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Saturday, July 7, 2018

German-Prussian Immigrants on the Niagara Frontier
The Early years of the Old Lutheran Church in the New World

by Paul Lubienecki, PhD
copyright ©2018 All right reserved by the author.

Buffalo and western New York in the initial decades of the 19th century evolved into the gateway of the West because of the Erie Canal. The area was a haven for the Irish who built the canal as they settled to the south of Buffalo. The Germans fled political turmoil in Europe and occupied the rich farmlands north of the city especially in Niagara County. Commercial interests were growing due to the canal and a developing grain mill industry, lumber business, agricultural interests and brick manufacturing. Immigrants from Europe who settled on the Niagara Frontier encountered multiple obstacles from both nature and the unwanted hostility of native born Americans. Of those who inhabited western New York it was the individuals of German heritage that overcame much to be successful participants in the development of the Niagara Frontier. This work will examine those of northern German-Prussian heritage who initially settled in Niagara county just north of Buffalo, New York.[1] Their efforts to secure religious liberty was the impetus for leaving the Old World for America. Internal dissention followed and by the end of the Civil War the German-Prussian congregations fractured. Yet it is their legacy of triumph over multiple obstacles to secure their identity in the New World that remains vibrant to this day.


Germany, in contemporary terms, became a unified nation state in 1871 but prior to that event it was a territory composed of duchies, principalities and undersized kingdoms. Linguistic Germans identified themselves more as “subjects” of that particular political entity or region. The displaced Teutonic Knights, religious warriors of the Crusades, settled the northeastern borderlands on the shores of the Baltic Sea. This area ultimately evolved from a duchy into the Kingdom of Prussia that was a domineering European power until the late nineteenth century. [2]

Geography and religion shaped the nature and character of these Germanic peoples. It also compelled many to resettle in America. Contemporary northern Germany was inhabited by Germanic tribes up to the 5th century when Slavic hordes invaded the area and occupied it for almost eight centuries. In the 12th and 13th centuries German nobles slowly won back the land. However, with a substantial Slavic population, a common Germanic-Slavic denizen emerged.[3]

The faith of these people followed a familiar timeline of history. The primitive Germanic tribes were polytheists until St. Boniface, the “Apostle of Germany,” converted the masses to Catholicism. With the Reformation in 1517 the northern territory became Lutheran while the south remained Catholic.[4] In 1603 Elector Siegesmund of Brandenburg joined the Reformed (Calvinistic) Church. Now both Lutheran and Reformed faiths existed side by side, with Catholicism, in competition for the souls of the faithful and for political gain. This ignited into a religious conflict branded as the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). For the German people the consequences of this war produced an obliterated agrarian culture, interrupted commerce and reduced the area’s population to a quarter of its former number.[5] The land and people had all but vanished.

In 1685, thirty-seven years after the war’s conclusion, Frederick the Elector invited hundreds of French Huguenots (persecuted French Protestants) to this area to rebuild and restore the farms and trades. Wheat and rye were the predominate crops and wood working craftsmen dominated the artisan trade. Buta distinctive French influence was evident especially with the introduction of a tobacco culture into Prussia.Then in 1725 a large group of Salzburg Protestants from Austria were resettled into this territory. During this period there was also a significant trans-migrations of people from various other northern European lands into the region. The effect was that bythe mid-1800s the population was not purely German, Slavic, French, Austrian or any other ethnicity. In this corner of the Prussian Empire it was the intermingling of all these peoples and cultures that constituted Prussian identity.[6]

The socio-economic status of the people was that of “commoner” or more precisely peasant. Around 1800 a series of decrees were issued to "free the peasants." The original intention of the basic decree was that peasants should be free from bondage to the Lord of the Manor and also be able to own property. Since this property would be taken from land that had been owned by the Lords of the Manor, these noblemen influenced the King to amend the decree just before it was announced so that only those peasants who were entirely free of debt were allowed to own property. As a result most peasants were deprived of owning land because they were in debt. While peasants were now free from compulsory service to the Lord of the Manor they had no means by which to earn a living. The "common land" of pasture and woodlot no longer existed for their use. [7]

Those who wished to continue farming had to attach themselves to landowners in a type of "sharecropper" arrangement and their economic plight was frequently worse than when they were peasants. Many others entered the trades and became artisans and craftsmen. But this eventually resulted in more shoemakers, tailors, weavers, and woodworkers than were needed. Most struggled daily just to exist. The case was similar for those who were daylaborers, ordinary workmen and hired hands. These conditions, in addition to a series of crop failures and famines, created the persuasive conditions for emigrating. That destination would be America.


