"Society in Westphalia" by Monica Spicker, Spokane / WA
Many people have misconceptions about life in Europe during the last centuries.
Here are some facts
about and practices used in Westphalia:
- Although Prussia (Preußen) was centered around and mostly east of Berlin, parts
of Westphalia were Prussian since 1670. By 1815, all of Rhineland-Westphalia was Prussian.
- There were 3 general classes of people: royalty (and the church); farmers and common
folk. There were also 3 classes of farmers: personally free and able to own land, personally
free and able to rent land and neither personally free nor able to own land.
- Even though Westphalia was more densely populated in the 1800's than many parts of
Europe today, more than 70% of the people lived in small farming villages. The term Colon
(or Kolon) was a generic term for farmer, his farmstead was a Colonat.
- People could only marry and have children if they could prove a permanent, stable source
of income adequate to support a family. As such, people married late and this limited family
size more effectively than any other factor until the Industrial Revolution.
- Many people supported themselves as itinerant craftsman and as seasonal
migrants, especially to Holland (so-called
- The surnames (with some variations) reflected four size categories of farmers:
- Meyer or Meier (related to English word 'mayor') and Schulz (from
'Schuldheiss' or debt collector). Largest and oldest farm, usually owned by free people.
Höner (Hoevner, Hubner, Hoover, Honer) was a slightly smaller, younger farm
rented by usually free people but still attached to a Meierhof.
- A Kötter (Kotter) was usually not free and farmed only enough land to
support his family (Kotte). If the farm was made from originally communal land, he was
a Markkötter. A Kötter was obligated to also work for his landlord. The word
'cottager' derives from this sort of holding.
- Renting only enough land for a house and a garden and usually living on the
edge of the village was the Brinksitzer (Brinkmaier, Brinkmann).
- Workers (often family members who could neither inherit nor marry) living
on the farm where they served were Heuerlinge, Einlieger or Einwohner.
- The place where the farm was located was often appended to the name.
Examples: Höner zu Guntenhausen, Meyer zu Oetinghausen. The terms
used for the communal farm and grazing grounds were
Allmende or Mark.
- Rent was paid in money, with produce and livestock and with labor (compulsory
When a couple bought the right to a vacant farm (Weinkauf), their surname changed
to that of the farm. The lease was renewed with a Weinkauf every 7 to 15 years.
- When the farm was inherited, a sum based on the value of the farm had to
be paid to the owner. A disincentive to work very hard!
- On smaller farms, the family had to supplement their income with cottage
industries (homework) such as basket weaving, spinning, textile weaving, cobbling, and coopering.
- Extra children who were not needed to work the farm were given their personal freedom
(Freibrief) and encouraged to leave the area. Those from well-to-do families went to school
and became pastors, teachers and civil servants. Others joined the Prussian army, while
the rest became itinerant workers, joined the city crafts guilds, worked in the mines or emigrated.
- In much of Westphalia, the youngest child inherited the farm. If a woman
inherited the farm and married (or remarried), the husband changed his surname to hers.
Their children bore the wife's surname.
Klueting, Harm: Westfälische Geschichte, Bonifatius, 1998.
Sartori, Paul: Westfälische Volkskunde, 1922 (Reprint, Frankfurt am Main, 1980)
Sebastian Haffner: Preußen ohne Legenden, Stern Magazin, 1979.