach was to disassemble the military and change it to a work battalion. After this move, von Coll resigned.

After assessing the financial situation in New Braunfels, Meusebach requested funds from the Verein. He felt that his objective was still to strive towards colonization of the Fisher-Miller territory under the control of the Verein. He left for two months to scout the area and also to allow the financial situation to cool. Upon returning to New Braunfels, he found that the Verein had advanced a credit of $24,000, just enough to cover the debts. Meusebach also knew that there were over 4000 settlers already at the coast ready to move inland and there was no additional money.

Meusebach had Klaerner published an article in the Bremen newspaper concerning the dire circumstances of the colonization effort. The situation in Carlshafen had not been felt by the Verein and the article exposed the situation. Relief from the Verein came as an additional credit of $60,000. This unfortunately was received too late and in addition to severe weather, too many immigrants, war with Mexico, and epidemic diseases, tragedy was inevitable.

Stay tuned for the rest of the Meusebach story and note that the Meusebach family moto, Tenax Propositi or “Perseverance in Purpose” or as his mother would say, “finish what you begin,” was a personality trait inherent in John O. Meusebach.

Most of the information for this article was gathered from the book John O. Meusebach, German Colonizer in Texas written by his grand-daughter Irene Marschall King.

One last P.S.: Thank you, Prince Carl, for bringing your German culture to New Braunfels, and thank you, John O. Meusebach for helping us become Americans. The transition was often painful, but well worth it in the end.

John O. Meusebach and his tombstone at Cherry Spring near Fredericksburg.

John O. Meusebach and his tombstone at Cherry Spring near Fredericksburg.