- 1848 Village History
Copyright 1996, GRHS
Notes: Please see the Introduction to the
Village History 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 (copyright
Forever precious you will be to our
Brief documentary of our dear Peterstal!
Long after everyone in this community
Will have turned to dust, as must we all,
Our remembered past will bring a shared
To our descendants on a dreary winter
With purer, nobler striving they will
To do their best for their own children's
And on him who bade me write this resume
May God's blessing rest eternally!
Since the founding of our colony the second generation has already grown to
manhood, but no one thought of the idea of writing down for future generations
an account of those events that have had an impact on the destinies of our
colonists. We are, therefore, deeply indebted to the president of the Colonists'
Welfare Committee, His Excellency State Councilor von Hahn, for enjoining us to
fulfill our sacred duty to posterity by "preserving for them our remembered
history and satisfying their desire to know what events happened in the past."
Dearest descendants! In spirit we envision you gathered together in dreary
winter evenings, eager to read and discover how the colony was founded, how it
developed, and in what condition it now finds itself. Let us then cheerfully set
to work and compose a brief survey of our history, with the prayerful wish that
the Almighty may graciously preserve our new fatherland, with its government
officials and colonial administrators, in perpetual peace.
I. The Founding of the Colony
In the beginning of the 19. century, when the general proclamation to would-be
colonists was issued in the Kingdom of Hungary, where our forefathers from
Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland had already been settled as farmers, our parents
decided to emigrate to Russia. They arrived here in the summer of 1805 and built
themselves wattled huts of reed and grass. The following year the government
completed the construction of houses made of stamped earth or sun-dried clay
blocks. The settlers were also granted a loan to enable them to purchase needed
farm equipment, livestock, and seed for field and garden. Every year the colony
has paid off 428 rubles of this loan, but there is still an outstanding debt of
9,978 rubles. From the day the immigrants crossed the frontier until they were
completely established, the Crown also provided them with so-called "day money",
wherewith they were able to buy the necessary food rations.
II. The Immigration
Our parents traveled together in groups of 10-12 families, without a special
guide or conductor. Some families came alone, but were also established in the
Only three families brought with them a sizable sum of money. The rest had no
significant funds. The former were therefore able to plow and sow and raise
livestock as they pleased, for the steppe was vast and grass was abundant. They
obtained good harvests and raised fine cattle and sheep. The poorer immigrants
were eager, as far as possible, to follow their example, and devoted all their
resources to farming. They lived frugally on barley gruel and potatoes. They
dressed simply and were content to wear rawhide wrappers on their feet, instead
of boots. But in due course they made such progress that they could afford
better food and finer clothes.
There were, however, also some thoughtless people who cared little about
morality, agriculture, or animal husbandry. They enticed others into drinking
and frivolity, and ended up in an abject state of poverty.
Because the colonists were unacquainted with the local conditions of the soil
and the climate, little progress was made in the first ten years, despite good
crops and extensive grazing lands. In later years the pioneer settlers had to
give some of their land to the landless artisans and day laborers, so that each
family retained only 50 of the original 60 dessiatines.
In the beginning 40-50 families were settled here. Others arrived in subsequent
years, until, in 1816/17, the completed settlement consisted of 61 families. No
orchards or vineyards were planted in the early years. Indeed, the people were
firmly convinced that neither trees nor vines could be grown in this region.
III. The Location of the Colony
Peterstal is located on the Baraboi river, immediately south of the colony of
Freudental, and about 26 versts from Odessa. The single village street,
consisting of two rows of houses and an avenue of acacia and elm trees, runs
parallel to the river. West of the street, on the other side of the river, is a
beautiful hill with green grass, vines, and fruit trees. On the summit, which
provides a fine view of the colony, the settlers built their village church.
IV. The Naming of the Colony
The name Peterstal is attributed to an amusing little incident. One day, while
the chief mayor of the Liebental district was visiting with the local village
mayor whose name was Peter, the latter called his beadle, also named Peter, to
deliver a message to a neighboring colonist of the same name. Struck by this
coincidence, the chief mayor is said to have exclaimed: "Hier ist ein wahres
Peterstal!" (You have here a veritable valley of Peters).
V. The Boundaries of the Colony
The land belonging to the colony is bounded on the east and north by the colony
of Josephstal; on the south by Freudental; on the west by Mariental and the
Russian village of Majak. The land area amounts to 2,994 dessiatines of level
terrain, which is traversed on the east side by the Akershi valley, and on the
west by the Baraboi with its lateral valleys.
VI. The Soil
Our steppe has black fertile soil everywhere, except on the west bank of the
Baraboi and its four dales, where the ground has a heavy content of sand and
gravel. The Agricultural Society claims that this western terrain is definitely
suitable for the production of certain trees, such as walnut, acacia and
mulberry, but so far nothing has been done to demonstrate this possibility.
