Rohrbach - 1848 Village History. . . . . . . . .
Copyright 1996, GRHS - 1008 E. Central Ave, Bismarck ND 58501, (701) 223-6167
A History and Description of the German Colony in the Ukraine, South Russia
With complete confidence in the privileges promised by His Majesty, Alexander
I of Russia, the German emigrants left their fatherland forever and came here
with all they possessed, hoping to find permanent happiness for themselves and
their descendants. The settlers of the colony of Rohrbach came to this
uninhabited steppeland to come under the jurisdiction and patronage of His
Excellency the Governor, Duke of Richelieu. In the fall of 1809, 25 families
arrived, and in 1810, 68 families arrived. On their arrival they received
their status as colonists, founded the colony and proceeded to build houses
The colony is located on the almost level steppe on the east side of the
Zerigul Valley, 20 versts1 (13 miles) southwest of the Teligul, 10 miles north
of the Tschitschekle and 26 miles west of the Bug River. It is about 86 miles
from Cherson, the capital city of the government, and 66 miles from Odessa,
the administrative center of the district. To Landau, the administrative
center of the area, it is 13 miles.
Opposite the main village, on the southwest eminence of the valley, lies
Halbdorf (or Bergdorf) with its beautiful houses built ten years ago (1838X,
now numbering some 36 houses. From Halbdorf, the entire colony of Rohrbach can
All along the rear of the village of Rohrbach, above the threshing place, are
located the vineyards, enclosed by stone walls. The village lies in a
north-south direction, bending slightly to the southwest at its center,
following the valley. The so-called valley of the Zerigul, which has no
riverbed, has its source a little over a mile above the colony on the
outskirts of Worms, which is located about four miles from here. The mouth of
the Zerigul is at Ribowa on the Tilgul estuary, 17 miles from here. The wells
of Rohrbach provide plenty of water with here and there excellent drinking
waters. Despite the many dry years, the community has always been spared from
a real shortage of water.
Viewed from the heights, the colony with its beautiful vegetable gardens and
orchards of apple, pear, prune, plum, cherry, and apricot trees together with
beautiful poplar, aspen, willow and acacia (locust} trees, in all some 4-5,000
trees, presents a wonderful sight. The accumulated earth in the valley from
the dam always assures the industrious gardener a rich growth of vegetables.
Less attractive, however, are the manure piles above the valley, in many
places 15 to 18 feet high.
Our generally level steppe is well located, the surface throughout having from
one to two feet of fertile soil mixed with some sand. Here and there, however,
in the southern part, there are patches of saltpeter, which are productive
only when rain is plentiful. When the weather is favorable, not only does the
grass grow abundantly, but also all plants quickly grow to an unusual height.
Since, however, it often doesn't rain for eight to ten weeks, the soil then
becomes as dust and ashes from the heat and the dry winds, and the farmer can
harvest barely enough for seed.
The subsoil is generally a chalky, red clay, hard to work, and the reason
given that in our area the productive characteristics of the soil are
short-lived. For this reason, the soil must invariably be refertilized.
Woodlands are out of the question; even the vineyards are not of much
consequence. The most of these have only 600 to 1,000 vines with the total for
the entire village amounting to about 34,000.
Out of partiality to the village of Rohrbach from which they had emigrated,
the two colonists Peter Schmidt and Peter Nuss, who arrived at this place
among the first, gave the colony the name Rohrbach.2
The establishment of the colony was first begun by five families arriving out
of a total of 100 families. Of these, 33 came from the Grand Duchy of Baden,
four from the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg, seven from Prussian Poland, and 56 from
Alsace - in all, 248 males and 227 females. In 1813, 22 more families arrived
from Prussian Poland and four from Wuerttemberg. In 1817-19, 16 families
arrived from the Grand Duchy of Baden and six families from other colonies, in
all, 48 families with 119 males and 89 females. In 1838, there were 148
families there, numbering 367 males and 316 females.
Departures: In 1818, ten families went to Grusinia; in 1823, 11 families moved
to Odessa and to other colonies, and two families returned to Germany; in
1826, 1l families moved to the former colony of Friedrichsthal and then to the
colony Johannesthal, about nine miles from here; in 1843, ten families moved
to Bessarabia and seven families resettled in the colony Neu-Danzig, 66 miles
from here, near Nikolajew on the Ingul; four families returned to Germany. In
1825, the colonist Georg Ehlis was exiled to Siberia and the colonist Karl
Neudorf, a drunkard and vagabond, was sent out of the country.
If these 53 families, numbering 132 males and 94 females, are deducted from
the 148 families registered in 1838, it shows that 95 families with 458 souls
can be regarded as the first settlers. If one takes the data of 1847 to be
1,178 souls (620 males and 558 females), comprising 217 families, it shows
that the colony increased by 720 souls in a period of 38 years. Among the
handicapped are one blind and three mentally retarded female persons.
