The German Immigrant Henry Heise (1842 - 1917)

Henry's Birthplace
Private Correspondence re:Emigration
The Heises Emigrate to Preston, Canada West
Henry Heise Becomes a Master Cabinetmaker
Henry Heise in Business for Himself
Family of Henry Heise and Dorothea Stumpfle
Descendents Remember Henry Heise


Henry Heise (1842 - 1917) is an early Ontario immigrant worthy of study because he is typical of the c. 15,000 German immigrants to Canada in the period 1846 - 1860. [1] Canada West, in which most of these arrivals settled, "owes something of its social stability and industrial prosperity to the industry and sterling charater of the German element in its population". [2] Critical studies of the Ontario-German community consistently note economic advances, traditional lifestyles, a deep interest in education, and artistic prowess.

This paper will consider the German immigrant Henry Heise, with reference to primary social, genealogical, and business records. It will conclude with a description of Heise, as related in the oral tradition of his descendents, together with a comment on the implications of this tradition.


Henry's Birthplace

Henry was born April 10, 1842, in Mülhausen, Thuringen, Königreich, Prussia. [3] He was the youngest child of Christoff (b. 1806) [4] and Maria Mierstedt (b. 1810) [5] Heise, who were married in the Lutheran Church in 1830. [6] His three siblings were Martha (b. 1832) [7], Carl (b. 1834)[8], and Christian (b. 1840). [9]

Mühlhausen is an ancient Haufendorf (a large, nucleated home-town, in the midst of an open-field farming system) dating back to the Great Migrations of the fifth century, when the Thuringian tribe settled in Thuringen. It is in a fertile lowland known as the Goldene Aue, and is perched on the northern edge of the escarpment which circumscribes the Thuringian Basin. This is potato land. In the eighteenth century Goethe observed that local people eat "potatoes in the morning; at lunch in the soup; at dinner baked; potatoes all the time".[11]

The Gothic Marienkirche in Mühlhausen was a pilgrimage centre [12] which Henry would have visited on occasion. The structure, with its double aisles and stained glass windows, impressed everyone. Thomas Münger, one of the radical reformers of the sixteenth century, was captured and defeated in the vicinity, and executed in the square before this church. In local lore Münzer is consider to be a "seditious fanatic and leader of the German Wiedertaufer" [13] (Mennonites) who overthrew the Mühlhausen city council in 1524 and organized a peasant revolt in Thuringen in 1525.

From the fourteenth century, Thuringen remained a part of Saxony, a great state whose secular prince was one of the seven electors who chose each successive Holy Roman Emperor, until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 (the year Henry's father was born). The electorate of Saxony was a relatively compact territory with good natural resources at the junction of two trade routes; Hamburg to Austria, and Rheinland to Poland. Its population was large, and its characteristic community was the home town rather than the landed estate. Most people were Lutheran, but the monarchy remained Catholic.

In 1792 Prussia and Austria declared war on France, but Saxony stayed neutral and so kept itself free from war and its costs. After Napoleon's victories in 1805, however, there was no room for neutrals and Saxony joined the victorious Napoleon. When Napoleon was defeated in 1815, two-fifths of Saxony -- including Thuringen -- was awarded to Prussia at the Peace of Vienna.

"The soldierly and warlike spirit, which was stronger and more inherent in the national temper and tradition of Prussia than in any other German state", [14] was now forced on Thuringen. The army bill introduced by Hermann von Boyen (1771 - 1848), the Prussian minister of war, provided for universal conscription. Christoff Heise, like all young men, had to spend three years in continuous service, and two more years in army reserves. When war was called, all men up to age fifty-five had to serve. And there were many wars. Gneisenau, the renowned Prussian general who helped defeat Napoleon, had said: "The Prussian army is demoralized by peace. If you want to be a military state, you must engage in war, for war is an art and every art needs practice." [15]

When Frederick William IV succeeded his father to the Prussian throne in 1840, Liberals hoped for constitutional reform which would deal with such issues as military conscription. The new king contented himself with half-measures that satisfied no-one. On March 18, 1848, a revolution flared up in Berlin which terrorized and humiliated the aristocracy for half a year. Then, in November, 1848, the Prussian troops marched unopposed into Berlin. The following month Frederick William IV proclaimed a Constitution for Prussia that satisfied at least some of the demands of the liberals.

Shortly after the violent outbreaks of Berlin had occurred, a self-appointed committee of fifty-one representatives from the different German states met in St. Paul's Church in Frankfurt. They deliberated about the most suitable ways and means to give Germany both national unity and constitutional unity. Prussia vacillated. She rejected cooperation with the National Assembly, yet would not lead an anti-revolutionary crusade. In this way she alienated the sympathies of England and France, she caused great offence to Russia and her lack of action brought about the diplomatic cooperation of other powers and her own complete isolation.

After thirteen months of deliberations, the Frankfurt Parliament was finally dissolved. The Prussian constitution of December 5, 1848, was annulled by royal edict. And by the end of 1849, "Germany stood poised on the brink of civil war".[16] The fears of war were founded in the revival of Austria as a great power, and the refusal of the secondary German states to give support to Prussia. In January, 1850, Germany was divided into two rival camps. On the one side stood Prussia, supported by Baden and the lesses states of northern and central Germany, the other the league of the four kings (Bavaria, Württemburg, Saxony and Hanover) backed by Austria. During the autumn of 1850, Austria was concentrating military forces in north-western Bohemia. Prussia, although unprepared from a military view, was determined to defend her alliance. An open clash was averted, but this was another of the wars postponed but not avoided. The war was fought with very similar grouping in the summer of 1866.

