Gottfried Duden recommends immigrating to Missouri

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Gottfried Duden was a Prussian lawyer who visited St. Louis, Missouri, in 1824 in search of land tracts for German settlements. Both Duden and his traveling companion, Ludwig Eversmann, purchased farms about fifty miles west of St. Louis. Duden spent nearly three years in the United States, reading, exploring the country, and writing letters while the Americans that he hired cleared his land and ran his farm. Duden returned to Germany in 1827.

The result of this experiment was Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America [Bericht über eine Reise nach den westlichen Staaten Nordamerika's], which was published in Germany in 1829 to convince Germans to immigrate to Missouri. Duden described the advantages of moving to the state and provided advice on how to successfully create a new life in the United States. Duden's book was one of a large number of German books about America, but his was one of the most widely read. Germans faced many problems at home, including corrupt rulers, high taxes, and a lack of available land, and Duden made the spacious expanse of Missouri plains sound very inviting to his fellow countrymen.


Burnett, Robyn and Ken Luebbering. German Settlement in Missouri: New Land, Old Ways. University of Missouri Press (1996), 6-7.

Parrish, William Earl et. al. A History of Missouri: 1820-1860. University of Missouri Press (2000), 38-39.

Transcription of Primary Source

I confess that I am leaving these regions with a feeling of sadness. The only thing that I missed here was the proximity of German families who were my friends. The Germans and the North Americans do not differ at all in what is usually called nature and temperament. Also the domestic customs of the natives cannot repel the German immigrant. They are largely adapted to the situation, and one can easily become accustomed to them. Even the language barrier soon disappears. But the bond of common memories will always be missing. However well a German may adjust to the manner of life and the situation of the American, the charm that social intercourse derives from the past is felt all the less the longer the immigrant has lived in his native country. The newcomer from Great Britain has less cause for complaint about this. He is by nature more closely related to the American and also everywhere finds himself surrounded by fellow immigrants from every class of society in his fatherland. Which classes Germany has sent to America up to now, and what the situation is regarding their descendants, you know from my former statements. Only a few of the first generation of German immigrants cross the Allegheny Mountains and still fewer come as far as the Mississippi. This good fortune is preserved for the grandchildren, after the parents have perished in misery. Most of them remain in the Atlantic states. Who would direct them here? How could they meet the expenses of the long journey? Only a few can afford the trip across the ocean. Also, many inhabitants of the eastern states look with envy upon the flourishing development of the Mississippi areas and try, above all, to detain the Europeans whose arrival has, up to this time, increased the value of their landed property so greatly.

How often I have thought of the poor people of Germany. What abundance and success would the industry of a few hands bring to whole families, whose condition in their own country an American-born farmer cannot imagine to be possible. There is still room for millions of fine farms along the Missouri River, not to mention the other rivers.

The great fertility of the soil, its immense area, the mild climate, the splendid river connections, the completely unhindered communication in an area of several thousand miles, the perfect safety of person and property, together with very low taxes - all these must be considered as the real foundations for the fortunate situation of Americans.

In what other country is all this combined?

If one wanted to paint the picture more colorfully, it would suffice to call to mind the rich forests, the abundance of bituminous coal, salt, iron, lead, copper, saltpeter, and other minerals; the active interest of almost all inhabitants in cheerful industry, the utilization of the advantages of their location, and the thriving steamboat services that have already resulted from it; finally, the contrast to all European prejudice with regard to the rank in society of the tradesman and the respect in which physical activity is held...

Many times I have said to myself and to my traveling companion (whom I shall leave behind in the most fortunate situation): People in Europe will not and cannot believe how easy and how pleasant it can be to live in this country. It sounds too strange, too fabulous. Believing in similar places on this earth has too long been consigned to the fairy-tale world. The inhabitants of the Mississippi area, on the other hand, consider the reports of need in Europe exaggerated. The citizens of the state of Missouri, together with their slaves, doubt so much that there are so many white people in Europe who with the greatest exertion can enjoy scarcely as much meat in an entire year as is here thrown to the dogs in a few weeks. They cannot believe that some families would even starve or freeze to death in winter without the charity of others; they are accustomed to attribute such statements to the intention and desire to praise and flatter America. However, sometimes one hears a person say: "Yes, yes, my grandfather told us that life was very hard there."

Curator Notes

Duden, Gottfried