In the early decades of the 19th century the idea of a “New Germany” was promoted based on a mixture of paternalism and romantic adventurism. However the urge to emigrate to the United States centered on the notions of land and liberty in contrast to the distressed conditions and state of affairs in the petty German kingdoms.[8] Religious concerns ultimately decided the issue.

The primary explanation for settling in America was their "Old Lutheran Faith." In 1817 Emperor Frederick Wilhelm III sought to secure his rulethrough a forced merger of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches into the United Evangelical Church of Prussia: the “Prussian Agenda.” He formatted an official United Church Agenda, or liturgical order of service, which prescribed the forms and orders to be followed in all churches. Many of the pastors and churches complied.[9] However some Lutherans refused believing this new Church and its doctrines compromised their religious beliefs and convictions. These differences were clearly evident in regard to the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper. These conservative Lutherans became known as "Old Lutherans" adherents to the traditional Lutheran faith.[10]

Due to the lack of distinctiveness in the doctrines now taught in the new United Church, a spirit of indifference characterized many of its members and a spiritual laxity became evident among the clergy. As a reaction, many conscientious Lutheran dissenters formed private worship groups without a pastor. They met in homes and barns to sing hymns, study the Scriptures and read sermons. This Pietistic theological characteristic sought a separation from established state churches while initiating reform from within.[11]

The King however was insistent that all Christians belong to the United Church and all pastors must follow his prescribed agenda. In 1831 King Frederick Wilhelm III decreed that ministers who refused to use the new liturgy would be guilty of flagrant disobedience to the Crown and subjected to criminal prosecution. Defiant pastors were removed from ministry. Imprisonment and fines were imposed on those who permitted Lutheran services to be conducted in their homes or barns. Emigration to another land was considered as the only means to worship freely. It was decided to stay and praise God by continued resistance and through secret worship services of their Old Lutheran faith.

In 1841 Frederick Wilhelm IV, the new King of Prussia, had been embarrassed by the restrictions placed on Old Lutherans. To assuage his guilt and present a united Protestant front against Catholicism the King issued a Toleration Decree which repealed the edicts that had required imprisonment and fines for confessing Lutherans. Public worship by Lutherans was now permitted however this new toleration was misleading. Many restrictions were still imposed on the Prussian Lutherans.[12] They were not allowed to worship in church buildings with steeples and bells.

Instead of being recognized as a separate, independent church body, Lutherans were considered to be a religious branch operating under the control of the United Church and subject to its supervision and ordinances. Official acts of Lutheran pastors, such as baptism, confirmation and marriage were not always considered valid by the State. Children were not allowed to attend Lutheran schools but were required to attend State schools where the United Church doctrines were taught. Only by attending State schools could they obtain a United Church Confirmation certificate which then entitled them to they employment.[13]

Lutheran parents in the Old World were genuinely concerned that with their children’s education manipulated at the United Church schools the true faith would diminish. The spiritual leader of the Old Lutherans, Rev. Karl Wilhelm Ehrenstroem in fiery and persuasive sermons strongly urged these believers to emigrate.[14] This was the principal reason for leaving Prussia: freedom to teach religion to their children. Secondary to this were the worship restrictions, invalidation of sacraments and doctrine bias. The wretchedness of their conditions: crop failures, economic adversity and the tyranny of the autocrats also factored into the decision to leave the Old World for a new and better onewhere religious independence was guaranteed with land and opportunity abundant.

Many German speaking migrants built communities in Pennsylvania, the Ohio Valley, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Texas. A small but select group came to Niagara county in New York state to do more than just establish their “colonies.” Eventually it was these early settlers who maintained a dominant presence on the Niagara Frontier that enabled economic development far into the future.


For those Prussian immigrants to Niagara county in the mid-19th century the liberty they sought was religious rather than political. German immigrants, categorized as "Prussian" were the majority of the settlers in Niagara county. They were not the stereotypical Prussians rather, they were farmers, artisans and craftsmen who lived in the Prussian kingdom of 1843, from the area on either side of the boundary between Pomerania and Uckermark (Brandenburg).What began as a slow stream of immigrants became a tidal wave as increasingly more Lutherans joined the group of those who, under Rev. Ehrestroem's insistent urging, decided to leave Prussia.[15] America was the chosen destination as approximately 1000 other Old Lutherans had previously emigrated there in 1839 under Pastor Johann Andreas August Grabau and settled in Buffalo.

