The site of Odessa was once occupied by an ancient Greek colony. Archaeological artifacts confirm links between the Odessa area and the eastern Mediterranean. In the Middle Ages the Odessa region was ruled in succession by various nomadic tribes, (Petchenegs, Cumans), the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire. Yedisan Crimean Tatars traded there in the 14th century. During the reign of Khan Haci I Giray of Crimea, the Khanate was endangered by the Golden Horde and the Ottoman Turks and, in search of allies, the khan agreed to cede the area to Lithuania. The site of present-day Odessa was founded by Haci I Giray, the Khan of Crimea, in 1240 and originally named Khadjibey after him. After a period of Lithuanian control, it passed into the domain of the Ottoman Sultan in 1529 and remained in Ottoman hands until the Ottoman Empire's defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792. The Russians renamed the city Odessa in 1794.
At the end of the 18th century the vast areas of the steppe by the Black Sea conquered in the war were relatively unpopulated; the cultivation of which was to be implemented immediately. As serfdom limited the Russian peasants in their freedom of movement and thus made an immediate settlement of the new area impossible, foreign settlers were recruited. Already in 1762, Catherine the Great, the German born Czarina of Russia decided to bring some German culture and to populate the vast emptiness of the untamed wilderness of Russia. In order to entice the Germans to come to Russia, she issued a manifesto. However, the manifesto went largely unheeded. In 1764, she issued her second manifesto. To achieve her goal she granted many incentives and privileges to any German willing to immigrate to Russia. This manifesto was met with resounding success. Most of the Germans responding to this manifesto originated from the German states of Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate. Upon arriving in Russia, they mostly settled in the Volga River region and became known as the Volga Germans. The Czarina's manifesto guaranteed foreign settlers also the right of free religion and self government aside from various economic and political privileges. The call of Catherine II was most welcome in the German small states where economic hardship, denominational differences and the Napoleanic wars wore down the population.
During the reign of Czar Paul I (1796-1801), the right for each village to self-govern was initiated in 1800. A village mayor, two aldermen and a representative for each 10 families were elected. The village administration also had a village secretary, who was appointed by the Welfare Committee. In addition to the village governments, colonies were grouped together to form 'volosts,' or districts, which had a government one level up from the village authorities. The district government elected a chief mayor, two assessors, and a number of assemblymen representing the villages. This group also had a secretary that was appointed by the Welfare Committee. Incidentally, the village mayors all reported to the district mayor. Policies established at the district level were funneled down to the village leaders for implementation. Conversely, those problems, which could not be resolved at a lower level, were submitted to the 'district' for resolution.
Catherine’s second manifesto had been so successful that in 1804 Catherine’s grandson Czar Alexander I (1801-1825)issued his own manifesto. Czar Alexander granted the same incentives which Catherine had included in her second manifesto. Alexander’s manifesto was also met with resounding success. Most of the Germans who responded to his manifesto originated from the Germans states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden and Württemberg and the Province of Alsace. Upon arriving in Russia, these immigrants mostly settled in what was then known as South Russia, the current Ukraine, and became known as the Black Sea Germans. It was this group of immigrants, from Jettenbach, Rheinland, Pfalz, Germany with a generational stop in Torschau, Batschka, Hungary which included the Christmans. In 1803 the first settlers from the town of Ulm arrived via the Danube at the quarantine ward of Dubossar. The decree for the colonization by foreigners provided for the distribution of large connected tracts of land at good sites. Numerous farmers, trade and crafts people decide to emigrate. The first settlers reach the Black Sea area in the so-called `Ulmer Schachteln' (row boats) by going down the Danube or by land. During the period 1804-10, the status of the colonists and the privileges connected with it made it possible for the settlers to produce agriculturally, which resulted in considerable wealth in the colonies around Odessa.
"The colonists founded well organized colonies in the inhospitable areas settled by them; they turned barren steppes into healthy fields, reforested, put in orchards and vegetable gardens and introduced many useful innovations in the area of agriculture," South Russian Department of State Property, 1854.
