Serbin During Reconstruction by Ken Kesselus with an Introduction by George Nielsen

Intro by George Nielsen

Serbin’s official beginning took place in 1860 when the government honored the community’s request and gave the little village a post office. From 1860 on Serbin experienced a modest growth until 1890 when the railroad builders bypassed Serbin and then began its decline and lost its status symbol—the post office—in 1909.

Much of Serbin’s fifty-year existence was uneventful, but during Serbin’s early years the troubles associated with Reconstruction spilled over and disrupted life in Serbin as well. Historians date Reconstruction from the conclusion of the war in 1865 until 1877 when all the seceding states were back in the Union.

Not all states were on the same Reconstruction timetable, but most went through similar stages. For Texas the first stage, from 1865 to 1870, was a contentious time as the Northern leaders set up a provisional government and established guidelines for readmission. Those uncertainties, in addition to the disruption of civilian life resulting from the war, provided an environment conducive for violence.

Texas was readmitted into the Union in 1870 and elected Republican leaders, but politics was often the cause for problems rather than a solution. The young Republican Party was northern party and Abraham Lincoln had won with Northern votes. The party leaders planned a national party by establishing it in the South as well. They envisioned a Republican Party based on the former Southern Whigs, immigrant Northerners who saw business opportunities in the South, and the Freedmen. The Democrats were not inclined to step aside and instead used methods, including violence, to regain political power. They elected a Democrat governor in 1873 and then wrote a new constitution in 1876.

Kenneth Kesselus, in his study of Bastrop County during Reconstruction, frequently refers to a German resident of Bastrop named Julius Schutze (Schuetze). His residency in Bastrop was brief—from 1864 to 1870. He had immigrated to Texas in 1852 and lived in various locations including San Antonio and Austin. He taught speech and music, tuned pianos, and was active in the Sängerbund.

He moved to Bastrop to teach school in 1864 but after the Civil War the Provisional Governor of Texas, Andrew J. Hamilton, appointed Schuetze to the position of Chief Justice of Bastrop County. In 1869 was elected to the state legislature as a Republican. After he left Bastrop County he edited a German newspaper in Austin, cultivated silkworms, and served as President of the Sons of Hermann. (Source: Handbook of Texas Online)

Schuetze’s brief political career serves as an example of a Texas German who during Reconstruction worked to build a Republican Party on a base of Germans, Freedmen, and Southern whites. It also illustrates the ultimate return to private life of Republicans as the Democrats regained political power.

Schuetze’s contribution to Wendish studies is a list of citizens, both black and white, that could be trusted to register former slaves and disenfranchise former Confederates. The requirements for such a position included taking an oath of loyalty to the Constitution and also the test oath that included the statement that they had not voluntarily supported the Confederacy. Schuetze’s list did not separate German from Wend, but Kesselus included the list in an Appendix so we can do it now. Information on Wendish political participation is hard to find and many never were naturalized so this list in valuable because it does name those Wends who were Unionists in 1867 and sympathetic to the formation of a Republican Party that included freed slaves.

John Dube, John Heohle (Hohle), J. Knippie (John Knippa), G. Mertik (George Mertink), M. Morasko (Matthes Mrosko), John Schoenig, M. Simmank, M. N. Trellop (Matthes Prellop), John Urban, M. Domaschk (Matthes Domaschk), A. Polnick (August Polnick), John Schatte, Mathias Schultze, J. Semme (John Symm), M. Wukash, Joe Deo, Ch. Lehman (Charles Lehman), M. Mitich (Matthes Mitschke), J. Schneider (John “Captain” Schneider), M. Schuster (Matthes Schuster), J. Schilling (John Schelnick), Jacob Urban, M. Wagner (Matthes Wagner), Adam Ritter, J. Schellneck (John Schelnick), J. Kilian (John Kilian)

Other Wends identified as dependable Union/Republican men: Carl Mischalk (Carl Michalk), Peter Persch (Peter Gersch), Carl Lehmann (The Godfather), Fred Sedyler (Fred Seydler), and Andreas Kieschnick.

Civil War and Reconstruction

by Ken Kesselus

Bastrop County was one of only nineteen Texas counties (another was Fayette County), out of 122, to deliver a majority against secession. Locally, there were some strong leaders who were in favor of staying in the union, but there weren’t many. The main group who voted against secession were the Germans. The county-wide totals were 335 for and 352 against. The secessionists lost by 17 votes. The pro union voters had 51%.

The Serbin area box, called Rabb’s Creek Box, cast 57 votes in the election, 56 against and 1 for. Without that box the vote would have been 336 (53%) for and 296 against. The other box that voted against secession was Bastrop, which had a sizable number of Germans, mostly merchants and tradesmen living in town.