The German government was reluctant to grant emigration permits due to the volume of requests. It also reflected on the King’s authority as weak and ineffective. To discourage the mass departures officials branded America as a land of uncertainty and savages. Obstacles were established to hinder a mass exodus. A family seeking to leave Germany needed formal permission from their provincial government. This was referred to as consent. The first application for consentwas recorded in January 1843 and increasing numbers of applications were filed each day until all 1600 Old Lutherans submitted their requests. In these applications the reason for emigrating was stated as "Old Lutheran Faith" in every case.[16]

Some applicants received theirconsent certificates promptly, while others had to wait for months. Most of the emigrants were in debt and to raise funds for the trip families sold whatever they could. Asthe consentswere delayed many prospective immigrants exhausted their funds often depleting their accounts entirely. To overcome government objections that some families had no travel funds and therefore could not leave several of the affluent bauers (free-farmers) provided the capital required for the trip with a plan for eventual repayment.[17]

In late Summer 1843 a second group of Old Lutherans numbering 1600 left Prussia for America. The first contingent left in early June and the last by the end of July. In one instance 150 emigrants on a canal barge were checked for emigration permits at the Prussian border. Over 40 were found not to have the necessary papers and were transported back to their home towns. Church records indicated that later all of these managed nevertheless to slip past government officials and emigrate. Pastor Gustav Kindermann acted as the leader for the whole emigration, since Pastor Ehrenstroem was arrested for his sharp criticisms of the government and the church and was imprisoned in Berlin.

Similar to immigrants of any epoch each carried what could be easily transported. They brought with them large Bibles and sermon books, many keepsakes and also tools and utensils crammed into round-topped wooden trunks and flat-topped packing cases. Each family also packed a supply of featherbeds and pillows. Even though their journey continued on through mid-summer many wore their heavy winter clothing to save space. The common Prussian saying: "what's good for the cold is good for the heat" applied.[18]

The families stacked their belongings into large riverboats at Kurow on the Oder River just south of Stettin. There were heart-rending farewells from family members and friends left behind. Sons liable for military service were denied passes and had to stay behind as did children who were under the care of guardians. Even marriages were broken when one party considered it sinful to remain in Prussia and the other felt it wrong to leave.[19] The journey to the seaport of Hamburg lasted almost three weeks. At Hamburg, their pastor, Rev. Ehrenstroem, could not resist preaching one last fiery sermon denouncing the Prussian authorities. For this he was arrested and imprisoned for a year while his congregations proceeded to America without him.[20]

Of the 13 ships bearing Old Lutheran emigrants to America in 1843, nine left from the port of Hamburg. They ultimately settled in Niagara county New York. The other four ships sailed from Stettin with passengers who went on to Wisconsin. Prussian Johann William wrote about the conditions on the Rainbowwhich carried 118 passengers:

"The ship was very roomy. The deck had two openings which were closed only on rainy days if the passengers requested it. We could also go above deck as much as we wished. However the trunks had to be securely fastened down and were sometimes soaked by the water that poured through the hatches in rough weather. Food was generally good. There was ship's biscuit as much as we wanted. Meat and butter we had more than we needed. But water was very bad. The very worst, though, was the seasickness. Still most of the days were pleasant. Three children died on the ship 'Rainbow,' but on one of the ships, the Reform, 5 children died."[21]

Upon their arrival in the New World the Prussian emigrants, former residents of rural villages and small towns, were bewildered by the size and activity of New York City. Their inability to communicate in English was a conspicuous handicap. Due to expenses and lack of funds individuals and families were left to their own resources. Some stayed in New York while others moved up the Hudson River to settle in western New York specifically the Wheatfield area of Niagara county.[22]

Steamboats were on a fairly regular schedule and those who could afford it chose the river steamer to continue the journey. But most of them made the trip to Albany in a barge towed by the steamer. In Albany they had to transfer. Here a few of the wealthier farmers boarded a train to Buffalo. But most of the group chose the cheaper way by canal boats drawn by horses and mules. Immigrant David Hofmeister wrote:

