Pomerania, or Pommern as it was called in Germany, was a Prussian province in northern Germany bordering on the Baltic Sea. It was surrounded by Mecklenburg-Schwerin on the West, Brandenburg on the South, and West Prussia on the East. It had a land area of 11, 654 square miles, roughly the size of Delaware and Maryland combined. The Oder River divided the country into two parts, Hither Pomerania (Vorpommern), the area west of the Oder and Farther Pomerania (Hinterpommern), the area to the east. Stettin, a port city 40 miles inland on the Oder, was the capital of Pomerania. The province was further divided into about 30 administrative districts or counties (Kreise; Kr.). A map of Pomerania shows the county boundaries as they existed in 1913. Our Maass and Koehler ancestors lived in villages in at least five of the counties -- Kr. Köslin. Kr. Kolberg-Körlin, Kr. Naugard, Kr. Regenwalde and Kr. Saatzig. In 1945, Stettin and all of Hinterpommern were given to Poland and the two million German inhabitants, including all our cousins who had remained in Germany, were driven or fled from their homeland.

Most of Pomerania is relatively flat although hills as high as 838 feet are found along the eastern border. The glacial terrain varies from level land to gently rolling hills that are interspersed with numerous woodlands and shallow lakes. Rivers, which begin in the highlands of southern Germany, flow to the north emptying into the Baltic Sea. The white sandy beaches along the 340 mile long Baltic coastline are popular tourist destinations for the Germans and Poles. Another popular area, known as "Polczyn Switzerland", lies about 60 miles (100 km) east of Stettin (now called Szczecin). Innumerable shallow lakes are scattered among steep, tree-covered slopes connected by a network of swift-flowing streams. The forests include beech, oaks, hornbeam, birch, and pine. The lakes and marshes abound with cormorants, black storks, swans and grey herons. Other rare birds such as the eagle owl, wood grouse, heath cock, and various eagles are found in the forests. This area was only about 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Braunsforth where the Julius Maass family lived before moving to America.

About 55% of the land is cultivated, 20% is meadows and moorland, and about 25% is covered in forests and lakes. Crops included rye, wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, sugar beets and even tobacco. More information about Pomeranian agriculture can be found on a website maintained by Hauke Fehlberg. He reports that in 1882, 88% of the livestock were sheep, 6% cattle, 3% horses and 3% pigs.

Our Maass and Koehler ancestors have been traced to a number of villages in Hinter Pommern. The earliest documented origin of the Maass lineage is Henkenhagen, a small village on the Baltic coast in the county of Kolberg-Körlin where they were farming in the early 1500's (see Deutsches Geschlechterbuch Band 134:381-388). As the Maass family tree expanded, additional branches were established in the nearby villages. One of the Maass descendants, my 4th-great grandfather, Pagel Maass, lived in Lassehne in the mid 1700's. His son, Christian (my 3rd-great grandfather), married Johanna Catarina Noerenberg who was born in nearby Wendhagen. At some point Christian and Johanna moved to Obernhagen in the county of Regenwalde where David was born in 1810. David married Friederike Sophie Henriette Prahl from Woldenburg and moved to Ornshagen, a small village a few miles southwest of the city of Regenwalde, the county seat and the principal economic center of the county of Regenwalde. In about 1856, the family moved to Hohen Schönau, a town in the county of Naugard, about seven miles (11 km) south of the city of Naugard. When Johanna Maass married Heinrich Luedtke, they lived in Langkafel and Zampelhagen, just north of Hohen Schönau. Julius Maass and his wife, Emilie Koehler lived about 11 miles (17 km) to the southeast in the village of Braunsforth. The Koehlers lived in several villages in the county of Saatzig, including Alt Damerow, Buchholz, Kietzig, Kitzerow, Karkow, and Steinhofel. These villages can be seen on an 18th century map of this area (see map 1). Hohenschönau appears as Schönau on this map.

