Biography of Johanne Frederiche Auguste Mentzel

Wife of Ernst Raven

Click Here for a Photo of Auguste Raven

Born December 14, 1809, in Gotha, Germany, she was  christened Johanne Freiderich Auguste Mentzel. On February 7, 1830, she was married to Ernst Raven of Hanover, Prussia.

For the first eight years of their married life, the Ravens lived in Saxe-Coburg, Gotha, where Ernst was a bookbinder at the court of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. A story in an old Austin, Texas newspaper says, in part, "There, in spite of the oft-quoted stiff, formal etiquette of German courts, Mr. Raven found himself on terms of easy familiarity with the family and with (then, of course, a youth) the present prince consort of England."

One day in his father's library Prince Ernest, elder brother of Queen Victoria's future prince consort, asked the young book­binder to make "a beautiful cover" for a certain book. The book was to be a gift for the prince's current girl friend—and he handed Ernst half a dozen jewels with which to decorate it.

When her husband reached home that evening Auguste was alarmed. "Suppose you lost one of those stones!" she said. "Or ... oh, Ernst, suppose a thief came in the night and stole them all! What would we do?"

No such catastrophe occurred, but many years later in Texas Auguste told her grandchildren that she did not rest easy until the book, with each precious stone safely embedded in its handsome binding, was in the prince's own hands.

In 1838 Ernst and Auguste Raven left Germany, en route to the Republic of Texas with their four children: Gustave Herman Leopold, age seven: Bertha Amalie Therese Eleanore, age five: Louise Emma Therese (who would become this writer's grand­mother), age two: and Christian Heinrich Hugo. age one year. The family stopped in Baltimore, Maryland where they resided for five years, and where two other children were born —Julius in 1841 and Anna in 1843.

Anna was less than a year old when the family resumed their journey to Texas. But due to the serious illness of Julius and Anna aboard ship, they stopped in New Orleans where both children died and where they were buried. At journey's end in Galveston Auguste herself, exhausted from nursing her sick babies and desolate over their deaths, was gravely ill.

A further blow awaited her. When the family's household goods were unloaded it was discovered that sea water, seeping into the ship's hold, had damaged most of the furniture and had ruined some prized oil paintings. Auguste was heartsick over it all, but she was even more distressed over Ernst's reaction to the loss of their paintings. For a few moments her usually calm and patient husband had gazed despairingly at the soggy canvasses in their twisted frames: then, with well-placed kicks, he furiously completed their destruction.

Ernst's uncharacteristic action may have led Auguste to determine that he should never know how intensely she sometimes longed for the relatives and friends (and a few of the amenities) they had left in Germany. She was aware that he grieved bitterly for Julius and Anna, the memory of whose lonely little graves she herself found almost past bearing. It distressed her to think that her husband might now be regretting his optimistic, but far from impulsive, decision to exchange the security of their well ordered life in Germany for the uncertainties they faced in this raw, new Republic of Texas.

However, homesick and frightened though she was, Auguste did her best to make her husband and children comfortable and happy in each of the two communities in which they lived between 1844, when they reached Texas, and 1848, when they were permanently settled in Austin. They lived first in Caldwell, Burleson County, where her son Fernando was born: then in Cameron. Milam County. where her last child lone was born.

Besides the vicissitudes experienced by other pioneer women, Auguste was handicapped by a language difficulty. When the family reached the United States Ernst had said, "Now that we are in an English-speaking country, we will speak English." He himself was perfectly at home in that language, and the children had learned a surprising amount from playmates on their voyage across the Atlantic; but Auguste's languages were German and French. She learned English eventually, but she never mastered the pronunciation of certain words such as thimble. Her daughter lone once said, "We would show Ma exactly how to place her tongue and lips, but to the end of her days that word always came out t'imble."

The family was finally comfortably at home in Austin at an address designated in old city directories as "near the corner of East and College Avenues." There, in a house affectionately known among their friends as "The Ravens' Nest." Auguste looked forward to raising her children in comfort and relative safety.

After he moved his family to Austin Ernst established a bookbinding business. He became active in various civic enterprises, and for a time was an alderman of the city. A Knight Templar, he was secretary of his masonic lodge, another member of which was Sam Houston, who was a frequent visitor at "The Ravens' Nest." Auguste made all of Ernst's friends and business associates welcome; but her own interests lay chiefly in homemaking and the care of her children.

