The Heuerling System 

I've discovered a site on the internet which has a lot of information on German family genealogy. It's called and I've found the entry for Jan the elder. Link to Jan Brink In addition to the information I obtained from my aunt and the church in Nordhorn, this database indicated that the father of Jan the elder was Geerd (the elder) and it indicated that he too was a Heurling. For now, this is where the trail ends.

A fascinating account of the Heuerling system has been editted by Werner Honkomp from Oldenburg and made available on the internet. I will paste the entire text here as the longevity of links is always uncertain.

The Origin of the Heuerling System

The Heuerling System had its historical beginnings in the 16th and 17th Century.
The specific factor which prompted it can be found in the existing rights of inheritance, such as it prevailed in our region through the ages, making the oldest son the sole heir. The younger sons were due a "Child's portion".
Of course, a younger son conceivably could acquire his own Courtyard through a suitable "In-Marriage". Additionally, common lands (within an Estate) which until now had lain fallow were now put under cultivation and new, basic, primitive, living quarters erected. Mostly, though the reality seemed different. Many of the younger sons faced a dismal future as subservient co-workers on the older brother's estate. Not all accepted this fate gladly. Sometimes one in this position would take permanent leave of their family and villagers and headed for work in the city; some enlisted in the military to make that a career.
The period of religious upheaval, following the Reformation, and the Thirty Year War served to make substantial changes in the village social structure. Perhaps as a result of these unsettled times the younger farmers' sons often would not accept their fate without some protest. They made an effort to lead an independent life style.

At the same time the farmers themselves were among the hardest hit populace following the war. Their lands had been devastated, their cattle stolen, their homes plundered. The demands for tax revenues on part of the Sovereign to be extracted from the farmers rose constantly, and with that, the indebtedness of the farmers. Faced with adversity, the possibility of a fixed income from farm lease arrangements, and the discontinuance of the burdensome inheritance taxe, held a certain appeal. The introduction of the Heuerleute system could alleviate the problems of both sides, the farmers as well as the departing farm sons. The farmer would make a portion of his land available, for which he could expect a suitable fee, with a number of hands available to assist in his operations.
The term "Heuer Mann" well describes the relationship as the Platt Deutsch "Heuer" or "Hür" implies lease or rent.

Living Conditions of the "Heuer-Mann"

The Heuerleute would receive from the farmer a piece of land, grazing rights on the "common land" and living quarters. These living quarters, furnished and maintained by the farmer, were in the beginning -and were for a long time-- exceedingly primitive. One would select an outhouse, such as barns, stables or baking hut, made minimal changes to convert for human habitation. Even the later Heuer Houses, usually constructed to house two families, were invariably narrow and offered few amenities. An idea of this type facility can be obtained from a report of the Holdorf Estate as issued by the responsible Damme Office in the year 1845:
"Housing for the Heuerleute is generally of flimsy construction and deficient in numerous respects. The mud walls, doors and roof, in general, are not tightly sealed, offering no protection from drafts and cold air, windows which can be opened usually are missing altogether, which causes lack of circulation., which is more necessary here, as the alcoves in the living quarters (set-backs recessed into tbe walls) provide the sleeping quarters for the entire family. Chimneys on this type of a building are unthinkable; most are lacking in a water well, forcing the inhabitants to fetch water from a cistern in poor condition, or with enormous difficulties from a well at a great distance".

As modest as the shelters were for the Heuerleute, their living conditions were similarly wanting. On the tiny strip of arable land, allotted to him, grain was planted. The soil in Holdorf in the best years was barely adequate to feed a 4-member family. A yield beyond that., that is to offer for sale, was at best a wish. Planting potatoes came into play in the 18th century, but gained rapid acceptance thereafter. A family's menu could be enriched by vegetables grown in one's own garden. A meat diet among the Heuerleute was a rare event, and it certainly was not a given among the farmers in general.
Even among those of the Heuerleute who understood how to augment their income through one or another form of activity, their basic income remained whatever their strip of land would bring forth. This included one or two cows, who served also as beasts of burden. Until the common grounds were subdivided the cows would graze on the communal meadow. Since the Heuerleute were ignored when it care to suddividing land, they would have to settle for strips of grass along ditches and roads, where the Heuerleute; children would attend to the animals.
To the one or two cows would be added a feederpig, a few geese and chicken, who could be sold. The cattle was the most significant possession of the Heuermann. The cows in particular were the most prized and treated with s pecial care. The Heuerleute often developed special skills in treating sick animals, utilizing time proven home remedies, so that the farmers would use their expertise.

