“This is the story of our family’s journey
after emigrating from Germany to the United States.

It is also the history of immigration
in the 1800s generally, which built
and filled out modern America -
always, relentlessly moving westward.”
— Richard A. Link

Google map data

where MANY OF AMERICA'S mennonites cAme from;
german EMigration
to THE U.S. HEARTLAND 

German Anabaptists Were Members of a Fast-Rising Wave of Immigration to America from 1815-1860
that Nearly Doubled the Population of the Expanding Country

Anabaptists originated as a group of European Protestant Reformation churches identified by pacifist views toward war, and their belief in simple religious worship. They believed differently from most Protestant religions that baptism should not occur at birth, but only after an adult believer's decision to become a member. The latter belief was where the name Anabaptist, or "re-baptizer," originated.

Common in Europe in the 1800s were state-approved or supported religions, and expected military service. This region, often embroiled in wars and revolutions, brought down persecution upon Anabaptist practitioners, including Mennonites because of their Protestant and anti-war beliefs. Many sought the option to leave this environment for religious, but also many contributing general reasons. Adding to incentives for emigration included general European overpopulation, wars in Europe, and general unrest as a large number of states were pulled together to create a larger Germany. Germany as a nation did not exist until 1871. There were also periods of crop failures at a time when demand was greater than it had ever been for food.


The Interconnection of Planetary Forces

The 1815 eruption of of Tambora volcano may have played a role in famine and epidemic outbreaks in Europe the following year. The Tambora eruption on the opposite side of the world in Indonesia was 10 times greater in terms of ejecta forced into the stratosphere than that of better-known Krakatoa, also of Indonesia. "Climate experts believe that Tambora was "partly responsible for the unseasonable chill that afflicted much of the Northern Hemisphere in 1816, known as the 'year without a summer'," according to Smithsonian Magazine. In their book, 1816 - The Year Without a Summer, William K. and Nicholas P. Klingaman suggested the frigid, wet weather that caused famine and inflated epidemics in Europe (and the northern United States) in 1816, continued for several years before slowly returning to climatic norms for that century. Continuing economic factors may have affected German states for the greater part of the decade from 1816-1825. Such hardships over such a period might have made starting over on the North American continent easier to consider, just as the potato blight increased Irish emigration in 1845-1852.  

However, a general dislike for the German homeland itself was seldom a reason for leaving the beautiful forests, pastures, croplands and vineyards of the Rhine or Danube valleys. To emigrate from Germany was more likely a wrenching, difficult decision borne of necessity and with a heavy heart, and anxiety for the unknown.

As larger numbers of Germans began to enter America, they represented the first significant group of non-assimilating immigrants from a language and customs standpoint. The sheer number of German immigrants, in part, made this possible. Entire areas of cities, population centers and even regions of states like Pennsylvania became enclaves for speaking the German language and honoring traditions from Europe. It was not until the period leading up to World War I in the early 1900s that political conditions made it difficult to sustain that continued separation from assimilation. German communities were increasingly pressed to demonstrate that they were patriotic, and more than just transplanted Germans. This experience varied from family to family and community to community.


  genealogists.us

German Unification 1815-71

The creation of a German republic followed decades of complicated political mechanisms and historical events.  In an area slightly smaller than Montana, there had been tens of separate, autonomous political identities some large, like Prussia and some very small. Borders and alignments were often in upheaval. This unsettled political climate played into the exodus to America, and other countries. The well-known Irish immigration to the United States, caused in large part by crop failures starting in 1845, resulted in about half the Irish population entering America. A similar number of Germans also entered during the period from 1820-1870. Together, the Germans and Irish comprised two-thirds of the 7.5 million total immigrants received into America at this time*. To put this in perspective, in 1810, the entire population of the United States was only 7,239,881. 

The thought of picking up and moving a family one-fifth of the way around the world involved a still dangerous and expensive ocean crossing. Americans spoke English for the most part, not German. As the influx of Irish, Germans, Chinese and other nationalities began to grow rapidly after 1800, there was a backlash against immigrants. Those who could only afford to, or wanted to, start their new lives in large eastern coastal cities often found themselves in overcrowded slums with little opportunity for upward mobility. Much of the oppression immigrants sought relief from was similar to the ways they were treated in the larger cities.

On the enticement side were America's melting pot of religions and protection of them. There was also a commodity Europe had almost none left of, land for purchase. Beautiful land, and some of it similar to home. The expansion of America into the Louisiana Territory after 1803 and homesteading in the mid-section of the country beginning after the Homestead Act was signed by President Lincoln in 1862 were both factors that steered German emigration from other countries to the United States. As farmers, many German Mennonites by-passed eastern cities and sought opening farmland in the Ohio River Valley as their first stopping point. As more an more Germans arrived, areas where they could support each other became more common.

In addition to Mennonites, other Anabaptist groups included the Amish, Hutterites, German Bretheren.


