Hesse-Darmstadt shows up frequently in the late 1700s – early 1800s across our tree. Where is it exactly and what was it like?

Hesse-Darmstadt, which is also known in German as Hessen-Darmstadt, has gone through four periods of political change since its formation as a state of the Holy Roman Empire in 1567.

Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, died in 1567. Hesse was divided between his four sons, four new lines which arose: Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Marburg and Hesse-Rheinfels. — Wikipedia

The first incarnation was Landgrafschaft Hessen-Darmstadt. During the years 1567 through 1806, Hessen-Darmstadt was a member state in the Holy Roman Empire. The city of Darmstadt was the capital of the state of Hessen. The religion of the state was Lutheran and its language was German. The government of Hessen-Darmstadt was a monarchy, ruled in the beginning from 1567 – 1596 by George I and at the end from 1790 – 1806 by Louis/Ludwig X.

During this timeline, as the lines of Marburg and Rheinfels died out, Darmstadt and Kassel fought over division of their territory. It was also during this time that the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) was fought, devastating the region. The Lutherans of Hessen-Darmstadt sided with the Emperor and fought against the Calvinists of Hessen-Kassel to the north.

In 1806 the Das Großherzogtum Hessen und bei Rhein – Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine – was formed after the Napoleonic wars and lasted until 1918. It was during this time that our local ancestors emigrated from this area. It ws also during this time that the large state of Hessen-Darmstadt was divided into three smaller provinces:

— Starkenburg, located on the right bank of the Rhine River with the capital of Darmstadt.
— Rhenish Hesse, located on the left bank of the Rhine River with the capital of Mainz.
— Upper Hesse, above the Main River with the capital of Giessen.

These three provinces were three separate “islands” of land. Starkenburg and Upper Hesse were divided by the Free City of Frankfurt that lie between them. Darmstadt is located about 15 kilometers south of Frankfurt.

From 1806 – 1830, the Grand Duchy of Hesse was ruled by Louis/Ludwig I, (previously called Louis/Ludwig X) who had actually been ruling since his father’s death in 1790 and as such carried through to the Grand Duchy. It was at his death in 1830-1831 that our ancestors started emigrating from this area. Is this a coincidence? Were our families just looking for adventure and a new life? Or was there something about the change in rule from Louis I to his son Louis II that brought about the desire to leave Hesse-Darmstadt?

Getting a picture of possible reasons for our families leaving Hessen-Darmstadt in the 1830s:

  • In the early 1800s, an economic depression and over-population caused restrictions on marriages and attempts to limit growth in poor areas of the south and central Germany. Young couples in these areas often emigrated separately or together, often with illegitimate children.
  • Rising grain prices in the early 1830s created a hardship on sustaining a family.
  • Improved transportation with the removal of tolls on the Rhine, Main and Neckar rivers in the 1830s, made it cheaper to travel to a port city.
  • Industrialization wiped out home industries such as spinning, weaving, etc.
  • Land prices were increasing, but the income produced from the land did not have the corresponding increase. Selling the land rights often provided enough money to allow a family to emigrate.
  • Some farm sizes had become so small that they no longer could support a family.
  • From 1830-1845, growing grapes for the wine industry was unstable, and a series of bad crops caused many to emigrate.
  • The largest share of taxes and military personnel came from tradesmen, farmers, artisans, and laborers. Many did not want their children to feel the brunt of upcoming wars, unemployment, indebtedness, and impoverishment.
  • Baden liberalized their emigration laws in 1803, Württemberg in 1815, Prussia in 1818, and Hesse in 1821.
  • From the 1700s to the late 1840s, emigration from Hesse was popular and affordable, but the increased poverty in the late 1840s allowed only the small families and individuals to afford the costs of emigration.
  • Emigration spread beyond Württemburg and along the Rhine after 1830.

The third period of political change occurred well after our arrival in Pennsylvania. In 1918, all of the German monarchies were overthrown during the German Revolution in November of that year. Das Großherzogtum Hessen then became Der Volksstaat Hessen, The People’s State of Hessen, which lasted until 1945.

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Photo taken from the train, a little village somewhere outside of Frankfurt, illustrating the landscape of Hessen-Darmstadt, 2005

Family names associated with Hesse-Darmstadt: Oesterling, Kradel, Frederick, Ripper, Forcht, Eitenmüller, Koegler, Nicholas, Dingeldein

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Reference: Wikipedia
Reference: German Genealogy: for possible reasons as to why our family left Hessen Darmstadt. Their more complete list for German emigration was compiled from the German Interest Group – Wisconsin Newsletter, 14, 4 (February 2007)

4 thoughts on “Hesse-Darmstadt

  1. Great reading! I am #1132422 – Randall Robert Shimp – my grandmother was Eva Oesterling (Shimp) then (Brown) #11324. Some of this I remember hearing from my grandmother while some is new.

    Thank you and take care,

  2. My g-grandmother’s family were from Hesse-Darmstadt. Her maternal family name was Kness and paternal Plock. They settled in the USA in the 1830s first in Illinois and then in Nebraska.

    Associated names by marriage are: Miller, Rahn, Bast, Kraft, Schneidmiller and Smith (there are the americanized spellings

    I started doing my genealogy back in 1980 when all this information was not available. Thank you for sharing your search.

  3. My father’s family settled in western Pennsylvania, Butler Township. Family names of Forcht, Eitenmuller, Osterling and Dingeldein are familiar. My immigrant great-great grandfather was Johannes Forcht, father Johann Forcht and mother Anna Barbara Dingeldein from Hesse Darmstadt. Does anyone have family tree information on this line?

  4. Johann Philipp Forcht BIRTH MARCH 27, 1787 • Pfaffen-Beerfurth DEATH Unknown 5th great-grandfather
    Anna Barbara Dingeldein BIRTH 08 JAN 1792 • Reichelsheim, Starkenburg, Hessen, Germany DEATH 12 OCT 1841 • Reichelsheim, Hessen, Deutschland 5th great-grandmother

    I think I have a lot of information on this line – the Oesterlings are well documented. And then I connected this part of my tree to a tree that a hobby genealogist, who still lives outside of Darmstadt, had done that made parts of the tree go back quite far. The families all immigrated around the 1830s through Baltimore and then some of them settled in Allegheny – on the North Side – of Pittsburgh before moving up to Butler. They were very tied together in the small villages they came from in Germany, so it doesn’t surprise me how connected they are in Butler County.

    My tree is on ancestry.com and I think I have it open to the public. You can search for a tree under the name of Kimberly Kradel.

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