Accidents: One man was crushed to death in the clay pit, one was killed by an
accidental blow and one from a fall off a wagon under the horses, One child
was crushed when run over by a wagon, a 15 year old boy drowned in the dam and
a child was burned to death.
The Russian border town of Radzivilov was the collecting point of most of the
immigrants. From there they were conducted by their leader, Michael Kuhn, to
the then insignificant town of Odessa. On their arrival there, most of the
colonists found winter quarters in the colony of Grossliebenthal near Odessa
until the following spring, so that they were spared the hardships of the
In the spring of 1810, under the leadership of Commissioner von Rosenkampf, 69
families, with their first mayor, Michael Kuhn, arrived here where they were
to settle. There was nothing here but healthful air, a carpet of dry grass of
many years standing, all kinds of weeds with flowers and a new blanket of
grass. This then was the place of glory, in which at present only 19 of the
original settlers are still living.
By means of a crown loan, a house of stone was built for each family, and the
necessary livestock, farm machinery, seed grain and subsistence allowance was
provided. The loan amounted to 100,490 paper rubles or 28, 711 silver rubles
in 1820 and was repayable by 93 families. From the Russian border to their
destination, most of the colonists were given a free money allowance for their
maintenance. On the days when the maintenance money was distributed, both
Commissioner von Rosenkampf and Mayor Kuhn calculated a ruble as only 60
kopecks /instead of 100 correctly), and the colonists had to be content to
receive anything at all. In this way, these gentlemen enriched themselves and
yet they became poorer and poorer until they finally were utterly ruined.
The settlers for the most part had come here from their native country as poor
people without means. Many of them had debts, and some possessed, apart from
their wagons, only enough travel money to reach the border. The value of the
cash assets brought in by the colonists was about 40 50,000 paper rubles.
Those with money did not know how to economize so that the major part of their
money was soon sacrificed to spirituous consumption.3 In the productive years,
however, the poor but hardworking colonists soon made a good living, whereas
the wealthy carousers became impoverished. Proverbs of Solomon 10:4: "A slack
hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich." 23:21: "for the
drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a
man with rags."
There is nothing to report in the way of a general resettlement, floods,
epidemic sicknesses or destructive earthquakes. Except for the frequent
recurrence of German measles and similar children's diseases, the community
has had little to suffer. But mention must be made of the destructive insects,
grasshoppers, the tiny grey May bug and the dung beetle, which generally have
caused the most damage to the vineyards and the grain. Despite the many poor
crops, the agricultural condition of the colony is now in a better state.
In the first 18 years, the majority of the settlers were not able to farm to
any advantage. Firstly, they did not recognize the advantages of beginning
better farming methods in the right places, secondly, they lacked a fear of
God and were unable. therefore, to appraise their advantages.
For most of then disobedience to the authorities was the consequence of their
unchristian way of life. Despite the numerous trials of adverse fate, their
immorality could not be checked. Only a few heeded the punishing hand of God
for their own welfare. The man who distinguished himself in the whirl of
prodigality and in the strength of intoxicating drink could proudly count on
the certain applause of his cronies, who sat idly in the cool shade of the
local whisky taverns, utterly unconcerned about the welfare of their families.
The mayors and their councilmen, the schoolteachers and village clerks were
just as adept as the others in the uncouth art of tipping their glasses. The
young people grew up just as dissolute. Most of them scarcely learned to read.
Schooling was the least of their worries, whereas now it is their first and
foremost concern. Now the younger generation realizes what irreparable harm
has been done.
The more sensible people received no support no cooperation from the mayor's
office in their efforts to establish a better civic order. Consequently, the
road to betterment was virtually barricaded. The office holder was not elected
for the sake of the office, but rather for the sake of the man-to the
detriment of the community in many respects. Since, however, the majority felt
comfortable in their false selfishness, injustice was given a free rein. This
unfortunate situation has been somewhat corrected in the last few years. The
election of the mayor is now conducted with greater caution. The young people
do not grow up in so vulgar a fashion. The schoolmasters now are no longer
hired according to the old policy, "as cheap as possible." Now, ability and
Christian character are considered.
In 1812, the community received a minister, the Pastor Hubner, but his
endeavours were terminated after barely two years, by his death.
The former Commissioner Krueger, who supervised the affairs of this region
from 1820 to 1828, was successful in improving the conditions of the colony.
The disobedient were sharply punished, and his unwavering severity stirred the
settlers to greater activity. One thing yet remained to be hoped for-a
A new era was ushered in with the year 1824. God had mercy on us in every
respect and in His discerning design sent us Johannes Bonekemper,4 a
serious-minded preacher of the Gospel, whose labors here were blessed. On
November 10, 1847, he applied for his release, which was granted by the
authorities on April 6, 1848. The blessings of his 24-years' work with us will
long be remembered.
