Where do we come from?


In the year 1865 the United States was in the final year of the Civil war. On or about April 15, 1865 a family called Rethamel from northeastern Prussia (Germany) in an area called Gross Boschpol, Lauenburg in the region of Pomerania was about to embark from the Hamburg port on a ship called the Keppler to Quebec, Canada and eventually to a new location in Chicago, Illinois in the United States, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the U.S. was killed by an assassin’s bullet and the manhunt for his killer John Wilkes Booth was just beginning.

In the mid-to-late nineteenth (19th) century the confederation of German states played a significant role in the number of people who emigrated and become immigrants in the U.S. and the new state of Wisconsin. Why Wisconsin or even the mid-west area?

I suspect the topography, weather and opportunities in the area (the eastern U.S. had already been settled and claimed by earlier immigrants) at the time provided a source for starting new homes, new freedoms and especially land. In 1862 the Congress of US passed and Lincoln signed the Homestead Act that provided an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (1/4 section, 65 hectares) of undeveloped federal land outside the original 13 colonies (cit). The Native American population in Wisconsin had been pushed off or forcefully removed from prime farm land before and after the Black Hawk War of 1832. By 1900 34% of WI population (2 million total people) or 709, 909 were of German heritage. (cit).

A large part of the German migration in the 19th century was from various little independent states that were not part of large “Germany” but a confederation of 100 small administrative units controlled in a feudal manner by a hierarchy of princes, grand dukes, dukes, margraves, abbots, electors, barons and counts. By 1815 these units became 30 states either voluntarily or through aggression of Prussia (largest state). Prussia was the location where the “Rethamel” family lived.

August F. Rethamel (Rettammel) in the 1880 birth certificate record for his son Edward is listed as a brickman or mason trade for an occupation. This information would fit with previous stories the author heard as a child. In pre-Germany as a country this would have been an occupation that was in the artisan class. Artisans abided by ancient regulations of medieval craft guilds.

Where do we come from?

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