Carl Gottlob Wiederänders had already endured a lifetime of hard work and hard luck when, at the age of 66, he set out for Texas with his wife and seven children, hoping to give them a better life. But Carl would not see his dream realized. Within a few years, three of his six sons were dead. And Carl himself died scarcely a year after his arrival, never having secured the “little piece of land” he longed for.

Carl was born September 16, 1787, in Annaberg, Saxony, the third son in a family of eight — though only three sons and one daughter reached adulthood. His father, Johann Christian Wiederänders, was a cooper (barrel maker), as all the men in the Wiederänders family had been since Peter Andres (born ca. 1465). Carl followed the family path and learned the craft of coopering: he first became an apprentice, then a journeyman, and finally a master cooper.

Carl was 26 when his father died. Two years later, in 1816, he took possession of his parents’ house, mortgaging it heavily to pay his siblings their share of the inheritance. He married Johanna Zein eight years later in 1824. But before they could celebrate their first wedding anniversary, Johanna died in childbirth. Her legacy was a healthy son, named Carl Gottlob after his father. Carl prevailed upon his sister to keep house for him and care for the baby, but she was not well suited for that task. Within a year he married again, but his new bride, Johanna Christiana Charlotte Kunz, died two and a half years later at age 37. [This marriage was recently discovered in the church records in Annaberg.]

In the meantime Eleonore Wenzel, the proverbial girl next door, had started working in the Wiederänders household. An orphan who had been taken in by the well-to-do Korb family, Eleanor was 22 when her mistress — Carl’s second wife Christiana — died in early 1828. Evidently the bereft widower found solace with Eleonore, for she gave birth to a son later that year. Their union was made official on March 1, 1829. [Family records say the marriage took place 1827, but this would not have been possible.]

So little Carl Gottlob greeted his first half-brother, Carl Anton, on November 29, 1828. (All of Carl’s sons were given the first name Carl and called by their second names: Gottlob, Anton, Gustav, Ernst, Hermann, Emil, and Eduard.) Over the next 15 years five more sons and three daughters were born. (For more details, see Eleonore Wenzel’s story.) Six of the couple’s nine children lived to adulthood. Hermann, Johanna, and Therese died in early childhood, leaving Eleonore Wilhelmine the only surviving daughter.

Click on pictures to enlarge

Carl’s home town of Annaberg, Saxony: a street leading up to St. Anne’s church

“Der Pöhlberg:” the mountain in whose protective shadow the city of Annaberg lies

Obelisk in Annaberg showing distances to other cities & towns
The family home was located at 419 Wolkensteiner Strasse. It was called “Das Büttnerhaus,” or “The coopers’ house.” The house had been purchased in 1518 by Peter Andres and lived in by several generations of Wiederänders before it passed out of the family in 1600. Carl’s grandfather reacquired it around 1750. Located on a hillside, the house at that time stood above the level of Wolkensteiner Strasse and was fronted by a rock retaining wall, or Steinmauer. Because of this stone wall, Carl was known (in the broad dialect of the Erzgebirge) as “der Steemauer Korl.”

The house was also built of rock. On the ground floor was a large workroom, living quarters for Carl and Eleonore, and a small rear apartment that was rented to an elderly couple. The workroom contained stacks of lumber and a large workbench on which the lumber was prepared for the construction of barrels, kegs, cisterns, tubs, and buckets. It was here that Carl, as a master cooper, trained apprentices and supervised journeymen.

The second floor was rented out to two families and a widow. The Wiederänders boys slept in the attic. Behind the house was a pig sty, a shed, and a garden with pear, apple, and plum trees — two of each. Along the back of the garden was another rock retaining rock wall 20 feet high, and above it was the next street, which overlooked the back yard.

Das Büttnerhaus was a bustling place, overrun with children who began early to learn the craft of coopering. Years later, a friend reminisced about childhood days in a letter to Carl’s eldest son, Gottlob: “my faithful old friend...with whom I sanded many a bundle of hoops in the shady yard; rolled the little men, women and soldiers in and out of the cave; tried out my knife to see if I could whittle my finger...took an unexpected bath backwards into the water barrel, although it was not intended as a bath for me but to soften the hoops...”

