Sixteen German men constituted themselves as a social and mutual-assistance society to pay sick and death benefits, and allow members to borrow funds at low rates of interest. Almost immediately, German ethnicity was not necessary for membership, nor was the ability to speak German.
Oldest of all German male social organizations in Charleston, the German Friendly Society was founded by Michael Kalteisen (1729–1807), and Daniel Strobel (1734–1806). Meeting in Kalteisen’s home on January 15, 1766, sixteen German men constituted themselves as a social and mutual-assistance society to pay sick and death benefits, and allow members to borrow funds at low rates of interest. Almost immediately, German ethnicity was not necessary for membership, nor was the ability to speak German. Constructing its own meetinghouse on Archdale Street in 1801, the society opened a school for boys in 1803, and turned out in October 1814 to help the German Fusiliers build and maintain Charleston’s fortifications during the War of 1812. Although not a part of its specified mission, the society established a fund in April 1821 to aid indigent and transient Germans in the city. By the mid-1800s, the society’s membership reflected the assimilation of the colonial-period Germans into Charleston society, causing newly immigrating Germans to say they had “lost their Germanness.” Other German ethnic societies rose to meet the needs of the new German immigrants, and a pattern emerged of acceptance into the German Friendly Society only after the newcomers had become economically successful. Following the Civil War and the decline in German immigration to Charleston, the society developed into more of a social and charitable organization. In 1942 it changed its name to the Friendly Society of Charleston, but reverted to its original name in 1965. The modern society has a membership limit of two hundred and an eleven-year waiting list to join.
Riley, Helen M. “Michael Kalteisen and the Founding of the German Friendly Society in Charleston.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 100 (January 1999): 29–48.
Two Hundred and Twenty-Five Years of American History Taken from the Minutes and Other Records of the German Friendly Society of Charleston, South Carolina. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1999.