Our Rieck and Schulz ancestors lived in Vorpommern just west of the Oder River and about 20 miles southwest of Stettin. The Riecks lived in Hohenselchow, a town of about 1000 inhabitants in the 1870's located in the county of Randow. The Schulz family lived in Pinnow, a smaller village less than two miles to the south. Both villages are shown in the lower left-hand section of the 18th century map (see map 2). Stettin is located approximately in the center of the map.

A Brief History of Pomerania

The earliest inhabitants of Pomerania were Germanic tribes that migrated southwards from Scandinavia prior to 100 B.C. By the fifth century A.D., these tribes, known as the Goths, Vandals, Germanii, and Teutoni, had migrated westward and the area was settled by Slavic tribes that entered from the east. The Slavic tribes included the Pomerani and Polani, who settled in the areas that became Pomerania and Poland. The German name Pommern comes from the Slavonic word, Po more, meaning "along the sea". The Pomeranian Slavs were later referred to as the Wends. In about 995, Pomerania was conquered by Boleslaus I, the first King of Poland. However, wars between the Poles, Danes, and Germans for possession of the area were fought with varying results for more than a century. In 1122 the Poles were victorious over the pagan Wends and Duke Boleslaw III introduced Christianity to Pomerania. He also invited the first German settlers into the area.

Pomerania became a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire in 1181 when Bogislaw I swore his allegiance to Frederick I (Barbarosa), the German King and Roman Emperor. Thus began a Greif dynasty that continued for the next four centuries, with the crown passed down from generation to generation through inheritance. The last Pomeranian Duke was Bogislaw XIV who reigned until his death in 1637. With no one to inherit the crown, the electors of Brandenburg assumed control of Pomerania. During the 13th century, surnames began appearing and by 1400 they were in fairly common use throughout Germany.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, tens of thousands of immigrants from the Rhineland, Westfalen, Niedersachsen, Holstein, Mecklenburg and Holland colonized Pomerania, establishing German villages among the Wend inhabitants and introducing trade. The immigrants, who were welcomed by the Pomeranian Dukes, provided the necessary skills and tools needed to clear the forests, drain the marshes, build dikes and roads, and farm the land. They introduced the iron plow and the 3-field rotation system of farming. Eventually, the German language and culture dominated the country and by the 1400's the Wends of Pomerania disappeared completely as a result of intermarriage.

The Church figured prominently in the early colonization with various ecclesiastical institutions receiving or buying vast areas. The Cistercians, the most prominent monastic order, established monasteries as early as the 1170's in Pomerania. One, the monastery of Kolbatz, acquired huge land holdings in Hinterpommern and by 1313, owned 53 villages. Intermixed among these possessions were the large estates of the princes and nobles, including both the native Slavs and the German knights who began arriving about 1235. One of the most important noble Slavic families, the von Wedel, owned huge estates including many towns, villages, and castles in Brandenburg and Pomerania beginning as early as 1269. These estates remained in the family for centuries. One of the descendants, Hugo von Wedel, owned the estate at Braunsforth in the latter half of the 1800's when Julius Maass, my great grandfather, served as his head shepherd. Another large land holder was the von Borcke family who founded the towns of Regenwalde and Labes. Their holdings included the village of Ornshagen where David Maass, my great great grandfather lived prior to 1856.

Pomerania, like the other German states, was greatly affected by the Reformation. Lutheranism took root in Pomerania in 1525 when Stralsund adopted Martin Luther's teaching. Nine years later, the Lutheran Church of Pomerania was established when the Diet at Treptow on the Rega prepared the basis for its formation. A plattdeutsch (low German) version of the bible was printed the same year and in 1536, the dukes of Pommern accepted the Lutheran faith. However, the hostility between the Catholics and the Protestants continued unabated despite the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 which was intended to settle the religious issue in Germany. In 1618, the Thirty Years War began primarily as a civil war between the two religious factions. In the summer of 1630, the war took on a political objective when Sweden entered the war. King Gustavus Adolphus, a Protestant, was concerned about the growing power of the Roman Emperor Ferdinand. The war continued for another 18 years until 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed. As compensation for its role in the war, Sweden was awarded control over Stettin and Vorpommern. Brandenburg retained control of Hinterpommern.

