The Senator in the Age of Enlightenment

Johann Michael Hudtwalcker

Johann Michael Hudtwalcker (21 September 1747 – 14 December 1818) had “in decisive extent” (A.-Ch. Trepp) contributed to the expansion of the basics of the way of thinking in the Age of Enlightment in mercantile communities of Hamburg and northern Germany, and to a certain extent, the popularization of the ideas of poets and philosophers. He was a member of that group of proponents of the Enlightment, to whom the promotion of common public interest lied at heart as a practical implementation of ethical and moral goals.Their concept of Enlightment had a significant component of Protestant influence. They wanted to help, and to educate people in order they could help themselves. However, they were also supposed to serve as models with their own behaviour, as Johann Michael Hudtwalcker stated after a lecture of Georg Heinrich Sieveking1 on 7 November 1791 in patriotic community of Hamburg.2

Johann Michael was born in 1747 as the son of Eldermen3 Jacob Hinrich Hudtwalcker, 1710 – 1781 and Sarah Hudtwalcker, maiden name Ehlers. His father, the son of a cheesemonger (Johann Hudtwalcker, died in 1720) – after an apprenticeship under Meinert von Winthem (a merchant who was distributing herrings, fish oil and fish products) – he founded the company “Hudtwalcker & Co.” in Altona in April 1743. The company specialised in the trade of whale and fish oils. In his childhood and adolescent years, Johann Michael received a solid education, which soon put him in a position to make his own decisions and to speak in public. At the age of twelve, he started to learn French. The knowledge of the English language was inevitable for the sons of Hamburg’s merchants, and his English teacher was a scribe at the Chamber of Commerce in Hamburg. After his confirmation, Johann Michael joined his father in the office and became more enthusiastic about his difficult job than about attending school, the Hamburg Johanneum.Reading, to which he was encouraged, provided him access to literature through Gellert’s4 and Hagedorn’s5 handwritings. After 1760 Johann Michael Hudtwalcker belonged to the readership of Berlin’s “Letters on Literature” and the Leipzig “Library of Beautiful Sciences “. Thus, the young man was already familiar with the literary culture of his time and in his older age he took up the pen and left many socio-political writings and several poems behind him. On 21 June 1775 he married Elisabeth Moller, 1752 – 1804, with whom he had nine children.

After the death of his father in 1781, he led the trading house by himself. He was one of the founders of a literary association and a reading society in Hamburg. In 1783 he began to meet with scholars, lawyers and merchants at dinner parties, which evolved into the shaping of public opinion in the city state of Hamburg.On 18 January 1788 Johann Michael was elected a Senator in the Council of the City of Hamburg. At the end of the “French period”, and after the restoration of the old Hamburg constitution on 30 May 1814, he retired from his position as elderman (city council member) due to his age and bad health, and died four years later at the age of 72. Hudtwalcker had shown his enlightened and social attitude, not only in public engagement, but also in on the field of poor relief. His attitude remained consistent even towards his own family.Johann Michael Hudtwalcker, who had been complaining on the inadequate training of women in the 18th century, using his own mater as an example, treated his wife almost as an equal. He ensured her involvement in his reading, and in order to encourage her talent as a painter, he even travelled with her on her six week travel and visits to the most important German museums. Hudtwalcker emphasized the intellect of his wife and welcomed that she sought advise in books about parenting.

Peter Schumann, John Michael Hudtwalcker

Works (Selection)

  • Song of an old mountain Scot. Sung on the wedding day of the Demoiselle Louise Friederike Harz and the Mr. Pastor Klefeker, Hamburg 1772
  • To Mademoiselle Elisabeth Moller; tomorrow my wife, Hamburg 1775
  • * On the happiness of domestic life, Hamburg 1776 – Read out in the friendly literary society to Hamburg on 23 January 1776 Still some fragments over luxury, citizen virtue and citizen well-being, in: Negotiations and writings of the Hamburg Society for the Promotion of the Arts and useful trades, Volume 4, p. 183 – 196
  • Notes of the Mr. Senator Hudtwalcker, in: Contributions to the evaluation of a matter of price over the influence of the commercial towns on neighbouring States, Hamburg 1798, p. 85 – 96. Also printed in: Negotiations and writings of the Hamburg Society for the promotion of the arts and useful trade, Volume 5, p. 181 – 192
  • A writing about George Heinrich Sieveking’s dying, in: Johann George for the memory of my friends Dorner and Sieveking, Hamburg 1839, p. 42-46
  • Elisabeth Hudtwalcker, born Moller. Died on 22 November 1804. A biography. Hamburg 1804
  • Remarks about the writing: Wishes at the rebirth of Hamburg. Together with an appendix, Hamburg 1814


  • Oscar L. Tesdorpf (Publisher): Information from the handwritten estate of the Senator Johann Michael Hudtwalcker, born 21 September 1747, dead 14 December 1818, in: Magazine of the Association of the History of Hamburg, Volume 9 (1894), p. 151 – 181. The memories of Johann Michael Hudtwalcker, written between 1795 and 1881, cover his life only up to 1763. However, they give a descriptive picture of the time of his youth.
  • Margarathe E. Milow: I do not want to grumble, however, Volume 1: Life memories, published by Rita Bake and Birgit Kiupel, Hamburg 1987. The life memories of Johann Michael Hudtwalckers sister, Margarethe, 1748 – 1794, were discovered by coincidence in 1986 in the estate of the Milow family in the Staatsarchiv Hamburg.
  • Biographical Encyclopedia of the German speaking Enlightenment, München 2002, Published by Rudolf Vierhaus and Hans Erich Bödeker, p. 143


  1. Georg Heinrich Sieveking, Hamburg 1751 – 1799, was a businessman from Hamburg and member of the Hanseatic League and follower of the Enlightenment.
  2. Patriotische Gesellschaft (patriotic community) from 1765 was founded on 11 April 1765 in Hamburg as Hamburgische Gesellschaft zur Beförderung der Künste und Nützlichen Gewerb (Hamburg Society for the promotion of the arts and useful trade) in the Age of Enlightment.
  3. Kollegium der Oberalten (The Council of Eldermen)has existed since 1528. Its members were elected to life. Today they are retiring from the Council at the age of 75. The Council was previously was regarded as the highest citizens’ committee of a parish.
  4. Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Hamburg 1715 – Hainichen 1769, was a German poet and moral philosopher in the Age of Enlightment. Throughout his life he had been appreciated as the most widely read German author, next to Christian Felix Weisse.
  5. Friedrich von Hagedorn, Hamburg 1708 – 1754, was a German rococo poet. 2014