Kassel - 1848 Village History
Copyright 1996, GRHS
Notes: Please see the Introduction to the
Project for additional information. This particular Village History
was published in the English form in Joseph S. Height's book "Homesteaders
on the Steppe". There is much more data contained in this book concerning
this area and our German Russian ancestors who lived there. As this file
is placed on the Internet, the book is still available from GRHS
The settlement of the German immigrants in this colony took place in the
spring of 1810. The colony was founded during the reign of Czar Alexander
I, upon the instructions issued by Governor general Duc de Richelieu,
superintendent of colonies Rosenkampf, district mayor Roessler, and
village mayor Pressler.
The site selected for the settlement was in the southwest part of the
government of Kherson, 30 versts northwest of the administrative capital
of Tiraspol. Originally the village lay in a small tributary valley of the
Dniester river, but it was later moved 4 versts to the east and located on
the elevated left bank. The valley, called Kumurofka by the Russians,
takes its origin near the small market town of Domanov and runs 45 versts
in a southerly direction till it joins the Dniester near the town of
The topsoil of the level steppe belonging to the colony consists of two
feet of loamy black humus; only a small portion of the land is sandy. On
the whole, the soil is of good quality, and if the weather is favorable
the efforts of the hard-working farmer are amply rewarded. A special
characteristic of the local steppeland is the prevalence of noxious couch
grass. This is an utterly worthless plant for it cannot be used for fuel
or fodder. Even in extreme hunger, the cattle will scarcely ever eat it.
Known hereabouts as bittergrass or sourgrass, it thrives so luxuriantly in
the meadows and the pasture that it stifles every other kind of grass.
Viniculture is carried on to a considerable extent on 116 dessiatines of
land, although the plantations at the present time contain only 169,995
vines. However, as these produce a rich harvest in some years, this branch
of agriculture could be profitably expanded.
The woods are rather insignificant, not as to the area cultivated but in
regard to quality, for the largest trees attain a height of only 20 feet
even after 30 years of growth. The native woods, consisting exclusively of
oak trees, occur in a segregated area of 193 dessiatines in thirty dales
that lie from five to eight versts to the east and debouch into the
Kutschurgan valley. Also fruit trees, especially nut and apricot, have a
chance of becoming productive here.
The kinds of grain and other fields crops that have proved to be most
productive and profitable are: winter wheat, arnaut, spring wheat, rye,
barley, maize, potatoes, and melons.
Local building stone is scarce and of poor quality, so that the colonists
have to haul the needed stone from other quarries, with great difficulty.
The name of the colony goes back to the deceased pioneer settler Daniel
Ficke, who was a native of Kassel, Germany. The name was adopted by the
early settlers and was subsequently approved by the authorities.
When the colonists, in response to the generous invitation and the
promised privileges, arrived here in the late fall of 1809, they were
placed into winter quarters in the homes of the already established
colonies of Glueckstal, Neudorf, and Bergdorf. The following spring, 99
families were settled in the aforementioned valley. They had come from
various parts of Germany: 60 families were from Alsace (France), 12 from
Baden, 9 from the Rhine Palatinate, 6 from Wuerttemberg, and 12 from the
vicinity of Warsaw, Poland. In all, they numbered 399 souls (205 male and
194 female). The immigrants did not arrive in organized parties conducted
by special guides. Individual families simply joined the regular
transports. When the colony of Cassel was being established, the colonist
Heinrich Heilmann of Glueckstal served as guide and advisor.
The steppe assigned to the Immigrants was not m the hands of a private
landowner, but the Russians and the landed gentry in the neighborhood were
using the area as grazing land for their herds.
In 1810 the Crown had houses of stamped earth constructed for the newly
arrived settlers, and gave them the following grants-in-aid: 46,410 rubles
for subsistence, 36,789 for the expenses of getting settled, and 3,310 for
the purchase of seed grain. The generous aid given to the settlers, most
of whom were poor, clearly attests to the paternal solicitude of the
government. Some of the immigrant,, however, were boorish and immoral, and
all of them were unacquainted with the peculiarities and the conditions of
southern agriculture. Hence, despite the aid received, the people kept
getting poorer and poorer. Successful and unsuccessful experiments in
agriculture eventually led to more practical methods, and soon the
colonists began to hope that someday they would enjoy a measure of
prosperity. They recognized that hard work and upright behavior were also
in Russia the foundation of individual and communal well-being. In the
earth of South Russia a treasure lies buried which every persistent seeker
can discover by dint of industry and right living.
The property which the immigrants brought with them from their homeland
consisted of some cash money, household items, clothing, and bedding. The
total amount can be estimated at a value of about 14,750 rubles. The
prospects of a more prosperous future have, however, often been darkened
whenever the diligent, honest colonists suffered all kinds of affliction
and setbacks. From 1822 to 1827, and recently again in 1846, the locusts
caused much devastation. In 1818, 1328, 1829 and 1834 there were serious
livestock epidemics. The recent epidemic of 1844 destroyed 680 head of
livestock, and in the past winter we lost 430 head. There were total crop
failures in 1833 and 1834; and only middling crops in 1813,1814,1832, and
1835. In 1822 and 1823 the farmers hardly got their seed back, and the
prospects for the future were grim. Fortunately, the neighboring districts
offered their surplus grain at modest prices, so that our needs were taken
care of. In 1834,1843, and 1844 outbreaks of smallpox carried off 44
children, and the cholera epidemic of 1831 exacted two victims.
At the time the colony was founded the mistake was made of locating it in
the small side valley where there happened to be some fresh-water springs.
The settlers paid dearly for this mistake, for the village was also
exposed to recurrent spring floods which not only caused extensive losses
of grain and hay, but also ruined the stamped-earth dwellings. In
addition, the community lacked sufficient drinking water. In fact, there
were only five wells in the colony, and though these were from 12 to 15
feet deep they often went dry, especially in the years of drought. The
people, therefore, had no alternative but to reach the decision to
relocate the thirty-year-old colony.
This decision was put into effect in 1841, when a majority of the
colonists from the southern half of the village moved to an elevated site
on the left bank of the Kumurofka valley, 4 versts to the east. The new
colony was given the name Neu-Kassel, whereas the old village now was
called Alt-Kassel. But the existence of the twin colonies lasted only two
years. After the new colonists had established themselves and solved their
water problem, most of those who had remained behind expressed their
desire to be united with the others. The colonial authorities not only
acceded to their request, but also granted the poorest among them an
interest-free loan of 1,200 rubles repayable in 15 years. Those who were
still reluctant to move had no other choice but to follow the majority,
and in 1843 the remaining half of the old colony was evacuated.
A decent and practical large schoolhouse, as our new building can properly
be called, is of greater importance and value for the young generation
than is generally supposed. Here the children become literate and receive
the kind of religious instruction that teaches them to be virtuous and
patriotic citizens, obedient to authority and devoted to their occupation.
It is to be hoped that capable men will always be appointed as teachers of
our youth, in order to promote and foster the common welfare of the
community. We are grateful to the authorities for releasing us from the
payment of 1,000 rubles of the loan, thus enabling us to erect the fine
building which, for the time being, serves both as a school and a prayer
hall. The colony also owes its well-being to the preaching of the
precious, unalloyed, and pure Gospel.
Kassel, April 26, 1848
Assessors: Heer and Mehlhaf
Church schoolmaster: D. Winter (author)
Scanned by Dale Lee Wahl
Coordinated with GRHS Village Research Clearing House
Coordinated with AHSGR/GRHS Translation Committee Chairman
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