Paul Follenius, the cofounder with Friedrich Muench of the Giessen Emigration Society and the third son of a lawyer at the Hessian Ducal Court, was born in Giessen in the Grand Duchy of Hesse on May 5, 1799. His mother died a few days after his birth, and he was taken to live with his father’s parents in the little village of Romrod on the Vogelsberg, where his grandfather was a forester. After his father remarried, Follenius rejoined the family in Giessen.
At the age of fifteen, Follenius interrupted his schooling at the gymnasium to participate in the 1814 campaign against Napoleon, in which he distinguished himself for bravery and was wounded. He thought of following a military career but concluded he would become only a tool of the ruling princes as a soldier. Deciding instead to study law, he quickly made up the time lost in the military, and in the spring of 1817 enrolled at the University of Giessen, where Muench and his brothers were students.
Follenius soon joined the Burschenschaft, the “League of Black Brothers,” a fraternity distinguished by the black clothing its members wore and their advocation of wide sociopolitical reforms and the creation of more democratic government within a unified Germany. A disagreement with university authorities led to a half-year suspension for not showing the required submissiveness to the administration. The assassination of the Russian diplomat August von Kotzebue in Mannheim in March 1819 by Jena theology student Karl Sand and the attempt on the life of the Hessian minister of state in Wiesbaden resulted in the Karlsbader Beschlusse of September 1819, government decrees aimed at the suppression of student activities at the university by strict censorship measures and police surveillance of students suspected of possible revolutionary tendencies. Instead of achieving the popular uprising against the reactionary governments they had hoped to inspire, the students and other revolutionaries had been met by inertia and indifference from the people whose lives they were hoping to improve. However, harassment by police, arrests, and the threat of imprisonment haunted them for years after they had graduated and become teachers, lawyers, pastors, or businessmen.
After concluding his studies, Follenius practiced law and developed a growing practice in Giessen. In December 1825 he married Maria Muench in Niedergemunden, acquired a home at the edge of the city of Giessen, and seemed to have accepted the political realities of the time, though his older brother Karl had fled the country and lived in exile in America. An attempt on April 3, 1833, to capture the main guardhouse of the Frankfurt police by a group of their former fraternity brothers who still hoped to trigger a popular uprising failed, and though neither Follenius nor Muench had taken part, it led to renewed harassment by Hessian police, the military of Prussia, and the Federation of German States. Realizing that the reactionary forces had succeeded in suppressing any hope of political and social reforms, Follenius and Muench decided to emigrate and, in March 1833, issued A Call and Explanation with Regard to an Emigration on a Large Scale from Germany to the American Free States. In July 1833 they circulated a second edition of the Call with a detailed constitution of the Giessen Emigration Society. They planned to create a model German republic in the Arkansas Territory and from there work for a rejuvenated Germany.
Before the group departed, scouts returned with an unfavorable report on conditions in Arkansas, and the leaders changed the destination to Gottfried Duden’s settlement in Warren County, Missouri. With about five hundred persons waiting to emigrate, Follenius left from Bremen with the first contingent of about seventy families on the Olbers on March 31, 1834, bound for New Orleans, where they arrived on June 4.
On the trip up the Mississippi, Follenius became ill and had to leave the boat. Upon reaching St. Louis, his group decided to disband, and the treasurer mistakenly distributed all the common funds of the society. The second group of 350 members, sixty families, led by Muench, set sail for Baltimore, reaching the city on July 24, 1834, after a seven-week voyage. Learning in St. Louis that their common funds had been disbursed, this group also disbanded.
Only the leaders and half a dozen families settled at their destination in Warren County. In July 1834 Follenius bought the log cabin and farm near Dutzow formerly owned by Duden, and with Muench set out to repay members of the society who had lost their funds. According to Muench, Follenius “learned to swing an axe as well as any man” as a pioneer farmer, but times were hard. In 1844 Follenius made an attempt to resettle in St. Louis to work with Wilhelm Weber of the Anzeiger des Westens and publish a journal, Die Waage. He lacked the necessary capital for the venture, and the journal collapsed after the first three issues. In the fall of 1844 Follenius moved back to Warren County, where he died on October 3, 1844, of typhoid fever. His grave, protected by a wrought-iron fence, lies in a field in the shadow of Duden’s Hill.
Aufforderung und Erklärung in Betreff einer Auswanderung im Grossen aus Teutschland in die nordamerikanischen Freistaaten. Zweite, mit den Statuten der Giessener Auswanderergesellschaft vermehrte Aufiage. Giessen: J. Ricker, Juli, 1833.
Bek, William G. “The Followers of Duden.” Eighteen-part series. Missouri Historical Review 14, no. 1 (October 1919) through 19, no. 2 (January 1925).
Cunz, Dieter. “Karl Pollen: In Commemoration of the Hundredth Anniversary of His Death.” AmericanGerman Review 7 (October 1940): 25–27, 32.
Duden, Gottfried. Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America and a Stay of Several Years along the Missouri (during the years 1824, ’25, ’26, and 1827). James W. Goodrich, general editor. Edited and translated by George H. Kellner, Elsa Nagel, Adolf E. Schroeder, and W. M. Senner. Columbia: State Historical Society of Missouri and University of Missouri Press, 1980.
Finckh, Alice H., ed. “Three Latin Farmers: Paul Follenius, Frederick Muench, George Muench.” For the Reunion of Muench and Follenius Descendants, Augusta, MO, October 6, 1984.
Goebel, Gert. Longer Than a Man’s Lifetime in Missouri. Translated by Adolf E. Schroeder and Elsa Louise Nagel. Edited and with an Introduction by Walter D. Kamphoefner and Adolf E. Schroeder. Columbia: State Historical Society of Missouri and Brush and Palette Club of Hermann, 2013.
———. “Uprooted or Transplanted? Reflections on Patterns of German Immigration to Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 103, no. 2 (January 2009): 71–89.
Münch, Friedrich. “Das Leben von Paul Follenius.” In Gesammelte Schriften von Friedrich Münch, ed. Konrad Nies. St. Louis: C. Witter, 1902.
Published April 8, 2023
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