“POTATO GERMANS” AT ALHEDEN
A total of 965 German peasants arrived in Jutland from 1759-65. They were invited by the Danish king to cultivate the Jutland heath. While many quickly left Denmark again, 59 families settled on Alheden in Jutland, where they, amongst other things, became known for growing and selling potatoes – a crop that was suitable for the sandy soils.
Already in 1723, the Danish King Frederick the 4th had promised Danish farmers various freedoms in an attempt to encourage them to cultivate the heath in Jutland – but without success. After yet another failed attempt in 1751, it was decided that the German settlers should be invited. In the spring of 1759, the Danish government’s agent in Frankfurt am Main, Johann Friedrich Moritz, therefore announced, inter alia in the press, that His Royal Majesty in Denmark would grant special rights to German farmers who were willing to cultivate the desolate regions of Jutland.
THE SPECIAL RIGHTS
The King promised settlers a copyhold letter granting them tenure of the designated land free of all tithes to the church. Moreover, for a period 20 years, they would be exempted from royal taxes, for haulage for the King and for accommodation, commitments which were quite normal for the king’s peasants. Finally, the settlers were promised a copyhold letter for their descendants and a possibility of extending the exemptions beyond the promised 20 years.
In practice, the German immigrants also received reimbursement of travel expenses, had farms built for them and received grants in the form of clover, seeds and seed potatoes, etc. It was, amongst other things, the cultivation and sale of potatoes, which lead to them being nicknamed “potato Germans”.
THE FIRST SETTLERS
The first German settlers immigrated already in 1759. They were 9 married men aged 23-34 years with wives and some also with children. Since the farms promised to them were not yet built, they were accommodated in Viborg and Fredericia. In May 1760, a further 420 settlers arrived and it was decided to build earth huts for them on the heath in order to get the cultivation started.
By 1762, the king had built a total of approx. 100 farms in Alheden. In the beginning, each farm housed two families. The farm buildings comprised a farmhouse and a barn. In accordance with the wishes of the settlers, they were built in villages with star-shaped fields. However, already in 1788, they began to move the farms out into smaller settlements.
The two largest villages, each with 30 farms, were given the names Frederikshede (“Frederick’s Heath”) and Frederikshøj (“Frederick’s Hill”) in honour of King Frederick 5. A small colony of 15 houses was named Frederick Marsh and the remaining two colonies, with 9 and 10 farms respectively, were called Julianehede (“Juliane Heath”) and Christianshede (“Christian’s Heath”) after Queen Juliane and Crown Prince Christian respectively. The villages later changed their names to, for example, Havredal (“Oatdale”) and Grønhøj (“Green Hill”) that still exist today.
Since the expenses paid to the settlers were considerable, the families were assessed in 1763 as to whether they were “incompetent” or “fairly good hope.” 1/3 of the settlers – or 112 families – were designated as incompetent but, since there were so many, a new assessment was undertaken and, in the summer of 1763, 68 families were asked to leave. The assessment of competence combined with rumours that support for the settlers would cease and disease in cattle herds meant that a total of 150 families chose to travel from Denmark – to Russia, amongst other places. There were then only 59 families left on the heath.