Note: The article below was originally published by The Cullman Times in 1998 as part of a special issue commemorating Cullman’s 125th Anniversary. It is used here with The Times’ permission.
Johann Gottfried Cullmann
Written By: Stanley Johnson
There are many famous people from Alabama. But one settler to this state was overlooked until recently even though he was a remarkable man. He brought more immigrants to this country than any one individual and he founded a leading city and county in this state single-handedly. The
adventures of this pioneer are very interesting. We hope to make this evident by what is said here.
The early life of Johann Gottfried Cullmann
John Cullmann (the Americanized version of the name) was born in Frankweiler, Canton Landau, the Rheinpfalz, Germany. At the time of his birth, Frankweiler was in the state of Bavaria. It is now in the Pfalz. He was born on July 2, 1823. His father was the geometer and teacher for Frankweiler. For over 200 years the family lived in a large home in the center of town, next to the church. His father was principal of the local school where Cullmann graduated at an early age.
This brilliant young man entered the Polytechnic Institute at Zweibrueken when he was 13. This necessitated his leaving home while still quite young. He studied civil engineering and obtained a degree similar to our junior college. He returned to Frankweiler, expecting to take the place of his father but left when he was not promised a raise from what his father had made. He had met Josephine Low at Zweibrueken and they were soon married and moved to Neustadt an der Haard, where he entered he export business and quickly became successful.
John and Josephine had four children: Theodore Gottlieb, Otto Gottfried, Maria (later Mrs. Ludwig Richard), and Alice, who died at age two. In Neustadt, John Cullmann became acquainted with many American businessmen who told him of their wonderful free country across the Atlantic, probably
planting the idea for his later immigration and colony.
Revolution and flight
The revolution of 1848 developed in the Germanic states when John Cullmann was 25 years of age. He was an enlightened young man who felt his homeland was ready for democracy. The Hambach Castle of Neustadt was the center of this revolutionary activity, and John Cullmann seems to have been thoroughly involved in it. But, the monarchy in Bavaria was saved by the intervention of the Prussian army, thus giving John Cullmann ample reason to hate the Hohenzollern Princes of Prussia and their minister, Otto von Bismarck.
Cullmann lost a considerable fortune in this war but was able to overcome this. However, later in the Dano-Prussian War, he again lost his investments on the side of the losers. It now became obvious that all of Germany would soon fall under the oppressive rule of Prussia, and the freedom which John
Cullmann coveted so much would be an impossibility.
John Cullmann made several attempts to re-establish himself in business, but he had become well known for his revolutionary activities, which had caused his bankruptcy. It became obvious that there was no future for him in his homeland and he had no desire to go to prison. By 1864, he had made definite plans to leave Germany. His wife came from a wealthy banking family in Zweibrueken, and she had no desire to leave Germany with her small children, so she returned to live with her family. John Cullmann thus left his family and first went to London, as his ultimate destination, the U.S., was embroiled in the Civil War. He knew that immigrants were often impressed into the army and he had no desire for further military activity in his life. But, he seems to have been formulating the idea of a free German colony in the U.S. where his friends, who loved freedom as he did, could come to live in peace.
After traveling around the country and arriving in North Alabama, the impression was made upon my mind that if this country was filled up with good farmers it would be the garden spot of America. I found here all that I had been looking for, all that I regarded as necessary to make good homes: there was here combined these things to an extent not equaled by any other place I had seen.” – Colonel John G. Cullmann, 1877