MY STORY: THE HEINRICH & WILHELM
BY DONALD FISCHER
Having an interest in the founding of this nation and history around the world in that era, it is more than exciting for me to know that my great-grandfather was born in 1809, at the time of Napoleon.
Whatever prompted Johann Heinrich Wilhelm (Heinrich) Fischer and his wife, Maria Dorothea Louise (Louise) Bergman, to leave their birthplace, Linsburg, Germany, in April, 1855 is unknown. If one could surmise, perhaps it was the call from others who had departed and hailed the wonder of the new land. Perhaps, it was to escape the Kaiser’s realm. Or, it could have been religion that motivated the move. Whatever the reason, they departed from Bremen, Germany headed to New York.
A copy of the ship’s contract with Heinrich Fischer is included in Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Fischer Family by Orvie and Alta Fischer and others. The transportation price was $35.00 for each passenger 10 years of age or older. The contract was for 5 adults and 2 children. Two of the children were over 10, so they paid the adult fare; two were less than ten and their passage was $5.00. All fees were required to be paid in gold and every passenger must have $20 in gold so they could care for themselves.
The menu consisted of staple items, such as salt pork and beef, rice, potatoes, plums and beans. Coffee or tea was only available for morning and evening meals. Passengers were expected to help the cooks prepare and serve meals.
Passengers had to provide straw for their mattresses, as well as table service, towels and soap. Only healthy people were allowed on board and to disembark upon arrival. The list of ailments was quite discriminating. People suffering from mental disorder, moonstruck, deafness, blindness, crippled, mother accompanied by a sick child under 13, unmarried pregnant woman, and persons over 60 years were put into quarantine and returned to Germany, losing their passage money.
The Fischer’s final destination was Garnavillo, Iowa near the Mississippi River. Since there were no railroads, it is likely they made their way west by river boats. In the 1856 Census for Garnavillo Township, Sophia Fischer, 56, is listed with the family. She is likely the 5th adult on the ship. The family remained on a farm in that area until 1871. The 8-room house they lived in remained standing in 1989, unoccupied.
The seven children of Heinrich and Louise Fischer were Louise, Dorothea Sophia Wilhelmina (Wilhelmina), Conrad Heinrich Friedrich (Henry), Georg Heinrich Frederich (Fred), Georg Ludwig Wilhelm (William), Louise Dorothea Anna (Anna), and Christina.
Heinrich was born in April, 1809 and died on October 2, 1890. Louise was born in September, 1820 and died on October 14, 1899 at her granddaughter’s home near Manning, Iowa.
My grandfather Georg Ludwig Wilhelm (Wilhelm) Fischer was born in Guttenberg, Iowa on August 3, 1856. He came to Walnut in 1871 at the age of 15. He had walked the last miles, because the railroad went only as far as Atlantic.
On January 15, 1880 he married my grandmother Christina Marie Henrietta Sorensen, who was born July 26, 1861 in the province of Angela in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. She arrived in Walnut on March 20, 1879 at the age of 17.
My grandparents settled on a farm in Monroe Township, Shelby County. The land was rich and became known as Wisconsin Ridge. There they spent 30 years before moving to Walnut, by then, a thriving community. Eleven children had blessed the marriage: Bertha (Mrs. John Koehrsen); Emma (Mrs. Fred Koehrsen); Rosa (Mrs. August Lensch); Emil; Julius; Clara (Mrs. Otto Christensen); Willie; Romilda; August; Eddie and Hugo (died at age 4).
The big house that still stands at 604 Country Street holds many memories for me. Grandma’s house is where we all came together on special days throughout the year. We numbered about fifty. There were twenty-four of us cousins. On those occasions nothing was out of bounds. The food was plentiful and so good. The dining table was large, but required several settings to accommodate everyone. There was an order to the seating arrangements – first, the men, then some women and children. Lastly came the remainder, plus kitchen devotees. The day was not over until about midnight. Large platters of cheese, beef or pork or goose sandwiches were served, along with pie or cake. Coffee was in abundance.
Most of my aunts and uncles became farmers. My dad and one uncle were the two youngest and were still at home when the move was made into town. They made their living outside the farm.
As I remember, we often would spend Sundays visiting back and forth among the brothers and sisters. In the summertime, the custom was to make several freezers of ice cream and, of course, the sumptuous meal. The men would play cards. The women would talk. On a couple of occasions, I remember a few neighbors were invited in. The rug would be taken up; a fiddle and piano would provide music for dancing.
Granddad Fischer was a quiet sort. I got to know him quite well; circumstances made that possible. When I was 13, my mother passed away and Dad and I moved in with my grandparents. It was a relatively brief stay, but I was introduced to life different from what I had grown up with to that point. The house was quiet. There was a radio, but I never knew it to be on.
Grandpa had his space marked off, which was a large wood and leather chair with buttons on the wooden arm that when pressed became a recliner. I never saw him use that; but when he was not around, the temptation was great and was exciting. The chair was under a clock that struck the hour. There was no possibility of missing that chime any place within the confines of the first-floor enclosures. Quiet was the keyword. Even the ticking of the minutes became overbearing. But Grandpa was happy in his chair. He would close his hands in a fist and make circles with his thumbs.
The house in which I was born and had lived in until I was 15 had no improvements. There were no built-in cabinets, closets or any other accommodations. Grandpa had a bathtub. That was a big thing for me and I was welcome. The thing I remember best about his house in town was the bigness of the lot. He was able to have a very large garden with everything imaginable growing, including a nice section for flowers. The barn on the alley had a loft where he kept pigeons and he had chickens on the ground floor. The chickens were able to move about within a large fenced-in area. The fencing was support for his grape arbor.
When I was growing up, the Lutheran Church required that the pastor be able to speak German and deliver one message a month in German. My grandparents always attended. I remember seeing my grandpa in his best Sunday suit, which was a very formal swallow-tailed coat.
Grandma was very gentle. My best memory of her was seeing her when day was done sitting in her chair doing mending. Her hands were always busy. In a sitting position her long dress made a perfect mending bag between her knees, which contained almost every item of clothing to be repaired. She was an excellent cook. Chicken soup was a speciality. I always tried to be present when she was taking freshly made bread out of the oven. It was what she called “swaut brot”. At least that’s how it sounded to me. It was dark bread. [Google translate says schwarzbrot is black bread.]
Grandmother died on October 28, 1938 at 77 years of age. She was a lovely, kind lady, who loved her family. Grandpa died on September 19, 1945 at the age of 89. I was overseas at the time. I was 24. I always considered it a blessing that I was privileged to know and allowed that many years in the presence of such modest, thankful, God-fearing people.
Well, it is a rich heritage with so many memories. Only 2 of the 24 cousins remain. 8 of the 10 aunts & uncles are buried in the Layton Township Cemetery, as are my grandparents & great-grandparents.