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ORTH FAMILY HISTORY

 

 

GERMANY AND FÜRSTENGRUND

AT THE TIME OF JOHANN PETER ORTH

 

 

 

Introduction:

It is of interest to convey a bit of the history of Germany at the time of Peter Orth lived there as well as giving some information about the village of Fürstengrund. Throughout these pages, reference is made to Peter or others coming to North America from Germany. However, it is important to note that modern Germany did not come into existence until 1871, after Peter emigrated.

Germany:

When Johann Peter Orth was born in 1818, Germany had just emerged from the Napoleonic Wars which resulted in the map of Europe being redrawn as a result of the Congress of Vienna. The Germany which emerged in 1815 included 39 states ranging in size from the two great powers, Austria and Prussia, through the minor kingdoms of Bavaria, Würtemberg, Saxony, and Hanover and smaller duchies such as Baden, Nassau, Oldenburg and Hesse-Darmstadt along with even a number of tiny principalities and several free cities such as Hamburg and Bremen.  Prior to this period, Germany consisted of a bewildering territorial mosaic of various sovereignties and jurisdictions that had been maintained under the Holy Roman Empire. These 39 states were loosely organized into the German Confederation. This was a loose political association in which most of the rights of sovereignty remained in the hands of the member governments. There was no central executive or judiciary, only a federal Diet meeting in Frankfurt am Main to consider common legislation. The confederation was in theory empowered to adopt measures strengthening the political and economic bonds of the nation. In fact, it remained a stronghold of particularism, unwilling to sacrifice local autonomy in order to establish centralized authority.

This period was also marked by the emergence of a new a middle class whose wealth came primarily from industrial activity. Large-scale industry was emerging in central Europe and techniques of mechanization were introduced in textile mills and coal mines and spread to other branches of manufacturing. The growth of this new middle-class also led a demand for greater political influence. At the same time, skilled artisans found themselves unable to compete successfully against the factories. Population also began to shift from country to city, although a majority of the inhabitants of the German Confederation continued to live in rural communities.

In the western part of the German Confederacy, the basic problem facing rural inhabitants was not landlessness, as it was in the east, but overpopulation. The aristocracy along the Rhine and the Danube was often willing to give the peasantry possession of the land in return for a substantial payment. The farmer was thereby saddled with heavy financial obligations. Many rural inhabitants tried to escape poverty by emigrating to the New World, those who remained faced swift demographic expansion and often had to subdivide the small holdings until they yielded no profit. Civil discontent mounted among impoverished villagers who lacked employment in industry.

By the middle of the 1840's, a severe business depression halted industrial expansion and aggravated urban unemployment. At the same time, serious crop failures led to a major famine in the entire areas from the Irish Sea to Russian Poland. In central Europe, the hungry 1840's drove the lower classes, which had long been suffering from the economic effects of industrial and agricultural rationalization, to the point of open rebellion. Following a French insurrection against French king Louis-Phillipe in February 1848, a number of sympathetic revolutions against the governments of the German Confederation broke out. Very shortly, the German princes hastened to make peace with the opposition in order to forestall republican and socialist experiments like those in France. Prominent liberals were appointed to the state ministries, and civic reforms were introduced safeguarding the rights of the citizens and the powers of the legislature. There were attempts to achieve political unification through a national assembly representing all of Germany. Elections were held soon after the spring uprising had subsided, and on May 18, 1848, the Frankfurt National Assembly met to prepare the constitution for a free and united fatherland.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the liberal revolution did not survive very long and was crushed by conservative forces by the summer of 1849. The German Confederation which emerged was of two camps, the Prussian Union on one side and the revived German Confederation on the other. It was only a matter of time before these two sides would clash. The 1850's were essentially a period of reaction and conservatism. Many of the political concessions made earlier, under the pressure of popular turmoil, were now restricted or abrogated. In Frankfurt am Main, where the federal Diet now resumed its sessions, diplomats continued to guard the prerogatives of princely authority and state sovereignty. The people, tired of insurrection and cowed by repression, were politically apathetic. The German Confederation as a whole, rigid and unyielding, remained during these last years of its existence blind to the need for reform that the revolution had made clear.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Grand Duchy of Hessen Darmstadt:

At the time of Johann Peter Orth's birth in 1818, the village of Fürstengrund would have been found in the Grand Duchy of Hessen Darmstadt.

The Grand Duchy of Hesse was located in central Germany. It comprised two enclaves separated from each other by a strip of land on the north bank of the Main River and centered around Frankfurt am Main. The upper enclave was known as Upper Hesse, or Oberhessen. The lower enclave consisted of two regions - Starkenburg, on the south bank of the Main and west bank of the Rhine, whose principal city was Darmstadt, and Rhenish Hesse, or Rheinhessen, east of the Rhine, whose principal city was Mainz. Rheinhessen had formerly been the main part of the Duchy of Westphalia, but was acquired by the Grand Duke at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

A brief history of the German state of Hessen, including Hessen Darmstadt states:

The people of Hessen were converted to Christianity in the late 7th century and incorporated into the empire of the Franks. In the 12th century the region was part of the landgraviate (territory over which a nobleman or noblewoman held jurisdiction) of Thüringen. Hessen was established as a separate landgraviate in 1247 by Duchess Sophia, niece of the Thüringen ruler Henry Raspe. Her son, Henry the Child, became the first male landgrave of Hessen in 1263. During the 16th century the rulers and people of the landgraviate played an important part in the Reformation. Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous founded Marburg University, a Protestant institution, in 1527.

