by Ed MakowskiSaturday 11 May 2013 at 8:31 pm.
This article was originally published in The Journal of The German-Texan Heritage Society, Austin, Texas. volume XI, Number 2, 1989, pages 102-105. It is published here with the permission of Edwin Makowski. The first paragraph has been slightly revised by Weldon Mersiovsky and George Nielsen.
One of the unique immigrant groups to arrive in the early days of Texas statehood was a group, commonly called Wends, who started arriving in Texas in the 1840s, the largest group in 1854, from villages and cities in Prussia and Saxony, and they kept coming. These people were descendants of the Slavic tribes who at one time covered most of Europe west of the Oder River but gradually became subject to German domination until only a remnant remained in the area of eastern Germany called Lusatia. In the early 19th century the Prussian ruler, a Calvinist, had attempted to combine the Lutherans and Calvinists into one Evangelical (United) church body and some “Old Lutherans” believed that the new church body was not following the orthodox use of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.* With their belief system challenged, the “Old Lutherans” at the congregation at Klitten separated themselves from the new united church body and when they called Jan Kilian to be their pastor he accepted. Talk of emigration ensued and plans were drawn to leave. Wendish lay people in both Prussia and Saxony formed an emigration society and 588 persons (which included the Old Lutheran Congregation at Klitten and their pastor, Jan Kilian) were granted permission to leave. Seventy three of their number perished from Asian cholera during the voyage to Texas. Of those who survived some settled at Industry and New Ulm, but the majority made their way to the Rabb’s Creek area of eastern Bastrop County where they established the community that came to be known as Serbin. Eventually the Wends formed the nearby communities of Fedor and Warda. The lives and the activities of these people are well documented not only by church records, but by books, documents, and other literature. The Texas Wendish Historical Society Museum and Archives at Serbin preserves many of the artifacts associated with this pioneering group.
[*The key sticking point when forcing the union of the Calvinist and Lutheran faiths is the Lord's Supper. (Baptism was not a problem.) How can the Agenda of the new state church be written so that those who believe in the Real Presence (Lutherans) won't be upset when the words of institution say that the bread and wine represent Christ's body and blood (Calvinist)? The solution was to write it in vague terms so neither side would be distressed. But then there are those "rigid" people who insisted that what they believe must be stated (Old Lutherans). So the Lord's Supper was the center of the quarrel in Prussia. The Saxon state church used the Lutheran Agenda so the Lutherans had no quarrel with the state church on that issue and could attend communion without pangs of conscience. (but then enter pietism and rationalism).
At first the union was voluntary (prior to 1830) but then it became mandatory and that is when the police were involved. They could check to see if the new Agenda was being used. Other than that there was nothing new because it was a state church after all but how much top-down or bottom-up authority was involved is subject to new scholarship.
Also remember that twenty-some years elapsed between the initial edict and the 1854 migration. Prior to 1854 a new Prussian ruler relented and permitted the formation of non-state-church congregations such as those in Weigersdorf and Klitten. There were strings attached, but that is religious freedom. Why would the Ben Nevis bunch migrate when the religious conditions were improving? Those who remained continued to worship as they pleased, but without a state stipend. Those who went earlier such as Kavel to Australia and the Germans who formed the Buffalo Synod in the United States have a better argument for religious freedom than the Wends of 1854.]
German Methodists of Eastern Bastrop County
Many settlers from Central Europe have made eastern Bastrop County their home. Although less publicized and only sketchily documented, Germans had been arriving there as early as 1846. John Faxel, Adam Becker, Mathias Nink, Augustus Assman, the Meuth brothers, John Preuss, the Eisenbach brothers, and Anton Meyer were among the first German immigrants to settle in the area lying between Pin Oak Creek in eastern Bastrop County and Rabb’s Creek in western Fayette County. Mathias Nink from Erbach, Germany came to Pin Oak after a short stay in New Braunfels in 1846. John Preuss was also an 1846 newcomer at Pin Oak. Anton Eisenbach and his youngest brothers, Christian and William, came from Villmar, Nassau, Germany aboard the James Edward in 1846 and by 1851 were recorded as landowners on the Bastrop County tax rolls. Their property was in the Charles Edward Survey near Pin Oak Creek. Fellow passengers on the James Edward were Franz and Andreas Meuth from Wurges, a town not far from Villmar. The Meuths became property owners and neighbors of the Eisenbachs, to whom they were related by marriage. Johann Christian Gottfried Rabe and wife Julia Sophie settled in the area about 1850. Their home was northeast of the Colorado River in the general vicinity of the Pin Oak Catholic church which had been organized in 1835. It was a few miles southwest of the area in which Serbin was to be later founded.
