The Dieckmann family name holds a major place of importance in the early business life of Vandalia.
Natives of Heuerhausen, Germany, Conrad and Elizabeth Dieckmann, set sail from the port of Bremen on Sept. 18, 1839, on their journey to the new world and the opportunities it would afford.
Following a voyage of 72 days, the couple, along with their four youngest children, landed at the port of New Orleans. They rested there for several weeks before boarding a riverboat that would take them northward to St. Louis.
Their stay in St. Louis was a short one, and they soon continued on to Vandalia, their journey’s end.
The particulars of the early life of the Dieckmann family are taken from a letter written before 1932 by George A.A. Dieckmann to his cousin, Roy Washburn. This letter was shared with me by George’s granddaughter, Harriet Barker of Tehachapi, Calif., who was searching for information on her family.
The Dieckmann family name has disappeared from the landscape of Vandalia, although the history surrounding this family is intertwined with the growth of Vandalia.
“Great-grandfather Dieckmann was a tailor and had quite a large patronage and among them, a contract from the Hessian government to furnish part of the military clothing for the army,” the letter from George Dieckmann reads.
“The family was in comfortable circumstances, owning considerable property and being well-fixed in this world’s goods. War brings great changes, and in 1812, the war with France was on.
“The entire holdings of buildings and factories of what the Dieckmann’s owned were destroyed by order of the English government at that time, so that when the great French Army came, they would be disappointed in finding everything devastated, burned, and no provision or anything else.
“It was then promised to the citizens whose various towns were laid out in ashes that after the settlement of the war, their losses would be made good.
“Father told me that all the papers concerning this loss of our grandfather’s had been made out and were forwarded to the English government, so that the large amount of damage sustained by our family would have been made good.
“But there was a time limit set to all the persons of loss to be presented after the war and finally the British government declared that as the papers had not been presented in due space of time, the loss was outlawed and never settled.
“I do not know much about our great-grandfather, but his son, our grandfather, Conrad, moved out into another district and pursued the same trade as his father and raised quite a family.
“Hearing of the great opportunities the New World offered, Grandfather Dieckmann finally concluded to emigrate with his family to the United States.
“Grandmother Dieckmann was a woman of French descent. The family name was Von Schminke and belonged to the nobility of France. They were Huguenots in belief and during the terrible time of this religious war and in order to save their religion, had to flee from France and take refuge in Germany.
“In doing so, this family had to leave all their possessions in real estate and lands and with what they could carry in their satchels and on their backs were glad to escape the terrible persecution that was then being waged against them.
“So, from a state of wealth and affluence they became within a few days time almost paupers.
“Our grandparents emigrated about the year 1840 and their family consisted at that time of four boys and one girl.
“My father could not leave he being in the military service of the government, hence, was not allowed to depart. The boys were August, George and Lewis, and the girl was Dorothea, your grandmother.
“There were no steam boats in those days and the only way you could cross was in sailing vessels. After a stormy voyage lasting 72 days, the ship landed in New Orleans with Grandmother Dieckmann in a poor state of health.
“She never was a very strong woman in physique, although a well educated lady, with a strong intellectual mind. She died within two years of coming to Vandalia.
“Grandfather Dieckmann took up the old trade and being a fine tailor made fair success with the business until his death March 25, 1866.
“Son, Lewis Dieckmann, went to California during the gold fever time with a number of other people from Fayette County and was successful in his business venture. He took sick and died with malignant fever at Shasta City, Calif., before he could return home.
“Both Uncle August and George told me that he had mined considerable gold but the family never received any of his earnings and they even sent money out there to buy a monument and fence around his grave.
“Your mother went to school here in the public schools and had all the advantages that those days offered, and I believe graduated and continued to live with Uncle August and Aunt Eleanor until she was married to Mr. John Washburn, your father.
“Your father at the time was a widower, his first wife being Julia Hausmann. She did not live long after their marriage.
“After mourning her death for quite a while, he courted Ella Engler. The wedding had all been set for two weeks after Easter and all arrangements had been made but Uncle August was an invalid and desired to see the wedding performed before he died.
“They married April 8, 1887, and he died two days later, on Easter morning.
“Uncle August was good and kind to your mother and as a wedding present gave her a deed to the six acres where your homestead stands and the 12-acre out lot in the bottom east of it, at which place your father and mother afterwards made their home and where you and brother Cecil were born.”
Three generations of the Dieckmann family are included in the information shared by George Dieckmann with his cousin. Letters, such as this one, are a valuable tool in uncovering the history of a family.