 

Following Philip's death, the landgraviate was divided among his four sons. Two branches of the family subsequently became extinct, and their holdings were absorbed by the surviving lines, the houses of Hessen-Darmstadt, descended from George I, and Hessen-Kassel, started by William IV. Important landgraves of Hessen-Kassel included Frederick I, king of Sweden, and Frederick II, who furnished Hessian troops to the British during the American Revolution (1775-1783).

 

In 1803,  Hessen-Kassel was constituted an electorate, and in 1806 Hessen-Darmstadt was elevated to a grand duchy. In 1866, after siding with Austria in the Seven Weeks' War, Hessen-Kassel was annexed by Prussia; Hessen-Darmstadt was forced to cede Hessen-Homburg, a landgraviate that had been established out of its territory in 1622. The Prussians merged Hessen-Kassel, Nassau, parts of Hessen-Darmstadt, and Frankfurt into the new province of Hessen-Nassau in 1867, with Kassel as the capital.

 

Hessen-Darmstadt remained a grand duchy until after World War I (1914-1918), when it became a state in the Weimar Republic. After World War II (1939-1945) the area was made part of the American Zone of Occupation. Subsequently, most of Hessen-Nassau was merged with Hessen-Darmstadt. In 1946 the merged territories were established as the state of Hessen.

Source:  Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

 

 

The flag of the Duchy of Hessen Darmstadt, adopted March 16, 1839 and abolished as civil and state ensign in 1867, abolished as state flag in 1903.

 

Maps:

The following maps provide information concerning the historical development of Hesse- Darmstadt and the various districts within its area.  It must be borne in mind that the territory and administration of Hesse-Darmstadt was constantly changing and evolving.  As such, any reference to Hesse-Darmstadt depends on the year in which a certain event occurred.
 

 

 

 

 

 

  The three maps above illustrates the evolution and territory of of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1614, 1820 and 1848 relative to its bordering states (shown in darker brown).  It is noted that the two parts of Hesse-Darmstadt are physically separated from each other by the independent city-state of Frankfurt.

 

 

(.pdf version)

(.pdf version)

 

  These maps show the administrative regions of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1817 and 1848.  In 1817, there were three such regions, including Starkenburg.  In 1848, as a result of the 1848 revolutions, ten government districts were created, including the district of Erbach.  The name of each district also corresponded to the town or city in which the government seat was located (e.g. the town of Erbach would have been the government seat for the district of Erbach).  However, by 1852, the government districts were returned to their pre-1848 configurations consisting of three government districts.  The city of Darmstadt became the government seat for the Starkenburg district.

Source:  All of the maps shown above and the information concerning the government administrative divisions  of Hesse- Darmstadt can be found at the Website for the INSTITUTE OF EUROPEAN HISTORY at Mainz.

 

Erbach and Fürstengrund:

In the very early years of the 19th century, before the changes resulting from the Congress of Vienna in 1815, The village of Fürstengrund would have been a part of the secular imperial state of Erbach.  While Count Franz I of Erbach remained sovereign of this state until 1823, his state, together will twenty-two other former sovereign domains, was integrated by Napoleon in 1803 into the territory of the former Landgrave of Hesse, which in turn was upgraded in 1806 to become the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt (under Ludwig I).  In 1822, "Erbach" was essentially constituted as a county within Hesse-Darmstadt and it was divided into two districts, Breuberg and Erbach.  In 1972, the name of the Erbach district was changed to the Oenwaldkreis.  Until 1822, Fürstengrund came under the governance of the Landratsbezirk Breuberg and in 1848 it came under the jurisdiction of the government district of Erbach.

Today, the village of Fürstengrund is a part of the town of Bad König, District Odenwaldreis, which is located about 30 kilometers south-east of the city of Darmstadt in the German state of Hessen. Prior to October 1, 1971, Fürstengrund was still autonomous in term of local government. Bad König has a population of approximately several thousand people and Fürstengrund has a population of several hundred people. In 1840, it had a population of approximately 423 and by 1858 its population had declined slightly to 403.

The village probably has its roots as a peasant village and it is built in a "string" manner along a main road leading up into the forested hills.  Fürstengrund still retains the characteristics of a small village since it is still physically separated from the town of Bad König by a couple of kilometers of farmland. It is situated at the end of a road which terminates at the opposite end of the village from where it enters.

Fürstengrund and Bad König are located in an area of Germany known as the Odenwald. This is essentially the area of highlands between the Rhine, Main and Neckar rivers (between Frankfurt and Heidelberg). This is an area of beautiful forests and blooming meadows and hills just all enough to be called mountains.

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