The Heuermann would treat his allotted soil with great respect and care. The greatly limited acreage allowed no wasted space. At all times watchful, keeping weeds under control, harvesting the limited produce, in all these aspects the Heuermann would be more meticulous than the farmer. It should be mentioned as an aside that the Heuerleute were abused to an extraordinary degree by the farmers in their farming duties. To begin with, the strip of land assigned to the Heuermann was the least productive, and when after investing great effort and much sweat to increase its yield, the farmer would often withdraw this strip and reassig another, infertile, strip instead.
Many of the chores incurred in the Heuer operations would rest on the shoulders of the housewife and children as the husband's duties would call him away. The obligatory aspects of the Heuer relationship toward the farmer were the principal burden on the Heuermann. Whenever the farmer summoned the Heuermann the latter would be obligated to drop the task at hand and report for duty. Naturally, these summons would occur most frequently during, times of high labor intensity, such as hay and grain harvesting, flax "drawing" and manure spreading. This impacted on the Heuer operations which had to be deferred to the late evening and early morning hours. As a result the Heuermann's produce was likely to be moist or imature. The extent of the Heuermann's specific duties were not comitted to paper and were subject to the whims of the farmer.

As a rule of thumb one could use Heinrich Bockhorst's estimate for the Dinklage community: 160 to 180 days per year for the average Heuermann. This should give the reader an idea of the extraordinary extent of the assistance expected from the Heuermann.
It should be noted that in some cases the farmer would come to the help of the Heuernann at hartest time. He would make available beasts of burden und wagons, as needed. In many cases relationships covered several generations and mutual consideration would govern. Much depended on the person of the individual farmer, his attitude toward the Heuerleute and the extent of his goodwill.

The Evolution of the Heuerling System

From a small beginning the Heuerling System expanded more and more, and particularly in the 18th Century, developed a spectacular growth dynamic. From a listing prepared in the year 1835 for the Holdorf Parish we learn that the 98 Farmers, consisting of

38 Colon (Colonus - husbandman., inferior tenant employed in cultivating the lord's land)
33 Kötter (- Cottager - one occupying primitive housing, belonging to another)
27 Häusler (Cottager, landless labourer)

were shown as opposite 287 Heuerleute families. If one counts the 44 employed (in some outside activity) as among the farmers, we obtain a ratio of the farmer to each two Heuerleute.

The growth of the Community is attributable to the rise in the number of the Heuerleute. At the end. of the 30-Year War Holdorf counted 470 inhabitant (1649). 180 years later (in 1828) this number nearly quintupled, having risen to 2334 souls. Certainly, the Heuerling System enabled these many people to provide for their own livelyhood, yet the economic basis continued to shrink with this population growth. For this reason it was beneficial when in the17th and 18th Centuries new possibilities for augmentation arose, which would guarantee supplementary income for the Heuerleute. The first such activity was the weaving of linen fabric, which could engage all family members. The second important source of side income was the trek to Holland, to work in the farmfields there or to cut peat moss. With the proceeds of earnings in Holland many of the Heuerleute were enabled to acquire a Heuerling spot of their own.

At the same time the farmers were able to profit from the increased funds flowing into the community, as with the increased demand for Heuerling spots they could demand more favorable terms for themselves. The (average) farmer enlarged the number of Heuerstellen from one at the beginning to five, and even to seven. Early in the 19th Century the Heuerling system experienced a temporary crisis, due to the disappearance of the side income. True, the trek to Holland remained a factor through the end of the last Century, but its attractiveness had vanished. The Heuerleute suffered greatly with the drying up of this source of income, in part because the English-produced cotton textile items had impacted on the linen (flax) production. All these vere factors bearing on a crisis oriented farming economy. The tendency was to put the farmers' burden on the back of the Heuerleute with increased demands. This hopeless situation of the Heuerleute was an important factor in prompting them to look for emigration to America.

