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When Is a Leader Not the Leader? by George Nielsen

Monday 16 March 2015 at 01:26 am.

This article appeared in the January 2004 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (www.texaswendish.org)

An appropriate question to ask at the beginning of this 150th anniversary year of the 1854 migration is the issue of leadership. It is one thing to take your family and join a few other families, as the 1853 migrants did, and travel overseas to America. But to organize a group of more than five hundred people, including some who could not pay their way, was more complicated. Some other questions come to mind. Where did the idea to immigrate originate? Who organized the prospective emigrants and was there a formal structure? Once the group was underway, who made the day-by-day decisions? Undoubtedly the most prominent person in the group was Johann Kilian, but was he the leader, or was the leadership exercised by a committee of laymen? One method of appraising Kilian's role is to examine his contribution at each stage of the migration and to compare it with a similar person of another migration. One person who could serve in such a comparison was Pastor August Kavel who participated in the Australian migration.

Kavel was older than Kilian; he was born in 1789 while Kilian was born in 1811. Both studied theology, Kave!at the university in Berlin and Kilian at Leipzig. Both lived in Prussia. Kavel was originally from Silesia, a German province annexed by Prussia, while Kilian was born in Saxony, and later accepted a call from a Lutheran parish in Prussia. They both held a common religious view. They were both traditional Lutherans who found the union church of the Prussian king unacceptable. Both solved their disagreement the same way, they migrated to foreign lands, Kavel to South Australia and Kilian to Texas.

The first step in the migration was the emergence of a desire to emigrate, and then when the number was large enough, a decision needed to be made on the destination. In Kavel's case, the congregation asked Kavel to examine the possibilities. He first traveled for three months around Russian lands north of the Black Sea.

Although other Germans had settled there, no further action was taken. Then the congregation asked Kavel to go to Hamburg and investigate the possibilities of going to America and to search for financial assistance. In Hamburg he heard about a philanthropist in England, and the congregation asked him and a layman to go to London. So in 1836 he went to England and stayed for three years looking for sponsors to help finance the journey. The patron Kavel found was George Fife Angas, who pointed the discontented Germans toward Australia.

By the time the Wends began to contemplate migration, approximately in 1848, some ten years after the Germans in Silesia were packing their belongings, Russian lands were not a consideration , but the choice was between Australia and Texas. Even though a few Wends, such as the Seydler and Helas families went to Texas, most Wends accompanied the Germans to Australia. Then in 1853, a group from Kilian's congregation went to Texas. Did Kilian play a role in selecting the destination as did Kavel?

Kilian had showed an interest in migration, but his interest centered on going to Australia and he had even corresponded with Kavel. And there were overtures from the Wends who migrated to Australia to lure Kilian to that land. But that changed with the letters from the 1853 migrants and the popular sentiment selected Texas. In comparison to Kavel's important involvement in selecting a destination, Kilian's contribution was minimal and the decision was largely based on letters from Texas.

The second step was organizing the people and arranging transportation for journey. Kavel played no role in this stage; he remained in England. The Lutheran laymen in Silesia sold their properties, organized the group, obtained exit permits from the government, and hired boats to take the emigrants down the Oder River. Angas then sent his subordinate to lead the group on the voyage. The ship stopped to pick up Kavel as it traveled through the English Channel.

Even though Kilian was physically present in Prussia, his role in the second stage was no greater than Kavel's. The laymen established a corporation, funded the journey , arranged for rail transportation , contracted for a ship, and organized the migrants. Just as Kavel joined the migrants in England, Kilian joined the group in the same country, in his case, at Liverpool. Kilian was prevented from traveling with the group to Hamburg because he had an appointment with a Prussian court to answer a charge of inciting someone to emigrate. That delay prevented him from boarding the train in Bautzen and then caused him to miss the boat at Hamburg.

On the voyage to Australia, Kavel, the captain, and Angas' agent maintained strict order. There was no incident to test the arrangement, but Angas identified Kavel as one of the leaders. And during the voyage, Kavel taught English, a language he had learned while seeking a patron, to the children.

