GHDI logo

Prussian "Soldier King" Frederick William I Instructs his Officials on Peasant Colonization in East Prussia (July 2, 1718)

Mercantilism advocated measures to increase the human population, which the Prussian kings enthusiastically termed Peuplierung. By the time Frederick William issued these instructions on peasant colonization in East Prussia, a distant province surrounded by Polish and Polish-Lithuanian territory, this land had already suffered heavy population losses in Germany’s last serious incidence of plague (1709-1713), had been beset by accompanying harvest crises, and had suffered under nearby Polish-Swedish-Russian warfare. The province’s eastern region, referred to here as “Lithuania” (in part because of its small indigenous Lithuanian-speaking population), largely consisted of crown lands, on which Frederick William decided to settle peasant colonists (rather than leasing them out as large-scale demesne farms worked by subject farmers). The terms proposed by the king were liberal for their day and were accepted by many pioneer families. Altogether, over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Prussian government successfully promoted the settlement of hundreds of thousands of foreign colonists on hitherto devastated or unsettled lands, many of which, especially under Frederick II, were reclaimed from river wetlands.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 5

Cabinet Order by King Frederick William I on the Cameral and Crown Properties and Land Settlement in Lithuania (1718)

We have received the report of the Commission appointed by Us on the condition of Our Cameral organization in Lithuania. And whereas We have most graciously determined to place the same on a sounder footing, and We also recognize that the Chamber cannot possibly be brought into proper order unless the local land offices [Aemter] are put in better order and good agents [Beamte] appointed, We do enact:

1. That, in order that Our peasant subjects may be led toward God and thus achieve blessings and prosperity, schoolmasters shall be appointed in all considerable villages, and each one shall be given for his maintenance a half hide from Our unoccupied farms, free of rent, land tax [contributio] or billeting duty. We have also written to Our Samogitian Consistory to make the necessary further arrangements, and have also instructed Our Court Preacher, Dr. Lypsius, and Master Franke in Halle to find the necessary personnel, toward which you and all serving under you are to contribute, in order that Our most gracious purpose may be realized.

2. Further: since it is indispensably necessary for the realization of Our purpose in this and other respects that efficient agents shall be appointed to the local offices, who are good farmers and experienced in accountancy, We wish that they shall receive adequate salaries, and therefore graciously command you to send in a schedule of the salary each should be paid, proportionate to the size of his district and the work involved, and then, on receipt of Our further instructions, to seek out and enlist good, experienced, efficient and upright officials, and We will also send such men to you from Pomerania and the rest of Our Province of Kurmark and Neumark.

first page < previous   |   next > last page