Rowntree A-Z

Friedensthal, Germany

The Seebohm family roots lay in the German Quaker colony Friedensthal (‘peace dale’) near the spa town of Bad Pyrmont in Westphalia. Friedensthal was founded in 1792 by Johann Georg Ludwig Seebohm (1757-1835) and his pietistic brethren who had split from the Lutheran church in the late 1780s and were influenced by a group of British Quakers who came to Pyrmont in 1790 on a missionary visit to France, Switzerland and the German states. Among them was Sarah Grubb (1757-1790), the daughter of William Tuke (1732-1822) of York.

German Quakers supported by English Quakers

The new sect was officially tolerated by the sovereign of Pyrmont, and he gave them a piece of land. In a forest far away from the city, they started to build a settlement where they could freely live out their faith. The contract with the prince of Pyrmont included Ludwig Seebohm’s promise to enhance manufacturing and trade in the area. But financially the colony depended strongly on the support of foreign Friends. Seebohm, who was the only person in Friedensthal who spoke English and French, kept a wide range of correspondence with foreign Quakers and by 1795 the Monthly Meeting of the Friends in Friedensthal was assigned to the London Yearly Meeting, the English national Quaker meeting. American and English Quakers funded the settlement as it grew.

Initially there were about a dozen settlers, but this number had increased to eighty by 1798. There were six residential buildings and five more sizable tenements were built by 1825. All buildings in the colony were in a plain style in contrast with the late baroque architecture of the area. The streets were also paved, thus leaving the impression of an urban-style settlement. A knife manufacturer became the economic cornerstone of Friedensthal, and other businesses included a weaving and a spinning mill as well as a printing office and a paper mill.

The Napoleonic Wars put an end to this era of prosperity, and the bankruptcy of the knife factory in 1817 marked the beginning of the economic downfall of Friedensthal. In the long run the business projects inside the colony turned out not to play an important role in the upcoming industrial revolution in Germany.

A strict life

Life inside the Quaker colony was characterised by the idea of an isolated holy community kept safe from the ‘outside world’ through the establishment of a ‘hedge’. Daily life was organised according to strict moral, social and economic guidelines that were monitored by overseers for the whole community and for each family. Dissenting members of the community were supervised by special committees. One example for these regulations in the tradition of radical pietism was the wearing of uniform clothing in the style of American Quaker costumes. Marriage outside of the Quaker community was strictly forbidden as were music, literature and alcohol. Furthermore Quakers were not allowed to pursue certain professions and the Friedensthal children were educated inside the community by Quaker teachers. While most of the inhabitants didn’t see the outside world very often there was a high level of participation inside the community. Disputes between inhabitants of the colony were generally settled by the Monthly Meeting. The ‘meeting for business’ represented the highest local authority concerning religious and financial aspects or other matters and was open to all male and female members of the community. Also, to reach a decision during these meetings the Friends in Friedensthal relied on a procedure of consensus, not on voting.

Contacts with abroad

Even though the settlement was build as an isolated community, foreign visitors were frequent, especially Friends from England and America. Due to the Napoleonic Wars, however, these visits declined and from 1799 to 1813 there were no foreign Quaker visitors. Ludwig Seebohm had wide spread contacts due to his wife’s aristocratic origin and welcomed important guests such as Catherine Pavlovna (1788-1819), sister of czar Alexander I. (1777-1825), and Queen Louise of Prussia (1776-1810). Around 1800 the ‘Quaker tourism’ boomed and among the ‘tourists’, coming to see the settlement, there were some illustrious individuals among them Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832). When in 1801 the new Meeting House of the community was officially opened up there were said to be up to a thousand guests.

A holy community

Generally speaking Friedensthal represented the attempt to erect a Quaker colony that was to make true the idea of a holy community or a ‘city upon a hill’ on the European continent. Originally the foreign Quakers had the intention that this experiment should be followed by similar settlements all around Europe. There had been earlier Quaker communities in Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries but they had ceased to exist until the mid of the 18th century.

