The Painted Churches of Texas: Echoes of the Homeland

The German Heritage of Fredericksburg

By Kenn Knopp

Most of the first German immigrants who come to the Texas Hill Country were a very curious group. The German dictators, the various kings of the independent lands that were loosely called Germany, were becoming very paranoid about the learning that was going on at the universities, particularly about representative forms of government, constitutionalism and voting. At the same time such philosophers as Hegel and Schopenhauer were becoming popular for teaching personal independence and relying only on observable science (the scientific method as opposed to faith).

Growing insurrection in the streets, mostly by idealistic students and their professors, prompted the ruling oligarchs to devise "ausbuergerung" or riddance schemes. Because these revolutionists were gaining momentum, the royals began to take note of individuals who were demanding change and fomenting the ever-increasing street riots.

Meanwhile, Texas needed citizens desperately. Only in East Texas around Nacogdoches and Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico was the population dense enough to prevent Mexican troops from running over them. Representatives of Texas urged Germans to send emigrants to Texas. Free town lots and land grants were offered as enticements.

The royals set up the Adelsverein, the Society of Noblemen, as a stock company to attract German investors, but no commoner could buy stock in it. Its purpose would be to get troublemakers, or any other dissatisfied Germans, to emigrate to Texas. More than 45 ships were contracted. From 1844 to 1850 more than 12,000 people came to Texas.

The first group of settlers to stay and to develop Fredericksburg reached the Perdernales Valley and the location between the Town Creek and Baron's Creek surrounded by seven hills on May 8, 1846. Others followed almost daily. Most of them were highly educated, Latin-speaking idealists excited about living under the US Constitution and being able to vote. Of the practicing Christians, most were Lutherans. There were only a few Catholics among the first founders of Fredericksburg. But most of the initial waves of settlers were a combination of Freidenkers or freethinkers: Anticlerical atheists or agnostics openly hostile to organized religion.

As hundreds of more immigrants arrived, the mix of people became more and more typical of the usual German town. Along with the highly educated now came skilled workers such as carpenters, harriers, farmers and orchard experts, store keepers and teachers. Now most of the immigrants were believers, as opposed to the skeptics and nonbelievers A famine through out Europe and the rise of factories with slave-driving bosses caused great discontent. Glowing stories about the beauty and the opportunities available in the Texas Hill Country began to reach Germany. Still more "volunteers" began to apply at the Adelsverein office in Mainz so they could be "sent" to Texas as part of the so-called German colonization of Texas.

Fredericksburg then grew steadily. Little by little, the Christ-centered and practicing Lutherans and Catholic Christians began to far outnumber the agnostics and atheists. Many of those not wanting to be around churchgoing people moved to Sisterdale, Tusculm (now Boerne), and then founded the town of Comfort in 1854. Today, the numbers are proportionately the same: 40 percent Lutheran, 30 percent Catholic, with the remainder of practicing Christians making up the balance. It was not until 1894 that the citizens of Comfort allowed a Christian church there, Immanuel Lutheran. In 1999, the nonbelievers of Comfort erected a large monument there attesting to their heritage they call "freethinking."

The German language was predominant in Fredericksburg even through the 1940s until pastors properly trained in German began to be hard to find. The same was true with the German language newspaper which gradually was printed entirely in English. German heritage days are commemorated in the churches in which German prayers, hymns and scriptures are presented during the year.