Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation

Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation

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by James C. Kearney

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In the 1840s an organization of German noblemen, the Mainzner Adelsverein, attempted to settle thousands of German emigrants on the Texas frontier. Nassau Plantation, located near modern-day Round Top, Texas, in northern Fayette County, was a significant part of this story. No one, however, has adequately documented the role of the slave plantation or


In the 1840s an organization of German noblemen, the Mainzner Adelsverein, attempted to settle thousands of German emigrants on the Texas frontier. Nassau Plantation, located near modern-day Round Top, Texas, in northern Fayette County, was a significant part of this story. No one, however, has adequately documented the role of the slave plantation or given a convincing explanation of the Adelsverein from the German point of view.

James C. Kearney has studied a wealth of original source material (much of it in German) to illuminate the history of the plantation and the larger goals and motivation of the Adelsverein, both in Texas and in Germany. Moreover, this new study highlights the problematic relationship of German emigrants to slavery. Few today realize that the society’s original colonization plan included ownership and operation of slave plantations. Ironically, the German settlements the society later established became hotbeds of anti-slavery and anti-secessionist sentiment.

Responding to criticism in Germany, the society declared its colonies to be “slave free zones” in 1845. This act thrust the society front and center into the complicated political landscape of Texas prior to annexation. James A. Mayberry, among others, suspected an English-German conspiracy to flood the state with anti-slavery immigrants and delivered a fiery speech in the legislature denouncing the society.

In the 1850s the plantation became a magnet for German immigration into Fayette and Austin Counties. In this connection, Kearney explores the role and influence of Otto von Roeder, a largely neglected but important Texas-German. Another chapter deals with the odyssey of the extended von Rosenberg family, who settled on the plantation in 1850 and helped to elevate the nearby town of Round Top into a regional center of culture and education. Many members of the family subsequently rose to positions of leadership and influence in Texas.

Several notable personalities graced the plantation—Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels, Johann Otto Freiherr von Meusebach, botanist F. Lindheimer, and the renowned naturalist Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, to name a few. Dramatic events also occurred at the plantation, including a deadly shootout, a successful escape by two slaves (documented in an unprecedented way), and litigation over ownership that wound its way to both the Texas Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In depth, thoroughness, and scope, Nassau Plantation has no equal in the literature of the Society. It will become the standard reference on this topic and will be of interest to scholars of German-Texan history as well as to the large element of German-Texans.”—Wolfram M. Von-Maszewski, editor of Voyage to North America 1844-45: Prince Carl of Solms’s Texas Diary of People, Places, and Events

“The topic is excellent. The only extended monographs on the Adelsverein and German emigration to Texas date to the early twentieth century. A lot of material has come to light since these studies appeared, and Kearney is on top of the sources.”—Walter Struve, author of Germans and Texans

Nassau Plantation is well grounded in primary sources with good biographical information on the major characters. This will be a valuable reference work.”—Walter Buenger, author of Secession and the Union in Texas and coeditor of Texas Through Time

"Kearney provides a well-written and interesting story about Germans in the Texas Hill Country that will be welcomed by aficionados and local historians."--American Historical Review

"An excellent reference work as well as a stimulating read for anyone interested in Texas history, the history of slavery in the United States, and Texas German cultural studies."--Texas Books in Review

"This well-written, studiously researched book recounts the entire history of Nassau Plantation during the era it existed as a German establishment prior to the Civil War. The narrative is based on a number of German-language sources in addition to a complete survey of county-level records. Especially useful to students interested in the German history of Texas and the institution of slavery during the antebellum era."--Choice 

"This significant survey is thoroughly researched and thoughtful. Kearney manages his task well; the book is valuable reading for students, friends, and scholars of Texas history, particularly those who are interested in the relationship of German Texans to Texas society during the antebellum period. It is a must read."--Journal of South Texas

"The author has skillfully used the history of Nassau Farm . . . as a lens through which to examine the dynamics of the emigration society itself and the rivalries and disagreements that encumbered its board of directors and eventually brought about its financial collapse. Kearney probes several inherent contradictions in the ambitious program of the Adelsverein, chief among which was the desire to create an aristrocratic and hierarchical colony in an intensely democratic frontier culture. . . . [Kearney] is gifted with the analytical and narrative skills of a seasoned historian."--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

American Historical Review

"Kearney provides a well-written and interesting story about Germans in the Texas Hill Country that will be welcomed by aficionados and local historians."

