"A Remembrance of the Past; Building for the Future." ~ Eve Eckert Koehler

Remembering Our Danube Swabian Ancestors

The Early Colonization of Swabian Turkey 

by Josef Hoben
Translated by Henry Fischer

  The would-be settlers received an Imperial pass for their journey down the Danube. In most cases it was a collective pass for a whole group that included agricultural implements, tradesmen's tools and livestock they brought with them that was needed when they passed through the toll booths along the way.  Only those named in the collective pass could undertake the journey.  In this way they tried to protect them from hangers-on and fellow travellers who might be "illegal's" who would attempt to pass as bona fide settlers.  In the "Travel Regulations" the following stipulation was made:  "the previously mentioned Swabians along with their wives and children...are not allowed to step on dry land on their entire journey or try to remain somewhere after passing by the Royal residential city of Vienna but travel on directly to Hungary." 

  Such precautions were apparently necessary because it had been learned that some rather large groups of settlers never reached their designated destination.  In fact, this happened frequently.  Nobles and other landlords represented by their agents recruited colonists bound for the Banat to settle on their private domains and lured them off the ships at Dunafӧldvár, Paks or Tolna with promises that went far beyond what had attracted the settlers to Hungary in the first place.  The dupe in all of this was the noble who had recruited them in Germany and had invested a considerable sum of money in his would-be settlers.  The Imperial Agent of the Crown, the landlord of the Tevel Domain, Dóry, must have been taken in like this more than once, for his agent Felbinger attests he was instructed to accompany the settlers he recruited so that they would not be lost along the way.  In 1721 a large convoy of settlers was awaited in the Banat but they never arrived.  Research indicates the settlers left the ships in Buda, Dunafӧldvár and Paks along the Danube.  The most famous of those who brought about this kind of deviation in the destination of the settlers and recruited them for the private domains of their noble master were the estate administrators of Count Mercy (especially those of de Mercy-Argenteau) in the Tolna whose activities earned them the title, "systematic settler stealers" by one historian of the period. 

  Fate was not kind to the first settlers.  They were often parted from their money by fraudulent agents and corrupt shipmasters.  In their first years in Hungary they were often plagued with hunger because the newly cultivated fields did not provide much of a yield in terms of the crops they planted.  Many settlers found it necessary to take on other work in addition to their farming.  In times of need the inhabitants of Szakadát had to earn their bread as masons and construction workers on the Mercy Domain in Hӧgyész and on other occasions they had to work as far away as one hundred kilometres. 

  An even greater danger and threat were the floods and many harvests were ruined as a result.  There was always the threat of war that existed in those regions where the Turks were still in the vicinity and often raided the settlements.  In many villages, especially those with a mixed population in terms of nationality, Kuruz raids flared up when many of the villages were still in the first stage of their development and were almost totally wiped out.  But the worst threats were sickness and epidemics.

  In addition to the promises made to the colonists (exemption from taxes and levies; the termination of serfdom; religious freedom; assistance in house construction; providing farming equipment; the granting of arable land and meadows) were not or were not fully met.  The estate owning nobles were allowed to impose the Robot (forced free labour) on their settlers as well as a tithe (one ninth or one tenth) of their crops, poultry, livestock and wine, all of which were especially forbidden in the Repopulation Patent.  The settlers could not necessarily expect much in the way of support from their landlord but there were always some exceptions and in some villages in addition to the exemption from paying taxes and freedom from the tithe for three to six years they were also allocated oxen and livestock on credit, and lumber and timber for building and farming equipment were given as an outright gift.  But they of course were in the minority. 

  For that reason there is no dearth of examples during this early settlement period of totally impoverished or sick settlers who undertook the journey back home having been forced into a life of beggary.  In the Minutes of the City Council of the Royal Free City of Ulm in the year 1712 there is a report that the city had to undertake energetic measures to ward off the dangers involved by their return.  While the shipping interests in Ulm saw the welcome possibility of huge profits as the steady stream of emigrants grew in May and June of 1712, a report arrived from Vienna on June 27th with the news that many of the returnees from Hungary who were reduced to beggary were making their way back home.  Those who were healthy were doing so on foot and the sick were on board ships.  The population of Ulm feared that the returnees would bring an epidemic to the city or even the "Hungarian sickness" (swamp fever) that they associated with the Black Death that had decimated the population of Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  For that reason the magistrates sought to have the ships with the sick returnees dock before reaching Ulm and go on to Offingen.  On September 22, 1712 two ships with sick Swabians onboard arrived in Leipheim.  The sick were treated and cared for at the expense of the Royal Free City of Ulm. 

  In December of the same year another ship docked at Donauwürth, where the returnees were cared for at the cost of the District. 

  A typical and much repeated example of a failed emigration attempt to Hungary (which was not to be an isolated case by far) is that of Konrad Rӧder from Dippach that belongs to the Bishopric of Fulda.  In an official Patent of May 28, 1778 the Prince Elector Abbot Constantin von Buttlar reported that the said Rӧder had returned from Hungary because there "everyone is in bondage" which a German cannot tolerate.  Before his emigration Rӧder had sold his property and possessions from which he had to pay a manumission fee of 10% of their value to his landlord the Abbey of Fulda.  He was forced to use the rest of it on his journey.  The Prince Abbot used this frightening example to warn his subjects about "going off to Hungary" because of the dangers involved in the emigration, although at the same time he did not forbid them to do so.  In future only those returnees to the Bishopric who had an estate of 200 Gulden with them would be eligible for support until they could re-establish themselves.  He did so in order to hinder the Bishopric becoming overrun with beggars and draw countless other poor people. 

  The release of such a decree indicates that the emigrants during this early period of the emigration to Hungary would not have been exclusively from among the poorest people but people who had a "stake" of at least 200 Gulden in order to be in a position to settle in Hungary.  In 1722, in Regensburg where emigrants from Fulda, Darmstadt and Franconia boarded the ships, fifty of the would-be emigrant families were sent back home because they could not show they had the minimum amount of cash with them.  As a consequence several of the families sought out a shipmaster who was not as stringent about the Prince Bishop's decree and took them onboard.

Next: The Settlement Policies at the Time of the Great Swabian Migration

[Published at 12 Sep 2011 by Jody McKim Pharr]





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