It was not long before other Germans began settling in the region. According to the 1850 census there were in Bastrop County less than three dozen families in which the head of the household was a German immigrant. Then the influx of immigrants accelerated until in the year 1857 alone about 1100 Germans came to the county. By 1860 that part of Bastrop and Fayette counties lying in the Rabb’s and Pin Oak Creek watersheds had a substantial German element.
In 1855, William K. Ebers, a recent arrival from Braunschweig, purchased property in the Calvin Gage Survey just north of the area that came to be known as Serbin. The next year, Johann and Anna Dung arrived from Hoof, Germany and acquired land near the Eisenbachs and Meuths at Pin Oak Creek. The Hempel family arrived about the same time. Franz and Maria Lange were there in 1856 and the Gottlieb Kunkel family arrived in 1860. In 1857 Heinrich Grusendorf became owner of a large tract (in excess of 700 acres) in the McCollum Survey. Then William Ebers sold his property near Serbin and purchased land in the Burleson Survey adjacent to the Grusendorf property. Both of these tracts were near the Grassy Fork of Pin Oak Creek. Attracted by the opportunity to establish homes in close proximity to others with similar ethnic backgrounds, many new immigrants from central Europe and other German-Texans from Bastrop began settling in this locale. The community that developed there, less than five miles from Serbin, became known as Grassyville.
Swiss born Eduard Schneider was converted to Methodism after he arrived in Texas in 1844. In about 1848 he became a Methodist preacher in the German Conference and began organizing missions among the Germans near LaGrange. After subsequent moves to Fredericksburg and Victoria he was assigned to Bastrop in 1856. That same year German Methodists constructed a church on Bastrop’s Water Street on land deeded to the church by Heinrich Grusendorf. Grusendorf also served as the contractor for the construction work. It was through this church and the evangelical work of Rev. Schneider that the Grusendorf, Heins, Westphal, and other families were converted to Methodism.
Schneider also worked among the Germans in the Grassyville community and his work provided the inspiration for the organization of a church there. In 1858 N. G. Alsup deeded land in the Cottle Survey and on this site the first parsonage was built. Reverend Albert G. May was the first pastor to use the parsonage. Lacking a building in which to meet, the congregation met in member’s homes. In 1857 the congregation severed its affiliation with the Methodist Episcopal Church, south, and applied for membership in the newly organized Southern German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, commonly called the Northern Church. In September of the year Reverend Carl Urbantke was sent from the church at Industry to become the new preacher at Grassyville. Urbantke and church members Grusendorf, Kielman, and Bletsch felled trees and sawed the lumber that went into the construction of the log cabin structure that became the Grassy Fork Church. One report stated that at one time the congregation claimed 101 white male members, 70 of whom were on probationary status, and six black members, all of who were probationers.
In addition to his duties at Grassyville, Urbantke served a German congregation in Bastrop where he held services at the courthouse. The German Mission of the Southern Church was also still active in Bastrop and remained the place of worship for a majority of the German Methodists. Another congregation about five miles north of Bastrop near Piney Creek held services in the homes of Heins, Westphal, and Beyer, and this congregation also depended on Urbantke for leadership. Both Piney Creek and Bastrop were established as missions of the Grassyville church, and Rev. Urbantke and his successors divided their time between each of the congregations. Local preachers filled the pulpit on those Sundays when the pastor was absent. This lack of a full time minister eventually created organizational problems with the congregation at Grassyville.
By 1875 a schism developed with the Grassyville church due to disagreement between some of the members and the local preacher. Because of this disagreement, a membership majority elected to resume their former affiliation with the Methodist Church (South). The South Conference sent Rev. William Leiser as pastor of the church, and the name of the church was changed to Grassyville Salem Methodist Church. The congregation met to elect a delegation of church trustees who were to travel to New Orleans for the purpose of seeking permission from church authorities to build a new church. Among the persons present at that meeting were A. Behrens, Benhard Behrens, Johanna Behrens, John and Wilhelmina née Froehner Behrens, Carl and Katherine née Hempel Boese, Leopold and Mina Burgdorff, Edward Dalchau, Charlotte Dalchau, Samuel and Anna Dalchau, August and Mina Dolgener, John Dunk (name was changed from Dung to Dunk at about the time of the Civil War), Frederika Dunk, Johann Heinrich and Anna Elisabeth née Hempel Dunk, William K. Ebers, Anton and Emma née Ebers Eisenbach, Peter and Catherine Franz, August Hamff and Anna Elisabeth née Dunk Hamff, Christian and Anna née Ludwig Hamff, Caroline Hamff, Johann Hermann Hempel, George A. and Sophie née Krauter Hempel, Christian Hempel, Christine Hille, Eduard and Pauline Hoffman, August Kattner, Josephine Kattner, John and Christine Krauter, Wilhelmina Kortlang, John and Julia née Hempel Kunkel, Gottlieb and Augusta née Krueger Kunkel, Anna Kunkel, Rev. and Mrs William Leiser, Leopold Mosebach, Joseph Mosebach, Juliana née Peterson Mosebach, Reinhold and Helen Oltjen, Albert L. and Dorothea née Dunk Orts, Wilhelmina née Witte Peschke, Carl W. Raschke, Herbert Schuman, L. Schuman, L. Sinn, August Spieler, Theofeld Vetter, Heinrich Weise, and Franz and Katharina née Dunk Weise. Bishop J. C. Kies, Presiding Elder J. A. Paule, and Pastor Leiser officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the new building which was constructed on a fifteen acre tract deeded to the church by William K. and Maria née Fulz Ebers.
