Land of Opportunity: Marriage of Convenience Forces Grandfather to Leave

Abusive results from parents’ marriage of convenience lands teen with apprenticeship; after army service, grandfather wanders to land of opportunity.

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Long before his family knew of the land of opportunity, my grandfather, August Maiwald, was born in a tiny hamlet in Silesia, then part of Germany. His parents each had children by previous marriages; the high mortality rate of the times led to many marriages of convenience. There were no jobs for women, and men were unsuited for caring for children. As the youngest of the lot, Grandfather was the target of abuse. He often said, "When my mother's kids weren't beating on me, my father's were."

Apprenticed to a miller at 13, August had to carry heavy sacks of grain up the narrow stairs to the mill tower hoppers, where it would feed down to the grindstones that reduced it to flour. He could take only short naps on a pile of grain sacks, because the hopper emptied every half hour. He finished his training in 1867, only to find that city mills, with their steam-powered steel rollers, were replacing the water-powered gristmills.

Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – August was drafted into the Prussian cavalry as a hussar, a light horseman. He received three years of harsh training, then was sent to fight against the French in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. While scouting ahead of a supply train, he ran into an ambush, where it was kill or be killed. The iron ring in his cap kept the enemy's saber cut from splitting his skull, but he carried the scar to his grave. He was given a lead bullet to bite when his scalp was sewn up without anesthetic. While nearly biting the bullet in two, he made a pact with God, vowing that if he survived the war unharmed, no son of his would ever fight or die for the glory of the fatherland.

After the war, August was stung by the wanderlust bug. He hiked through the lovely Bavarian countryside, working sporadically, drifting ever onward, sleeping in haystacks and seeing new sights. It was then that he met a beautiful woman who regarded him as her knight in shining armor.

That was my grandmother, Rosina Bartnig. Her mother, widowed at 30 with three children, married an old skinflint who kept even raw potatoes and carrots locked up so his wife's brats could have only the miserable few he doled out. He often told his drinking buddies, "I' d buy the old woman some liverwurst, but she would only give it to her brats!" Rosina and August met while picking up potatoes in her stepfather's potato field. Realizing that the old curmudgeon would never let her go because she was such a good worker, the young lovers eloped that very night. Rosina kissed her sleeping mother and brothers good-bye, wrapped a few things in her Sunday dress, then the barefoot couple ran away in the night.

They were married by an Evangelical minister in 1878. August got a small hardscrabble farm in Silesia, but then the government helped him get a larger farm in Posen, now Posnan, Poland.

Their first child, Alma, was born in 1878, and Carl was born in 1879. My father, Frederick "Fritz," was born in 1884 and his sister Anna in 1892. Their home, like all the others, was a house-barn, where the cattle lived in one end and folks in the other. All the milk from their three cows was made into butter to be sold, leaving them only the sour buttermilk. No chickens or eggs could be eaten; like the fat hogs and geese they raised, all had to go to market to pay the taxes and mortgage, plus a few luxuries such as salt, pepper and sugar, things we take for granted.

When my Uncle Carl was 16, Grandpa sent him to the United States to avoid the draft. Five years later, at great sacrifice, he sent my dad. Unable to run his farm without the boys' help, he sold his land and moved to Berlin, where he found work as a carpenter's helper.

The rattletrap train that took young Fritz to Berlin seemed a mechanical marvel to him. He stayed there with an uncle for a week, awed by the city's beautiful museums and gardens. He was put on the train to Hamburg, where he took a ship across the English Channel to Grimsby. Then the youngster took a train to the mighty port of Liverpool. There he was herded from the train depot, along with other emigrants, to the blowsy old Pretoria of the Hamburg-American Line. After two weeks afloat in steerage, where the seasick moaned all night, unable to eat the pig slop food and pounded by heavy seas, young Fritz was thrilled to see the Statue of Liberty. He was shoved through Ellis Island, had his eyelids pulled up with a buttonhook to check for trachoma and was fed with hundreds of others at a long table. His brother Carl met him to take him to Providence, Rhode Island. Then they boarded a trolley to Carl's home in Darlington, a suburb of Pawtucket.

There, Fritz met Carl's wife Clara and daughter Edith. He was astonished at the nutritious food and lack of formality. White bread, two eggs and coffee cake, all at the same meal? Astounding! He fell in love with America on the spot. He boarded with his brother and got a job the next day in the monstrous Royal Weaving Factory, the largest silk mill in the world. Fritz wandered about the city, astonished at such things as ice cream, amusement parks and the swarms of folks in the stores, as well as the zoo, the theaters and the baseball games, where the players got only free beer as their pay.

Young Fritz joined the church, opened a savings account and went to night school to learn proper English. Five years later, when he became a citizen, he went back to Germany to persuade his parents to come to America. His mother finally agreed, providing Fritz waited until his younger sister Anna was confirmed in the Evangelical church. He went back to his old village for a visit before bringing his folks to the promised land.

My other grandfather, Franz Bauer, was born in 1847 in Bavaria, Germany. He was the oldest of 11 children and was put to weaving silk at age 9. We know nothing more of his early life or when he and his first wife came to America. She disliked America so much she leaped to her death from their apartment window, leaving Franz with Otto, their 8-year-old son. Otto never got over her death and could not get along with his stepmother. He ran away when he was 14 and 15, leaving for good at 16.

Grandma Bauer, Mary Siegle, was born in Bavaria in 1865. Her father died when she was 3, and her mother remarried three weeks later. Her stepfather was a winemaker. He drank too much of his own product and became violent when he was drunk, which was about once a week. At 15, Mary took a position as a maid/ companion to a wealthy German woman who brought Mary to New York's society scene. Mary absorbed quite a bit of culture from this fine lady, but quit when the husband became too demanding. She met and married the widowed Franz Bauer in January of 1892 and bore him a daughter, Annie, on November 24th of that year. She was my mother. Her brother Frank was born May 16, 1902.

When Frank was born, Grandma took my mom out of school and turned Frank over to her to raise. At 11, my mother had sole responsibility for her brother and all the housework while her mother cooked and made their clothes on her old shuttle Singer sewing machine. When Frank started school, Annie pestered her father to get her a job, so he took her to the Royal Weaving Factory with him and taught her the weaving trade.

She became friendly with young Anna Maiwald who got her a date with her brother, Fred. That's how my parents met. They had a chaste three-year engagement, then married on January 24,1912.

I was born August 31, 1913, during a violent thunderstorm. It was a Sunday, so Pop was there to assist the doctor. They laid Mom on the kitchen table, so Doc Lelond could use his forceps – I still have the scars. Doc gave Pop the nod to give Mom a whiff of chloroform. Lightning hit the old ox-heart cherry tree in the backyard and there I was, all 10 and one-half pounds of me. Ta-dah! The total cost of my entry into the world was $8.

Carl W. Maiwald
Pine Bush, New York


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.