Vol. 12 Luxembourgers in the United States: Nicolas Gonner

Nicolas Gonner was a historian, journalist, writer and publisher. He is best known for his history of the Luxembourgish emigration to North America "Luxembourgers in the New World".

Gonner was born on 8 January 1835 in Pfaffenthal, a suburb of Luxembourg City. He served as infantryman in the Imperial German Army in the town of Echternach. After a few years, he took a post as a civil servant in Remich. 

In 1866 he emigrated to the United States with his wife and three children and settled in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Moving on to Dubuque, Iowa in 1872, he took over the editorship of the German language newspaper “Luxemburger Gazette”, the most thoroughly Luxembourger newspaper in the United States.

Soon after his arrival in the United States, Gonner began collecting information about the Luxembourger settlements in the country. From his own observations and from reports of a widespread network of correspondents, he compiled a vast amount of data. That efforts resulted in the book "Luxembourgers in the New World", which was first published in German in 1889. The book was characterized as the best study of the early years of Luxembourger immigration and a milestone in the literature on emigration.

In his publishing house in Dubuque, Iowa, Nicolas Gonner compiled a collection of 62 Luxembourgish poems. First published in 1883, Prairie Flowers covered a wide range of topics: there were songs on homesickness and friends back home in Luxembourg, uplifting religious poems, amusing tales about everyday life in the American Midwest, stories of Indian lore and American history, and tales and ballads inspired by Luxembourg history and folklore.

Gonner, who was also the editor of the Catholic weekly ‘Iowa’, became the personification on all things Luxembourgish in America. Shortly before his death in 1892 his fellow Luxembourger-Americans proposed that he be named consul of the Grand Duchy in recognition of his many achievements in establishing a distinct Luxembourg identity in their new homeland.

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