VII. Vineyards, Orchards, and Tree Plantations
Upon injunctions issued by the authorities we began to plant fruit trees, vines,
and mulberries at the end of the first decade. However, despite all efforts
expended on them, the trees did not thrive, largely because of the saltpeter in
the soil and the recurrence of dry summers. Because of the slow and stunted
growth of the trees, the colonists soon lost confidence and interest in this
branch of agriculture and began to neglect it. Our gardeners soon became
convinced that the climate of the steppe was only suitable for nomads and
gypsies. Some said, "I shall plow down my vines and uproot my trees, and begin
to sow rye or barley. From the income of the field I shall afford to buy myself
a fine woolen coat."
It was not until 1840 that a new attempt was made to grow trees. The recently
appointed superintendent of German colonies, His Excellency von Hahn, together
with the district officials, organized an agricultural society in the Liebental
area. This society was requested to exert every possible effort to improve the
gardens and vineyards, and to establish new plantations of trees. Its president
was the Freudental colonist Konrad Bechthold, whose research of agricultural
matters and tree-growing in this district will remain unforgotten.
To be sure, the superintendent and the society had a hard time trying to
overcome the people's prejudice and skepticism. But the undertaking took a new
turn when von Hahn simply issued orders that "trees had to be planted." Though
the colonists remained skeptical and reluctant, they obeyed the order. After
seven years many of the colonists were vying with each other, to see who could
develop the nicest orchards and produce the finest trees. In 1845 the two sons
of a local widow who owned a large vineyard, devised a method of channeling
run-off water and storing it in small reservoirs, so that they could irrigate
the vines during the dry summer. As a result, in the dry year of 1846, their
vineyard was in a more flourishing state than the best one in a wet year.
Everyone admired it, but apparently no one thought of emulating the method.
However, most of the present inhabitants did try to follow the instructions of
the agricultural society and have thereby managed to improve their plantations.
In the late fall of 1846, ditches were made on both sides of the road leading to
Freudental, and an avenue of trees was planted on the banks of earth.
VIII. Wheat and Grain Farming
Our colony owes its prosperity chiefly to the production of wheat and other
grain. In the first decade the biggest farmer here was the village mayor, a man
named Pflug (plow!), who sowed 18-20 chetvert (95-100 bushels) of grain every
year, for which achievement he was awarded a silver medal by the Czar. The other
colonists sowed, on the average, only 18 to 24 bushels a year.
On the fertile virgin soil of the steppe the colonists were generally able
to produce good harvests, and our parents would have begun farming on an
extensive scale, had it not been because of obstacles they could not surmount.
In those years farm laborers were not easily available. The prices paid for
grain were low. Moreover, it was almost impossible to obtain the necessary wood
and iron for the construction of farm implements. Finally, the colonists did not
realize that only one day was needed to haul a load of wheat to Odessa, sell it,
make the necessary purchases, and be home again before nightfall.
In the beginning of the second decade, as more people began to settle in the
neighborhood, farm laborers became more available and many a colonist now had
several children of working age. The price of wheat became unusually high, so
that the colonists were able to market their grain in Odessa at great profit.
Until the end of the decade the most productive grain was winter wheat. After
that the soil began to lose some of its earlier vigor and fertility.
Nevertheless, no attempts were made to preserve and improve the depleted soil.
On the contrary, the colonists continued to plow and harrow the fields year
after year and to sow more and more grain, in the hope of getting larger crops.
The result was that the farmers had to pick the stunted grain by hand, because
it could not be reaped by scythe or sickle. Indeed, the harvest was so meager
that it scarcely sufficed for livestock fodder, and the farmers had to work on
the fields of the Glueckstal colony in order to earn their bread and the
necessary seed grain. After the land was allowed to lie fallow from time to
time, it again recovered and continued to bear good harvests in the third
Through the efforts of his Excellency von Hahn, in cooperation with the
officials of the Liebental district and the agricultural society, a good deal of
light has been shed on the problem of grain farming. The farmers have recognized
the value of summer fallow and the rotation of the crops. Consequently, despite
the recent 8 years of drought, the colony is rapidly moving toward greater
prosperity in many respects.
IX. Animal Husbandry
Next to grain farming, the colony owes its prosperity to the raising of
livestock. It is a well-known fact that livestock does well in this district and
that its quality can be improved with proper care. However, it has happened that
outbreaks of livestock epidemics have carried off two-thirds of our herds, but
these losses were again made good in three years.
Although the pioneer settlers had received from the Crown only oxen as draught
animals, they were not used very long but replaced by horses. Soon most farmers
had four horses, and some had eight. The colonists preferred to use horses,
because they were able to work faster and no epidemics had ever broken out among
them. Moreover, they always sold at a higher price than other livestock. For
several years the government has helped us to make improvements in the breeding
Our parents would have liked to raise sheep, but they claimed that there was not
enough grazing land available. Today the colonists admit that every farmer could
keep a few sheep without causing any harm to the steppe land. Families would
also find it easy to obtain their own supply of wool needed for clothing.
