Lutheran Bookbinder Made Tough Transition to Farmer in Land of Opportunity

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Mar 22, 2013

My mother’s family, the Toepfers, lived in Bavaria, Germany. Johann Caspar and his son, Johann, were schoolteachers in the small village of Altenstein from 1778 to 1865. My great-granddad, Johann’s son Franz Carl, was a bookbinder in Altenstein. Germany was at war most of the time. Great-Granddad decided to leave Germany for the land of opportunity because he did not want his sons to serve in the military. They were members of the Lutheran church. According to church records, the following left for America in 1869: Franz Carl, 48; his second wife, Barbara, 36; Johann, 16; Anna, 11; Christian, 5; and, Heinrich, an infant. This was the beginning of a long journey. I don’t know how they got to Bremen, Germany, for embarkation. They boarded the ship Main, which took approximately six weeks to arrive in New York on May 31, 1869. The infant boy was not listed as arriving. I can’t imagine the hardships they endured. But they were in America, the land of promise and freedom, and so happy.

I believe they traveled by train from New York to Galena, lllinois. Why Franz Carl chose this area I don’t know, but it did look a lot like the area in Bavaria where he had lived. In January 1870 he purchased 40 acres of land for $700 in the southeast part of JoDaviess County. Great-Granddad brought gold leaf with him, which he would have used as a bookbinder; this may be what he used for money. We still have one sheet of this gold leaf in our family.

They built their log cabin in the hollow of the hills in order to be near a spring for water. The cabin’s foundation is still on the land, which remained in the Toepfer name until recently.

A daughter, Dorothea, was born the following year, and my granddad, Henry, two years later. At the time of Great-Granddad’s death in 1883, he had added another 120 acres and built a frame home on high ground; a portion of the house is still there. I always wonder how he was able to adjust to working and living off the land. It would have been rough, hard work compared to book-binding. It had to be a tough transition.

We thank our great-grandparents for this sacrifice and their decision to leave homeland and family to make a new home in America. All of these immigrants were brave to face the uncertainties of the hard journey ahead of them. How very fortunate we all are to live in a prosperous, free country. May we always be reminded to conserve and maintain what we have so that we can proudly pass on to many generations after us what we received.

Connie Ellis
Farmer City, Illinois

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then 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 title – – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the 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.

Capper's Farmer - Your Hub for All Things Handmade

Get step-by-step instructions, DIY projects, upcycling tutorials, and more!