Many historians dealt with the works of the colonists and acknowledged it. In the beginning the strange geographic and climatic conditions created great difficulties for the German farmers. They were forced to develop new methods of land cultivation. They worked mainly raising cattle in the first phase of their adaptation to these new circumstances. In 1805, sheep with fine wool were brought to the cities of Odessa and Dnepropetrowsk and the breeding of these animals began in New Russia. This wool was soon the most important product of the colonists. The Germans also managed to adapt East Frisian cattle to the adverse conditions of the steppes. The new breed was soon known as 'German-Red Cattle' or 'Colonists'-Cattle'. Later the colonists began to extensively grow grain, sunflowers, wine, vegetables, fruits, tobacco and silk. They worked as beekeepers and in forestry. There were brickyards, wineries, breweries, cheese factories and oil mills in many colonies. Soon water-, wind- and steampowered mills, stud farms and cloth factories emerged.
The German colonists soon obtained, for these conditions, an unusual amount of wealth. It was not only the decree of land distribution and the structure of the community that contributed to it. The community which had received land for settlement functioned as the landowner. Part of the land was made available for the common use of pasture for cattle. Beyond that all families were left equally with land for their yard, fields and meadows for their own use. As a rule it was approximately 60 hectares. A "farm" or "family piece" of that property formed together with other farm buildings a "farm" or "farmstead" which was not allowed to be split, sold or mortgaged; the inheritance laws took this into account. One of the direct descendants of the owner took over the yard which could not be divided but on the condition that the community proclaimed him able to manage the "farm". Young people who could not remain on the parental farmstead pursued a career in trade or industry, founded new colonies on retained pieces of land or acquired or leased land themselves.
Social life in the colonies was based on self government. The highest organization of power was the city council which involved one representative from each farmstead. The local council selected a mayor and two representatives to appoint a secretary. She coordinated the payment of taxes and other obligations, discussed questions of general interest and complaints, employed clergy, decided the exclusion of colonists from the colonist status. Every question was settled with a so-called 'dictum.' The mayor was elected every three years. His tasks were to look after the condition of the colony, agricultural implements and cattle, to ensure the timely start of working in the fields and to supervise the cleanliness of the farmsteads. The administration of grain supply, of the school system, the responsibility for public buildings and roads was the responsibility of the communities. The local Russian administration was called on exclusively in questions which were beyond the competence of the colonies. Observers were sent to the colonies; they supervised on the spot the activity of the German administration and gave reports to the office of social services which was responsible for the colonies.
The new Odessa quickly became a major success. Its early growth owed much to the work of the Duc de Richelieu, who served as the city's governor between 1803–1814. Having fled the French Revolution, he had served in Catherine's army against the Turks. He is credited with designing the city and organizing its amenities and infrastructure, and is considered one of the founding fathers of Odessa, together with another Frenchman, Count Louis Alexandre Andrault de Langeron, who succeeded him in office.
In 1819 the city was made a free port, a status it retained until 1859. It became home to an extremely diverse population of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Armenians, Italians, Frenchmen, Germans (including Mennonites) and traders representing many other nationalities. Its cosmopolitan nature was documented by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who lived in internal exile in Odessa between 1823–1824. In his letters he wrote that Odessa was a city where "you can smell Europe. French is spoken and there are European papers and magazines to read". Odessa's growth was interrupted by the Crimean War of 1853–1856, during which it was bombarded by British and French naval forces. It soon recovered and the growth in trade made Odessa Russia's largest grain-exporting port. In 1866 the city was linked by rail with Kiev and Kharkiv as well as Iasi, Romania. The city became the home of a large Jewish community during the 19th century, and by 1897 Jews were estimated to comprise some 37% of the population. They were, however, repeatedly subjected to severe persecution.
The emergence of 'Panslavism,' the changed national identity and because of the founding the German Reich the increased need for polarization led increasingly to criticism of the concentration of real estate in the hands of nonslavic immigrants. One warned of a "peaceful conquest" and of the "Germanization" of Russia. In 1887 during the reagn of Alexander III, a law for foreigners was enacted which very much restricted foreigners' rights to lease and acquire property especially in areas near the borders. As of 1871, the privileges for colonists were abolished and Russian i.e. Ukrainian as the official language was introduced to the German colonies.
By the end of the 19th century, lack of land and increasing political pressure had a great effect on the livelihood of Germans. Many of them decided therefore to leave the Black Sea region. As the German Empire was willing to take in only a small number of Black Sea Germans, many settlers participated with Russian and Ukrainian farmers in colonizing Siberia within the framework of the agrarian reform and founded new colonies there. Thousands emigrated to America at the beginning of the 20th century and settled in the states of North and South Dakota among other places.