The Liebental officials and the agricultural society are studying the
possibility of raising clover, in order to increase the present herd of sheep.
X. Crafts and Trades
In the second decade only one family supported itself by operating a pottery.
Through hard work and thrift it has prospered so well that it is now a member of
the merchants' guild in Odessa and the owner of a profitable business. From the
beginning of the colony it was shown that blacksmiths, wainwrights, cobblers,
and coopers who were hardworking could make a good livelihood in their special
craft. The day laborer, who is so necessary for our colony, can also earn a good
income and enjoy a good life, without having to ruin his body through excessive
Already in the second decade, the government had planned to establish a silk
industry and ordered the colonists to establish mulberry plantations. This was
done, even though the settlers had neither the interest nor the knowledge for
such an enterprise. Nevertheless, mulberry trees are still being planted by
order of the agricultural society. Perhaps our descendants will be more
successful in this field of endeavor than their forefathers were.
Apiculture, probably a very promising enterprise in the Odessa area, was
completely neglected by our parents. In our village there is only one colonist
who has several bee hives. The agricultural society, however, is seeking to
spread more enlightenment in this branch of village industry.
XI. Private Dwellings
When our parents arrived, the steppe hereabouts was completely uninhabited. Only
here and there in the valleys and on the plain one could see the ruins of lowly
dwellings where Tatars were supposed to have been living. That these houses were
inhabited by an uncultured race is quite obvious from their irregular and
wretched construction, and the large piles of ashes nearby. Since these
tumble-down dwellings were no longer habitable, the government built new ones
for the settlers. In the first decade there was no thought of building regular
houses, but in the second decade the colonists began to improve the old
dwellings and build new ones. In the third and fourth decades most of the old
houses were replaced by new ones, with sizable well-furnished rooms, cellars,
and adjoining sheds and barns.
XII. Community Buildings
In the first few years there was no school, prayer hall, community hall, or
storage granary. Soon a schoolhouse was built which was to serve all community
needs for some time. On Sundays church services were held there and on weekdays
it served as a school, a court room, and as a town hall. The attic was used to
store provisions until, in 1820, a storage granary was constructed.
In 1836 we began the construction of the existing community buildings. Since the
little schoolhouse had become too small to accommodate either the schoolchildren
or the Sunday congregation, the community discussed the possibility of building
a church. But the communal cash on hand amounted to a mere 7 silver rubles and
43 kopeks, and the colony was still so badly in arrears with its payment of the
Crown loan, the unpaid taxes, and the orphans' fund, that its total indebtedness
amounted to 5,000 silver rubles.
Nevertheless, the community engaged an architect, and the church was completed
in 1837 at a total cost of 4,000 silver rubles. After the harvest of that same
year this sum was paid off, and also the outstanding debts. The attractive
church with steeple was also provided with interior furnishings, and the young
people contributed to the purchase of a bell.
A few years later we erected a spacious schoolhouse, purchased a house for the
mayor's office, enlarged the storage granary, and built barns for the communal
XIII. The Schoolmasters
From the beginning our schools were poorly provided with teachers. The cause of
this was that they were hired as cheaply as possible. At the present time the
situation has changed completely. Only those men who have been examined by the
pastors are now engaged as schoolmasters, and they are paid an adequate salary.
Upon the injunction of the authorities the children are now sent to school
regularly, and are given an education in the service of God and their community.
XIV. Unfavorable Events
a. Crop failures.
Complete crop failure occurred in 1824 and 1833. In the first instance we
were still able to earn our bread and seed grain, and fodder for our
livestock, by working in the colony of Glueckstal. However, in 1833, things
looked much darker and we were compelled to apply for aid from the colonial
administration, and received money, bread, and seed grain. The entire loan,
designated by the term "Hilfsgelder", was repaid in 1837. Although we had
many other dry years, especially in the forties, we were still able to make
regular payments on our Crown loan and the annual taxes.
b. Insects and rodents.
Since 1840 we have had a series of dry years which produced a spawn of bugs
and caterpillars that caused a great deal of damage to the grain crops and
the fruit trees. The wheatfields also were frequently ravaged by the
so-called suslik, the steppe gopher.
c. Locusts and the so-called Prussiki.
These also caused great devastation in our fields in the beginning of the
third decade. They appeared again in 1847, and completely destroyed our
fields of maize. The prussiki, grasshoppers, have also appeared frequently,
but through the efforts of the agricultural society they are destroyed in
their breeding grounds.
The only hailstorm to sweep through this colony was that of 1844, which
completely destroyed several grainfields.