For centuries, the master coopers of the Wiederänders family had been proud and profitable craftsmen, earning a good living and passing their skills and status on to their children. But in the mid-19th century, demographic, economic, and political forces combined to forever change the patterns of livelihood that had endured since medieval times. A population explosion occurred in Germany — the number of people in Saxony actually doubled between 1816 and 1865. This led to dislocations and shortages of food, work, housing, and farmland. Destitute rural people flocked to the cities looking for work. Prices, production costs, and taxes all rose. Meanwhile the trade guilds, which had been all-powerful in regulating business affairs in local jurisdictions, were losing power to municipal and state governments. Journeymen were finding it impossible to become masters, while masters were scarcely able to afford the costs of training apprentices.

At a time in his life when Carl might have expected to enjoy the fruits of his labors as his adult sons became successful, he had to struggle desperately to support his family — and found himself losing ground. His oldest sons Gottlob and Anton were now journeymen coopers, but Gustav and Ernst had had to turn to lace making. In his 1853 petition to the City of Annaberg for permission to emigrate, Carl wrote:

I own a house....which is appraised at 2,415 Reichsmarks and carries a running mortgage of 700 marks. Although I am already 65 years old, I am scarcely able to feed my children who are not yet of working age from my profession, since I make a very small living due to the very high duties levied upon master coopers in this city.

My sons have supported me in my trade and livelihood, but I cannot allow this to continue. In time, I would have to sell my house and use up the proceeds, little by little. But if I had the proceeds now, I could buy a little piece of land (“ein Stückchen Land”) in America and thus would hope to establish a dependable livelihood there for my children and my wife. My grown sons are strong, and through their combined efforts they will persevere in that endeavor. Without them I could not conceive of emigrating, since they will carry me with their work in that land, and lighten the wearisome burden of emigrating.

Here I can no longer hold my own as a tradesman. It would be a wretched fate if I...could pass nothing on to my children. In America, I can secure a happy future for my children and my children’s children.

For six years Carl had been planning to emigrate, scraping together the 1,000 thaler he thought would be sufficient to get his family to America. But in order to leave, he had to secure the release of three of his sons from their military obligations to the Kingdom of Saxony: Gottlob, 27, a veteran and reservist with the 4th Rifle Battalion of Leipzig; Anton, 24, an active duty soldier with the 11th Infantry Battalion; and Ernst, 20, a recent recruit slated to serve with the Leipzig Infantry Brigade. (Gustav, 22, had been found to be physically unfit for service.)

Through city officials, Carl petitioned the Kingdom of Saxony for his sons’ dispensations. The Royal War Ministry replied that it would release Gottlob, since he was a reservist, but Carl would have to buy his other sons out of active duty by paying the customary bounty: 100 thaler for Anton, because he had already completed half his service, and 200 thaler for Ernst.

His dream in jeopardy, Carl again petitioned the City to intervene with the War Ministry, introducing new information about Ernst's physical condition:

....I am not in a position to pay the bounties for my two above-named sons, and our planned emigration cannot take place in the event of further unfavorable responses to my respectful request for their releases.

Here, my small savings would be gradually used up, and the dream I have nurtured for six years — of securing a successful future in America for my loved ones — totally destroyed. I cannot hope to undertake the emigration in the future, given my diminishing pecuniary resources. My sons wish to emigrate with all their hearts. My remaining capital consists of, at most, 1,000 thaler. With that I must pay the emigration costs for eleven persons, and use whatever is left for the purchase of a little piece of land. The happiness of my family is at stake in this matter....But if it meant leaving behind my sons Carl Anton and Carl Ernst Wiederänders, I could never undertake such a thing.

My oldest son, Carl Gottlob Wiederänders, has become consumptive during his military service...and my fourth son, Carl Ernst Wiederänders, may not be sufficiently fit for strenuous military service, since he has developed a hernia....