"These canal boats were very bad, so bad in fact that we brought legal proceedings against the boating agency when we arrived in Buffalo. Despite this, we found great joy in viewing to the right and left the fine pastureland on which sleek cattle grazed in knee-deep clover. Also the many hogs, sheep and geese and the variety of attractive fruit trees. This allowed us to endure all the discomforts and inconveniences of the boat trip. It encouraged us to consider the prospects open to us in this new land…we were reminded that we were passing through a region that 130 years before had been settled by Germans emigrated from the Palatinate. These countrymen of ours had developed this fine pastureland, livestock and fruit culture."[23]


As a result of inadequate communications at that time there was no specific contact with the Buffalo Lutherans concerning the intended arrival of these 1600 Prussians. The initial announcement was reported in the newspapers as the first of these emigrants reached Buffalo on August 4th; the others followed in due time. However, Pastor Grabau, Herr Karl Georg Heinrich von Rohr, an active layman of the Church and other Lutherans warmly received the new brethren. When the immigrants advised von Rohr that the canal boat captain had overcharged them, von Rohr immediately had the boat captain imprisoned until he paid back what was swindled. Von Rohr arranged temporary lodging accommodations for the travel weary immigrants who were housed in empty warehouse space.[24]

Yet the arrival in Buffalo was not a blessed one. A letter sent home by one of the emigrants reveals that some of them were already arguing about Pastor Grabau's doctrine of church and ministry on board ship, some calling it more Catholic than Lutheran. Grabau’s early achievements in western New York included the establishment of Trinity Old Lutheran Church in Buffalo and the formation of Martin Luther Seminary for the training of local Lutheran clergy. Soon after he organized the Buffalo Synod. However, his claim to “infallibility” disturbed many of the newly arrived Lutherans and earned Grabau the scornful title of “Lutheran Pope.”[25]

Once all of the immigrants arrived in Buffalo, Grabau and Kindermann held meetings with the congregations. Pastor Kinderman's Pomeranian congregation of approximately 800 were to continue on to Wisconsin as they had sufficient capital for the additional trip. Many were encouraged to move on to Wisconsin as the landscape more closely resembled their homeland in Pomerania. Grabau would temporarily serve Ehrenstroem's 800 congregants who settled around Buffalo.[26]

The reason for this arrangement was a consequence of Pastor Ehrenstrom’s imprisonment in Germany. While his three American congregations lacked a spiritual leader Pastor Grabau would serve as their spiritual director. This group eventually moved north of Buffalo into Niagara county and settled in the Town of Wheatfield, New York while othersfounded communities in Neu Berthold (New Bergholz), Neu Walmow (New Wallmow), St. Johannesburg, and Martinsville, NY; all named for the hamlets in Prussia from where they emigrated.[27]


The ambitious efforts of Karl Georg Heinrich von Rohr rather than direct divine guidance was the contributing factor for German Old Lutherans who settled in Niagara county. Von Rohr had been a captain in the Prussian army who lost his commission when he converted to the Lutheran faith. He had supervised the arrangements for Grabau's group to leave Germany and come to America and organized a group of 40 families from Buffalo to settle in Wisconsin where he established the first Lutheran Church community in that state. Von Rohr returned to Buffalo in 1840 at Pastor Grabau's request to assist him with the new immigrant arrivals. At the time of the 1843 Prussian immigration, he was teaching school in Grabau's church during the day, attended theological seminary classes in the afternoon and conducted private tutoring in the evening to earn money.[28]

Since the decision was made that each of the three congregations lead by Ehrenstroemmust remain near Buffalo, von Rohr suggested they buy land on the west bank of Tonawanda Creek (Erie Canal) in what is now North Tonawanda. Von Rohr personally arranged for the leaders of theEhrenstroem congregations to visit locations and he also made all the necessary contacts with real estate agencies, political officials and legal representatives.[29] Land was purchased by three trustees, in common for the Nipperwiese group. The trustees were Carl Sack, Erdman Wurl and Fred Grosskopf who bought property from William Vandervoote. On November 10, 1843 this congregation was officially organized and became known as St. Martin Church. The settlement then became Martinsville.