It was the horrible time after the war that I have researched extensively and have written about in my latest Bastrop County book. (Bastrop County during Reconstruction.)

What I do know is that Serbin was the only town in that area, and before the railroad came it was the only place that you could really call a town besides Bastrop.

For example, in January 1866, Bastrop County commissioners designated thirteen roads that they would keep up–one of the main ones was the Bastrop to Brenham Road, via the Serbin Community. It closely followed the Gotier Trace.

In the late 1860s, St. Paul’s congregation remained one of only five church buildings in Bastrop county. All the rest were in the town of Bastrop. This is an important factor in demonstrating how developed this area was.

After the Civil War was a very difficult time in the South. The Emancipation Proclamation became effective in Texas when the Federal troops landed in Galveston in June 1865, as 5,000 soldiers enforced martial law. The Federal government made Texas an occupied territory (no longer a state).

There was a great deal of difficulty for the freed slaves because the conservative whites tried everything they could to maintain as much of the status quo that they possibly could. Eventually the Federal government put into place the Freedman’s Bureau and there was an agent in Bastrop who had the authority to call in Federal soldiers. Most of the Germans felt the desire to help the emancipated slaves with their new found freedom and not resist the changes that were going on. I know that this was true in this area.

Eventually most of the Federal troops were withdrawn, and the Texas government created a State Police force that was kind of like the Texas Rangers and under the control of the governor to help protect the African Americans, as the Army had done before.

An example of what the Freedman’s Bureau did was to promote schools for African Americans. In the Serbin area, a man named Solomon Fehr donated land and timber for a schoolhouse where he himself taught students before being replaced by an African American teacher.

What happened in the political realm was that the African Americans, and mostly German Americans, and a few Union supporters, people who had opposed the war, etc, were able to carry the day in the polls because a number of the Anglo whites were prohibited from voting and some of them opted out because they thought that the Federal government was going to make whatever it wanted happen and it did not matter if they voted or not.

In the outlying areas of Bastrop County, a frightening degree of violence occurred in 1868, just as blacks got the vote and the Republican coalition was able to gain control. “Raids on Negro homes became so numerous . . . that blacks . . . began sleeping in the woods for fear of getting caught or killed.” In addition, “masked riders kidnapped two delegates to the state convention of the Union League and hanged them.”

In the midst of this, Serbin Justice of the Peace Andreas Kieschnick wrote an extraordinary, articulate, blunt, confrontational, and desperate letter to Governor Pease about the violence and lawlessness in this area. It reflects the state of affairs in Bastrop County and illustrates the difficulty of changing the views and actions of many unreconstructed Confederates.

“Sir, Some weeks ago, while in the discharge of my official duties as justice of the peace, I was attacked by a band of outlaws, who had broken into our peaceable settlement, and severely wounded with a bowie knife by a certain Gorman, who with a number of men lives in the woods of this neighborhood committing depredations upon the quiet and peaceable German settlers of this vicinity. I appealed through Captain Porter [Freedman’s Bureau agent in Bastrop county] to General Reynolds [Commander of Texas for the military, ultimately in charge of everything about Texas] for protection and military assistance to arrest the offenders, but my petition was not noticed at headquarters. It may be proper to state here that it would be impracticable to summon a posse of citizens as the gang of desperados is too numerous to be caught at once and the remaining outlaws with their connections would certainly fall en masse upon every farmer who would obey such summons, when they find him alone in his field. It was therefore, that I most respectfully asked General Reynolds through Captain B. Porter, Sub Asst Commissioner of Bastrop County to send us a file of soldiers for the arrest of murderers and assassins. We have patiently been waiting for these troops, but in vain. Captain Porter informs us that he has not received a reply to the statement and petition sent by him to Headquarters and we have abandoned the hope that something will be done for our relief.

Allow me therefore, Governor, most respectfully to tender herewith my resignation as justice of the peace of this county, as I deem it incompatible with right and honor to serve a government that with all the power at her command is unwilling to protect even her most humble public servant in the discharge of his duties. Were I a General of this mighty republic and the Government would fail to protect me in my official duties I should readily break her sword under my feet and throw it with contempt before my superiors. Were I a judge and the government would refuse to lend me her strong arm to administer the law, I should trample upon my commission before I would be willing to dishonor the chair of justice.

I am only an humble magistrate. There is no salary connected with my office. It is merely the honor which every republican citizen should feel when serving his country even in the capacity of a justice or constable, but such service becomes a dishonor if that government presents a deaf ear to the appeals of her loyal officers.

Not doubting that the General commanding this District may soon find a citizen as my successor who may be willing to serve as magistrate under existing circumstances, I have the honor to remain, Governor, your very obedient servant. Andreas Kieschnick.”