It is a question of the wellbeing of a previously respectable family of eleven people. Again and again I must return to this fact: our entire hopes are staked on emigration.

The City Council urged the War Ministry to relent, and the latter allowed Ernst to be examined by a military doctor, who disqualified him from service. This left Carl to pay 100 thalers for Anton — still a sizeable portion of his savings.

The Wiederänders house on Wolkensteiner Strasse, called “Das Büttnerhaus”

A cooperage

Coopers at their trade

Hollowing out a barrel stave

Firing the cask

Driving on one side in order to catch on a smaller hoop

A bobbin lace making apparatus

Crumbling plaster on a wall in Annaberg

The City Hall, where Carl filed his request for permission to emigrate

Carl’s signature on his emigration petition

War Ministry ruling from Carl’s emigration papers
And so the Wiederänders family — Carl and Eleonore and their six surviving children, plus Carl’s first son Gottlob, along with his wife Johanna and their six-year old daughter Amalia — set out on April 11, 1854. They traveled by bus from Annaberg to Chemnitz, and then by railway via Leipzig and Magdeburg to Bremen. There they embarked on a six-week voyage by sailing vessel to Galveston, Texas, which proved to be a relatively easy crossing. A packet steamer took them from Galveston to Houston. The last leg, a 200-mile oxcart trip from Houston to Round Top, took 23 days. The family reached their destination on July 7 after a journey lasting 13 weeks.

Round Top was a thriving community in 1854, with a blacksmith shop, saddle shop, doctor, general merchandise store, cigar factory, livery stable, and Lutheran church. The Wiederänders arrived there virtually penniless. Carl’s savings were not enough to buy the land he yearned for. Instead, the family dispersed to work and live on others’ farms and plantations.

Carl and Eleonore’s daughter Eleonore Wilhelmine (known as Minel) married a farmer who had staked out a homestead 20 miles west of Round Top on Rabbs Creek. Carl, Eleonore, and Eduard [who soon became Edward] moved out to help with the backbreaking work of clearing the land of trees, thick underbrush, and creeping vines. Meanwhile Anton and Gustav hired out as sharecroppers on a farm near Serbin. Gottlob, having failed to find work in Galveston, pledged a year’s labor to a plantation owner in exchange for passage to Round Top, food and shelter for his family, and a horse and cow at the end of the year. What Ernst and Emil did is not known.

The family’s first year in America was provisional at best. But in the second year, tragedy struck. At the end of the summer, Anton died of a high fever (most likely malaria). And a month later, on September 28, 1855, Carl Gottlob Wiederänders, weakened by a fever and his age, died of a stroke. He had accomplished half his goal, bringing his family to America to start a new life. Their future happiness and security now depended on their own abilities and perseverance — and the whims of fate.

The story of the Wiederänders family continues with Eleonore Wenzel and Edward Wiederanders.

© Julia Moore, 2006. All rights reserved.


Kirchenbücher records from St. Annenkirche, Annaberg.

Property and inheritance records from the Stadtarchiv Annaberg-Buchholz (with many thanks to Frau Pollmer, Archivist).

The Emigration Papers of Carl Gottlob Wiederänders, from the Stadtarchiv Annaberg-Buchholz

A Part of the History of the Wiederaenders Family,  as written down (in German) by Edward Wiederanders.

Family of Carl Gottlob Wiederaenders, Johanna Zein, & Johanna Dorothea Eleonore Wenzel, compiled by Roland P. Wiederaenders in 1968.

Kilby, Kenneth,  The Cooper and His Trade;  Linden Publishing Co., Inc., 1989.

Sheehan, James J.,  German History 1770-1866,  Oxford University Press, 1989.

A wooden cart such as the one in which the Wiederänders family traveled for 23 days

Log cabin dating from the earliest days of Fayette County

Settlers clearing land in Lee County, Texas

A “little piece of land” near Round Top, Texas