The group from Wallmow consisted mainly of farmers, most of whom had owned farms in Prussia which they sold to acquire capital to bring to America. This enabled most to the families to buy improved agricultural property in the northwest corner of Wheatfield. This land had been developed into farms by Pennsylvania Germans who had settled here some 10 to 20 years earlier. The land was individually purchased, not in common for the group, and the farm community of New Wallmow was established with St. Peter’s Church at its center.[30]

Ehrenstroem's congregation from Bergholz in the Uckermark, consisting of some 500 members, elected Johann William, Friedrich Moll and Johann Sy as trustees to represent them in purchasing a settlement site.[31] Von Rohr had selected six sites for their inspection throughout western New York. The trustees visited all the sites and recommended two locations: Pendleton and Wheatfield. The majority favored the Pendleton location even though its cost was $19 per acre compared with $9 for Wheatfield.

Through Washington Hunt, the land agent and at that time Congressman and later Governor of New York State, the Bergholz group surprisingly chose the Wheatfield site. Washington Hunt became a great benefactor to the new settlers giving them 6 acres for church, school and market square, a yoke of oxen to aid in clearing the land, building materials, credit for necessary staples and long term credit on the land purchase. The new village in Wheatfield was named New Bergholz. In 1846 Holy Ghost Church was constructed replacing the barn that was utilized for worship services.[32]


The three Old Lutheran congregations, under the spiritual guidance of Pastor Ehrenstroem, that settled in Niagara county represented separate groups with characteristics unique to them. This was found in building structures and land use. Yet their common Prussian background, customs and language also facilitated distinct similarities among their settlements. This was especially pronounced in the doctrines and practices of their early Lutheran Churches and the self-preferred "isolationism" which continued for several decades after their 1843 arrival in America. This was reinforced by their persistent use of the German language and its Low German counterpart "Plattdeutsch."[33]

The division of land bought by the Prussian settlers in 1843 was largely determined by the main occupations of each group. Land use practiced in their fatherland also had a significant influence on land use in Bergholz, Martinsville, and Walmore. This trait also influenced commerce and the work of craftsmen.

In October 1843 the Bergholz group purchased 2000 acres in Wheatfield, Niagara county through Washington Hunt. In the center of this property was a plot of 120 acres that waslaid out as the Village of New Bergholz on either side of Cayuga Creek. The one-acre village lots were distributed to each family head and majority age single male. The selection was entirely by lot so that no one would be favored. The price averaged $12 per acre for a village lot and the poorer people among them were given 10-year credit terms. The land surrounding the village was for the farmers, and their requirements for smaller and larger lots according to their needs were also chosen by lot. Considerable draining and clearing of village and farm lots was necessary to make the land usable.[34]

Outside the village along Ward Road an additional 600 acres of land was purchased on 10-year credit for $8-$9 per acre. This was mostly for the poorer families and the acreage each one wanted from this land was also measured off according to the sequence determined by lot.

In Bergholz the small farmers, day laborers and craftsmen lived clustered around the church and school. Street names selected for the new village, Neu Bergholz, are still in use. A surveyor’s spelling error in late 1843 inserted a “t” in Berholtz which has legally remained since: Bergholtz. The main east-west road followed the Indian trail called Niagara and was so named. Cayuga Street parallels it and runs along Cayuga Creek. The main north-south road, Luther Street, was named for Protestant Reformer Martin Luther.Washington and Hunt Streets were both named for Washington Hunt through who proved to be a benefactor to these immigrants. Rohr Street was named for Heinrich von Rohr who so ably aided them in the site selection and settlement.[35]

In 1845 von Rohr became the pastor in Bergholz and served there for 30 years until his death. His journal offered some insight into how the poorer settlers, who were in debt on arrival, were able to become independent:

“The closer land was divided among the small landholders and the farther away land among the farmers. When the day laborers could not find sufficient work among the farmers, they cleared their own land of timber and sold the firewood and lumber on the spot. After a few years, as it turned out, they sold their village lot for $80-$100 and lived on their little farm outside the village. In this way the poorer farmers were able eventually not only to pay back the ocean travel costs that had been advanced to them, but also pay for the land they purchased here. So they became independent property owners and the foundation was laid for their later prosperity."[36]

In the Prussian homeland all farmers' homes and barns were located right within the rural village, together with the homes of craftsmen and laborers. Uninterrupted farm fields lined each side until the next village. The original plan for land use here in the Bergholz community seems to have been patterned after the Prussian practice. However, to earn enough funds to pay off debts it was necessary for farmers to build on their property outside the village enabling them to promptly sell off their village lot. Consequently farms emerged throughout the county from Walmore Road to to Johnsburg and Martinsville.[37]