Hoar frost struck our vineyards and orchards several times. On April 17-18
of the year 1848 we had such a severe frost that the grapevine shoots and
the leaves of the acacia and mulberry trees were frozen.
A fire broke out in 1845 but consumed only one house. The owner, who was
blameless, was compensated for his loss by the Fire Insurance Fund.
g. Livestock epidemics.
We have had four epidemics here, each of which carried off two-thirds of our
herds, and impoverished many a family for several years.
The Baraboi flooded several times. The most disastrous flood was that of
February, 1845, which caused damage amounting to 1,703 silver rubles. The
agricultural society is planning to provide flood control by building
several dams. The existing large Baraboi dam above the village holds such a
large quantity of water that we can water our cattle even throughout the
God be praised, our colony has not been afflicted by any epidemic or
contagious diseases. Indeed, we are in a flourishing condition, with a
present population of 351 males and 338 females. One couple is still living
that has a son of sixty-three and many great-grandchildren. In 1832, when
cholera was raging in Odessa, we also had a few cases, but fortunately no
If we consider the good fortune we have enjoyed here since the beginning, and
how, despite reverses and setbacks, we have been making substantial progress
during the forties, we must conclude: "These are the wise dispensations of God
who always does what is best for man." For, if we had not received crop failures
as well as bountiful harvests, disaster as well as good fortune, what would have
happened to morality and religion? With recurring change of fortune, our
colonists came to realize that thrift and economy can be rewarding. Formerly the
head of a family used to spend 60 silver rubles on wedding festivities for his
child, and 20-25 rubles for baptismal feasts. Nowadays, a wedding costs no more
than a christening, and this can be celebrated with an outlay of 5 silver
The same is true of the trips to Odessa. Formerly the colonists thought it was
necessary to stay overnight, in order to sell their products and purchase the
household necessities. But now that our colonists have learned to economize,
they set out at two in the morning, take care of all their business in the city,
and are back home at three in the afternoon. To be sure, our colonial
administrators and village officials have played their part in this important
change, for they have ceaselessly striven to maintain good moral standards in
the colony. How difficult their task must have been in the pioneer years, when
the colonists, while enjoying the freedom of Russia in full measure, imagined
that no one could interfere with their liberties. Fortunately, Heaven itself
came to the aid of the authorities. Let us suppose that we had enjoyed bountiful
crops year after year and had to suffer no misfortunes through crop failure,
grasshoppers, epidemics and hailstorms, truly most of the colonists would still
be living in their primitive clay-huts, and the colony as a whole would not have
made any progress. We would have no vineyards, no orchards, no plantations of
trees. All the former good harvests would have been squandered, and if we now
had a couple of crop failures, we could scarcely survive. Why are we now able to
pay our current taxes and the annual assessment on the Crown loan? And why, on
the other hand, are there still unpaid arrears from former years when crops were
good? We have clearly indicated the answer in earlier paragraphs.
We revert to the problem of agriculture. Since all of our land has been tilled
and no more grassland is available for our steadily increasing herds, our
colonists have had to lease many fields from our Russian neighbors. But now this
land is also becoming depleted, and the question arises, how will it be possible
in the future to improve the economy of the colony, particularly in view of the
fact that its population is constantly increasing.
Every colonist here is firmly convinced that no better land than ours can be
found anywhere, not even in Germany. The only thing that is lacking, is rain.
And yet, we have frequent precipitation of rain and snow every year. If only the
water that runs off into the sea could be retained for the benefit of our good
land, the problem would be solved! Of course, this water would have to be
conserved not only in ponds and depressions but also on level and hilly terrain.
If this were done, our colonists, ten years from now, would not change places
with the happiest inhabitants of the earth. Indeed, we would have here a
foretaste of the heavenly Eden, especially if the colonists continued to
cultivate their vineyards and orchards, and market their produce at Odessa in
For this very purpose His Excellency, with the co-operation of the district
officials of Liebental, organized an agricultural society which is directing its
constant attention to the improvement of the colony and seeking to discover
sound solutions to all agricultural problems.
Where we colonists live in security!
O pledge that we prize
Let us serve with faithful zeal and industry.
Protect the crown of our Czar,
Whenever danger threatens,
Near or far.
Give him, O Lord,
Faithful councilors and wise.
Grant, O Lord,
That as of yore
They look upon our colonies with gracious eyes.
May our life be devoted to God and our new
The original signed by:
Assessors: Klabe, Bauer.
Village deputies: Johannes Deifel, Friedrich Becker, Adam Ziegler, and some
members of the community.
Village clerk: J. Ulrich Roduner (author)
Scanned by Dale Lee Wahl
Coordinated with GRHS Village Research Clearing House
Coordinated with AHSGR/GRHS Translation Committee Chairman
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