The Thirty Years War took a heavy toll in Pomerania with possibly one-third of its people killed and whole villages and farms completely destroyed. In the early 1700's, Pomerania again became the battleground for conflicts between Russia and Sweden. It ended in 1720 with the Treaty of Stockholm, which ceded part of Hither Pomerania as far as the Peene to Brandenburg-Prussia. Following the defeat of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna gave the remaining part of Swedish Pomerania to Prussia in 1815.

When King Wilhelm I became the first emperor of a united Germany in 1871, Prussia had become a powerful military nation that occupied the northern two thirds of Germany. It extended from the Netherlands and Belgium on the west to Russia on the east. In 1945, after World War II, Prussia ceased to exist as a German state and Pomerania was partitioned again at the Oder River. Hinterpommern and Stettin (now called Szczecin) became part of Poland and all of the Germans fled or were expelled from their country. Vorpommern, the area west of the Oder-Neisse Rivers, became part of East Germany. In 1990, Vorpommern became part of the reunified Germany and was included in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Life in 18th and 19th Century Pomerania

During the centuries following the colonization of Pomerania, the life of the commoners depended upon the dictates of the noble lords and ruling class who were in power at the time. Much of the land was under the control of the Junkers, the landed gentry of Prussia’s eastern provinces. The Junkers, who lived on and farmed the Ritterguts with the help of peasants, exercised nearly absolute power on their lands. Moreover, they were a powerful political force who dominated both state and society.

Originally, the Junkers (literally "young lord") were descendants of the medieval German Knights who established large feudal estates on the Slavic lands they had conquered in the Middle Ages. Over time many large estates were subdivided into smaller ones as a result of inheritance, partitioning, and sales. By the year 1816 there were 1883 knight’s estates (Ritterguts) in Pomerania.

Beginning in the15th century, the peasantry, which had been relatively free up to then, progressively began to lose their rights and freedom. Peasants were evicted en masse from their land and were forced to provide services of labor, horses and tools to the noble landlords who extended their demesne farming. Their situation only became worse in the16th century when serfdom was imposed. In 1616, the Peasant Ordinance declared that all peasants in Pomerania-Stettin were serfs. They were no longer free to leave their master’s estate; their land became the sole property of their master, thus usurping their hereditary rights; and they were subject to unlimited labor services. Children had to serve the manor as menials. The plight of the peasants remained basically unchanged for the next 200 years.

Peasants were provided housing, small garden plots, a few animals, and a share of the surrounding fields in return for their labors. The commoners generally fell into one of three economic categories: 1) those who occupied enough land for their personal needs and supplied both horses and laborers to the landlord, 2) those whose land was insufficient to sustain them and were compelled to provide manual service, and 3) those without any land who served the manor lords directly and lived on his premises. Life was difficult for the peasants as they had no say in their destiny and were exploited by the nobles. Workers were required to work six days a week, basically from sunup to sundown. Conditions in Hinterpommern began to change for the better in the mid 18th century. Friedrich the Great, who reigned from 1740 to 1786, recognized the contribution of the peasantry and took steps that markedly affected their lives. He reduced the labor obligation of the peasant from six to three days a week. Peasants were allowed to voice complaints against the landlords and were given recourse against injustice. Education was made mandatory for all children between the ages of 5 and 14. In 1740, freedom of worship was decreed throughout Prussia. However, these and later reforms did not become effective in Vorpommern until 1815 when Sweden relinquished control of the territory.

Friedrich also actively promoted immigration into the less populated areas with the goal of increasing agricultural production. The population of Pomerania grew from 309,700 to 438,700 during his reign. He offered special privileges to the settlers and tried new methods of land sharing and distribution. In 1745, he introduced the potato and forced its production upon the farmers. Although it wasn't widely accepted until the 1800's, potatoes eventually became one of the major crops in Pomerania.