In the second half of the Century the situation eased somewhat. By this time the prices in the lease arrangements dropped some, as the farmers feared that the Heuerleute might disappear altogether. "The more empty the Heuer houses became, the more of them disappeared., the greater the need for the farmer to hire more and lease more, in order to secure help he needed to run his own operation". (In quotation marks - source Ref. 8, Herrmann Rothert, Kreis Bersenbrück.)

The Heuerleute understood to widen their own operations in order to increase their revenue. Aside from increasing planted acreage, they intensified cattle raising, added a pig or two for forced feeding. Some found employment in som Northern German public sector developments. The Hochmoore was opened for exploitation, forests were planted., streets and roads begun anew or extended.
In the villages opportunities arose for craftsmen; industries were developed with attractive wages. Early on the Heuer activity was predominant, but this gradually changed, so that the side job became the chief source of income. The Heuerling system was clearly in decline. The process of dissolution intensified between the World Wars, as the Northern Sections (Emsland and Saterland) and the Eastern Sections (Posen and West Prussia) developed more intensive agricultural processes. Quite a number of the Heuerleute took advantage of the possibility of acquiring their own farmstead and departed from the Heuerstelle at home.
Nevertheless the basic Heuerleute system prevailed until well after the end of World War II. In the year 1960 the Heuer Mann received 2.50 DM as a days wage, while the craftman demanded 10.00 DM per hour. The handwriting on the wall was clear: The system was totally out of date. An anachronism of a special sort prevailed here, when the Heuermann would compare his own situation with that of the farmer, noting the vast difference in standard of living. Obviously, they were no longer compatible in terms of a modern social and agricullural policy as envisioned by the EWG (Europäische Wirtschafts Gemeinschaft) (In English : EEC European Economic Coinmunity)
Thus, in the 1960,s the Heuerling system in short order and with finality went out of existence. Today it is a subject of historical importance in the villages, and brings back memories, quite alive among some.

Linen Weaving as Side Income for the Heuerleute

Flax., and the linen fibres produced from it, were familiar from olden times among farmers and Heuerleute. Linen items, safely stored in hopechests and afmoires were a reflection of a farm family's status. These items were not meant for sale, but the aim was to en-large the collection., and hopefully have sow available for dowry for the family's daughters. This did not apply at the Heuermann, where linen products were chiefly created for sale, as the yield was sorely needed to cover a bare existence. All family members, especially during the long winter months, were expected to pitch in: The husband would operate the loom; the wife, the elders and the children sat at the spinning wheel. Planting the flax seed, insofar as this was possible, would be done on one's own soil. The tiny allotted strip was generally insufficient, nor was one's soil necessarily suitable for flax cultivation. In the writings of Johann Theodor Moormann of Fladderlohausen we find confirmation of this situation. Evidently, there was little or no flax in Fladderlohausen. One would have to obtain flax from Ihorst or Langwege, where nearly all Heuerleute and some cottagers would sow such for pay.
Just as the planting of flax was important, so was the sale of thc finished linen articles. Now we would learn what price can be obtained for all of this effort. The finished linen product would be brought to the Linen Market, called "Legge", and offered for sale. Articles produced in Holdorf were brought either to Damme or Neuenkirchen Legge, which were the chief markets. Others would use pushcarts to carry their merchandise to Bramsche, where there were more buyers and the projected sale price was expected to be higher. The first step now was to present the linen goods to the Legge Master, who would measure and classify them, and added a stamp of approval. Now selling could proceed.
Osnabrück linen, which included items made in Damme, Neuenkirchen and Bramsche, in earlier years enjoyed a world-wide reputation. Due to its exceptional quality it had become an item for Export, which was frequently shipped to overseas colonies of Holland, Spain and Great Britain; it no doubt contributed in large measure to the prosperity of Osnabrück, wich served as the center of this trade.
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