In 1905 Odessa was the site of a workers' uprising supported by the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin (also see Battleship Potemkin uprising) and Lenin's Iskra. Sergei Eisenstein's famous motion picture The Battleship Potemkin commemorated the uprising and included a scene where hundreds of Odessan citizens were murdered on the great stone staircase (now popularly known as the "Potemkin Steps"), in one of the most famous scenes in motion picture history.
Whoever travels today from the Black Sea region to North and South Dakota will be surprised of the huge number of parallels which exist between the "Ukrainian" and the "American" Black Sea Germans. The emigrants, like their ancestors in the Black Sea region one century earlier, set up their lives on the prairies of North America. Their new hometowns have the same names as the German settlements by the Black Sea, the tough living conditions on the prairie resemble the adverse conditions under which the steppe of Southern Russia had to be cultivated. However, above all, the Black Sea Germans brought with them to America their distinctive way of life.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the political and economic living conditions of the German settlers by the Black Sea continued to deteriorate. As WWI was approaching, drastic measures were adopted against German settlers in order to prevent from the beginning any potential confrontation with the adversary. Even before the armed struggle in which approximately 300,000 Black Sea Germans participated at the Russian front lines, the so-called settlement laws were enacted. They provided for dispossession and deportation of all citizens with Austrian, Hungarian and German heritage living within a 150 Km wide strip of land along the Western border.
Coercive sanctions by the state to get food and a drastic drop in agricultural production followed the October Revolution. Further dispossession and deportation were the consequences of collectivization and robbed large parts of the rural population of their existence. As the German population represented a large percentage of prosperous farmers with relatively much real estate, it was affected more than the average by the measures against the kulaks. There were famines even though Lenin's "new economic politics" introduced in 1921 brought temporarily ease to agriculture. The grain supplies stored by German communities before the Revolutions were forcefully removed.
[From Joseph Height's HOMESTEADERS ON THE STEPPE]
The colony of Freudental was established in 1806 on a tract of steppland comprising 5,830 des (or 15,711 acres) that was originally planned for settlement of 100 families. The site of the new village was on the north side of the Baraboi creek, 5 versts north of Peterstal, and 30 versts west of Odessa. The town of Freudental with the Russian name Nikolayevskoye was "one of the most progressive and prosperous colonies in the Liebental district." The first group of settlers consisted of 36 families who arrived from Hungary in the summer of 1806. They had come in their own wagons from the German colonies of Torschau, Sekitsch, Cherwenka and Neuverbas in Hungary which had been establish in 1782 by immigrated from Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland plains of Alace and Palatinate."
The land was rich grassland with a layer of humus with a sub-layer of yellow clay which provided the colony with very fine building material as well as stones from a stone quarry. Near the village, which received its name from Heinrich Herth, were planted vineyards and woods. The land was originally assigned by Duc de Richelieu. In 1831 the ice of the Baraboi River caused damage resulting in a cholera epidemic of which 106 became ill , however, only 2 died. In 1845 the valley was flooded, and in 1828 and 1838 there were two earthquakes. A daughter colony, Neu-Freudental, was founded in 1828.
