JOHANN ANDREAS WAGENER was born on July 21, 1816 and christened three days later in Sievern, a small town near Bremerhaven in the former Kingdom of Hanover.

Jan, as he was called, grew up in a straw-thatched house similar to the one shown below, which is now the John-Wagener-Museum in Sievern. The son of a farmer and merchant, Jan spoke the local dialect and wore the wooden shoes customarily worn by the children in the area. Many years later he still wrote and published poems in his native Plattdeutsch,
and his good-natured youthful escapades are told in the Wagener-Museum's booklet.


    Shortly after his confirmation in 1831 he left for New York where he worked as a shop clerk for more than a year. In 1833 the 16-year old arrived in Charleston and as JOHN A. WAGENER he quickly became a leader of the new German-speaking immigrants. By trade a merchant like his father, he was also a prolific writer; but above all he was an energetic organizer. He founded the first German-language newspaper of the southern states and numerous civic, religious, and fraternal organizations. In 1835 he became a member of the German Fusiliers and wrote a patriotic poem for the occasion of their 60th anniversary. Among the many institutions Wagener founded was the German Jägerkorps (1836); the  Deutsche Feuerwehr-Compagnie of Charleston (1838, German Fire Company) whose president he was until 1850; the Teutonenbund (1843), a literary and musical society from which the Freundschaftsbund emanated (1853). In April 1844 he became the editor of the German-language newspaper Der Teutone. Zeitschrift für Literatur, Handel und Gewerbe, the forerunner of the Deutsche Zeitung. He also founded the German Masonic Lodge "Walhalla" (1844) and was its first Master; the Carolina Gegenseitige Versicherungs-Gesellschaft (1851, Carolina Mutual Insurance Company); and spearheaded the foundation of the Deutsche Schützengesellschaft  (1855) of which he became president. WAGENER also suggested the founding of the  Brüderliche Bund (1856), a recreational and educational club of which he remained an honorary member.


His most lasting work, however, was the founding of the city of Walhalla. In October 1848, the same year in which he was accepted as member of the venerable German Friendly Society, WAGENER held the first meeting of the German Colonization Society on the premises of the Teutone. Also present were Jacob Schröder, Claus Bullwinkel, J.H. Wührmann, J.M. Hencken, Jacob Koopmann, D. von Eitzen, Cord Otten, Eimert Cappelmann, H.D. Ellerhorst, and Georg Cordes. The monument facing Walhalla's St. John's Lutheran church (left) contains their names and those of other early settlers. In December 1849 17,859 acres of land were purchased in Pickens District, and the town was carefully laid out with a public square on which John Kaufmann built St. John's in the 1850's. The church still serves a lively congregation. Walhalla is the only German settlement in South Carolina that still acknowledges its German heritage and annually celebrates an Oktoberfest.
    In 1841 Wagener's brother Jürgen had founded the Deutsche Artillerie (German Artillery) with a handful of Charleston's Germans, and after Jürgen's death John Wagener followed him in command. At the commencement of the Civil War, Col. J.A. Wagener was in charge of the First artillery regiment which consisted almost entirely of Germans. Ordered to defend Port Royal harbor, they built Fort Walker on Hilton Head island and defended it on November 7, 1861 with about 500 men and 23 guns against a massive assault by Adm. DuPont's 18 warships. The flagship Wabash along with the Unadilla, Susquehanna, Bienville, Pawnee, and about 55 supporting gun boats bombarded Ft. Walker for nearly five hours. By noon only two guns were able to return fire. Despite huge losses and the retreat of Gen. Drayton's forces and Confederate gunboats, Wagener's First artillery held until their gunpowder ran out. After the war John A. Wagener was commissioned Brigadier-General by Governor James L. Orr and Fort Wagener on Morris Island was named after him.
    Wagener was a member of the constitutional convention of 1865 and of the first legislature (1866). In 1867 Gov. Orr named him Commissioner of Immigration. Wagener's  pamphlet South Carolina: A Home for the Industrious Immigrant (1867) is a complete description of the state, its resources and government, and a much updated version of the 18th century recruitment brochures. To assist new immigrants in sickness and distress, Wagener founded the Deutsche Gesellschaft von Süd Carolina in 1869.
    In 1871 Gen. Wagener was elected mayor of Charleston, and received numerous honors. Because Wagener wrote chiefly in German, his poems, books, and articles are largely unknown. He contributed numerous articles to the Deutsche Pionier of Cincinnati, and wrote the historical novel Der Seminolenfürst. Under the pseudonyms "Armin" and "Hermann" he also published in Charleston newspapers. In 1876 John A. Wagener was a delegate to the St. Louis democratic convention and was selected to head the ticket of presidential electors. He died in Walhalla on 27 August 1876 and was reburied in Charleston's Bethany Cemetery in March 1877 with some 6,000 in attendance.

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Additional Reading:

    Artur Burmeister: John-Wagener-Haus. Niedersächsisches Bauernhaus von 1850 (Sievern, 1994)
    George Benet Shealy: Walhalla: A German Settlement in Upstate South Carolina (Seneca, 1990)
    N. Louise Bailey, et al: "General John Andreas Wagener," Biographical Directory of the S.C. Senate
      1776-1985 (Columbia, SC, 1985), pp. 614-619
    H.A. Rattermann: "General Johann Andreas Wagener," Der Deutsche Pionier, vol. 8 (1876-1877), pp. 323-416
    [E.H.M.]:"Der dritte deutsche Mayor in Charleston," Der Deutsche Pionier, vol. 3 (1871), pp. 184-185

Walhalla, S.C. will celebrate its Sesquicentennial June 16-24, 2000. Plan to be there. Visit their site at