Unfortunately, Friedrich the Great was succeeded in 1786 by his nephew, Friedrich Wilhelm II, a weak ruler who undid many of his good works. Friedrich Wilhelm opposed the agrarian reforms and nearly doubled the number of nobles who seized much of the peasant's land. At the beginning of the 19th century, the commoners owned less that 10% of the land and in most cases the amount of land owned by individual families was inadequate to support their family. Moreover, the peasants could own land only during their lifetime, after which it reverted back to the state.

The peasants fared better under the leadership of his son, Friedrich Wilhelm III, who became King in 1797. Between 1808 and 1816, agrarian reforms were once again instituted that provided even greater freedoms to the peasants. On September 14, 1811, serfdom in Pomerania was abolished and the serfs who had been under hereditary bondage to the estates were now free to move from village to village, choose their own trade, and marry a spouse of their choice. However, tenants were still responsible for rent or labor services to the estates. To become free owners of their land, they had to cede part of the land to their masters – one-third in the case of hereditary holdings and one-half if they had no hereditary rights to the land. These changes were not without their downside, however. Many peasants were unable to survive after relinquishing part of their land and often were forced to sell the remaining land and/or become day laborers. Futhermore, landlords were no longer obligated to support peasants who were no longer in their servitude and could evict them at will. Nevertheless, after the Prussian reforms, many knight’s estates were acquired by commoners and by 1868 they owned nearly 40% of them.

Although freedom of worship was decreed in Prussia in 1740, Friedrich Wilhelm III in 1817 ordered the merger of the Lutheran Church and the Calvinist Reformed Church to form a single State church, the Evangelische Kirche, and required every person to attend the church closest to him. Many staunch Lutherans revolted and formed their own churches. Consequently, when the states were given full power to enforce the union in 1830, many "Old Lutherans" chose to emigrate rather than comply..

In the rural countryside, everyone lived in small villages often centered around the landed estates (Guts). The Guts generally consisted of a large manor house, several huge barns and stables and often a flour mill or distillery. A majority of the villages had one church, the Evangelical Church, with an adjoining cemetery. Most had less than a few hundred inhabitants living in a few dozen houses or households. In some villages, homes simply lined both sides of the road (a plan followed by the Wends); in others, homes were clustered around a central commons with the manor house at one end and the church at the other (Germanic plan). These communal villages not only provided protection for the residents but facilitated easy access to the fields that radiated outward from the village. In the 3-county area where our Maass ancestors lived, the villages were within walking distance of each other, no more than 3 or 4 miles apart.

It is difficult to find much information describing what life was like for our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the book, "Our Forgotten Past", Jerome Blum concludes that European villages must have had a familial quality considering the propinquity (in both space and kinship) of the residents. Their social activities centered around family, church and community. They worked, played, celebrated and worshiped together. There is little evidence that they ever ventured very far from their villages. Their daily activities were consumed by long hours of hard work. Even children were required to work at an early age and after confirmation, the boys usually left their homesteads to work elsewhere, some even earlier (see box below). In 1839, the Prussian government set a minimum age of nine for working children.

Houses were generally constructed of a framework of posts and beams that were filled in and plastered with a mixture of clay and straw. Roofs were thatched with a thick layer of reeds and floors were packed clay. Usually the house and barn were connected, with only a wall between them. The peasants homes were likely quite barren with few furnishings.

Like today, farmers encountered the usual problems of bad weather, crop failures, and falling commodity prices. In 1825, crop failures caused such marked drops in land values that even manor houses on the estates were put up for sale. It is worth noting that the noble lords, though they had large land holdings, were often not much better off than the peasants. They were often cash poor, but they had the advantage of receiving the "first fruits" of the land. In the 1830's, grain prices fell when England placed high tariffs on imports causing economic distress for landlords and peasants alike. Potato blight in 1845 caused widespread famine. This was followed by disastrous weather conditions in the mid 1850's. Steep declines in grain prices in the years 1880-1886, caused by imports of cheap cereals from America and Russia, and an accompanying drop in wool prices severely reduced farm revenue.