Ludwig Seebohm and family left the settlement for a few years and turned away from Quakerism, after internal quarrels concerning financial issues and Ludwig’s employment as the overseer of the spa of Pyrmont. Later on he returned to Friedensthal and was reintegrated into the community. Such internal quarrels among the members of the settlement, a competing Quaker settlement in the nearby city of Minden as well as the economic misfortune of the established enterprises eventually led to the disappearance of Friedensthal during the 19th century.

Thus, while no new members could be found to join the community, mostly because of the strict regulations inside the community, the majority of the Quakers from Friedensthal left the colony and went to America where they were integrated into the network of American Quakers. When in 1873 Benjamin Seebohm travelled to Friedensthal the last Quaker meeting in the settlement had already been held two years before. In 1893 the Meeting House was finally sold.

Friedensthal in Yorkshire

The name ‘Friedensthal’ was later taken up by John Wilhelm Rowntree. When he established a new adult school in Scalby near in York in 1904 he named the property after the birthplace of his grandfather.

One of our correspondents in Bad Pyrmont who is related to the Seebohm family wrote to confirm much of the above in June 2014:

And “yes” the early Seebohms were Quakers originating from Friedensthal (Bad Pyrmont). The branches of the family Seebohm stem from 3 brothers whose houses still can be seen in Friedensthal. They were millers and merchants and Ludwig S. was a very active Quaker and a very active businessman. We still own his bible and some books that deal with him or were written by him. I mentioned your question and letter to my sister in law in Hannover and I hope she will respond to your topic. Thomas and I were rather involved with another interesting forefather, i.e. Thomas William Mulvany, an Irishman after whom Thomas was named and it was he rather than Ludwig who kept Th. busy last year. And I was confronted with people from the Museum König here who were digging for anything I might have or know of my great grandfather who was very close to Darwin. And not too close to the church in his days.  

As you probably know Joseph Seebohm Rowntree married twice, first the daughter of Benjamin Seebohm (born 20.2.1798 at Friedensthal near Bad Pyrmont, emigrated to England perhaps because of his Quakerism and died 2.6.1871 at Hitchin) and Esther Wheeler (born 25.3.1798 at Hitchin)- Julia Elizabeth, born 6..3.1841 in Bradford, who died very young in York 18.9.1863. Four years later, the 19th Nov. 1867, J.S.R. married Emma Antoinette Seebohm, a cousin, born19.4.18 in Hamburg, died 19.11.1924 in London, daughter of Wilhelm Seebohm, a brother of Benjamin. I don´t know, if he was Quaker ,too, as two of the other two brothers Johann Carl and Samuel Georg were. Those two were the ancestors of Thomas and me. Therefore perhaps I visited in 1960/61 the last couple Seebohm Rowntree in Hitchin. They had no children as far as I remembered or they didn´t own their factory any more. I was sorry because of the chocolate then. I always wondered, why the Rowntrees took the name Seebohm with them all the time, perhaps you may find it out. Perhaps it is still of interest, that the father of these four brothers was Johann George Ludwig, born 7.6.1757 at Bad Pyrmont and died 22.3.1835 at Friedensthal nearby in one of the three houses Christel already mentioned to you. Herzliche Grüße


Bernet, Claus (2004): ‘Ludwig Seebohm (1757-1835). Founder of Friedensthal’ in: The Friends’ Quarterly 34, 20-30.

Bernet, Claus (2004): Between Quietism and Radical Pietism: The German Quaker Settlement Friedensthal 1790-1814, Birmingham: Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center, [Woodbrooke Journal 14].

Bernet, Claus (2007): Gebaute Apokalypse. Die Utopie des himmlischen Jerusalem in der Frühen Neuzeit(= Built Apokalypse. The Utopia of the heavenly Jerusalem in the Early Modern Era), Mainz: Phillip von Zabern, chapter VII.  (on Friedensthal, pp 359-407).

Friedrich, Leonhard (1958): ‘Friends around Pyrmont in the Early Nineteenth Century’, in: The Journal of the Friends’ Historical Society 47, 260–266.

Bernet Pfund, Harry W. (1939): ‘Goethe and the Quakers’, in The Germanic Review 14,4, 258-269 and Hamblyn, Richard (2001): The Invention of Clouds. How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 204-230.

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