Some of the first Europeans to settle lands that subsequently became Mississippi and Louisiana were Germans. An influential force in early settlement, Germans created communities in many Gulf Coast territories, including the Côte des Allemands (German Coast), in present-day St. John the Baptist and St. Charles Parishes in Louisiana. The Mississippi Gulf Coast often served as entry into these other settlements in what are now Louisiana and Florida.
Early German settlers, seeking refuge from continual upheavals in their homeland, found refuge with French and English settlement companies that promised riches to all who would immigrate to North America. Among these early immigrants was Hugo Ernestus Krebs, a German from the disputed Alsace-Lorraine region. Settling in Pascagoula in 1730, Krebs married the daughter of influential Frenchman Joseph Simon de La Pointe. The Krebs family wielded great influence over the development of the Singing River area. Participating in local politics and commerce, the Krebses established a thriving nineteenth-century lumber shipping and shipbuilding community along the Gulf Coast. The Krebs name graces buildings such as the Old Spanish Fort, also known as the Krebs–La Pointe House, and Lake Chatahoula, now known as Krebs Lake.
Prior to the Civil War, many immigrants who settled in Mississippi congregated along the Gulf and in the Delta region. Many of these new arrivals did not engage in agriculture but instead pursued trades or railroad work. In Claiborne County, a region that experienced marked antebellum growth, foreign immigrants comprised roughly 18 percent of the total population. Germans, including members of the Bernheimer, Dischinger, Englesing, Frankenbush, Rinehart, Rohnbacker, and Seidlitz families, settled in Port Gibson and Grand Gulf, working primarily as laborers, merchants, and tradesmen.
German immigrants such as Ludwig Hafner (anglicized as Lewis Harper) and Eugene W. Hilgard participated in the growth of Mississippi’s educational system. Employed as a professor of agricultural and geological studies at the University of Mississippi in 1854, Hafner soon became state geologist in Jackson. His replacement at the university, Hilgard, not only produced a geological survey for the state but also helped the Confederate cause with his knowledge of chemistry.
Land settlement agencies, often associated with railroad companies, enticed immigrants to settle along railroad lines in the late nineteenth century. Advertisements induced a group of immigrants from the Treia region of Germany who were living in the Chicago area to move south. Buying land from the Highland Colony Company, later known as the Gluckstadt Land and Improvement Company, members of the Schmidt, Klaas, Fitsch, Kehle, Hasse, and Weilandt families rode the Illinois Central Railroad’s “immigration car” to Calhoun, Mississippi, which soon became known as Gluckstadt. Other families journeyed south on the railroad and settled in Ridgeland.
Many of these settlers established small farms, where they endured not only harsh agricultural conditions but smallpox and other diseases. Although some families decided to return to the North, most worked together to help Gluckstadt thrive. Predominantly Catholic, they initially focused on building churches, cemeteries, and religious schools, and the church, in turn, helped the community.
During the two world wars, those of German descent often encountered resentment and fear of their heritage. In Gluckstadt, Germans drew strength from one another and the Catholic Church. Many community members served in the United States armed forces, yet Madison County had the post office renamed Calhoun during World War I. By 1940, however, the German community was accepted as ethnically German but not “foreign,” according to a Works Progress Administration survey that recorded the county as having no foreign population. Commemorating their German heritage and struggle to build a thriving town in Mississippi, Gluckstadt annually hosted Harvest Festivals until the 1950s.
In the latter part of the twentieth century, German families increasingly made the Gulf Coast their home after retirement from active military duty. In 1970 Germans accounted for nearly a third of all foreign-born persons in Mississippi and Alabama. While more recent years have seen a decline, Mississippi continues to attract German immigrants.
German culture remains a formidable influence as historical societies and heritage groups maintain links to their immigrant past. Since the mid-1980s Gluckstadt’s St. Joseph Catholic Church has hosted an annual fall GermanFest, attracting as fifteen thousand or more visitors. Other Oktoberfest celebrations can be found in smaller historically German communities such as Heidelberg, northeast of Laurel, and on the Gulf Coast, where the German American Society hosts a festival in the Biloxi-Gulfport area.
- J. Hanno Deiler, The Settlement of the German Coast of Louisiana and the Creoles of German Descent (1909)
- Katharine Donato and Shirin Hakimzadeh, Migration Information Source website, www.migrationinformation.org
- George A. Everett Jr., Journal of Mississippi History (November 1976)
- Jay Higginbotham, Pascagoula: Singing River City (1967)
- Harris Gaylord Warren, Journal of Mississippi History (April 1947)
- Herbert Weaver, Journal of Mississippi History (July 1954)
- D. C. Young and Stephen Young, in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, ed. Barbara Carpenter (1992)