The first and primary structure that existed on the immigrant’s property was the barn.It served as a shelter for any farm animals, operated as a work space and was temporary residence and sleeping quarters for the women and children. The men made crude shelters of branches for themselves until they could build more permanent structures.[38]

The traditional half-timber structure that had been familiar in Prussia could not be built immediately because the approaching winter would not have allowed proper curing of the massive quantities of wet clay used in this type of construction. For the first Fall and Winter 24 full log houses were rapidly constructed. Each building was shared by four or five families. Logs were hewn to seven inches thick with tight tolerancesso minimal chinking was required between them. No pegs or nails were used; gravity and the dove­tailed corner construction kept them together. Logs were identified with Roman numerals at each end to assure the proper sequence in laying them up and the correct matching at the corners. An ox team had been donated to the community by Washington Hunt to aid in moving and handling logs for these houses. The earliest dwellings built by the Bergholz settlers were invariably placed right up to the road right-of-way, in the extreme corner of the acre lot to make the most possible space available for gardens, orchards and livestock.[39] The following Spring enabled the construction of sturdier and more permanent individual structures.

The formation of Martinsville on the Tonawanda Creek was accomplished in much the same way as Bergholz. Named after the Reformation leader Martin Luther, elected trustees bought the land in common for the entire group and divided it up into lots of about three acres each for the thirty families from Nipperwisse, Prussia. The distinctive characteristic of this community was its location along the creek. Consequentlythe lots were long and narrow so that each family could have frontage on the Tonawanda Creek which was part of the Erie Canal, and selection was made by lot. It was very important to the settlers that their land should be accessible to water so they could continue their trades of fishing, net making and canal boat building and to enjoy a waterscape at least somewhat reminiscent of the Oder River in Pomerania.[40]

In the northwest corner of the Town of Wheatfield, the immigrants from Wallmow, Prussia focused on farming through the purchase of large tracts ranging from 50 to 200 acres in size. These landswere obtained from earlier settlers from Pennsylvania who had made considerable improvements in the property.[41] At the time of the Prussians' purchase in 1843-44 most of the existing houses were of stone and situated far back from the road, which differed from the housing in the other communities. The barns had stone foundations and were ready for use almost immediately. Wheat growing became the staple crop and fruit orchards were later introduced.[42] Orchards of apples, peaches and cherries continue to be a main agricultural product of Niagara county introduced by the German immigrants.


With the mixture of farmers and craftsmen among the Prussians who settled in Wheatfield in 1843 the villages of Bergholz, Martinsville and Walmore were virtually self-sufficient communities. The occupations declared to obtain permission to leave Prussia were not always the same as those indicated by the ship captains on the passenger lists. The most frequent variation was that many workers recorded as day laborers, hired hands or crafstmen in Prussia were listed as farmers on the ships' passenger lists. This may have been due to a captain wanting to complete his manifest quickly or miscommunication.[43]

The single most common occupation of the 1843 Ehrenstroem congregation settlers was farming. The first available United States census of 1850 indicated that of the Walmore group 84% were listed as farmers with only 30% of the Bergholz settlers and 21% of those in Martinsville recorded as farmers.[44] Craftsmen or skilled workers of various types comprised the next largest class of occupations. These artisans made up 49% of the Bergholz workers and 46% in Martinsville, but only 13% of the workforce in Walmore. Working on farms and performing general tasks for their fellow villagers were day laborers and hired hands. This category represented 19% of the original work group in Bergholz and 13% in Martinsville.[45]

The census records listed various skilled occupations for these German immigrants. These included: basket weavers, potters, blacksmith, carpenter, mason, shoemaker, cabinetmaker tailor, weaver and wheelwright.[46] All of these occupations were crucial to the survival and development of the community. Shoemakers were employed not only to fabricate footwear but to produce harnesses and saddles; important items for the farmer.

Another invaluable occupation and one noted to be particular to the German industrious nature was that of carpenter. This skilled trade was important for the construction of barns and houses. Carpenters were also adept at handling a mallet and chisel in mortising the joints for those structures. Examples of the precise work done by these craftsmen can still be seen in Niagara county and throughout western New York.[47]

The best known and preserved products of the immigrant artisans of the Wheatfield area were the many furniture items such as tables and chairs used in the early homes were probably self-made by the occupants and usually rather crudely constructed. later. Naturally, wheelwrights and blacksmiths were vital in the age of horse drawn transportation with the blacksmith engaged in the important position of manufacturing tools and metal parts.

