Friedrich A Meissner Letters
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Compiled 1999 by Loren P. Meissner:
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This is Document 0 (Preface)
Friedrich A Meissner Letters
Preface: What have we here?
My great-grandfather, Friedrich Adolf Meissner (or Mei฿ner), was born December 27, 1804 at Sch๖nbach near L๖bau in the Saxon Oberlausitz hill country east of Dresden. His grandfather, Christian Friedrich Meichsner, had been born in 1721 at Johanngeorgenstadt, a town in the "ore mountains" (Erzgebirge) of southeastern Saxony that had been founded by his ancestors in 1654. Christian Friedrich Meichsner left Johanngeorgenstadt and went to school in Leipzig, then at about age 19 to a school in Bautzen, and at about 23 to the University of Leipzig and on to Wittenberg. Along the way, he began consistently spelling of his name as Mei฿ner. At the age of 31 he was appointed as Lutheran minister at Sch๖nbach, a post that he retained for almost 50 years. During his tenure the present church building was constructed or extensively remodeled. Upon his death in 1802, Christian Friedrich Mei฿ner was succeeded as minister at Sch๖nbach by his son Ernst, who died about 15 years later. Ernst Friedrich Mei฿ner had three sons: Friedrich Adolph (who wrote these letters), Ernst Friedrich (who died at about 17 years of age), and Karl Friedrich (who participated in the correspondence recorded here). After their father died, the three sons (whose ages were then about 12, 10, and 8) were cared for by their mother's brother, Karl August Seidel, who was gardener for the court of Saxony in Dresden. Friedrich learned about gardening from his uncle, and had some formal agricultural training beginning at about age 16 (see <T167> below).
At about age 19, Friedrich A. Mei฿ner went to America for a short time but returned to Hamburg, and when he was 22 years old (on 2 Feb 1827) he married Elise von Mithofen. They had a daughter, Karoline Marie Eleanore (b. 12 Nov 1826)
Also near Hamburg lived Doris Sennewald who seems to have been a close friend of F.A.M. On 23 Feb 1838, she had a son (her fourth child), Georg Heinrich. It is possible that F.A.M. was the father of this child. (See Appendix 1.) At this time, Karoline was 11 years old.
In 1843, with the help of Georg Gerstenberg and others, F.A.M. built a large brick house in Kummerfeld near Hamburg, which is still standing. In September 1845 he left Hamburg for America, and soon afterward (1 Aug 1847) his daughter Karoline married Georg Gerstenberg.
Doris Sennewald, now widowed, accompanied F.A.M. to America along with her four children, and all of them were always called Meissner in the U.S. (but Doris was "Mrs. Sennewald" in letters to Karoline). The family lived for almost two years on a farm in New York and then moved to Cape Cod and finally to Florida, where Doris died in 1853. The three older children left, but in 1856 Georg Heinrich (known as Henry, now 18 years old) moved with F.A.M. to Wisconsin. Henry did not stay long with F.A.M. Later he lost a leg in the Civil War, returned to Wisconsin for a short time, and then moved to Iowa and eventually farther west.
In June 1858, F.A.M. married Eva Dorothea Krauss (or Krau฿), a 21-year-old German girl who had come to America with her parents and her brother Georg Heinrich (later called George Henry Crouse) about 1847. F.A.M. and Eva lived on the homestead near Mount Pisgah (later Cashton), Wisconsin, for the rest of their lives, and raised four sons and one daughter. Three sons, Ernest (b. 1859), Adolph (b. 1861), and August (b. 1866) married and had large families. Dorathea (b. 1863) and Carl (b. 1864) never married. The two oldest boys moved to the West Coast before 1890; August was married in 1895 but remained in Wisconsin. F.A.M. died in 1899 and Eva in 1926. Carl died in Wisconsin in 1933, Adolph died in Oklahoma in 1939, and Ernest died in Oregon in 1940.
