The Stahlmann Family, from Germany to Doddridge County
People have come to Doddridge County for many reasons over the years. Construction of the Northwestern Turnpike in 1837 and the Northwest Virginia Railroad in 1856 were two of the largest projects that resulted in an influx of German and Irish immigrants. The largest migration of Germans into Doddridge County occurred as a result of the formation of the St. Clara Colony in Cove District. Joseph H. Diss Debar induced at least fifty families through a promotional campaign to migrate from Germany to Doddridge County in hopes of obtaining fertile and prosperous farmland at a reduced price. One such family was that of Frederick and Frederica Stahlmann.
Frederick Johann Christian Stahlmann was an itinerant teacher who was sent by the government from one province to another to teach in Mecklenburg, Germany. In 1837 he married Frederica Juliane Karoline Lange. Frederica came from a fairly wealthy family. According to oral tradition, her sister, Louise, was lady-in-waiting to the Princess at the palace in Berlin. By 1853 they were living in the village of Marlow with their seven children: William, Frederick, Christina, Edward, Frederica, August and Auguste. One child, Karl, had already died.
At some point prior to 1853, Frederick developed tuberculosis, then known as consumption. Friends told him that in America he would regain his health. Stories were told of the healthy mountains, forests and fertile valleys in the unpopulated wildernesses of the United States. Thinking this would cure his ailment and provide a beautiful home for his family, Frederick, Frederica and their seven children set sail from Hamburg, Germany to America on September 1, 1853. On the six-week voyage, an epidemic of cholera developed on the vessel, and a son, August Ludwig Frederick, and a daughter, Auguste Johanne Sophie died and were buried at sea, after being wrapped in handwoven shawls by their grieving mother.
When the ship reached New York harbor, they were greeted by land agents urging them to locate to their particular state. Obviously they were impressed with Joseph H Diss Debar’s embellished description of Doddridge County, Virginia, because they soon left New York, escorted by Diss Debar, for West Union. Diss Debar assured Frederick that he would soon regain his health in St. Clara.
The Stahlmann family stayed in West Union while Diss Debar arranged for Frederick to buy a farm in the Cove District. One rainy day Frederick was looking at a prospective farm and contracted a severe cold, from which he would never fully recover. In 1854 the Stahlmanns’ 13-year old daughter, Christina, developed scrofula and bled to death when the doctor lanced the wound. Finally in January of 1855 Frederick died in West Union from his deteriorating lung condition, never having fulfilled their plan to move to St. Clara. Frederica had recently given birth to their first and only child born in the United States. He was named George Washington Stahlmann. Now Frederica was left alone in a foreign land with five children. She could not speak one word of English.
Below is an excerpt from an affidavit given by George Washington Stahlman in 1918:
“After my father’s death my mother had a hard struggle, the oldest son being only about 16 years of age, and hence the three sons, William and Edward were compelled to hunt work -- my brother Edward, the youngest being only about 11 years of age. My brother William obtained employment with a Railroad contractor, Frederick a place in the harness shop of Mr. Louis Harnish, while Edward was taken over by a Mr. James A. Foley, who kept a hotel in West Union and who for the work Edward did in Mr. Foley's garden, waiting on guests of the hotel in their rooms, waiting on the table and such other things as a boy of that age could do, gave Edward his board and clothing, which, with the tips Edward got from the guests of the hotel for building fires in their rooms, blacking their boots and carrying their horses to the stable when they came in as guests and bringing them to them as they departed, enabled Edward to help his mother in a meager way.
"In a year or so, while still employed at the Hotel, Edward was given a chance by Mr. Foley to work in the garden of the town school teacher and thus earn his tuition at school. Mr. Foley also giving him an opportunity of attending this school during the forenoon of each day.
It was through this work for Mr. Foley that a brother of the proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Bushrod W. Foley, began to take an interest in my brother Edward, and when upon the completion of the railroad between Grafton and Parkersburg Mr. Bush Foley opened a store at Long Run Station on the road about nine miles east of West Union he took my brother Edward with him. This is what gave Edward his first real start in life ….
"….On the 15th of April 1856 my mother married Mr. Louis Harnish. This marriage took place at my mother's home in West Union. I although present was too young to understand what the gathering meant, although a year or two later realized what had occurred on the occasion.
Early in 1859 Mr. Louis Harnish, my step-father, and my brother Frederick employed in his saddlery shop, looking for a larger field went to Parkersburg, about fifty miles west of West Union, to establish their business. l remained with my mother until Mr. Harnish and my brother had definitely planned to locate at Parkersburg and had everything in order for us.
"In the latter part of 1859, or the early part of 1860, my mother, my sister Frederica and I, including a son born to my mother and Mr. Harnish moved to Parkersburg to join Mr. Harnish and my brother Frederick. About two years after reaching Parkersburg my sister Frederica went to the country to live with Mr. and Mrs. Diechman, who had a nice home but no children of their own. They had what I have always thought an adopted son living with them, a Mr. Charles Brunswig, who along in the latter part of 1862 married my sister Frederica.
"Matters at my mother's home were not as agreeable as they might have been. In other words, my mother having given birth to two children by Mr. Harnish, the latter became somewhat disagreeable toward me and frequently irritable toward my mother, insinuating that she was more attentive to me than to his children. At all events the matter resulting in reaching a point where my mother felt that it would be best for me and for her happiness if l left her home and it was through my sister, Mrs. Brunswig and her husband that an arrangement was made for me also to go to the Diechman’s to live and help Mr. Diechman on the farm. This was along in 1866 or 1867."
The story of the Stahlmanns in Doddridge County ended when the family moved to Parkersburg in about 1860, with all of Frederick and Frederica’s children going on to live prosperous lives in their chosen professions. But one monument remains in Doddridge County that will forever remind of us of their brief presence here. The headstone that marks the burial place of Frederick Stahlmann and his daughter, Christina, still stands in the Old Seventh Day Baptist section of West Union’s Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. The hardships their family endured are hinted at in the monument’s poignant inscription:
“To the memory of our
father and sister
who died leaving us among
strangers in a strange land.”
The above picture was taken in fall of 1868 at Parkersburg, WV.
Standing: Charles Brunswig, George W. Stahlmann, William Stahlmann, Frederick Stahlmann and Edward B Stahlmann
Sitting: Frederica Stahlmann Brunswig, Frederica Stahlmann Harnish and Mary (wife of Edward B. Stahlmann)
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)