In 1871, a gang terrorized northeastern Bastrop County, rendering the area “disorderly and deplorable.” Four men armed with shot guns and six-shooters disrupted a circus performing in Serbin. They drew down on Deputy Sheriff W. Miller and ordered him to leave, then turned on some freedmen, robbing them of pistols and money. Their leader, John Wilson, “well known as a desperado” and citizen of neighboring Burleson County, and another man named Long, boasted that they had recently shot a man named Paul Brice and stolen his horses. Arsonists acted near Serbin – burning another freedmen’s school, near Cunningham’s Post Office on the river. They also cruelly whipped the teacher. About the same time, in the Pin Oak neighborhood near Serbin “fifteen or twenty disguised men” took three elderly freedmen from their homes at midnight and “stripped and brutally whipped” them. Two of the freedmen, brothers Edward and Patrick Wormley rented land on Pin Oak Creek in far eastern Bastrop County, and the third freedman, Martin Bell, owned his place. The culprits whipped Bell “on the soles of his feet in the most inhuman manner” – so badly that an attending physician did not expect him to walk for a year.

A correspondent from Serbin wrote Austin’s Reformer on July 1 about worsening conditions there. “Last night twelve men, dressed in white, faces painted black and red, high hats and horns, rode into town making a great noise, shooting and hooting.” After forcing themselves into several cabins, they evicted the African-American residents and destroyed their furniture. With no law officers in the area and because “neither his life or property is safe,” the writer expected Justice of the Peace Jungmichel to resign his office.

Ku Klux Klan activity in the county involved beatings, lynchings, and burnings. An anonymous writer sent a note to the State Journal saying, that “the lynchers and school-house burners [had left] the condition of affairs simply desperate.” He insisted, as “absolute fact,” that armed men “in disguise” prowled at night, “burning school-houses, whipping school teachers, and beating colored men who patronize schools.” The perpetrators inflicted “terrorism” not only on blacks but also on Germans, “especially those of Serbin [who were] continually intimidated and outraged by these cowardly and infamous scoundrels.”

When the district attorney tried to gain indictments against such men, Serbin’s C. C. Jungmichel testified that a gang, “calling themselves the same name: i.e. ‘Ku Klux,'” came through Serbin more than once, frightening the citizens. Patrick Wormley, one of the freedmen recently whipped, and a man named Ryan stated that their tormentors called themselves “Ku Klux.”

When the grand jury failed to indict anyone, there was a large outcry across the state and especially in Bastrop county and the governor nearly declared martial law in Bastrop County. Falling short of that, however, he ordered additional state policemen to the area. The local lieutenant appointed Fredrick Milton and August Jeffers as special police stationed at Serbin.

Shortly after African Americans finally gained the right to vote, the commanding general ordered the local freedman’s bureau agent Byron Porter to suggest three places for registering voters and for polling places. He chose Bastrop, Walnut Creek (Red Rock/Cedar Creek, Rockne area) – and Serbin. He expected a majority in each to favor reform and support the new law so there could be a fair registration and election. He advised dividing the county with all residents of eastern Bastrop County to register and vote in Serbin.

Porter recommended those he thought most capable of ensuring a fair election in Serbin – Carl Michalk (who had left Texas to serve in the Union Army) and Peter Gersch; and Carl Lehmann, described as “always a good Union man.”

But the conservatives, bent on control blacks and maintaining the status quo, rallied around the Democratic Party to stop this – appealed to the pivotal German voters, including those in Serbin, but without much success. Failing that, they also used threats and violence to try to intimidate the Germans using “Ku Klux bands of nocturnal prowlers and marauders” to keep many of them from the polls by overrunning several sections of the county, including Serbin, burning schools, whipping teachers, and threatening “whites and blacks with impunity.”

Though a tentative Republican majority in Bastrop County provided some hope that freedmen could live there in relative safety, the political situation across Texas worked against them. In the January 1873 election, Republican Governor Davis lost to Democrat Richard Coke by a more than a two-to-one margin. Democrats also gained control of other executive offices and both houses of the legislature. This positioned the party, in 1874, to begin repealing the reforms carried out since 1869 and effectively ended the Reconstruction Era in Texas. The next year, after the Democrats regained control, a constitutional convention and the vote to affirm it erased much of the Republican policies and laws of a progressive nature.

The Republicans continued for a time to poll strongly in Bastrop County, but they were barely holding on, still winning most elections, with the Serbin area providing an important part of the majority.

Meanwhile, the railroad arrived in Bastrop County and the founding of Giddings on the rail line, only seven miles from Serbin, began to change the lives of locals. They turned more and more northeastward and away from Bastrop.

