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« Death on the Irish Se… | Home | Two Routes to Liverpo… »

Johann Kilian as Father by George Nielsen

Monday 16 March 2015 at 05:03 am.

This article appeared in the January 2012 Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society of Serbin, Texas. (www.texaswendish.org)

When the Kilians departed for the journey to Texas they left behind the graves of three infant children in the church cemetery at Weigersdorf. Nathanael Martin, Tabitha Lydia, and Theresia Helena all died in infancy. Only two-year-old Gerhard August accompanied his parents and lived to adulthood in Texas. Mrs. Kilian was pregnant with her fifth child during the trip and that child, Theresia, died shortly after the family arrived in Bastrop County, and was the first person buried in the Serbin cemetery. Four more children were born in Texas and all survived.

To identify the parents and their five children as a nuclear family would be an understatement because they lived in the cramped conditions of a small log cabin. And the father was not an absentee father because the cabin was his office. Being a father was simply one more daily responsibility in Pastor Kilian's life.

Providing a proper education for the children was one of his primary concerns, and at one time in his life he even contemplated returning to Europe so his children would have access to adequate educational institutions. But at the same time while he was thinking of their future in general terms he also considered each child individually. And he knew their academic abilities because he was their teacher on the elementary level. On one occasion he ordered specific Wendish books from Germany for each child and had their names printed on the covers.

In keeping with the customs of the time, Kilian viewed the goals of males as different from the females. And in his mind, the best education for the males would equip them for work in the church. Gerhard August met the father's expectations and at the age of 15 left home to attend the synod's school for training teachers for congregational schools. That suited Gerhard because he did not want to become a farmer. However, the school was located in Addison, Illinois, miles away home, and that required a long journey through Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago. For the sake of security Gerhard traveled with a clergyman who had been visiting Serbin and the father provided the money for the expenses.

Gerhard was separated from his family for the next three years and not until he was 18 did he spend his summer vacation in Texas. Letters from Gerhard and reports from the Addison faculty kept the father informed of his progress. Kilian took pride in the reports and when Gerhard spent the summer in Serbin, Kilian was overjoyed at Gerhard's skill at the church organ. After five years of study, Kilian's investment paid off and Gerhard relieved his father of the task of teaching the school children.

The second oldest son was Bernhard and Kilian confessed that he did not understand him. Kilian, however, understood enough to realize that Bernhard was not interested in academics and to his credit, did not insist that Bernhard follow in his older brother's footsteps. Kilian noticed that Bernhard enjoyed whittling and he arranged for Bernhard to become an apprentice to Pastor Johann Proft at Fedor, who was also a skilled joiner. For a joiner to earn a living in a rural area was impossible, so later Bernhard also learned to work on a farm. Kilian considered sending Bernhard to Houston or a smaller town for employment, but he was concerned that Bernhard would lose the connection with the church. All he expected was that Bernhard would find satisfaction with his work and that he would lead a Christian life.

The youngest son, Hermann, excelled in schoolwork and was eager to study for the ministry. That career entailed many years of study beginning with preparatory school at Fort Wayne and concluding at the St. Louis seminary. Gerhard, the oldest brother, escorted Hermann north for the first year at Ft. Wayne. Again father and son kept in touch with frequent letters. Hermann was a gifted student but when he finally felt secure enough to travel on his own and spend his summer vacation in Serbin, Kilian asked him to bring along his Greek text so they could work together.

Smoking at Ft. Wayne required parental permission and when Hermann asked, his father gave him permission. But Kilian attached three conditions: 1) that Hermann never smoke when he had difficult mental work, but only in his recreational hour; 2) that he never smoke strong tobacco, rather only the lightest, aged tobacco in cigars and pipe; 3) that he always keep the passage of St. Paul before his eyes as it was written in I Corinthians 6, 12; ''All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything."

The tone of a loving father comes through in these letters, and in one the father concluded with "I now commend you, my Hermann, to God and the words of his grace and implore the Lord for your father's house and your father who loves you. Johann Kilian, P."

The oldest daughter was Theresia and clearly the father's favorite. He called her "a beautiful rose in my garden." Although he claimed that she was reading before she was even a year old, higher education was not for her. She began helping her mother with milking the cows and doing household things. In time she became an excellent seamstress and tailor, and her father bought a sewing machine for her. When her mother became ill, she readily handled the tasks. The only problem was finding a suitable husband. Kilian hoped that she would marry a pastor or an educated person and even considered sending her to Houston to live with Pastor Braun. After first refusing the overtures of a suitor, Kilian eventually, with great reluctance, permitted Theresia to marry Johann Albert Peter, part owner of a cotton gin and a blacksmith shop in Serbin. Peter was a German and could not even speak Wendish, but at least Theresia would remain in the neighborhood.

The youngest child in the family was Hulda Dorothea and her training mirrored that of Theresia. She also learned how to embroider and crochet and to keep house. Even though she broke many cups while doing dishes, Kilian was sure that she would blossom into a competent housekeeper when Theresia left home. Hulda was up to the task. Soon her mother's health failed, and after her death, Hulda looked after her widowed father. And when Hermann came to fill the pulpit in Serbin, she cooked for him too. Sadly, Kilian did not live to see Hulda's wedding. He died in 1884 but he would have been pleased with her marriage because it was to a pastor. She married the pastor in Fedor, Gotthilf Birkmann, in 1886.

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