Ehlen Family

About the Ehlen Family

The Ehlen Family: Emigrants from Hanover

Musicality and craftsmanship are themes that run through the Ehlen family in their relationship with the Bethel and Aurora Colony’s. 

John Diedrich Ehlen was born in Hanover Germany on October 4, 1799. He died on February 9, 1882. About 1825 he married Maria Charlotta Boning and the couple had four children between 1826 and 1835. We do not know if Maria was alive when the family immigrated to America but all of the children were born in Hanover. Evidence strongly suggests that the Ehlen’s first settled in Ohio before J.D. brought their four children, ranging from nine to nineteen, to Bethel in 1845.

A copy of the original Bethel account book that has recently been translated lists the members who conduced money and product to the colony. John Diedrich Ehlen was the contact for some of the members who came to Bethel from Ohio, and several of these were also, like Ehlen, emigrants from Hanover.  This suggests that Ehlen belonged to a special enclave of Hanoverians who lived in Ohio.

Musicality Runs Through the Family

From John Diedrich Ehlen’s leadership of the first band at Bethel through to the fact so many of his descendants played musical instruments, it is clear that this family has to be considered among the leading colony musical families.  This is proven through oral tradition, band photographs, band manuscripts, and surviving instruments.

Music was part of the education for most every member of the Ehlen family.
Both of John Diedrich’s sons played in the Aurora Colony band and several of their children are recognized as leaders of singing groups and small orchestras.

Henry Conrad Finck’s ’s son Henry Theophilus Finck wrote the following:
“Nearly every day we had home-made music, usually of a high order and often of the highest.  My father was an excellent violinist.  My brother played the flute and the piano; I the violoncello and the piano.  Everybody sang, and young girls often came to join our choir.  Father composed for them and was very happy.  He also was the best guitar player I ever heard.
Two young men, Lawrence Ehlen and William Schwader, often came to help us play string quartets.  We began with the easy works, and then passed upward to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  Ehlen and Schwader were real enthusiasts.  Nothing could prevent their coming even when rain poured down in torrents and their wagon had to be dragged through mud a foot deep.

The Ehlen’s were recognized for their musical abilities well after the colony itself had ended.  In 1894 Lawrence Ehlen the Woodburn Independent Newspaper supported his run for Marion County Clerk with the following:
“Mr. Ehlen is a musician of considerable talent, a clarinet player of more than ordinary ability. He has furnished full orchestras on many occasions of festivity on French Prairie.  He is a self-made man along with the hard working pioneers at whose weddings and at whose children’s weddings he has furnished good music and in whose heart he has a warm place.  He draws a good bow, writes a good hand, and he will make Marion County a good, honest clerk. ”

His brother Henry Clay Ehlen was also an excellent musician.  His 1935 obituary acknowledged his influence in Aurora: “Those who heard him play will never forget the way he could make a violin not just sing, but really talk.  He was always eager to help anyone to learn to play music and spent hours teaching music to the young folks never accepting a cent for it.  It was a gift, he was only too willing to pass it on to others. It was a rare treat to hear him and Mrs. Ehlen play together—one not to be forgotten.”

The Practical Craft of Basketmaking

John Diedrich Ehlen’s conducement of $95.62 in money and supplies to the Bethel Colony start-up account was quite small in comparison to other contributions.  However, John Diedrich brought the skill of basketmaking, and these baskets were utilized for the colony’s most basic needs such as laundry, gathering fruit and eggs, and carrying wool and other materials. 

Every family received a variety of Ehlen’s baskets and their durability is shown by how many examples of his craft survive in the museum and in private collections to this day. 

Glovemaking and More

New York City’s   “Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations” opened on July 14, 1853 with a dedication speech by President Franklin Pierce. This first World’s Fair held in the United States featured, “A representation of raw materials and produce, manufactures, machinery and fine arts.” 

Gloves made at Bethel won a premium prize at that New York City Fair.

Adolf Pflugg, from Hanover, was the Foreman of the Tannery, and a glover. 
Peter Gerkin, also from Hanover, was a glover.  John Diedrich’s son John William Ehlen was a white tanner.  His brother, Claus Henry, was a tailor.

The number of people working with leather and other raw materials illustrates the importance of the crafts to the Colony.  The fact, however, that they also entered their products in a competition, shows that the Colonists were willing to exhibit their work in a public forum.  Ornamentation was part of their craft, and it was not considered too worldly.  After all, what could be more worldly, then entry of product into a World’s Fair?  At the same time, William Keil was also looking for ways to generate income for his Christian communal society.  What better way than a trade show?


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