By invitation of the Crown of Russia, a new German colony was established in 1804-6, located within the Cherson political district, Odessa region, at the south end of the Liebental district. The immigrants arrived in Odessa late in 1803 and were provided winter quarters within Odessa until new housing could be built the following year. The land on which the colony was established supposedly belonged to the former landowner Baraboi, and was inhabited by a few natives living in wretched huts, in disorder and under slovenly economic conditions. The colony is located, on the steppe river Akershi, 12 miles southwest of Odessa. Eight miles to the northwest are the colonies of Josefstal and Mariental, 4.5 miles to the west are the colonies of Alexanderhilf and Neuburg, and 10.5 miles southwest, at the mouth of the Dniester, is the little town of Owidiopol. Eight miles to the south lies the Black Sea, 3.5 miles to the southeast lies the Greek military settlement of Alexandrowka, and 3.5 miles to the east the colony of Kleinliebental. The colony, which stretches to the north for 13 miles, is comprised of 23,800 acres, and is traversed by the Akershi Valley. The topsoil, especially in the valley, contains significant layers of black humus suitable for grain such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Various legumes and tubers also thrive. The naming of the village goes back to its original founder, Duke of Richelieu, who was at that time commandant of the city of Odessa. Inspired by the attractive location, he called it "Gross-Liebental." The number of original settlers is unknown because many who settled in 1817 received a portion of the land that had first been assigned to the original settlers.At the last census there were 271 families (833 males and 856 females). At present there are 289 families (1,086 males and 1,100 females). The immigrants who settled here came from Württemberg, Baden, Rheinpfalz, Elsass, Prussia, and Saxony. In addition to housing, the government granted the settlers daily food money from the time they crossed the border into Russia. It also advanced an appropriate loan to purchase livestock and farm equipment. The first settlers were mostly poor people. Some were immoral and boorish, often lacking in common sense, foresight, and the means to establish a settlement for their welfare and that of their descendants. And if there were some exceptions, their number was too few to exert much influence on the majority. After the colony was established, the settlers were expected to cultivate the land. However many of them were craftsmen in their homeland and had no experience with agriculture. In 1807 the government erected a large building to house a cloth factory, hoping to encourage agriculture and handicraft. Nothing came of this project since the necessary skills were inadequate, and the settlers did not have enough enthusiasm to attempt the job, so the building remained unused. In 1809 an epidemic ravaged the livestock causing terrible losses. Until 1817 every proprietor had the use of 162 acres of land. However, when new immigrants arrived that year, each proprietor voluntarily gave up some land to them so that each proprietor had only 122 acres. New immigrants were arriving with a large incidence of sickness so the unused cloth factory was converted into a hospital. But the patients were not treated well because the doctors were in collusion with the local and district officials to their mutual financial advantage. With inadequate treatment, the immigrants were allowed to die and the doctors and officials would then appropriate and share in the possessions of the deceased. The country did not appeal to the immigrants as much as they had expected, and the arduous journey, the new climate, the desolate and uninhabited steppe caused many to become homesick. Some lingered miserably on their deathbed. Others tried to alleviate their grief by enjoying many extravagances. This condition may have contributed to the slow progress in agriculture and handicrafts. The authorities ordered that an old mulberry plantation be brought back into production in 1815. A few years later grape vines were planted within it. But the colonists cared so little about the plantations that they drove their cattle into them. In 1822 Court Councilor von Lau, and Superintendent of the Welfare Office, ordered the replanting of new mulberries and grapevines, and protection against the invasion of cattle. Through rich harvests and several years of experience in agriculture some farmers became so successful that they began to lease land. In 1824, however, there was a total crop failure. Then came swarms of locusts causing frightful devastation in the district until 1827. Because of these disasters the colonists again sank into poverty. An earthquake in 1829 caused no damage. Cholera raged in this area the same year but only wiped out one family. 1833 was again a total disaster and the colonists fell into debt and many families became so impoverished that it took many years to make a comeback. Plentiful harvests and quick sales of the products at high prices in the nearby city of Odessa not only enabled the colonists to repay their debts but also to store up supplies. With these good times, many returned to extravagance and neglected to improve their farms. Colonists squandered money, lived riotously and enjoyed many vices. The local authorities did not discourage this activity because they were also addicted to drink and had even set up wine taverns in their homes. Additionally, the local officials and inspectors perpetrated many injustices for a bribe or token of favor. This was not permitted to endure for long. In 1841 a new district administration came into power, having its seat in the village and composed of men with the welfare of the townsmen at heart. Also the village officials were now of a different breed than their predecessors. Through strict supervision and severe punishment of profligates and drunkards, the earlier vulgar and immoral behavior was suppressed and the effort succeeded in restoring order and decency. Heads of families that had in earlier years became impoverished through extravagance again became strong, and inspired their children to lead a better life The plague that broke out in 1837 exacted many victims, but few died. The earthquake of 1838 did no damage. Although only a few fruitful years followed the total crop failure of 1841, the prosperity increased considerably. The colony and its environment are in their most flourishing state since the days of settlement, and evoke a joyful feeling in the heart of the viewer. Through the constant supervision of the district officials, who encourage the beautification of the colony, the individual establishments are in splendid condition. The colonists establish themselves through extensive farming and production of livestock. They also have the additional adsvantage of being able to lease land from the Greek military establishment of Alexandrowka. Most farmers farmers lease between 270 and 1080 acres annually, much of which is planted to wheat. The huge haystacks and grain stacks are a measure of their successful entreprise. Through the generosity of the Czar, a magnificent church with a beautiful organ was costructed towering above the village.