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University of North Texas Press
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6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

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Nassau Plantation

The Evolution of a Texas-German Slave Plantation
By James C. Kearney

University of North Texas Press

Copyright © 2010 James C. Kearney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57441-286-4

Chapter One

The Adelsverein

Raus, raus und raus, Aus Deutschland muß ich raus: Ich schlag mir Deutschland aus dem Sinn Und wand're jetzt nach Texas hin. Mein Glück will ich probieren, marschieren!

Out, out and out From Germany I must out; Germany I put you from my mind My happiness in Texas to find. Our fortune there to grow, let's go! —Hoffmann von Fallersleben

Fascination for Texas, despair about Germany—these factors, broadly speaking—motivated a group of German noblemen to fashion an ambitious program of emigration from Germany to Texas in the 1840s. To governments and to individuals alike, the young Republic of Texas suggested exciting possibilities. Britain, France, and Belgium hoped to see Texas develop into a viable nation, receptive to cross-Atlantic influence and poised to counterbalance the growing commercial and military dominance of the United States in the New World. Many individuals, likewise, pinned their hopes on the new republic: they dreamed of getting rich by speculating in cheap Texas lands or they aspired to create a fresh life in a wide open land frequently portrayed as a new Garden of Eden.

Germany, by contrast, appeared as a place of little or no opportunity. Its intelligent, vigorous, and growing population had no outlet for their energy; no possibility for betterment in their homeland. This brought about a frustration and despair that cut across class lines from peasant farmers to the upper nobility. A massive exodus from Central Europe resulted, and the destination was, in the main, North America.

In the spring of 1842, twenty German noblemen and one noblewoman met at the residence of Adolph Duke of Nassau in Biebrich on the Rhine. They endeavored to fashion a program of important national significance whereby the opportunities of Texas would supply an antidote to the frustrations of Germany. In so doing they sought to enhance the prestige of the German nobility and also to increase their personal wealth by speculating in cheap Texas lands. In scope and audacity, the plan they eventually adopted holds a unique place in the history of emigration to the New World.

The German side of the story begins in the city of Mainz. Situated on the left bank of the Rhine across from the confluence of the Main River, Mainz keeps watch over one of the most fruitful and beautiful areas of Germany. The city is the gatekeeper, so to speak, to a long and picturesque stretch of the Rhine, which is the subject of so many postcards and travel guides. Since Roman times, geography has dictated its importance economically, culturally, and militarily. Thus, in the 1840s, in addition to housing the capitol of the Hessian Rhine Province and being a hub of trade and transportation, the city housed a Bundesfestung, a federal fortress of the first order of importance, manned by a combined force of Prussian and Austrian units. It was here that many of the titled officers came into contact with one another and began those speculations and discussions that eventually led to the formation of their Society.

With the final defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815, the collective leadership of Europe convened in Vienna to establish peace. Under the strong leadership of Prince Metternich of Austria, a new order was given to the face of Europe. As part of this process, the Congress of Vienna restructured the political map of Germany. It set up a loose federation of forty-one states and free cities under the permanent presidency of Austria. This arrangement, referred to as the Deutscher Bund, or German Confederation, endured for over fifty years, until 1866. The Congress also provided for a common defense for the federation, anchored by a string of forts.

The officers who manned the common forts of the federation came from different states and were, by and large, of noble lineage. Only a few career paths were socially suitable, or standesgemäss, to the upper nobility in Germany during this period. Chief among these was a career in the army. The relative stability and tranquility of Central Europe during the Vormärz, the period from 1815 until 1848, insured that those who had chosen to be officers had much free time on their hands. Out of idleness arose grandiose plans.

