It is fortunate for the descendants of the German Russian colonists who settled in the Black Sea area that a circular letter, dated 8 January 1848, was distributed. The charge contained in this letter resulted in irreplaceable documentation of the early history of the Black Sea colonies. The author of the circular letter was State Councilor E. von Hahn, who was also the President of the Welfare Committee of the Foreign Settlers in South Russia. Sent to all mayors and school teachers in the German colonies, it instructed them to submit a written historical account of the founding and development of their villages [HeightH, p. 148]. These Chronicles of 1848 are our most important source of early information about the German Russian colonies.
The Glückstal Chronicle provides us with almost all of the information we have for the years before the four Glückstal mother colonies were founded and settled. There was, in fact, a period of over four years from the time the first families arrived until the actual settlement began. It was in July of 1804 that the first three families arrived from Württemberg, and the Russian officials made the decision to settle them in the small Armenian village of Grigoriopol on the Dniester River. That occurred in early 1805. An additional 67 families arrived in Ovidiopol from Württemberg in 1805, and joined the group in Grigoriopol; plus 9 families from Prussian Poland in 1806 [sic, 1808]; 24 families from Hungary in 1807; and three families from German lands [most likely colonies in Prussian Poland] in 1808-1809. Of these, only 21 families had their own homes in Grigoriopol—the rest lived with Armenian families until homes were constructed for them between February 1806 and May 1807 [Glückstal-1848].
It is not surprising that the situation did not work out. There was the inevitable conflict between the two cultures. In addition, the location was also inconvenient, because the farmland assigned to the colonists was almost all north of Grigoriopol, rather than surrounding the village. The matter was presented to the Governor General, Duc de Richelieu, in Odessa, who made the decision to resettle the German colonists nearer the center of their assigned crown land. As a result, they were moved about 10 versts (6.63 miles) to the northeast, taking over the Moldavian village of Glinnoi. The German colonists consisted of 106 families: 525 individuals – 272 males and 253 females. The Moldavians, in turn, were moved to the vacant houses in Grigoriopol. It was this site that became the village of Glückstal (Valley of Good Fortune), as it was named by Herr von Rosenkampf, President of the Colonist Welfare Committee and Associate Councilor of State. The move took place in the spring of 1809 and the colonists inherited 118 houses constructed of wattle and daub or adobe (sometimes called Semljanken), 10 wells, and an old stone church. The Crown valued the property at 8,750 rubles, which it paid to the Moldavians [Glückstal-1848].
Some of the colonists, of course, spent an interim period elsewhere before arriving in South Russia – particularly those from Hungary and Prussian Poland. The majority were Swabian, with the remainder primarily Franconian. (That factor had an influence upon what became the dominant dialect in each village.) While some immigrants were Reformed, the majority were Lutheran. Most of these colonists traveled to South Russia in wagon trains, led by individuals known as conductors, who were officially authorized by the Russian government. Those from Württemberg were led by Jakob Bauer, Jakob Götz, Michael Vögele, Heinrich Schock, Stephan Weiss and Friedrich Rösler; while those from the Rhein Palatinate, Alsace and Baden were led by Heinrich Heilmann. Others had no special conductors. Numerous families left the Glückstal villages in 1818, traveling with the Separatist Chiliasts headed for Grusinia in the Caucasus [see: Hoffnungstal-1848]. Later, in 1834-1836, there was another departure, this time to Bessarabia. In spite of that, the population doubled in size by 1848. By 1860 the population of the four mother colonies had almost quadrupled from 1,770 to 6,890.
The Unterhaltungsblatt für deutsche Ansiedler in südlichen Russland, a German-language newspaper, began publication in Odessa in 1845. The second monthly issue of 1863 includes a communication from the colonist D. Jüllich (Johann Daniel David Jülch), a village supervisor (Orts-Aufseher) for the Jewish colonies of Seidemenucha and Bowbrowy Kut, who said the following about the Glückstal district.
The colonists of this district originated from Switzerland, Württemberg, Baden, Bavaria, Hesse, Saxony, Hanover, Prussia, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary and Galicia. One can imagine the confusion, and how the German language must have sounded. I still remember the various dialects. Schoolbooks were just as varied as the German rural population, who initially brought few of them along. In a few years, from the ABC book to the Bible, the most exasperating lack of books existed. (Ed. note: Until the 70s of the past century [1870s], the ABC book, catechism and Bible were the only schoolbooks in the colonies.) One was not able to solve this with money, because there were no books to buy. Without spiritual guidance, the colonists themselves gave up, and one could apply to them the words in the Bible that describe Israel: “At that time there was no king in Israel and each did as he wished.” One individual wanted to go left, the other right; one only heard wishes, and each wished for practices and abuses known to him from Germany. When the district received a parish minister in 1812, the anarchy did not cease, rather even increased. Presumably, in contrast to the colonists, he was too liberal, and he already left his position in 1816 [Stach, p. 42 - transl. by the author].
This brief commentary provides us with an interesting, outsider's description of the difficulties of the early years in the Glückstal colonies.
More of this article can be found in [Glückstal-2004], pp. 49-55.
By Homer Rudolf, 2009
Edited and updated by Sandy Schilling Payne, 2022