The Utermohlen Name

"Utermohlen" means "out of the mill." My father used to joke that the reason we were called 'out of the mill' was because we didn't pay the rent.

Perhaps there is some truth to this joke! The earliest occurrence of the name appears to come from 1413, when Duke Otto of Braunschweig rented farmland, 10 "morgen" in size, in the Feldmark of Rosdorf, to a Gunther von Boventen. According to the document, this farmland had previously been rented to a Hermann ut er Molen (Braunschweig City Archives No. 799). Was Hermann evicted because he didn't pay the rent? History is silent on this point.

The next mention of the name Utermohlen - now in its more familiar spellling - was found by my grandmother in an extract from "Urkunden der Stadt Gottingen aus dem XVI. Jahrhundert," published by Hasselblatt and Kaestner, No. 65, page 49 (Gottingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht): on the 29th of December 1511, the burgomaster-ambassadors of the cities of Hildesheim, Hannover and Einbeck [among whom was a Hans Utermohlen from Einbeck] negotiated peace between Duke Erich of Braunschweig and the City of Gottingen.

All these cities -- Hildesheim, Hannover, Einbeck, Gottingen, as well as Lubeck, Bremen, and Hamburg -- were members of the Hanseatic League, a league of free German cities in Northern Europe. This league began as a loose coordination among merchant associations, or 'hanse', which traded in raw materials from the Baltic, and in manufactured materials and fish from the port cities on the North Sea and along the Rhine. The hanse dominated trade in Northern Europe in 13th century. By the middle of the 14th Century, the cities that housed the hanse, rather than the hanse themselves, became the focus of political and commercial activities. This change was wrought by the need to protect the hanse merchants against the increasing competition from the fledgling nation-states emerging from the feudal system at the end of the middle ages. For a while the Hanseatic League held together as a group semi-independent city-states, exchanging burgomasters and settling disputes by negotiation, such as the one in which Hans Utermohlen participated. Indeed, one of the characteristics of the Hanseatic League was that citizens of one city could live and work in any other of the cities. For this reason we find Utermohlens scattered throughout the cities of Northern Germany to this day.

The League's effort to create a trade monopoly in Northern Europe turned out to be futile, however, in the face of an influx of goods from the rest of the world following the explorations and conquests of the renaissance. The trade competition was especially fierce from the Netherlands. By 1658 the Dutch had a virtual monopoly on the Baltic sea trade with Western Europe, and on the export of goods produced along the Rhine. The last meeting of the 'diet' of the Hanseatic League took place in Lubeck in 1669.

Starting in 1773, the ruling families in Oldenburg also governed the bishopric of Lubeck. This is probably how August's family came to be in Oldenburg, even though Oldenburg was not a Hansestadt.

My grandmother searched for the coat-of-arms of the Utermohlen family, and was told that It consists of a blue lion on a field of gold and red bars. The blue lion was the emblem of Henry the Lion of Saxony, who captured Lubeck in 1158. It was after his conquest that Lubeck became the starting point for the movement of Saxon and Westphalian merchants to the North and the East, and for the growth of trade with the Baltic hinterlands, setting the stage for the formation of the Hanseatic League. Thus it is likely that the original Utermohlens came from further South and East, and moved Northwest by following Henry the Lion.

Copyright V. Utermohlen
Updated december 29th, 2001.