An hour's journey down the Rhine from Mainz one passes Biebrich. Located on the right side of the river, Biebrich served as one of the residences of the Dukes of Nassau until 1866. The castle, built in the Renaissance style in 1706, was a relative newcomer among the many castles and fortresses along the Rhine. It nevertheless impressed travelers along the river with its majestic grounds and well-groomed gardens.

It was here in April 1842 that the twenty-four-year-old Adolph, reigning Duke of Nassau, hosted the first general assembly of the association, which would later officially constitute itself as Der Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas, or The Society for the Protection of German Emigrants in Texas. Of the men gathered here, two officers in the service of Austria stationed at the federal fortress at Mainz stand out: Christian Count of Neu-Leiningen-Westerburg and Carl Count of Castell-Castell.

In a circular of March 8, 1842, the birth certificate of the Society, Christian Count of Neu-Leiningen-Westerburg outlined his conception for a society to promote German emigration to Texas and to speculate in land there. He laid out in detail the reasons he regarded Texas to be a land of exciting opportunity for investment and exceptional suitability for German emigration. He based his enthusiasm for Texas on recently published studies by the German G. A. Scherpf and the Englishman William Kennedy and on personal conversations with the celebrated traveler and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. A close reading suggests that both Scherpf and Kennedy had, in turn, drawn heavily from von Humboldt's earlier and influential study of the physical geography of Mexico, which, at the time, included Texas. Between 1799 and 1804, von Humboldt traveled to South and Central America, classifying and describing the plants and animals he encountered, as well as the geography and geology he observed. He did so with a heretofore unmatched scientific rigor and thoroughness. His descriptions and observations, published in many volumes over a twenty-one year span, represented a major scientific contribution to Europe's knowledge of the New World.

In his letter, Count Leiningen proposed to fund a society to promote emigration to Texas by offering twenty shares at 5,000 florins each, of which half was to be paid initially. This money would be dedicated to the purchase of land; the rest would be held in reserve to underwrite and support emigration. Upon a completed subscription to the initial twenty shares, Leiningen would call for a general assembly of the subscribers to settle on a program. Leiningen's request met with such enthusiasm that he quickly expanded the initial offering to twenty-four shares, and subsequently to fifty. The invitation for a gathering of shareholders soon went out. Twenty German noblemen and one German noblewoman, the Countess from Isenburg, responded. The date was set for April 19, 1842, in Biebrich.

The points Leiningen raises in his letter are worth a closer examination since he touches upon the whole complex of considerations and motivations behind the organization. He begins by pointing out the favorable geography of Texas, which nicely combined characteristics of both the tropical and temperate zones. The political existence of Texas is assured because of the vigorous nature of the settlers, he writes.

The value of the lands in Texas, he maintains, will surely rise as settlers continue to flock to the country at the rate of 50,000 a year. Those who are energetic are bound to improve their lot in life there. Germans, who enjoy a reputation as a diligent and energetic people, have no outlet for this energy in their overpopulated homeland. The destination of most emigrants from Germany is the United States where the immigrants become dispersed, which is neither to the benefit of them as individuals, nor to Germany as a nation. Would it not be better to locate and concentrate German emigrants in one area of the New World?

Very few speculations, he continues, have a greater certainty of success than capital invested in Texas lands. One can even recover the initial outlay by harvesting native plants of medicinal value such as sassafras or ipecac.

The best approach, he suggests, would be to invest in a slave plantation. The situation in Texas is comparable to that in the United States twenty years before. Opportunity abounds. Although the temper of the times precludes the introduction of feudalism, Texas provides an outlet for the energetic genius of the noble class. Enduring fame and financial reward will come to those who have the will and means to fashion the above considerations into a workable program. Count Leiningen ends his letter with the admonition that time is of the essence.

Greed, glory, and patriotism—all these elements are present in Leiningen's letter. Present, too, is the idea that speculation in a slave plantation in Texas would be a sure windfall.