Daughter Dora (Dorathea) remained on the farm until her death in 1946. August (the last surviving child) sold the farm, reserving the plot where F.A.M., Eva, Carl, and Dora are buried. August and his wife Lena brought a box of papers from the farm, mostly written by FAM or his wife Eva. After August died in 1952, Lena kept the box for some time, and then discarded it. A neighbor, Mrs. Constance Stephen of Viroqua WI, salvaged the box. I obtained it from Mrs. Stephen in June 1958.
Some of the material was in diary form, but the most valuable by far consisted of several books that contain copies of letters written by FAM from about 1847 until his death in 1899. Much of the material is in German, in old-style script handwriting. I was fortunate to obtain the services of a well-qualified translator, Mrs. Martina Camphไusen of Riverside. Mrs. Camphไusen was born in Germany, and had experience in archival work before she married an American soldier stationed there. In 1958, Mr. Camphไusen was a student at the University of California, Riverside.
Martina Camphไusen made a rough but generally accurate translation of the books of letters, and of some loose letters that were in the box as well. Her English language proficiency was quite adequate but, since I was paying her by the hour, we agreed that she should attempt only a quick translation with no attempt to polish the English text. In the following transcription, I have corrected a few of the most obvious translation errors but in the earlier parts I have made no attempt to eliminate the vestiges of German word order.
In March 1961, at the suggestion of Mrs. Stephen, I donated the box of papers to the Wisconsin State Historical Society. I also loaned the translations to the Society. The original papers, along with microfilms of the translations, as well as some other records (not donated by me) of FAM's public service in Wisconsin as Postmaster and Justice of the Peace, are now filed at the La Crosse Research Center of the University of Wisconsin. I sent a copy of the present document to Paul Beck at La Crosse in April 2001. It is available on paper at the Research Center.
The purpose of the present transcription is to provide better access to the letters that were written in German and translated by Mrs. Camphไusen. In addition, some excerpts from the English language letters recorded in the same books, and some loose letters received by F.A.M. that do not appear in the books, are included here for continuity.
Here numbers in brackets <T123> refer to page numbers in Martina Camphไusen's translation. In case of any question concerning the present transcription, these numbers may be used to identify the corresponding microfilmed translation pages at La Crosse Research Center. Both the translated German letters and the letters written in English can be further referred back to the original bound volumes at La Crosse Research Center. Unless labeled "[Loose letter]," all letters appear in these hand-bound books of FAM letter copies.
- Loren P. Meissner Kensington, California 1999
Sallie Stafford, Wallingford, Vermont. [Not sent? (see last paragraph)].
Aug 16, 1857 .
My dear friend: Only a few days ago I wrote to you and again I have the pen in my hand for the same purpose dont you think I am foolish. I have a great mind to burn your first two letters but I shall have to preserve them to cool me off when I am getting too warm.
As it is the only way I know of to make you acquainted with myself, I will write my own biography for you, if you will have patience enough to read a very long letter.
I was born on the 27th day of December 1804, in the village of Sch๖nbach (Handsome Brook) in the Kingdom of Saxony. Saxony is called the garden of Germany and celebrated not only for the beauty and scenery of the country but for works of art and science, and handsome women.
The young mechanic when he starts on his first journey sings: [German words, followed by English translation: ] "I will travel to Saxony where pretty girls grow like apples on the tree." One of our most popular writers (Burges) sang the praise of the Saxon girls. The answer to his poem by a Sweden girl is a much frequented country air. It runs thus: [German words, followed by English translation: ] "I am a Sweden girl and not so well educated as the Saxon girls who read the parts [drama?] and play the piano and whose manners are said to be as sweet as honey.."
Now I must tell you before I resume my narrative: In Europe there are three distinct classes of society, the Lower, the Middle, and the Higher. The first mentioned comprises Workmen, Peasants, and Mechanics. In my native state this class can all read and write. The second class is composed of Lawyers, Preachers, Doctors, Merchants, and of the farmers and all learned and well educated men. The higher class is formed of the Nobility up to the King. Money gives little or no rank but distinguished men of the second class are freely admitted in the circles of the upper class.