In 1826, the community received the energetic schoolmaster Wilhelm Eberhard,
who reorganized the school system. He registered his position in 1843. The
happy co operation, the censure of sin and an appropriate discipline, soon
brought blowing to our people. The fear of God has returned. Indefatigable
diligence and thrift as well as the co operation of the higher authorities
have worked together for some years, bringing happiness to most of our people.
Several of them have purchased a total of 1,640 dessiatines (4,428 acres) of
land from near-by landowners. Others have rented a total of 8-9,00ue
dessiatines (34 to 38 sections).
How different is the situation of the farmer today compared with that of the
pioneer period, when two or three farmers had to work together to operate a
single plow. When I introduced my so-called "iron plow" three years ago, they
called it the "bean planter." Today almost every farmer owns one of those
practical plows, and the more prosperous have even two of them. Quite often a
single man can be seen operating such a four-horse plow, turning the nicest
furrows without stopping, whereas formerly the cumbersome wooden plow required
six to eight animals and three men. The bigger farmers here work 40 to 60
dessiatines (108 to 162 acres). Despite the many inevitable setbacks, crop
failures, 1089 of livestock, etc., many young settlers have grown quite
prosperous. The raising of cattle and particularly sheep on a large scale has
contributed the most to the wealth of the colonists. As evidence of this is
the fact that in 1847 the colony made 24,000 rubles from the Using of sheep.
At present, the colony has 150 houses, a fine grain storehouse as well as a
newly-built combined school and prayer house with an area of 360 square feet.
Most of the houses are newly built, of which 25 to 30 of them are
distinguished by their simple yet sound style and by the interior room
furnishings in German taste. Opposite the empty churchyard stands the
beautiful 12-foot high parsonage, built 18 years ago. The interior furnishings
and the two vaulted cellars offer a fairly comfortable home for a preacher.
In this brief historical sketch, it is impossible to recount all the events
that have taken place. Perhaps even the little reported here about certain
things will be too much for some people. Who would not prefer to see only the
good? However, the darker side of our history has only been touched upon. In
this imperfect world of ours, we must live in hope of the good becoming even
better and endure in all truth and diligence until we finally end our careers
in the name of God, reaping the fruits of our labor.
During the 38-year span of our history, through various hardships and slow
progress, the colonial administration, with severity and kindness, has been an
ever great in fluency And we regard it as a praiseworthy act of divine mercy,
wisdom, and love that we have been given a paternal and just support by His
Highness (the Czar), but particularly by His Excellency, Councilor of State
von Hahn. In this paternal solicitude, the General of the Infantry von Inzow,
"Father of the Colonists," has allied himself, working faithfully in behalf of
Schoolmaster: Fritschle (author)
Village Clerk: Theich
Coordinated with GRHS Village Research Clearing House
Coordinated with AHSGR/GRHS Translation Committee Chairman
Original translation: Theodore C Wenzlaff
Publication: GRHS Heritage Review 18-2 (1988)
Scanned: Dale Lee Wahl
Permission granted for posting on Odessa: 1996
C981771 1694-1797 0488505 Film
The following is taken from the book, "Homesteaders on the Steppe" by Joseph S. Height.
The Beresan district
The colony of Rohrbach. Est. 1809
The village of Rohrbach was located in the Zerigul valley, 40 versts west of the Bug river, and 100 versts northeast of Odessa. It was only 20 versts from Landau, which was the administrative center of the newly established Beresan Colony.
The Crownland apportioned to the colony of Rohrbach amounted to 8,333 desss. (or 22,500 acres), a tract of land large enough to provide a living for 150 families. The first settlers, consisting of 26 families, were conducted to the Zerigul valley in the fall of 1809 by Chief Mayor Brittner of Grossliebental. The following spring, Commissioner von Rosenkampf conducted another 69 families, with their leader Michael Kuhn, from their winter quarters in the colonies in the environs of Odessa, to the place of settlement. Of the 95 families, 56 had emigrated fro Alsace and the Palatinate, 33 were from Baden, 4 from Würtemberg, and 2 from Prussian Poland; in all about 450 souls.
Since a large number of the earliest settlers were from the Palatinate, the settlement was named after the town of Rohrbach, in the district of Bergzabern. It seems that the first homesteaders were put up in stone dwellings. Each family also received the necessary livestock, farm equipment, and seed grain, for which the families were granted an advance loan of 100,490 rubles. The cash assets of the immigrants amounted to some 40,000 rubles.
In 1813 another 27 families arrived from Prussian Poland, and 4 more families from Württemberg. In 1816, according to the earliest available census, the village of Rohrbach had 130 families, with a population of 602 souls (312 men and 287 women). From 1817 - 19 another 22 families, of which 16 were from Baden, were settled. In the next two decades 31 families moved away to other colonies. Despite this loss, however, the population of Rohrbach was 683 in 1838, and rose to 1,178 in 1847. For the 217 families, the available area of Crownland per family was about 40 dess., or 100 acres.