No one identified Kilian as a leader on the voyage to Texas. On one occasion he did assume leadership. A storm rocked the boat to such an extent that many passengers became sea sick. The captain ordered the passengers out on the deck for some fresh air. There was considerable noncompliance, so the captain threatened to order the sailors to physically force the passengers on deck. Kilian intervened and persuaded the people to follow the captain's orders. But Kilian also noticed that there was some resentment. Possibly it was an objection to leaving the hold, or possibly because he was assuming leadership.

When the ship for Australia reached Adelaide, Kavel, Angas' agent, the captain, and another person went ashore to arrange for landing. But from then on it was the agent and some laymen, armed with guns, who searched for and purchased some land. Kavel evidently did not play a role in selecting land for settlement.

When the ship for Texas reached Galveston, Kilian took his pregnant wife and young son to a hotel for rest and left the worldly matters of paying tariffs and transfer of goods to the laymen. Kilian did not know English and probably could not have been of much help. The laymen had planned ahead and had taken a young man along who could speak Wendish, German, and English. The laymen also took responsibility for moving the immigrants to the interior and in purchasing a league of land on which the colony was established.

Once the Australian settlement was founded, it was necessary to establish a religious body. Kavel took the leadership and wrote the constitution but in it he gave the elders the right to superintend the doctrine of the pastors and teachers. The Voters' Assembly elected the elders and so the leadership resided in the laity. Kavel, who had exerted leadership in the previous stages, took the leadership in making himself a subordinate, at least on paper. But the question of leadership, by Kavel or the laymen, is not that clear-cut. On one later occasion some members at Klemzig and Hahndorf refused to move to the Barossa Valley, as they had agreed. Kavel, after his exhortations were ineffective, excluded those members, who did not wish to tear up roots again, from the Sacrament. That is serious business, something a subordinate would not do.

Kilian viewed the Voters' Assembly's authority the same as Kavel did, except for him the question had been decided in Europe and not in the new homeland. Without question, the Voters' Assembly took responsibility for the physical and spiritual aspects of the parish. The voters had extended to Kilian a call and then limited it to one year. And the Voters' Assembly, not Kilian, wrote the church constitution. It was during this process that the first division of the congregation began.

In the spiritual matters, however, Kilian held an upper hand by virtue of his training, and his religious views carried the day. But he never on his own decided to withhold the Sacrament. On one occasion be complained about the democratic system practiced in the Voters' Assembly where it seemed as if every layman felt obligated to pontificate on every topic.

Two memorial markers, one in Texas and one in South Australia, commemorate the migration from Europe. There are similarities. Both were erected in 1936 -a Depression year -when money was scarce. Both talked about religious freedom and both credited a clergyman with leadership.

In Serbin, tbe memorial reads, [italics added]:

Here in 1854 Under the Leadership of Rev. John Kilian Ev. Lutheran Pastor, about 600 Wends, seeking religious liberty established the First Wendish Settlement in Texas.

At Klemzig the inscription reads, [italics added]:

This memorial was erected to perpetuate the memory of the Lutheran Pilgrim Fathers who, seeking religious freedom, came to South Australia under the leadership of Pastor August Kavel in November 20, I 838. They settled here, giving the village the name of Klemzig after their old home in Germany. This ground was their God's acre, where many were laid to their last rest.

There is no doubt of Kilian's prominence. His name was first on the Ben Nevis passenger list and he arranged for a cabin on the Ben Nevis for his family instead of staying in the hold with the other Wends, but was he the leader? Was he the Moses, as some journalists claim? Were not the real leaders those laymen whose names we know, but whose contributions have been neglected?

During the 2004 issues, I would like to enlist your help in sketching the lives of the persons who signed Kilian's call -Carl Lehman , Carl Teinert, Ernst Adolph Moerbe, Johann Hohle, Christopher Kokel, and Johann Urban.

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