Harold W. Hurst - June 2010

 

Foreign Newcomers:
German Immigrants on the Eastern Shore
by
Harold W. Hurst

 

The early settlers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore were largely of British extraction, except for the African-Americans who were the descendants of slaves. As late as the 1880s, most of the region’s inhabitants belonged to these two groups. During most of the nineteenth century, the socioeconomic system of the area offered little opportunity for European immigrants with industrial or mechanical skills.
The 1890s witnessed some changes in the ethnic population of the region. German immigrants arrived in significant numbers in this period, attracted by the mild climate, fertile soil and the availability of cheap land. Most of them had settled earlier in the Midwest, where they failed to adapt to the severe weather and the geographic isolation of the area. Enticed by advertisements in Baltimore’s German newspapers describing the climate, soil and low prices of local farmlands, these Germans moved to the Mid-Shore in considerable numbers. Others came from North Carolina and other states, while still others – the so-called “Volga Germans” – came from a region in Russia where Germans had lived since the time of Catherine the Great.
Most of the German expatriates put down roots in Caroline, Talbot and Dorchester counties. One fairly large group settled in Preston in Caroline County. Smaller numbers found their way to Cordova in Talbot County and Vienna and Springdale near East New Market in Dorchester County.
These immigrants from the Fatherland were largely farmers who rapidly adjusted to the agrarian society of the Mid-Shore counties. Some acquired land from long-time residents such as Col. A. W. Sisk, a wealthy landowner who offered lands to the Germans at the rate of $10 or $12 an acre.
Bearing such Germanic names as Fuchs, Gadow, Krueger, Plutschack, Rieck, Schulke and Schmidt, these flourishing farm families were often quite large. According to the 1910 federal census, the Gadow family in Preston consisted of five households with a total of 27 members. Two Fuchs families in the same town included 14 members. The Schulke clan embodied 15 members.
The productive soil of the Shore was good for growing a wide variety of crops, including corn, wheat, tomatoes and fruits such as strawberries. The wheat and corn were sent to Baltimore by ship and later to northern ports by railroad. Tomatoes, however, were processed in Caroline and other Shore counties. According to one source, there were 62 canneries in Caroline County alone – a sizeable number for a rural area with no sizeable town. The canning industry bolstered the economy of the Eastern Shore, generating a prosperity shared by many local farmers, including the Germans in the area.
Some Germans became prosperous enough to buy their own farmland, allowing them to become independent landowners with a fairly secure economic status. Frederick William Engle, for instance, owned a farm in Caroline County as early as 1891. August Schulke bought 65 acres in the same county from a member of the illustrious Goldsborough family.
Dr. Trimble, a surgeon who owned a plantation at Longsworth, bought a farm for William Krueger. John Schmick bought a farm near Preston in 1904. A map of the surrounding area of Preston dating from about 1900 reveals the members of Fuchs, Krueger, Putschak and Marquandt families held land in the district. While some of the immigrant families remained laborers or renters, others moved up the socioeconomic ladder by becoming landowners.
The principal institution introduced to the Eastern Shore of Maryland by these Germans was the Lutheran Church, of which most all were ardent members. These newcomers, therefore, contributed to the religious diversity of an area in which most people were Methodists, except for a few Episcopalians and a sprinkling of Quakers. Lutheran congregations were started in Preston, Cordova, Vienna and at Springdale near East New Market.
The largest congregation was Immanuel Lutheran Church in Preston, which was founded in 1897. The members of this church bore such typical German names as Engel, Fuchs, Gadow, Kleinwachter, Krueger, Plutschak, Rieck, Schulke, Schmick and Youngman. During the early years, Sunday worship was conducted in German, but English services were introduced in 1917. Beginning in 1926, there were separate German and English services on Sunday morning. Decades later, German was finally abandoned, signifying the continuing Anglicization of the German element in the area.
Immanuel Church erected a church building that was dedicated on April 28, 1901. The size of this structure was 30’ x 50’ and the cost was $800. The parish also started a parochial school that was housed in a building erected in 1905. The church pastor was the principal and chief teacher, and the curriculum included geography, history, mathematics and grammar. The school was closed in 1917, largely because of the vehement anti-German sentiment that prevailed in the World War I era.
During the following years, Immanuel Church flourished. A new Gothic-style building was erected at the cost of $159,000 in 1952. The seating capacity of the new church was 350.
While the smaller congregations in Cordova, Vienna and Springdale were eventually discontinued, new Lutheran congregations were established in Chestertown, Easton, Cambridge and Salisbury in Maryland, and in Dover, Smyrna and Seaford in Delaware, indicating the growing strength of the Lutheran Church on Delmarva.
Longevity was a typical characteristic of these early Teutonic settlers in the Mid-Shore area. A review of the Preston cemetery records reveals that many of them lived well into the 20th century. Martin Dietrich, for instance, was born in 1871 and was buried in the Preston family plot in 1961. Martha Nusbaum, born in 1877, lived until 1985. Several members of the Schmick family lived from the 1880s to the 1960s. By the 1950s there were at least three generations of German stock residing in the Mid-Shore area and some parts of Delaware.
During and after World War II, the formerly insular German element in the Mid-Shore area became increasingly involved in local community activities and national endeavors. Immanuel Church used $1,875 from its building fund to buy war bonds. After the war, the Ladies Aid Society began collecting food and clothing for needy families in Europe.
The 1960s witnessed church involvement in local community anti-drug activities. In April 1975, Pastor Clarence Budke was invited by Robert Bauman, Representative of Maryland’s First Congressional District (1973-1981), to deliver the opening prayer before Congress, placing the German Lutheran element on the Shore in the national limelight.
The publication in 1984 of Caroline’s Story of Progress, 1634-1984 revealed participation in various activities by the descendants of German immigrants in the area. William Schmick, of the extensive family with that surname, was assistant editor of the book. Advertisements in the publication included those of William Engerman, realtor; a meat shop owned by a member of the Frase family; and the Preston Pharmacy operated by Dr. Budne Reinke. An important entrepreneur in the early 1900s was Otto Gephardt of Jumptown, who owned a cigar factory. Not all German immigrants in the area remained farmers.
Surprisingly, the German immigrants and their descendants in the Mid-Shore area were not involved in the burgeoning canning industry of the Shore area. Perhaps the lack of capital or the language barrier were responsible for their lack of engagement. At any rate, the lengthy list of regional canneries and their owners that appear in Ed Kee’s comprehensive and detailed publication Saving Our Harvest: The Story of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s Canning and Freezing Industry (2006) reveals no owners with German surnames. Some workers from the German element may have been employed, but the publication claims that most of the industry’s foreign laborers were of Polish or Italian origin.
The German immigrants of the 1890s and their descendants not only contributed to the ethnic and religious diversity of the Eastern Shore, but they also enriched the economic and social life of the region. More historical research could be done on this largely unexplored subject.

Footnote: One book that was quite valuable in the research for this article was The History of the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation, 1897-1984.