My grandfather [Christian Friedrich Meissner, 1721 1802] was Pastor on the Church (Lutheran) of the village. My father [Ernest Friedrich Meissner, 1764 1817] followed his father in office in the same Parish but died when I was about 10 years old [actually 12 y 5 m LPM]; two years later my mother [Juliane Eleanore Seidel, abt. 1768 abt 1820; see <T206>] died also. I was placed in the care of an uncle who was Gardener to the King of Saxony. Dresden is the capital of the state and the residence of the King. We lived in a beautiful garden in the suburbs of this city. Large glass houses was filled with rare exotic plants. [Pilnitz? LPM] From here I went to school and have seen and tasted many of the luxuries of higher life. I had the privilege of visiting the opera, the theater, and masked balls. I remember well that I often forgot the play on stage resting my eyes on one of the Princesses whose beauty fascinated me.
After I had got through with my schooling another uncle of mine who had made his fortune as a Merchant wanted me to follow his vocation, but after two years trial I could not stand it longer his office was like a prison for me. I urged so long on my Guardian till he placed me in an Institution where farming was taught as a science. When I was about 19 years old [1823?] I went to America but finding in the Western wilds that knowledge availed nothing, and having before my departure from Hamburg fallen in love, I got homesick and went back. I stopped in Hamburg and after waiting a while till I was of age, I married [on 2 Feb 1827 to Elise Henriette Sophie Fredericke VON MITHOFEN, b 12 Mar 1806 see <T206> actually F.A.M. was 22 years old. Karoline was already born Nov 1826 LPM].
My means was only small I went to gardening and soon attracted the attention of Mr. Booth & Co., seed growers and merchants (see supplement no. 1). I was placed as head gardener in their large establishment. After a few years I established myself (see supplement no. 2). [These were apparently attachments to the letter LPM] I bought a small farm, planted a nursery, and raised garden seeds. I toiled hard and succeeded well. I planted a large orchard, I built a new house 72 feet long and 52 feet wide (80,000 bricks was used so) [This is the house in Kummerfeld that is probably still standing LPM] and may have now reaped the fruit of my labors and dwelled in comfort, but owing to some dissatisfaction, the idea took hold of me to start for America again. My first born daughter Karoline married a young man [m. Georg Gerstenberg 1 Aug 1847] who was gardener with me. I put her in possession of my property.
I left with my wife [some mystery here LPM] and four children William, Wilhelmina, Leonore, and Henry, and arrived the second time at New York (Oct 20 1845). In New York I got acquainted with a gentleman who owned a large farm and tracts of land in Essex County N.Y. There I went with my family but finding after 1-1/2 years experience that the soil was too poor and the winter too long I resolved to leave again. But many a pleasant evening I recollect at Woodwardsville. Mr. Radcliff, a gentleman from New York, and his sister, who owned a saw mill and large tracts of land here, was our neighbor; a Vermont family (Mr. Este, his wife, three full-grown daughters and some sons) kept house for him; this with my own family made a pretty nice company either we spent the evenings there or all came to my house and you may believe it was sometimes very lively.
Trying to please my wife, who didnt like the wilderness, and finding an opportunity I went to Cape Cod Massachusetts; for a year and a half I worked a farm on shares then I accepted the offer of a wealthy man to buy me a farm. The farm consisted of only 25 acres of land with a new dwelling house and cost me, when I had built a new barn, 2000 dollars. I raised vegetables for market and made out pretty well but finding that I was toiling only for the rich man who took my earnings as interest for his money I wanted to go where land was cheap although rich. I wanted to find that America where I had dreamed of. My wife was opposed to a new country but at last I prevailed. The question presented itself now where to go to. I would have chosen the West, but I had read so much about the unhealthy climate and the prevalent fevers that I didnt like to risk the lives of myself and family for all the wonders and risks of that far famed country.
I had heard and read several times of the mild and healthy climate of Florida, and reasoning that in a country where a farmer has to provide for no winter his business must be an easy one I resolved to go there.
Cape Cod is all together peopled by seafaring men in summer all the boys go on a fishing voyage and in winter they stay home and attend school. (My children went also to school they all speak plain English no one suspects them to be Germans.) No wonder that my oldest son William, frequenting such company, wanted to go to sea also. The gentleman who bought the farm for me, an old sea captain who had risen in the times of war from a poor boy to a rich man, favored his intention and promised to help him in a few years to the place of a captain, so I was forced to give my consent and he went, before we left, on a voyage around Cape Horn; he follows the sea still but has since regretted very deeply and written many a letter to keep his younger brother back.