The congregation, later known as the Grassyville Methodist Church (South), became the second largest in the German conference and hosted Annual Conferences in 1883, 1887, 1893, 1899, and 1903. Attesting to the zeal with which these converts embraced their new faith is the fact that at least eight young men of Grassyville later became pastors in the German Methodist conferences. These clergymen were J. C. Krauter, Herman Ebers, H. W. Weise, John A. G. Rabe, R. Woerner, R. Vetter, Ben Behrens, and John Adam Raesener. G. A. Hempel served as a local pastor.
In 1878 a new church was organized to the west of Grassyville. Mary Alsup deeded land in the R. H. Grimes Survey for the use by the Milton Chapel Church and Cemetery. Although this was an English speaking congregation, at least one member of the Grassyville church became a member here. The church building also served as a school house which attained a peak enrollment of 51 pupils during the 1892 school year. Charles Boese, a former member at Grassyville, served as one of the trustees.
In 1883 yet another Methodist Church had its beginning. This one, called Dixon Prairie, was organized under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) and was located to the northwest of Milton Chapel just a few hundred yards from present Texas State Highway 21, known also as the Old San Antonio Road. It is not clear whether the organizers were dissidents from the Grassyville church or merely worshippers seeking relief from the inconvenience of the long distance to Grassyville. After all, a buggy ride of six or seven miles to attend services surely must have been a problem, especially in inclement weather. However, considering the fact that there were profound doctrinal differences between the North Church and the South Church, one cannot dismiss the possibility that dissatisfaction with in the church at Grassyville was at least a contributing factor in the perceived need for a new church organization. School was conducted in the church. A burial ground was established next to the church and such names as Kattner, Wusterhausen, Dolgener, Brodbeck, and Wunneberger are prevalent. Reverend Schneider also is buried here.
In 1926 the Grassyville Church purchased a building in nearby Paige from the Christian Church. The Paige Church was a branch of the Grassyville Church and served as a more convenient place of worship for Grassyville members who lived near Paige. Eleven years later the parsonage at Grassyville burned, destroying all the church records. In 1941 the membership had declined to the point that the church disbanded and the members transferred to Paige or Giddings.
The Grassyville School was organized in 1876 and a one room school house was built by community residents, who called it Grassy Fork Private School. Later this building was moved about ½ miles to a one acre lot on the Goacher Trace. The lot was purchased from Friedrich and Christine née Hartung Grusendorf for $110.00. In 1881 there were 40 pupils enrolled. Another rom was added in 1924, but in 1942 the school was forced to close due to decreasing enrollment.
Friedrich Grusendorf and his brother-in-law, Ludwig (Lui) Hartung, formed a partnership in 1871 for the purpose of building and operating a gin, grist mill, and saw mill on a four acre tract in the McMullen Survey. These four acres was part of the 172 acre tract purchased by Friedrich in 1866 from his older brother, Heinrich Grusendorf. Friedrich purchased Hartung’s interest in the business in 1876, and in 1879 sold the property to Wilhelm Krempin. Albert Orts operated the gin for several years before opening a new one in Paige.
A post office was established in 1877 to serve Grassyville. The post office originally was in Lee County with Peter Franz serving as postmaster. In 1879 it was transferred to Bastrop County with Henry Grusendorf acting as postmaster, but after only three months the office again reverted to Lee County with George Sierling becoming postmaster. It moved back to Bastrop County in 1883. The office was closed finally and area was served by rural carriers from other offices.
The land for the cemetery was donated by W. F. Dalchau. The first verifiable burials at the 2 ½ acre tract were Auguste Hamff and Bertha Kunkel in 1871. There are 130 graves, some of which have no markers. Surnames appearing on markers at the cemetery are Behrens, Burgdorf, Dalchau (Dalghau), Dung, Dunge, Dunk, Eisenbach, Ebers, Franz, Hamff, Hannis, Hempel, Hines, Hirschfeld, Hoffman, Hoting, Johle, Keilberg, Kielman, Krauter, Kunkel, Ludwig, Mosebach, Noack, Orts, Peschke, Stuessy, Vetter, Vogel, Weise, Wells, Wolfe, and Zurga. Many of the markers are engraved in German script. The Texas Historical Commission designated the cemetery a State Historic Site and erected a Historic Marker there on April 23, 1978.