Some of the German settlers to Niagara county were skilled masons. In the Bergholz community they were employed in the construction chimneys and ovens. This occupation evolved within a few years into the more lucrative business of brick making. Moving north into the Lockport area German immigrants operated brickyards and quarries which fueled construction and building development in western New York.[48]

The 1850 census records indicate that of the immigrants arriving in western New York the Germans had the highest percentage of skilled workers.[49] This was because Germans leaving Europe were already proficient in a skill and required no further training upon arriving in America. Consequently, Germans were able to dominate, if not monopolize, certain professions. In Niagara and Erie counties 70% of brick masons and coopers and 60% of cabinetmakers, butchers and tailors were German immigrants. These new Americans represented 40%-50% of the total population of the area for the next few decades.[50]


By the end of the Civil War the Old Lutherans of Niagara county had settled the area in significant numbers. They represented nearly 70% of the total population of the county according to the 1870 census in a variety of listed skills and occupations.[51] The Ehrenstroem congregation settlers accounted for the majority of the agriculture industry and were bourgeoning entrepreneurs in the material development of the region.

However with the establishment of other Lutheran congregations on the Niagara Frontier differences in beliefs and direction arose. Congregations from other sections of Germany, Norway and Sweden as well as other areas of North America created dissension. In 1866 disagreement over ordination, ministry and adherence to “old church polity” split the Buffalo Synod.[52] Fifty-two families from the Holy Ghost congregation retained the name and church property affiliating with the Missouri Synod. Thirty-seven families remained in the Buffalo Synod which was later dissolved in 1877 with members joining the Wisconsin Synod.[53]

The original Old Lutherans who settled in Niagara county desired to live in America because of the values as detailed in the Constitution. The right to freedom of religion was the compelling force that empowered individuals and families to endure the difficulty of traversing the ocean and traveling in a foreign country to exercise their freedom to worship.

Yet human nature intervened in this Divine adventure as personalities, dogma and doctrine shaped the Lutheran Church in America into an entity that was not intended. For those Lutherans who settled on the Niagara Frontier, specifically in Niagara county, they represent the immigrant of all periods. They struggled to establish themselves, secure the future for their families and contribute to American society and culture. In our contemporary times Niagara county New York offers evidence clearly demonstrating how these German-Prussian immigrants have been a foundation in the expression of freedom of religion, patriots in defense of America and builders of the economic structure of the region.

About the author: Paul E. Lubienecki, Ph.D., is a historian writing on local western New York history.  Currently, he is completing his manuscript on the history of the Catholic labor schools in Buffalo and their influence on organized labor.

[1] The next work in this series will study Catholic Germans who settled in the Buffalo area. 

[2]  Marshall Dill, Germany. A Modern History, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), 15.

[3]  Op. cit., 12-14.

[4]  Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 105.

[5]  Op. cit., 255.

[6]  Dill, 45.

[7]  Albert Bernhardt Faust, The German Element in the United States, Vol. II, (New York: The Steuben Society of America, 1909), 29.

[8]  Stefan von Senger und Etterlin in  Emigration and Settlement Patterns of German Communities in North America, (Indianapolis, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, 1995), 148.

[9]  E. Clifford Nelson, The Lutherans in North America, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 132.

[10]  Walter Delius & Oskar Soehngen, eds., Die Evangelische Kirche Der Union, (Witten: Luther-Verlag. 1967), 403-406.

[11]  Donald Durnbaugh,  Emigration and Settlement Patterns of German Communities in North America, (Indianapolis: Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, 1995), 32.

[12]  Nelson, The Lutherans in North America, 131.

[13]  John Groh,Nineteenth Century German Protestantism, Washington: University Press of America, 1982), 13-20.

[14]  Albert Bernhardt Faust, The German Element in the United States, Vol. 1, (New York: The Steuben Society of America, 1909), 60.

[15]  Elmer H. Marth, “Gustav Adolph Kindermann—Leader of a German Lutheran Immigration and Pioneer Southeastern Wisconsin Pastor.” Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 38(1964): 135-45 &168-88. Archives, St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Niagara Falls, NY and Eugene W. Camann, “Journey of the Prussian Lutherans to the U.S.A in 1843,” Monograph No. 1, 1983. Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York, Bergholz, NY 

[16]  Eugene W. Camann, Uprooted From Prussia, Transplanted in America, (Buffalo, Gilcraft Printing Co., 1991), 28.