Several men associated with the Society had "Leiningen" in their names. They are often confused in the literature. We have been discussing Christian Count of Neu-Leiningen-Westerburg, whose very long name is usually reduced to Christian Leiningen. Christian Leiningen considered himself to be the father of the Society by virtue of his early enthusiasm for Texas, the above-mentioned circular, and his efforts at organizing the first general assembly at Biebrich. When he began this effort, he was serving as an Oberstleutnant, lieutenant colonel, in the imperial Austrian army in Mainz. He was appointed president of the first committee to organize the affairs of the Society, but from that point his importance to the Society waned. He rarely attended convocations of the Society; instead, he gave Carl Count of Castell, his cousin, the power of attorney to act on his behalf, and he seemed to have deferred to his judgment in most matters.

A relative, Karl Emich Prince of Leiningen, was elected president of the Society. Karl Emich was an important man in Germany. He was the ruling patriarch of the ancient and prestigious house of Leiningen, a branch of German nobility that had ruled over possessions along the Rhine River since the eleventh century. As a Fürst, he ranked high, a weighty consideration among German noblemen. In 1842, he was appointed to the Bavarian Council of Advisors. In 1848 Karl Emich also served briefly as the first Minister-President of the National Assembly in Frankfurt am Main.

Karl Emich von Leiningen's prestige as a man of connection and influence in Germany was certainly a feather in the cap for the Society. In addition he was also a half-brother to the future Queen Victoria of England. Another important player, Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels, had family ties to the English throne as well, through his mother. The English connection is one that has given rise to much speculation, and has led some to assert (and others to deny) that the English government might have been a silent partner in the Society's plans.

There was one other Leiningen of note, namely Viktor Count of Alt-Leiningen-Westerburg. He accompanied Boos-Waldeck on the first expedition to Texas. After his return in January 1843, he dropped from the scene as an active participant although he remained a stockholder.

Count Castell's participation and importance, in contrast to Christian Leiningen's, steadily increased after the first general convention. A committee was set up to handle the day-to-day affairs of the Society. Although Christian Leiningen served as president and Count Castell as vice-president, Castell appears to have done most of the work. This committee met on several occasions, especially from March through May of 1842. Among other things, it arranged for the "expedition" to Texas, corresponded with members of the Society, and continued to inform itself about the political, economic and physical facts of Texas.

Eventually (in March 1844), Count Castell's responsibilities would be formalized in the office of Geschäftsführer, or executive director of the Society. From the first assembly in 1842 until his resignation in August 1848, Castell would sit at the center of the web, the most important man in the organization, the man whose vision set the tone and direction for the Society, often in the face of determined opposition.

Count Castell was close to Christian Leiningen and also to Carl Prince of Solms-Braunfels. He signed his letters Vetter (cousin) and addressed the prince with the informal "du" in his letters. The two appeared to be in close agreement in the early phases of the Society. Both enthusiastically supported the notion of a large and ambitious program of settlement rather than a modest, restricted one. Thus, family ties, close friendships, and class-consciousness characterized the men gathered in Biebrich for the first general assembly. Family alliances also gave them access to most of the governments in Germany as well as the English court, as noted.

Of the twenty-one original members of the Society, four were ruling sovereigns and two were princes from sovereign houses. Sixteen of the members counted themselves members of a special caste of the upper German nobility that had come to be called the Standesherren, a term for which there is no exact English equivalent.

The Standesherren came from former ruling houses whose sovereign status had been reduced or eliminated during the turmoil accompanying the Napoleonic Wars and the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire. The process began with the Peace of Luneville in 1801 when Napoleon emerged victorious against the Second Coalition led by Austria. The left bank of the Rhine was ceded to France, dispossessing many smaller German ruling families. Later, by the so-called Reichsdeputationshauptschluß (Imperial Decree) of 1803, several of the ruling houses who had lost possessions were compensated using church properties that had been secularized by the same edict.

During this period, roughly 1801 until 1815, the number of political entities within the boundaries of the old Holy Roman Empire who claimed sovereign status shrank from approximately 300 to thirty. Many of the old ruling houses were "mediatized," that is, placed under the sovereignty of other rulers. These houses had lost much of their real power, but retained the prestige and late-feudal privileges associated with ruling sovereigns.