Residents in and around Serbin began to complain about their isolation from the rest of the county. In 1870, two petitions from citizens of the area sought relief through the creation of a new county that would include Serbin. The first, sent to Governor Davis from Justice of the Peace C. C. Jungmichel, along with S. Fehr, L. Sustry, C. A. Lottman, Carl Lehmann, A. Kappler, and F. Kessel. It included a map of a proposed county, combining sections taken from four existing ones – Washington, Burleson, Fayette, and Bastrop.

The second, a follow-up to the first, went directly to Davis from C. Munsenberger “in the name of the Settlement Serbin.” He represented “about 25 of our wealthy and influential citizens of this section.” Stating that they all strongly supported the Republican administration, he asked whether they could expect their proposed “county, named Serbin” or “whether we will yet and further on have to have 22-27 miles to our County seat.”

The effort did not prevail, but four years later J. L. Moore, John G. Hardemeyer and Thomas J. Nesbitte called for a meeting of citizens “of the west end of Burleson county, the west end of Washington county, the northwest end of Fayette county, and the northeast end of Bastrop county” to meet at Giddings “for the purpose of devising ways and means for the formation of a new county, to be composed of the above named territory.”

Once introduced in the 1874 session of the legislature, the bill had some difficulty making its way through both houses of the legislature but finally emerged with a consensus and the name “Lee County,” in honor of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After the final vote in the House, the bill became law on May 2.

By July 27, 1874, the government of Lee County was organized and in operation. Taking away forty square miles of Bastrop County, 4.3% of its total, including Serbin and surrounding areas.

From the perspective of Bastrop County African Americans and other Republicans, however, a much more substantial loss came from the transfer of a sizeable number of mostly Republican German voters to Lee County.

In addition to the shift of some Germans to the Democratic camp, this development further threatened the tenuous majority Republicans had held for a number of years. This geopolitical change helped ensure a future in which Bastrop County would follow the majority of Texans into Democratic rule, resting on the strength of a solid majority of conservative white voters. It also guaranteed that the prospects for progress among African Americans would decline in its wake. The support and protection provided for freedmen by local Republican authorities would evaporate when Democrats regained control of all offices Bastrop County.

George Nielsen’s Response

Because race is such a critical matter today we look back and see everything tied to slavery. Slavery was not the only issue from 1820 on. Even more important were (1) the tariff (2) internal improvements and (3) western lands (cheap or free). And remember, the secession vote was not over slavery, it was over the question of the union. The Wends were just like the other white yeoman farmers and used their families in the cotton fields instead of slaves. There were more yeoman farmers than planters and it was a subsistence farm in which cotton provided the cash to buy the things they could not produce themselves.

Reconstruction should be associated with political parties. The Republican Party was young party that did not have a following in the South. In order to make it a national party it was necessary to bring in those Southerners who were former Whigs, add those Northerners who wanted to build up the South with railroads, factories, and enterprise, and add the Freedmen to provide the votes. The Conservatives were the Democrats who wanted to keep control of the state and prevent the Freedmen from voting Republican. (Low taxes, cotton economy.) Pease and Edmund J. Davis were the only Republican governors in those days.

We do not know if the Wends voted against secession or if they even voted. We do not know if the Wends were opposed to slavery or if they were too poor to buy a slave. Did the Wends display racial prejudice by not trying to convert the Freedmen to Lutheranism? It seems as if they pretty much bought into the segregated society, but thanks to Ken Kesselus’ study we now know that the Wends wanted to work with a Republican Party and the Freedman’s Bureau to improve education of the Freedman and integrate them into the political system.

Serbin Area Violence during Reconstruction

by Weldon Mersiovsky

Examples of violence during the Reconstruction Era evidenced itself in the death and burial records of St Paul Lutheran church in Serbin.

1. Jordan Krueger, farmer on the Bullfrog [Creek], died at 7 pm on Sunday, 10 July 1870. He was murdered by his renter. Jordan is survived by one son, August, in California; one son, Henry, here; one daughter, Minna, in Hannover; and one daughter, Emma, in Pennsylvania.

2. On July 9, 1871, a year less a day from which his father was killed, Henry Krueger, farmer near the railroad station in Giddings, died from fatal injuries received from an unknown person.

3. Carl Wilhelm Herman Muenzenberger, (mentioned by Kesselus) who died 15 May 1872, was a former merchant in San Antonio, then teacher at the public school that was founded at Serbin on 1 Mar 1872. He was 39 years and one month old and was survived by a widow living in New Braunfels and one son. No cause of death was given.

4. Dr. Johann Mollet died on 28 Jun 1875 and was buried in the St Paul cemetery. According to Pastor Kilian he was shot to death, “a vicious murder in Serbin Town.”

See also “Serbin in the News” in the Wendish Research Project blog.


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