A first hand account

by Charles John Ludwig Karnopp who was born in 1842
(published in Die Pommerschen Leute, 1991)

At the age of nine years I was obliged to leave home to herd cattle in the wilderness for four families. I became very homesick and prayed to God that I might find a way to get home to see my folks. One evening I went home but my father, not knowing the intensity of my homesickness, sent me back the same evening. My wages were five dollars for the summer. That fall my father bought my first boots. The next summer my father had me work for a butcher, watching cows and sheep; this was five miles from our village. My wages were a complete outfit consisting of coat, vest, trousers, two shirts, cap, stockings and one pair of boots. The next summer I did the same work for which I received the same wages. I was now twelve years old. At this age all children were required to go to the pastor for religious instruction. Our pastor lived five miles away from our village where I hired out to watch cows and went to the pastor for religious instruction. My wages were the same as before. During the winter I was at home, but in the spring I went back to the same place. At this time I was fourteen years of age and was confirmed. The pastor made a great impression upon my young mind; I thought I could stay with him and it would be easy to live a Christian life. Then I hired out to another farmer for one year. During the winter I had to feed the cattle and sheep and during the summer watch the sheep. I had a little hut to sleep in at night and how frightened I was at times. I had a sheep dog and a bayonet for a weapon. One night the dog barked fearfully. I sat up in my bed with fright and in my great fear, I imagined I saw a man near the sheep fold. I was too frightened to investigate, but in the morning I found all of my sheep there. I arose at four in the morning without being called to move the sheep to another place so that the land might be evenly fertilized. ........while tending sheep I knit mittens and stockings, which I sold; this gave me a little spending money. I could knit as fast as any woman.

Then came a change in my life. My father was a laborer in Koldemanz, Greifenberg who had to provide for a helper. My oldest sister did this work for my father for two years. Then I took her place. I was now seventeen years of age; then I hired out to work for Herr Gloxin to work on his farm. I was young but almost full grown: we were obliged to carry sacks of grain containing 160 to 200 pounds up to the second story which made me tremble so that I could not sit still. This work I did for three years receiving $28 per year. At the end of three years, I had saved $75 of my earnings. At this time I was called to be examined for the military service found to be sound and chosen for the heavy cavalry class."

Sources: material for this page was drawn from:

  1. Two books by the late Myron E. Gruenwald, "Two Worlds for our Children" (1985) and "Pomeranians - The Persistent Pioneers" (1987) and from articles published in Die Pommerschen Leute, a quarterly publication originally published by Myron E. Gruenwald, Oshkosh, WI (currently published by the Immigrant Genealogical Society, Burbank, CA);
  2. Two books by F.L Carsten, "The Origins of Prussia" (1954) and "A History of the Prussian Junkers" (1989);
  3. H. W. Koch's book, "A History of Prussia" (1978);
  4. Our Forgotten Past" (1982) ed. Jerome Blum;
  5. An English translation of K. Saysse-Tobiczyk's book, "In Western Pomerania" (1963);
  6. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII, Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition Copyright © 1999
  7. World Book Encyclopedia, 1978.
  8. Deutsches Geschlechterbuch Band 134: Fünfter Ostfriesenband 1963.
  9. Genealogisches Handbuch bürgerlicher Familien. Herausgeber: Regierungs-Vizepräsident a. D. Dr. jur. Edmund Sturtz. Wermelskirchen/Rheinland, Friedhofstr. 6. Bearbeitet von Carl Maß, Oberstleutnant a. D., Aurich (Ostfriesland), Esenerstr.
  10. Verlag von C.A. Starke /Limburg an der Lahn.

©--Gene Maas.

rev.20 Jan 2006

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