The story of the Standesherren is quite complex and beyond the scope of this history to explore in detail. But this much is certain: by virtue of their numbers and the pivotal role they played from the beginning, the Standesherren stood in the forefront of the Society. Nearly everyone of consequence in the Society (excluding certain officials in Texas) came from their ranks.

It is also certain that they were conscious of their unique position in German society, and that this awareness goes a long way to explain their interest in underwriting a colonization scheme for Texas.

By the 1840s, two thoughts appeared to preoccupy the Standesherren as a group: on the one hand, they sought to preserve the considerable privileges they still enjoyed; on the other hand, they felt driven to carve for themselves a new role that would justify these privileges. Apparently some saw in Texas a fertile field for a grand and magnificent endeavor which would help to revive the prestige of the Standesherren even as it served a pressing national need and remunerated its organizers handsomely. Count Castell put it succinctly when he wrote in July 1845 that "the Society wanted to create something grand in order to be able to say to itself, that is our work."

The number of Germans leaving their homeland had grown steadily since the end of the Napoleonic wars. Indeed, the exodus had taken on such proportions that it rivaled the Völkerwanderungszeit, the great movement of Germanic peoples in the fifth through the ninth centuries, which had fundamentally altered the face of Europe. In 1845, for example, about 56,000 Germans left their homeland. In the nineteenth century as a whole, nearly five million Germans came to the United States.


Excerpted from Nassau Plantation by James C. Kearney Copyright © 2010 by James C. Kearney. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

JAMES C. KEARNEY received his Ph.D. in German and history from the University of Texas. He taught German at Katy High School and has been a featured speaker at numerous conventions and symposia on Texas-German subjects.


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Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
The  2010 title is NASSAU PLANTATION. The subtitle is THE EVOLUTION OF A TEXAS GERMAN SLAVE PLANTATION. Author is historian of Texas James C. Kearney. The book is yet another retelling of the saga of German immigration to Texas from around 1820 to 1900. Germans came first to Texas when it was a part of Mexico, then when it was a Republic (1836 - 1847), then when a State.  Author Kearney looks for aspects of this migration overlooked by earlier writers.  ***  Thus he provides new insights into the High German Nobles who in 1842 conceived the notion of settling at least 600 families or single men by September 1847 in a huge conditional land grant north of the Llano River. To do this they formed an association (Verein). Prima facie this venture seemed possible, and the Association had brought 6,000 families or single men  to Texas for this purpose  by January 1, 1846. What would be so hard about bringing 600 families or single men into the so-called Fischer-Miller Grant within the next 20 months? ***   The Republic of Texas and soon to be shrunken State of Texas was thinly populated by Europeans: 70,000 according to the Republic's census of 1840. And the Fischer-Miller lands were in the hands of warlike Comanche Indians. Transportation by land or river was primitive and costly. Hundreds of immigrants died of cholera and other diseases. The best known, lionized German leader on the ground in Texas was free thinking Johann Otto Freiherr Von Meusebach. He bought 10,000 acres and established the town of Fredericksburg as a way station for immigrants heading north from New Braunfels for the Llano river.  More importantly Meusebach signed a private treaty of peace with Comanche leaders. All seemed possible. And yet the Verein went bankrupt and sold its assets.   ***   Among those assets was the Nassau Plantation, initially staffed by 17 expensive slaves, only one of whom had hands-on experience tilling the soil. Several ran away and their story and the story of Nassau is told in minute detail. Nassau was crucial in the immigration project's surviving for as long as it did. For it was used as collateral to obtain loans to pay for food and equipment of the German settlers on the Comanche frontier.   ***  The book NASSAU PLANTATION is long, well conceived, beautifully expressed and thoroughly documented. It also lays the foundation for follow-on research by younger scholars. Why for instance does the book not mention American novelist James Fenimore Cooper whose THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS and other books were translated into German and admired by thousands of German readers including the great Goethe. Many German painters and writers tackled Texas as a theme. How well did they know Cooper? This is only one of many attractive themes for follow-on research. -OOO-