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"Hindsights"


Looking back at:

August Seimering and the Forty-Eighters

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

August Siemering's ringing abolitionist editorials are considered classics in German-American literature. He was a teacher, editor and soldier. He was a schriftsteller (writer) "of no small merit," and by all accounts a pretty good dancer.

A free-thinker and political liberal, Siemering came to Texas from his home in Germany in 1851. He was among the first of the Forty-Eighters to settle in Sisterdale.

The Forty-Eighters supported the democratic revolution that swept across Europe in the 1840s. But the revolution failed, leaving the Forty-Eighters between a rock and a hard place.

About 4,000 Forty-Eighters came to the United States. About 100 came to Texas. Most of them, including August Siemering, settled in Sisterdale.

Joining him were such notables as Otto von Behr - the son of a German prime minister, Carl Daniel Adolph Douai - the man who introduced the kindergarten system to the U.S. and Edgar Gerhard Julius Ludwig von Westphalen - the son of a Prussian Baron and Karl Marx's brother-in-law.

The Forty-Eighters made Sisterdale one of the most unusual outposts on the Texas frontier. Sisterdalians were not rugged frontier types but urban, cosmopolitan intellectuals. They read the best literature and spent hours discussing Voltaire, Kant and Hegel. They conducted town meetings in Latin or Greek. They were the most educated and enlightened people of their day.

Not known for laying low and keeping quiet, the Forty-Eighters were soon up to their eyeballs in a new controversy - slavery.

In 1853 August Siemering began contributing articles to a German language, anti-slavery publication called the San Antonio Zeitung ("newspaper" in German). That same year the abolitionist organization Die Freie Verein (The Free Society) elected him secretary.

In May 1854 the Verein called a meeting of German abolitionists in conjunction with the Staats-Saengerfest (State Singing Festival) in San Antonio.

The meeting produced a platform that included equal pay for equal work, direct election of the president, abolition of capital punishment, abolition of slavery, free schools including universities and total separation of church and state.

The platform was controversial to say the least. Even German conservatives opposed it.


In 1856 August Siemering moved to Gillespie County. He opened the first public school in Fredericksburg. The school received permission to meet in a room at the courthouse "provided that the same shall be vacated during the holding of District Court."

He married Clara Schuetze of Gillespie County in 1859.

Evidence suggests he was a persuasive man. Members of the Gillespie County Rifles, a company of Confederates led by Capt. Charles H. Nimitz, identified him as a Unionist, but after meeting with Siemering the group removed his name from the list of targeted individuals.

Although an abolitionist he was drafted into the Confederate army in 1861. He served in Company E, First Texas Cavalry, led by Capt. Frank van der Stucken. Three years later he resigned his commission as a lieutenant citing myopia and general bad health. He referred to his war experience as a "nightmare."

In 1864 he moved to San Antonio where he taught at a military school. At night he taught ballroom dancing.

Freie Presse fur Texas (Texas Free Press)

Freie Presse fur Texas (Texas Free Press)
Clcick on image to enlarge


In 1865 Siemering established a German language newspaper called Freie Presse fur Texas (Texas Free Press). The Freie Presse served a growing population of German speakers in San Antonio and the Hill Country. That same year Siemering established the San Antonio Express. Today as the Express-News, it is the 4th largest newspaper by circulation in Texas.


August Siemering had the skill and the personality to operate successfully in those difficult times. He was said to be smooth and cordial but direct in his relationships. He spoke "straight from the shoulder."

He impressed people, even those who didn't like him. Unlike some of the other Forty-Eighters, he had the ability to get along with people with whom he disagreed.

At his death at age 55 a friend described him as a believer in no diety "but he was one of those cosmopolitans whose hearts are in the right place, whatever may be their religion, and who will always be found on the side of the weak and the oppressed."

Sources:
"the first city public school," Fredericksburg Standard, April 26, 1967.
"Telegraphic," Galveston Flake's Daily Bulletin, February 18, 1870.
"Summary of the Latest News," Colorado Citizen, June 12, 1884.
Richard L. Puglisi Jr., "Bexas County Chief Justice August Siemering ," Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio, University of the Incarnate Word.
"Judge Seimering seriously ill," San Antonio Light, September 15, 1883.
"Siemering Dead," San Antonio Light, September 20, 1883.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" January 2, 2022 Column



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