In January 1852, we left for Jacksonville, Florida and arrived there. We went 250 miles up the St. Johns River to a settlement called Enterprise, and arrived all in good health and spirits. This place, consisting of a hotel beautifully located on Lake Monroe and about 20 settlers scattered in the woods, is very much frequented in the winter time by invalids from the northern states a steamboat runs every week between there and Jacksonville. We took possession of an empty log house not far from the hotel, and as my wife and daughters were the only white women in the neighborhood (only one other settler had a wife and she died while we stayed there) our cabin was at all times visited by the hotel people. I remember very well a fleshy gentleman and his lady from Vermont, but I dont recollect his name, who had a great fancy for our company.
As the summer approached the guests from the hotel left, the landlord shut up the house and left also. People told us we would soon get the fever and cautioned us to move off from the lake to the pine woods, but our residence with the view over the clear water of the lake was so pleasant, our health so good, that we did not heed their good advice. I had planted several acres of land with corn and vegetables. In the evenings a great fire of pine knots was lit; the neighbors assembled, stories were told, the girls would sing, till after midnight when the air got cooler we all went to seek rest.
This happy time lasted till about the first of June  when my misfortune commenced. One by one was taken down with the fever. In a while we got so far reduced that we could not get our self a drink of water. (One farmer who lived alone in the woods had got down by the fever, seeing in four weeks not a living soul, and had to crawl all the time on his hands and legs to a spring to get a drink of water.) We ate quinine by the pound; moved to another location but there was no help sometimes we would get clear of the fever for eight or 14 days but it always returned. After living about a year in this way I went down to Jacksonville and bought a farm four miles below the town on the St Johns River; the tide water and the fresh sea breeze made it a healthy location. I moved my family there and soon all got better except myself who was troubled by the fever a half year longer.
I planted my farm with vegetables for the Jacksonville market and we were getting something underway again when about midsummer 1853, my wife was taken down with dysentery and died after a short sickness. I have lost father and mother but never has anything affected me so much as the loss of my dearest friend my wife. My grief, perhaps owing to the weak state of my health, was most uncontrollable. Standing with my children around the death bed of their mother I told them, "Pretty soon I shall be all alone Henry will go to sea and you (my daughters) will get married and follow your husbands." Then Wilhelmine, who I had always loved best, flung to my neck bursted in tears, hugging and kissing me, exclaiming, "Father if they all leave you I shall never leave you I will stay with you." and she was the first to leave me. I buried the body in the midst of my flower garden before my window I could not make up my mind to have her carried to a distant graveyard. Evergreen shrubs and never ceasing flowers mark the sacred spot.
In a few days after, Myself, Wilhelmine and Henry were taken down by the same complaint, which in the Southern climate is contagious and generally fatal. My place was four miles from the city and as there was a great deal of sickness prevailing the doctor could not well attend to us so four or so of my friends hired a house in town and moved us there. We were very sick; the doctor visited us twice every day, young ladies watched the nights and gave us medicine and cooling syringes in my fever dreams they seemed to me like angels. Leonore kept well all the time and stayed with us. In about four weeks Henry got enough better to go to the farm but Wilhelmine was not strong enough and stayed with Leonore in town.
In the next house to us in town lived a Mrs. Ryan, with family. Her oldest daughter was married to a printer who edited a paper but had left and gone as a volunteer against the Indians. Not finding his death by the enemy he took his life himself, owing to jealousy. There was another married daughter in the house who had left her husband, three or four younger children, and a boy of about 19 years. Mr. Ryan was in California. After we had left town this family got intimate with my daughter and induced Wilhelmine to come and live with them. Leonore disliking the people went to live with Mrs. Swart, a very honorable lady, Mr. Swart being important [?] of the town.