America Fills with Immigrants

U.S. Census map of German immigration density by 1890

While Germans had been the first non-English speaking group to emigrate in large numbers from Germany, beginning at Germantown in Philadelphia (1688), the numbers of immigrants between 1816 and 1860 were much greater than anything experienced in North America before.

There was a slowing of the rise in immigration during the unsettled period leading up to the Civil War and through about 1870. Then came the peak of German immigration in the decade of 1880-1890. In that peak decade, nearly a million and a half Germans arrived on United States soil to to build their dreams in a new homeland. 

American states receiving the most German influx during the 1800s included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Kansas. A portion of east-central Texas also received a number of German arrivals or transplants as they skipped across the continent with an eye for bettering themselves and their holdings. By 1910, the largest group of immigrants in 18 of the 46 states then existing, or about 40 percent of states, were of German birth. This included almost every state in what is today thought of as "the Midwest."


An Ohio Start in the 1820s 

Jacob Link was born November 28, 1825** in the Wuerttemberg, Germany region. His parents were almost certainly Mennonite. They took Jacob and emigrated from Germany by ship and wagon to the Ohio River Valley of the United States in 1827. He had at least one sibling, a brother named Christian. Christian married and settled in the Kent, Ohio area.***

Jacob grew up in Mahoning County, Ohio, which today is dominated by Youngstown. In the year 2000 census, Youngstown had a population of 83,026. In 1860, Youngstown was home to about 5,300 persons.

Jacob married Elizabeth Fishel on October 29, 1846*, a Thursday. Elizabeth had been born in Columbiana County, Ohio* in 1829, although there are family trees showing her born in Pennsylvania. The 1870 census, almost certainly based on first-hand reports from the family, showed Elizabeth born in Ohio, so the Columbiana County birthplace is likely correct. Columbiana County is also directly below Mahoning County where Jacob lived. Elizabeth's parents, were both from Pennsylvania.


The Eight Children
of Jacob and Elizabeth Link:

Infant  B: 1847 D: 1847

Susannah "Susan"
B: 4 May 1849  D: 1911

Anna "Mary"
B: February 1851 D: 10 May 1872

George
B: 1853 D: 18 June 1870

Margaret 
B: 12 February 1857 D: 17 April 1921

Melissa Jane
B: 1859  D: 27 February 1862

Emma 
B: 1864 D: 12 May 1872

Charles Ulysses
B: 19 January 1869 D: 20 December 1938

  • Elizabeth (Fishel) Link, ca. 1880. Photographic records of Jacob have proven elusive to family research, as have his parents' names.

Westward After War

No records of service in the War Between the States have appeared for Jacob. If Jacob did not volunteer, this would likely have been in line with his understanding of his faith. However Mennonites as a group were also solidly against slavery, and many did serve the Union cause. Many paid $200 commutation fees when drafted. Pennsylvania Anabaptists enjoyed the advantage of representation by Senator Thaddeus Stevens whose constituents were often able to secure exemptions without paying the fee. 

In the southern states, where very few Germans had migrated, failure to serve made Anabaptists stand out as traitors to Southern Rights. Many who arrived earlier made the decision to join members of their own faith further north.

An interesting book that discusses these issues, Mennonites, Amish, and the American Civil War, by James O. Lehman and Steven M. Nolt, is available here.

In 1860, Jacob was listed by the census as residing at the family home in Greene Township. He had the occupation of "farmer." There were no children born into the family between 1859 and 1864, the general period of the Civil War. 

Whether Jacob served or did not, following the Civil War's conclusion in 1865, the couple was apparently ready to undertake major changes in their lives and struck out further west where they arrived in the northern Indiana county of Elkhart. Like many Mennonites (and other Anabaptists) who had come to that area, they embarked on a new life as trees were cleared, crops were planted and cities and churches were built. 

  • Jacob and "Susan" (Susannah) (Link) Bachull, her first husband, in Ohio. Susan would later marry again in Indiana.

Rich Farmland in Northern Indiana

The area of Indiana the Link family moved to was again home to many Mennonite and and other Anabaptist emigrants from Germany, so it is Likely there was a connection either through church or friendship that attracted them. Many other Mennonite families that had emigrated to Ohio from Germany also moved further west at this time, a trend of the expanding nation. There were often opportunities available for industrious families closer to the frontier where towns were being built and wooded areas cleared for farmland. Jacob and Elizabeth purchased or more likely established a farm between two small Indiana towns, Nappanee and Wakarusa.

Both Nappanee and Wakarusa remain small towns today. Jacob and Elizabeth were members of Holdeman Mennonite Church, four miles from their farm home just outside Wakarusa. The church, founded in 1851, continues today.

  • Margaret Link, 1857-1921
  • The Indiana Home, built south of Wakarusa, IN.

READ MORE of future generations...

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(Jacob Link died September 28, 1897 in Locke Township, Elkhart County, Ind., of a heart attack following the evening meal)

*ushistory.org
**From family historian Mary (Jones) Henry
*** According to the T. Diane Russell family tree.