King Frederik V
Frederick V, King of Denmark (1746-1766)

HISTORY

It may come as a surprise to those interested in the history of the Volga Germans that thousands of Germans immigrated to Denmark before going on to Russia. In the 18th century the Danish government embarked on a program of improving the economy of the country. The plan was to promote manufacturing and develop Danish agriculture in the uninhabited barren lands in Jutland. In late 1758 Denmark’s King Frederick V approved a colonization program in Jutland that promised farmland and a daily stipend until houses were built and crops harvested.

The recruiting of experienced, hard-working German farmers began in April 1759 and focused on the area south of Darmstadt and around Heidelberg. In August 1759 the first group of German colonist families arrived in Jutland. In 1760 the Danish government expanded the colonization program to the Duchy of Schleswig. In the years 1759-1762, a total of 1200 households of German colonists (4797 individuals) came to Denmark. About 65% of the households came from the regions of Baden-Durlach, Hessen-Darmstadt, the Palatinate and Wuerttemberg. Most of the others came from the surrounding principalities.

Upon arrival in Denmark German colonists were registered and took an oath of allegiance. The government established colonies and had houses built on the individual plots of land. However, it did not take long for the colonists to realize that the heaths and moors set aside for them to cultivate had been uninhabited for good reasons. It also became clear to the Danish administrators that many of the recruited colonists knew little about agriculture.

The German colonists’ discontent over their living conditions continued to grow. On July 22, 1763 Empress Catharine II of Russia, provided the German colonists a way out of Denmark with her Manifesto. The document invited foreigners to settle in Russia and promised numerous rights and benefits. Within six months copies of the Manifesto had been brought secretly into the Danish colonies. During 1764 attempts by colonists to desert and to go to Russia became more numerous. The authorities reacted harshly, but, nevertheless, by December 1766 desertion and legal emigration had reduced the number of German colonist households in Denmark by 75%.

Most of the colonists who left for Russia went first to Luebeck. Here agents of the Russian government provided for them and placed them on ships to Kronstadt. Upon clearing entry the colonists were sent to temporary quarters at Oranienbaum where they received their assigned destinations. Almost half of all the German colonist families who came to Denmark later went on to Russia. Of these, 75% settled in the Volga German colonies and the remainder in other German colonies in Russia.