SOUTH CAROLINA GERMAN-AMERICAN OF THE MONTH

MICHAEL KALTEISEN, FOUNDER OF CHARLESTON'S GERMAN FRIENDLY SOCIETY, was born on June 18, 1729 in Machtolsheim, a small village in the Duchy of Wuerttemberg, Germany. He was the oldest of the village school Provisor's eight children, and came to South Carolina in 1747 as an indentured servant.
    After completing his contract he married a widow with two children, received a land grant and opened a business in Charleston. While his wife Maria Elizabeth ran an inn, Kalteisen earned his livelyhood as a carter, letter carrier for the Commons House of Assembly, and bondsman. Recognizing that the many German-speaking immigrants needed a worship service in their native language, Kalteisen became one of the founders of St. John's Lutheran Church, the first German church in Charleston. He was accorded the honor of laying the corner stone in 1759.

     After serving as wagon master general during the Cherokee War, Kalteisen founded the German Friendly Society with fifteen other founding members who met at his house on January 15, 1766. The Society is among the oldest still active organizations in our country and has made significant contributions to charity, education, and historical preservation in Charleston for more than 230 years.
    On the eve of the American Revolution a small group of patriots met at Kalteisen's house to found the German Fusiliers. The first to sign the membership list was the tailor Heinrich Diemrath, father of Charleston's bookbinder-poet William Henry Timrod, and grandfather of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod. Many of the other German-Americans who signed belonged to the membership of the German Friendly Society and to the congregation of St. John's Lutheran church.
    Kalteisen's political career began in earnest with his election to the first and second Provincial Congress (1775-1776) as delegate of St. Philip and St. Michael. Between re-elections he served once more as commissary of military stores for the regular forces (1776) and as wagon master general (1778). His tenements, a major source of his income, were badly damaged during Charleston's occupation by the British and his family fell on hard times.

    One of the highpoints of his career was surely his appointment as captain of marines on the beautiful frigate SOUTH CAROLINAin 1782. After America gained her independence, his constituents returned Kalteisen to the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth General Assembly (1783-1790), and in 1788 he served as delegate to the state constitutional convention.
    In 1790 Kalteisen was appointed commander of Fort Johnson on James Island in Charleston Harbor, a post he held until his death in 1807. He joined his friend Daniel Strobel in placing the cornerstone for the new German Friendly Society Hall on Archdale Street, a substantial and attractive edifice built in 1801 by the master builders John and Henry Horlbeck. The two were the only surviving co-founders of the Society.
    Kalteisen died at Fort Johnson on November 3, 1807. Flags flew at half mast on the ships in Charleston Harbor and he was buried with military honors on the grounds of the Society Hall. Later Kalteisen's remains were moved to Bethany Cemetery, where his monument stands under a Palmetto Palm.

Additional Reading:
H.M. Riley: "Michael Kalteisen and the Founding of
the German Friendly Society." S.C. Historical Magazine (Jan. 1999): 29-48

G.J. Gongaware: The History of the German Friendly Society of
Charleston, South Carolina, 1766-1916 (Richmond, 1935)



e-mail: rhelene@clemson.edu