Wilhelmine [b July 1834] fell in love with young Ryan and as I was opposed to their union because he was a mean boy and of very unsteady habits she left with the Ryan family for California . From there she urged Leonore to join her and prevailed at last. Leonore left with a Mrs. Trace who went to join her husband in California and wanted a traveling companion and who paid her expenses. I had no objection for Leonore to go because we never could agree. Wilhelmine was a very handsome girl, well educated and of pleasant manners but of a very sensitive mind. In her fever sickness she often spoke whole hours in a trance, her eyes shut she would recite a poem from our great poets or sing a hymn with the greatest correctness, feeling, and expression. She would not speak but seemed to understand when we spoke to her: when mother asked her, shall I wash you? she would shake her head, shall Father wash you? she would make a consenting sing. Then I took a bowl with cold water and bathed her commencing on the top of the head; when I came as far as to her breast she would open her eyes and wake from her dream. Now blame me if you can that I didnt keep her back; reasoning was of no use and force would perhaps have killed her or destroyed her reason. She was 18 [20?] years old and has chosen her lot.
I sold my farm for a mere trifle, and went for a time with Henry to a plantation [Sammis?] making gardens. (Some time when I have nothing else to write I will give you a description of a Southern plantation, if you have not got tired of reading my scribbling.) In June last year  we left for the West. From Massachusetts I took two tons of furniture and household goods besides all kinds of farming utensils to Florida. When we left for here I sold nearly all but not enough our package proved still too cumbersome.
We went by steamboat over Charleston to New York, thence by railroad over Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago to Prairie du Chien [WI]. Here I left Henry for a while and took a scramble through the country to look for land. I fixed on the spot where I am now, preempted [chose for Homestead] 160 acres, and went for Henry and my package. We arrived here July 19, 1856, unhitched our wagon below the shade of a big oak tree near the first spring of the little La Crosse river, made a fire, and cooked our first meal in our new chosen home.
Next we built a shanty, made some hay for winter use, and commenced building a house. After this, with the aid of some neighbors, was finished, purchased a stove for 30 dollars and some household goods and stores. My means was nearly exhausted. My journey from Florida to Wisconsin cost me alone 200 dollars. The winter set in, and the snow being so deep preventing all farming work, Henry resolved to hire out. He is a steady, likely [likable] boy 19 years old. Everybody liked him, the girls not excepted. In Florida he would never join a dancing party but here he got very lively. There was not a week that the young folks did not have a dance. He got a good situation in a village on the railroad 60 miles from here. He left me about the first of January  and I went to board in Mr. Russells family. Partly I stayed with Mr. Hazen our postmaster, whose office I take over in his absence.
As spring came on I wrote Henry to come home but he wished to stay, without giving any reason. (The neighbors think he has got a sweetheart there.) I may [might] have written again or I may [might] have compelled him to come home but I felt too proud for the one and I would not do the other.
Now if you know how I have loved this boy your heart would tell you how his desertion has grieved me, but love asks no pay. I loved him my love paid of itself.
I dont wish to be dependent on my children. Since I came here I have gained health and strength. I feel at least 10 years younger. I have not been so well before since I came to America. Next December I shall be 53 years old; some people think me 40. I live in pleasant relation to my neighbors. Sometimes I feel quite happy and think it is better not to have the cares of a family. Sometimes I wish for a friend, a heart that could understand me, that I might call my own .
I have hired land of my neighbors; my crops are very promising. I shall raise more than Mr. Russell, who has a large family to support. I have built me a new home, I may raise me a new family .
Dear Sallie, these lines were written for you and not for the eye of a stranger. I have told you what I think to be the truth. It has given me pleasure to let all the past travel once more through my memory. Judge mild [do not judge harshly], I know very little about you. You have not given me an explanation of your first letter; I shall not ask one. It is my one aim always to believe the best of everyone till I am forced to the contrary. Why should I not believe the best of you, whose friendship I am seeking. I believe you are good; all I ask is dont convince me otherwise.
After reading this long letter I feel rather reluctant to send the same off. I shall wait for another letter from you; I think you have hardly given me a right to believe that you take enough interest in your new found friend to justify my confidence.
End of Document 0 (Preface)