It is generally agreed by historians that the majority of German-Texans were not slave owners. To many Germans, slavery was not only morally repugnant, but economically impractical. Most felt that new immigrants from central Europe provided a more economical source of labor, since these newcomers were willing to put in long hours at low wages to establish themselves in Texas. Too, at a cost of approximately $600.00 each for a slave, few German immigrants had the economic means to buy slaves. Examination of Bastrop County tax rolls for the years immediately prior to the Civil War reveals interesting information aboutthe position on slavery taken by the German populace of the Grassyville - Pin Oak - Rabb’s Creek area. In 1860 the county tax rolls listed 2417 slaves with a total taxable value of 1.4 million dollars, an average of $583 per slave. Yet not one German known to be living in the Rabb’s Creek/Pin Oak Creek area reported slave ownership in that year or any other year researched.
In the secession referendum taken on February 23, 1861, the county wide vote tabulation was a close vote of 330 for secession and 351 against secession. But the Rabb’s Creek precinct which consisted primarily of Wends, German Lutherans, and German Methodists voted 56 to 1 for preserving the Union. Only two other precincts in the county had a majority opposing secession. Most of the Germans, however, supported their state after secession by serving with the Confederate forces. Several men served with Waul’s Texas Legion. Thirty-four others served as privates under Captain Heinrich Grusendorf in the Pin Oak Rifle Company of the 26th Texas Volunteers, a sort of home guard or reserve unit. Other officers were Lt. Samuel Dalchau, Lt. Franz Rein, and Lt. Carl Wiederaenders. It is not known whether the men who served were actually volunteers or conscripts. A few apparently avoided service by surreptitious methods; others went to Mexico were they were able to find passage to the north; and still others ventured in the activity of hauling cotton to Mexico and returning with needed supplies.
Even though Serbin and Grassyville were only five miles apart, there seems to have been little social interaction between the members of the two groups. As new German immigrants came to the area many became a part of the Lutheran congregations at Serbin. Others, although originally of Evangelical Lutheran faith, joined the Grassyville church. Some apparently left the Serbin church to affiliate with the Methodists at Grassyville, but there is no record of any Methodists returning to the Lutheran church. It is not clear why so many Lutherans adopted Methodism even though there was a Lutheran Church in the area. Before moving to Grassyville, Heinrich and Friedrich Grusendorf and the brother-in-law, William Berns, had joined Eduard Schneider’s congregation at Bastrop. At that time there was no Lutheran church in Bastrop. When they moved to Grassyville in 1857 they apparently took with them an evangelical zeal which influenced others. Wm. Berns became a Methodist preacher and although there is no record of his having officially served at Grassyville, it is likely that he exerted some influence on his neighbors during the time he lived in the community.
By the 1890s, German families had begun moving from Grassyville to other areas in the state. Eventually Lee, Falls, McLennan, Bell, and Coryell Counties became the new homes for a substantial number of emigrants from the Grassyville area. Railroad lands had become available in Coryell County at a very nominal cost, thereby providing second and third generation German-Texans an opportunity for land ownership. Copperas Cove in particular must have held much promise for the immigrants, for a large number of German Methodists known to have originated in Bastrop and Lee Counties were August and Johann Kattner, Joseph and Matilda Kattner, Frederick and Henriette Westphal, Henry and Bertha Ebers, Reinhardt and Johanna Behrens, Otto and Emma Kunkel, Robert and Josephine Kunkel, William and Johann Fickel, Sam Kielman, John and Anna Bosmark, Otto and Mary Retzlaff, and Emil and Minnie Urbantke.
The black land farming area, especially around the Falls County towns of Otto and Perry and McLennan County towns of Riesel and Meiers Settlement, also became a favored area for Germans, many of whom came by way of Lee and Bastrop counties.
Having been bypassed by the railroads and major highways, the Grassyville area lost many residents and eventually nearly all of the buildings were razed or moved. Now only the cemetery remains as physical evidence of the once thriving community that existed there: but the influence and tradition of its early German residents still remain a part of the heritage of many hundreds of descendants.
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Blasig, Anna. The Wends of Texas, Springman-King Printing, Brownsville, TX 1954. Copyright, 1954 by the Naylor Company. 1979, Acquired by Carl A. Blasig. Reprinted 1981 with permission of copyright owner by Texas Wendish Heritage Society, Giddings, Texas.
In the Shadow of the Lost Pines, A History of Bastrop County & Its People, Bastrop Advertiser, 1955.
Kilian, Pastor John. Baptismal Records of St Paul Lutheran Church, Serbin, Texas, 1854-1883, edited and translated by Joseph Wilson, Southern Historical Press, Easley, SC,1965.
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Scott, Zelma. A History of Coryell County, Texas; Texas State Historical Association. 1965.