Back When Germany Lost A Ton Of Cash Trying To Colonize Texas
By the end of the 1840s, the Adelsverein or Verein for short was almost bankrupt. They’d moved thousands of Germans to Texas, but none of them lived in the expensive tract of land they’d purchased. On top of that, many of them were struggling to survive.
Their motivations may have been pure in the beginning, but the mismanagement combined with the bad luck of the project kept the Verein from their larger goals.
They wanted to set up a strong German colony in Texas, a place where Germany could establish trade, but also a place where Germans could make a new life.
This was long before any world wars or talk of Nazis. Had they succeeded, the Texas we know today may have been a different place.
Organized on April 20th, 1842, the name sometimes used for this group is the German Emigration Company. That was a name the group picked up towards the end in an effort to revive the society. Not to spoil the ending, but it didn’t work.
The words adel’s verein mean nobility society because the founders were 21 German noblemen. Their plan was to establish a new home for Germans in Texas, but also to set up a trade route.
For this group, the only problem was that they were all noblemen. They had no practical experience running a business, let alone managing that business from overseas.
The first thing they did was purchase a huge tract of land in the Fisher-Miller land grant. That land, which they named Nassau Farm, would never see a single town within its borders before the end of the story.
It was only the first of many bad investments by the Adelsverein.
Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels
In 1844, the Verein appointed Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels to lead their colonization efforts in Texas. He’d seen Nassau Farm and wasn’t impressed as there were slaves on the land. Prince Carl thought the slaves would sully their reputation.
The first Adelsverein immigrants arrived in Galveston by the hundreds. At the request of Prince Carl, they filed from Galveston to the smaller port of Indianola, so Prince Carl could shuttle them to the settlement via a lesser traveled route.
He didn’t want them meeting too many Americans. His plan was to keep their immigration secret and establish a German feudal state in Texas.
The German immigrants settled near Comal Springs in New Braunfels, named by Prince Carl after his home in Germany.
New Braunfels wasn’t on the plot of land purchased in the Fisher-Miller land grant, but it was near Comal Springs a source of freshwater. The Prince had purchased the land there when he realized they didn’t have enough resources to make it in Nassau Farm.
In 1845, the settlers built a fort in New Braunfels called the Zinkenburg. There, they divided the land and planted crops in the spring.
Prince Carl had the underpinnings of his feudal state, but it didn’t matter. That same year, he stepped down, frustrated with the Verein. They replaced Prince Carl with John O. Meusebach.
John O. Meusebach
Against an uphill battle, Meusebach wasn’t much better off than his predecessor.
He established friendly relations with the Waco, a local native people, which put him one step forward, but in 1846 the Verein sent over 4000 more Germans. That put him two steps back.
The group of 4,000 found themselves stuck in Indianola without sufficient money to complete their journey. This was despite warnings from Meusebach that they would run out of money.
The Verein credited them $60,000, but that was not enough to sustain the colony. After an investigation, they advanced another $200,000.
The colony was racking up a considerable debt with nothing to show for the investment. To make matters worse, the settlers were not all fans of Meusebach. They called him “slave driver,” and a “tyrant.”
Despite the setbacks and discontentment, by the time Meusebach resigned in 1847, he’d stabilized New Braunfels. They were self-sufficient. The Verein, however, was facing bankruptcy.
During his time, he’d encouraged the settlers to move into other parts of Texas, but they mostly stayed in New Braunfels. Some of them settled in Fredericksburg, a town founded by Measenbach.
Ironically, Fredericksburg was also not inside Nassau Farm.
By 1853 the Verein abandoned their plans for a new Germany in Texas. They’d only moved a few thousand people, many of whom moved home, but most stayed.
The Verein lacked the management to make their plan work. Had they been successful, the Texas we know may have been more about lederhosen than cowboy hats, who knows?
One also has to wonder how Germany would have felt towards the United States in World War II in that case. For that matter, how would the would-be large population of Germans have felt about Nazi Germany?