[17]  Phillip Gustav Körner,Das deutsche Element in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika, 1818-1848, (Cincinnati: A.E. Wilde & Co., 1884), 586.

[18]  Camann, Uprooted From Prussia, Transplanted in America, 31.

[19]  Op. cit., Marth and Camann. When several farm families, consisting of almost 50 persons, had not received their official consent and many of their friends were already leaving, they also left without consent. They were stopped by provincial police about half-way to Hamburg and brought back to await their consents at the farms they had left. When the certificates finally arrived, they set out again a couple of months after the others had left, and were they very last group to arrive in America in 1843.

[20]  Martin O. Westerhaus,  The Confessional Lutheran Emigrations From Prussia And Saxony Around 1839, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly (1989), 25.

[21]  Eugene W. Camann, “Journey of the Prussian Lutherans to the U.S.A in 1843,” Monograph No. 2, 1983, 3. Historical Society of North German Settlements in Western New York, Bergholz, NY 

[22]  Niagara Falls Gazette, “Seeking Freedom Settle Four County Villages,” July 2, 1953, 28.

[23]  Camann, Uprooted From Prussia, Transplanted in America, 44.

[24] Westerhaus,  The Confessional Lutheran Emigrations From Prussia And Saxony Around 1839, Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly (1989), 22.

[25]  John Horton, Edward T. Williams & Harry S. Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1947), Vol. 1, 146.

[26] Westerhaus,  The Confessional Lutheran Emigrations From Prussia And Saxony Around 1839, 25.

[27]  Lockport Union Sun Journal, “Wheatfield Settled By German Lutherans,” July 17, 1965, 11.

[28]  Westerhaus,  The Confessional Lutheran Emigrations From Prussia And Saxony Around 1839, 22-26 & 45.

[29]  Ibid., 22.

[30]  Lockport Union Sun Journal, “Wheatfield Settled By German Lutherans,” July 17, 1965, 11.

[31]  Camann, “Journey of the Prussian Lutherans to the U.S.A in 1843,” Monograph No. 2, 1983, 5-6.
Horton, Williams & Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  Vol. II, 346-348.

[32]  Camann, “Journey of the Prussian Lutherans to the U.S.A in 1843,” Monograph No. 2, 1983, 5-6. Also
Horton, Williams & Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  Vol. II, 421.

[33]  Tonawanda News, “Das nicht eine Blaskapelle?” August 5, 1972, 10.

[34]  Douglass, History of Northwestern New York, Vol. II, 421.

[35]  Camann, Uprooted From Prussia, Transplanted in America, 49.

[36]  Camann, “Journey of the Prussian Lutherans to the U.S.A in 1843,” Monograph No. 3, 1983, 2.

[37]  Lockport Union Sun Journal, “Wheatfield Settled By German Lutherans,” July 17, 1965, 11.

[38]  Faust, The German Element in the United States, Vol. II,32.

[39]  Camann, Uprooted From Prussia, Transplanted in America, 76.

[40]  Horton, Williams & Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  Vol. II, 421.

[41]  Faust, The German Element in the United States, Vol. I,283-285.

[42]  Horton, Williams & Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  Vol. II, 308.

[43]  Faust, The German Element in the United States, Vol. I,61.

[44]  Laurence Glasco, Ethnicity and Social Structure. Irish, Germans and Native-Born of Buffalo, NY, 1850-1860. (New York: Arno Press, 1980), 92.

[45]  Ibid., 93-95.  Also Camann, “Occupations and Craftsmanship of the Prussian Settlers in WheatfieldNY,” Monograph No. 4, 1983, 2.

[46]  Glasco, Ethnicity and Social Structure, 95.

[47]  Examples of German immigrant carpentry work can be sourced in the interiors of most Lutheran churches in Niagara county and some in Buffalo constructed throughout the 19thcentury. St. Louis Roman Catholic church in Buffalo, NY and Holy Ghost  Lutheran Church Neu Bergholz  are examples.  

[48]  Horton, Williams & Douglass, History of Northwestern New York,  Vol. I, 74.

[49]  Glasco, Ethnicity and Social Structure, 92.

[50]  Ibid., 93.

[51]  Ibid., 91.

[52]  Nelson, The Lutherans in North America, 177.

[53]  Ibid., 177 and archives St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, Niagara Falls, NY.

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