The Federal Diet of the German Confederation was restored in 1851, in yet another victory of Conservatism over Liberalism. The decade from 1850 to 1860 found the patriots in silence or open despair. A new wave of censorship and persecution forced many to leave their native land, to continue the struggle for the ideals of freedom and national unity in the New World. Many of these emigrants dedicated their lives to the defense of the American Union during the American Civil War and fought for the liberation of black slaves. [17]

Henry's father, Christoff, was a home town guild arisan. He was a wood turner who sold his own products on the same premises where he produced them. In Thuringen a home town (population 5,000 to 20,000) occurred about every 1.5 square German miles, compared with Prussia as a whole, where the frequency was only one town per 4 square German miles. By 1840, about 50% of the German population lived in home towns. Henry could pass through the streets of Mühlhausen and

"...never know, from external evidence, that either shop or warehouse ministers to local needs. Places of this kind were there in sufficient number, but there was not a sign-board, much less a display of goods, to devote their whereabouts--nothing in fact--to distinguish them on the outside from private dwellings. The streets were cobbled right across from house to house; well-kept gardens graced the homes of the tradesman and labourer alike; there were no obtrusive boardings, no sky-signs, no placards of any kind, save the decorous announcements of the administrative or police authorities." [18]

A contract existed between the home town guildsman and his civic community so that advertisement was, at the least, superfluous. The guildsman would provide goods and services of acceptable quality and in acceptable supply in return for the security of his market and his price. Merchants and pedlars both tried to circumvent the guild system, but they were of alien production and raiders of the home town economy.

Handwerk (artisanry) dominated the home town economic system, whereas a different system, Manufaktur (manufacturing) dominated the cosmopolitan economy. What distinguished the two was the scale of the enterprise. Manufaktur employed more workers in a single enterprise than guild ordinances allowed, contained a division of labour, and had a market that included customers that the producers never saw.

The hometownsman was far more intimately involved with the total life of his community than either the city dweller or the peasant. Peasants knew one another but did not need one another, and their politics were passive and rudimentary. City men needed one another, but did not truly know one another, and politics were remote, formal, and abstract. The hometownsman both needed his neighbours and he knew them, and his politics incorporated both needs and knowledge into a stable and circumscribed world. The community always regarded him as one personality: citizen, workman, and neighbour. The home town, then, with its intimate population, was the territory of guilds and master artisans. Prussian figures for 1828 show that master artisans were twice as thick in the home towns as they were in the city or country. [19]

Between 1849 and 1861 the number of master artisans in Thuringen declined about 15%. This was the result of a decline in population growth in the home towns after 1830; there were more apprentices and journeymen awaiting mastership than were being absorbed, and they became mobile wage earners "who were socially depressed and excluded from the community". [20]

Walker lays out the home towns' social problem in these terms: Suppose an apprentice began his training at age fourteen, with the expectation of becoming master, citizen, and husband at about thirty, then remaining an active master until his sixties. Within this pattern of expectation there should be half as many helpers as masters to keep the system going. Modify this now to include gross population growth during a master's careet, 1820 - 1850. Prussian population grew about a third in those years, so that at the end of that time the right proportion of hired help rises to sixty-seven for every hundred masters. In the 1830's, shortly after Christoff Heise became a master, Prussia had already passed this figure. [21]

Intensification of agriculture, notably the increased use of the potato, had helped to stave off social change. With the potato famines of the later forties, the dislocations that should have been spread out over the past thirty years came all at once; [22] peasants poured into the towns, where they joined earlier outsiders as "overpopulation". Journeymen, unable to find accredited masters to employ them, tramped from town to town, and their demands at each place for their traditional Zehrpfennig (taken subsidy) before moving, became hardly distinuishable from a mass invasion of sturdy beggars.

Until the Conservative restoration of 1851, the hope remained that unemployment could be solved by economic legislation. The home towns' economic principles (i.e. to prevent entrepreneurial expansion at the cost of the small, independent tradesmen, and to uphold restrictions on occupational mobility to protect their members' security) were making it worse for the unemployed. The Liberal bureaucratic goal (i.e. an economy in which the individual workers would produce a margin of profits beyond his own consumption, unrestricted economic expansion and profit) was ultimately to produce a factory system which would absorb all the unemployed. After the triumph of Conservatism in 1851, however, the unemployed were left no option but to emigrate. [23]


1...Leibbrandt, Gottlieb, Little Paradise, (Kitchener: Allprint Company Ltd., 1975), p.29.
2...MacDonald, Norman, Canada, Immigration and Colonization 1841-1903, (Great Britain: Aberdeen Press, 1966), p.215.
3...Henry Heise Family Bible Genealogy.
4...St. Peter's Lutheran Church M.S. Records.
7...Discerned from 1871 Census Records for Preston, Ontario.
10.Pessler, Wilhelm, Handbuch der Deutschen Volkskunde, (Leipzig: Roder, 1934-5), Vol. III, Table 10.
11.Ibid, Vol. III, p. 149
12.Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Hartel, 1881), p.356.
14.Reinhardt, Kurt F., Germany, 2000 Years, Vol. II, (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1961), p.521.
15.Dawson, William H., German Life in Town and Country, (London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1901), p.104.
16.Mosse, W.F., The European Powers and the German Question 1848-71, (Cambridge University Press, 1958), p.32.
17.Reinhardt, op.cit., p.533.
18.Dawson, op.cit., pp.70-71.
19.Walker, Mack, German Home Towns, 1648-1871, (London: Cornell University Press, 1971), p.334.
22.Ibid., p.358.
23.Reinhardt, op.cit., p.530.