She grieved over the loss of her eldest daughter Bertha, who died giving birth to her first child, which was stillborn. She was pleased over Herman's marriage to Margaret (Mollie) Hamilton (who eventually bore fifteen of Auguste's thirty grandchildren), and over Louise's marriage to the young South Carolinian, Thomas Jeffer­son Campbell, come West to seek his fortune. In later years she welcomed Fernando's wife, Evelyn, and lone's husband, Neil McCashin, a Union soldier stationed in Austin after the War.

She rejoiced at the birth of every grandchild. She had six when Texas seceded from the Union, and her sons, Herman and Hugo, and son-in-law, T.J., joined the Army of the Confederacy. During the anxious years that followed she and Ernst were busy looking after their minor children, Fernando and lone, their grandchildren, and the mothers of the latter.

The following item appeared in an Austin newspaper on April 17, 1861:

"Mr. Ernst Raven. long a resident of this city, we are pleased to learn, has received the appointment from the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as Consul for the State of Texas. Mr. Raven is an old citizen of Texas and we are glad to see that he is thus honored by the appointment to this important trust. His office will be located in this place, and we doubt not, will prove a great accommodation to his German fellow citizens in this state."

(The appointment was made by the man for whom Ernst Raven designed the jeweled book cover that had troubled Auguste so long ago—Prince Ernest had become Ernest 11, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, at his father's death in 1844.)

Auguste was occasionally able to be of assistance to Ernst in connection with his duties as Consul for Texas, especially where women and children were concerned.

There is a little grave in Austin's Oakwood Cemetery marked by a stone on which these words are engraved: "Rudolph Heffter —Born June 25, 1871—Died June 30. 1871—Son of Mary L. and H. A. Heffter." The Heffters were German immigrants traveling through Texas. Born in Austin, their baby lived for five days. They had little money and only a limited knowledge of English, and someone referred them to Ernst Raven for help. Auguste did what she could to comfort the parents; and Ernst, as Auguste hoped he would do, provided space on their own cemetery lot for the baby's grave, and ordered a stone to mark it.

Microfilm copies of old newspapers at Austin's public library record accounts of Ernst Raven's involvement in various affairs of his time, but Auguste is mentioned only twice. One item was a brief, dignified announcement of her death. The other was a fulsome account of Ernst and Auguste's golden wedding anniversary, celebrated at Turner Hall on the night of February 7, 1880. The reporter who covered it seems to have had an inexhaustible supply of superlatives—which he used with abandon. He commented on "the beautifully decorated and brilliantly illuminated hall"; described one part of the entertainment as "truly sublime"; spoke of "the groom of seventy six summers, still erect and vigorous, with the bride of seventy at his side"; "two hearts that beat as one," etc.. etc.

At all of that Auguste could smile, but portions of the last two paragraphs (which follow) certainly caused her, and Ernst as well considerable annoyance:

A notice of this occasion would be incomplete without the magnificent display of presents referred to. They were too numerous for special mention. and many of them were elegant in the extreme, embracing a wide variety of things. among which may be mentioned the silver service presented by the Turners. There were also several interesting relics from the Faderland. One of these was a Bible 184 years old. Another was a cup presented to the grandparents of Mrs. Raven at their golden wedding in 1820. The presents were worth more than one thousand dollars. The supper, which was liberally partaken of, was provided at great expense by Mr Raven.

Mr. and Mrs. Raven have lived in Austin for twenty•five or thirty years. For many years he carried on a bookbinding business in this city, from which he retired seven or eight years ago, having laid up a nice little fortune for himself and those dependent upon him.

Ernst and Auguste made only one trip back to Saxe•Coburg and Gotha to visit relatives and friends. They enjoyed seeing those who were there, but many were gone—some forever —and there were other disheartening changes. They returned to Austin with a trunkful of gifts for their grandchildren—and the firm conviction that, in spite of their early hardships, their emigration to Texas had been a good thing.

Auguste died on August 7, 1887. The following notice appeared in the Austin Daily Statesman on August 9, 1887:

The many friends and acquaintances of Mrs. Augusta Raven, widow of the late Ernest Raven, will be grieved by her death which occurred Sunday last at the advanced age of 77 years. She was an old Austin resident, having moved here with her husband in 1850. Here they reared a large family of children; and children and grandchildren gathered to do sacred honor to the loved and venerated one yester.yesterday day Mrs. Raven was held in high esteem by all who knew her, as was amply and warmly evidenced by the large concourse of friends who followed her remains to their last resting place yesterday.

This article was written by Pansy Nichols, a great-granddaughter of Auguste Mentzel Raven
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