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Your grandmother may have a similar story of immigrant survival.
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TONAWANDA NEW YORK
The Kohler immigrants arrived at the town of Newbury, in the fall of 1852. A special plot of land had been set aside within the town, for the new group of church parishioners, before they had left Plowen. They helped each other to clear the land, and build log homes; winter was coming and everyone lent a helping hand to get the new families established. Carl had brought the church records, and part of the altar with him, from the old St. Martins church in Germany. In the spring they built another church called, "the New Church of St. Martins." The records kept by the church included birth, marriages, death, and baptism information. The parishioners struggled the first year to get established, but were soon happy in their new homes. Carl and his family were pleased to be able to go to church without interference. Immigrating to America was worth the hassle.
The land was cleared in the spring, and vegetable crops were planted on the farms. The vegetables would be a good cash crop that could be sold, in the nearby towns of Buffalo and Niagara. Carl was grateful for the help given, by the immigrants that had moved into the area fifteen years earlier. It made the transition easier for his family. For families with lots of children, the cost of the passage on the sailing ship was enormous. Some of the older children must agree to work, as indentured servants, to pay for the cost of the trip: by doing five to seven years of labor for their sponsor.
The first two waves of immigrants that came from Prussia numbered fifty five million. Great Grandfather Ferdinand was a young man when he immigrated to the US, with his Dad, in 1852. He was a tall man with a muscular build, and had black hair and a mustache. In 1856, he married a beautiful red haired lady, Freidrika. She was an educated lady that was energetic and fun to be with. Ferdinand began working for a master land owner, helping to build homes, build barns, till fields, chop wood, and harvest crops. The newly weds, Ferdinand and Freidrika, saved their money and soon they owned their own eighty acre parcel of land. Western New York State was a paradise for these vegetable farmers. The soil was a black loam that was ideal for vegetable crops, and there was frequent rain in the summer. Their farm was located in Tonawanda Township, Wheatfield County. After eight years of hard work, the farmstead was completed; several buildings had been erected, the land had been cleared, good crops were growing, and the farmstead had become a valuable piece of improved property.
A New York census was taken, in 1860, by English speaking school teachers. They recorded the census information in hand written ledgers that were to be sent to the Census Bureau, for record keeping. Ferdinand and Freidrika Kohler walked to the local school, and told the census registrar that they had three children, Martha, Helen and William. They also reported that they were educated land owners, with assets exceeding $275. Ferdinand did not get servitude, as a condition of ships passage, and was able to attended school to become one in ten men with an education. He was free to earn money, for his own pocket, from twenty cents per day wages.
Chas, the elder, had exciting news that the western territories were forming another state. The original Wisconsin territory was shrunk by half in size, and it became the 32nd state in 1845. And in 1860, the remainder of that adjacent territory, to the west of Wisconsin, became a new state called "Minnesota."
"The homestead rights should be very good if we hurry and get in on the settlements," Chas said.
"Moving to Newbury from Prussia was a bit easier than it would be moving to a raw new territory out in Minnesota," Freidrika commented.
"We need to make a trip to the new territory, of Minnesota, to look over the land," Chas said. "I’d like to go myself. Probably take me three months to make the trip."
Chas and Ferdinand agreed that they needed to check out the new territory, before moving. In the spring of 1863, Chas left on horseback for the new territory, and he returned in the fall with good news. The land was good for farming vegetable crops.
"Looks as rich and fertile as any land I’ve seen. It is hard to believe that the top soil is over fourteen inches deep, and it is as black as any I have ever seen."
"What do you think about moving to Minnesota?" Ferdinand asked.
"We have land here and three kids. This place is good to us," Freidrika replied.
"The new homestead in Minnesota could provide a nice chance for us to get a larger piece of land, and there are towns nearby to buy our produce."
"I’ll agree to go . . . and give it a chance."
"The cost of the trip could be easily covered by selling our land here," Ferdinand speculated. "This land can be sold for $20 per acre. We only paid $8 per acre when we bought it."
"This log house has rotten floor timbers, from the ground moisture. It won’t be much of a loss to leave this small cabin behind," Freidrika said. "But I do have a sentimental attachment to our first home here," she sighed. "Let’s go before I change my mind."
The family packed up their belongings, in 1864, and began the westward trek to the new state of Minnesota. They first traveled by train to Chicago, and then traveled by steamboat up the Mississippi River to the city of Afton, on the St Croix River.
"This important waterway was used by trappers since the early 1700s," Chas remarked as the steamboat started up the St. Croix River. "By traveling west on the St. Lawrence Seaway, through the chain of Great Lakes, the early trappers discovered a short three mile portage on the head waters of the Brule river, at the southwest end of Lake Superior. Once across the short portage at the head waters of the St. Croix River, a trapper could travel south by canoe all the way to the Gulf of Mexico."
Another group of the Kohler family settled in Duluth, Minnesota. They had traveled from New York to Minnesota, by ship on the Great Lakes. Other relatives remained behind in New York State. Trying to identify who was an uncle or brother in-law was difficult due to so many common nicknames: Fredric, Freidric, Fredrick, and Ferdinand; and often they went by the nickname "Fred."
Chas and Ferdinand departed the steamship at Afton, Minnesota, and went to explore the land to the west. The top soil was black loam just as Chas had described it upon his return last fall. Ferdinand was thrilled by the prospects of establishing a new homestead.