By Jessica Gorman
You may be surprised, and maybe even disappointed, to learn that Minden’s heritage is, in fact, not German. But wasn’t Charles Veeder German? Wasn’t Minden named for Minden, Germany? In short, no. Neither of these claims is true. So, how did this myth come to be?
Charles Veeder was born in New York. All early sources state this fact clearly and with absolutely no references to German ancestry. This is also confirmed by historical documentation. So, when was the claim to German heritage made? I can’t be certain, but it seems to begin in the 1930s.
Early sources, namely Isaac Murrell and Pike Reynolds, both residents of Minden before Charles Veeder left for California, stated in the 1800s that Minden was named for a town in New York. Minden, New York, established in 1798, is a township which includes a hamlet known as Mindenville. No explanation is given for precisely why he would have chosen to name in Minden in this way, but one similarity between the two places was the presence of a nearby German settlement known as Dutchtown. Minden, New York is believed to be named for Minden, Germany. It has been suggested that because of this, Minden is indirectly named for Minden, Germany. However, Charles Veeder had no connection to Minden, Germany. Therefore, he had no intention of naming it for that place.
The earliest reference I find to Minden being named for Minden, Germany is in April 1937, just over one hundred years after the founding of the town. The Webster Review stated that Veeder “named the town after Minden, Westphalia, Germany.” This mistake seemed to grow. The following year, the same publication claimed that “a German from Germany gave the city its name of ‘Minden’ after his native Minden, Westphalia, Germany.” From this point forward, most mentions of the founding of Minden contain some iteration of these claims.
However, at no point did anyone ever seem to feel that Minden’s heritage was German. After all, Veeder was only here for a relatively short period of time. This seems to hold true until the 1980s and the advent of the Germantown Festival. The first festival was held in October 1981 to “honor Germantown and the area’s German heritage.” Within just a few short years, however, this was changed to “Minden’s German heritage.” One year, the mayor of Minden, Germany was even invited to attend the festival but chose to decline.
So, what about Veeder? Different claims have been made over the years. These include that Veeder was from Germany, his parents were from Germany, or that his great-grandparents were from Germany. So, what’s the truth? Unfortunately, none of these are true. The Veeders were not from Germany at all. They were Dutch and had been in New York for nearly 150 years before the birth of Charles. His ancestor, Simon V. Veeder, immigrated from Holland to what was then New Netherland in 1652. In 1664, Simon was among the first settlers of Schenectady where Charles was born in 1796.
Coincidentally, as I was working to put things into context and form a timeline, I found articles written by Mrs. Thomas Lorraine Campbell, past Webster Parish Historian. I had forgotten about these articles, but as I read them, I began to remember that I had seen them before, years ago. They were written in the 1980s, shortly after “Minden’s German heritage” began to be marketed. She tried to make it known that Minden’s origins had no ties to Germany. It seems that nobody listened.
The truth is that “our German heritage” belongs solely to Germantown. Instead of laying claim to their heritage, we should acknowledge that we have simply borrowed it. We should value the Germantown Colony Museum and support the efforts of the Friends of Germantown to preserve this historic site.
(Jessica Gorman is the Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)