Contemporary Materials Concerning the 1853 Emigration

This article was first printed, with Dr Wilson’s permission and consent, for the Krause family history book, Shipwreck to Settlement, published in 1990 by Weldon Mersiovsky.

The following descriptions of various aspects of the 1853 emigration were written at the time of the events or shortly thereafter. The source and original language, Wendish or German, of each item is noted, and the item is then given in my translation, which is kept as close to the original as possible.

I have attempted to keep my notes to a minimum in these accounts, inserting them, as far as possible, into the texts themselves, in square brackets,'[]’, rather than as separate footnotes. Round brackets,'()’, are used as in the originals.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these items have been published, either in the original or in any translation (besides, of course, the original contemporary publication in the cases noted). George Nielsen’s book In Search of a Home utilizes the Kasper letter (Item E) and Kilian’s Lutheraner report (Item G), but does not give the actual text.

A. Pastor Johann Kilian’s List of the 1853 Wendish,German Emigrants to Texas

Pastor Kilian’s 1853 List.

Since the ship’s passenger list for the Ben Nevis was retained by Kilian and is still preserved (at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in Sid Richardson Hall at the University of Texas at Austin), we know fairly completely who comprised that large group. The list is in relatively good condition; however, there are a few frayed or tom places, so that some thirty names are missing or illegible. Unfortunately, the only published form of the list (made by Anne Blasig for her Wends of Texas, and copied by others) contains many errors, even in the legible parts. I have been working for several years toward a corrected list and hope to publish it soon; besides correcting the misreadings, I have been able to fill in most of the missing or illegible names, using other sources.

On the other hand, just who the pathbreakers were who preceded the Ben Nevis group has been a matter of conjecture, since no direct listings have been known (see George Nielsen In Search of a Home, pp. 64f.). Evidently no ship passenger list has been preserved for the 1853 voyage, which was made on the two-masted brig Reform, sailing from Bremen. The embarkation records at Bremen were destroyed by American and British bombing raids in World War II, and the arrival records at Galveston were poorly made and poorly preserved (to a great extent destroyed by the Great Hurricane of 1900), such that entire years of the Galveston records are missing, among them the records for 1853 (See Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, v. I, pp. 2ff., 32ff.). Of course, due to the shipwreck, they actually entered the United States at New Orleans, before continuing to Galveston, but I have not been able to find them in the New Orleans passenger lists, either.

Wilhelm Iwan’s book Die altlutherische Auswanderung um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts gives lists of Old Lutherans from Prussia (but not from Saxony) who emigrated to Texas, according to church records in Germany. While Iwan’s lists are valuable, especially for their mention of maiden names and other family relationships, many people given in them did not come to Texas and others who did are not listed. Apparently the lists are to be interpreted as comprising people who intended to emigrate, rather than those who actually did. Iwan’s lists are given in Clifford Neal Smith’s Nineteenth Century Emigration of Old Lutherans from Eastern Germany (German-American Genealogical Research Monograph No.7).

Hitherto unknown, there is, among the Johann Kilian documents at Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, a list of the 1853 emigrants, made by Kilian himself in Germany, before the people left. We can assume the list is accurate because Kilian made no later changes to the original list, while he did later (after coming to Texas) add notations to it about subsequent deaths and births. The list is a first draft; at the end, a few lines have been stricken, meaning they were not put into the final draft. This was Kilian’s standard method of writing letters and other documents to be sent away: he made a first draft, which usually included changes and stricken variants, and which he then copied to the final draft and mailed. The first draft was kept for his church archives. In this case, the list was probably made for the German government authorities, and the final draft sent to them. The list is in German; the following is my English translation. The pages of the original are tom around the edges and otherwise illegible in places. I have attempted to fill in (in brackets,'[ ]’) the missing information, using other records.

The villages mentioned are located in an area about twelve miles north-northeast of Bautzen; all are within a few miles of Klitten, which, with Weigersdorf, formed the nucleus of Kilian’s congregations. All can be found on modem (large­scale) maps, except Kolpen, which no longer exists (it was about halfway between Klitten and Hoyerswerda,and possibly Klein-Oelsa, which is very small and adjoins Klitten to the south. All were in the Kingdom of Prussia.

In regard to the occupations given in the list: a ‘cottager’ (Hausler) was a poor person who owned a house, but little or no land. The next step up was a ‘gardner’ (Gartner) or ‘garden-owner’ (Gartennahrungsbesitzer), who owned a house and a small amount of land. A person with more land was called a ‘small farmer’ (Halbbauer) or ‘farmer’ (Bauer), depending on the amount.

B. July, 1853: Wendish Families Intend to Emigrate to Texas

From the Wendish weekly newspaper, Tydzenske Nowiny (later called Serbske Nowiny), published in Bautzen, July, 1853 (p. 240; my translation of the original Wendish). I am indebted to the Institute for Sorbian Ethnic Research in Bautzen and to its Director, Dr. Martin Kasper, for granting me access to their archives, and for making photocopies for me of many documents which interested me, including items B, C, and E, below.

‘From the district of Rothenburg: Some eight families from this district and that of Hoyerswerda, followers of the so called Old Lutheran Church, intend to emigrate to Texas in America at the beginning of next month. It is reported that they previously had intended to go to Australia, but the high transportation cost as well as disappointing reports about the disagreeableness of the Australian circumstances are the reason that they now have chosen Texas as their new home.’

C. August, 1853: Wends Leave Home by Train, Bound for Texas

From the same newspaper, Tydzenske Nowiny, August, 1853 (p. 273; my translation of the original Wendish):

From Bautzen: Last Monday, Aug. 29th, thirty-five Wends boarded a train here in order to leave their homeland and seek a new home in Texas in America. They all are from Prussian villages of Upper Lusatia, namely Kaschel, Reichwalde, Mücka, Kolpen, and Weigersdorf. Poor reports from Australia frightened them away from emigrating to that land, so they now are seeking the happiness in Texas which they did not find in the Wendish homeland. We hope that they will not sometime come to regret their undertaking, as some have who sought the lost paradise in Australia.’

D. Nov., 1853: Wends reach Galveston after Shipwreck off Cuba

From the German newspaper, Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, published in New Braunfels, Texas, Nov. 25, 1853 (my translation of the original German):

‘New Braunfels, Nov. 20th, 1853: Letters from Galveston bring us the sad news that the emigration ship Reform, which had departed on Sept. 4th from Bremerhaven with passengers for Galveston, ran aground off the coast of Cuba. All the passengers were saved; they were picked up by a Spanish ship and taken to New Orleans, from where they proceeded with the steamer Mexico to Galveston. However, they had lost all they had, since of their possessions nothing or only trifles were saved.’

E. The Kasper Letter, Describing the 1853 Emigration

The following letter, written by the brothers Johann and Hans Kasper [Casper], is the only account of the 1853 trip that we have which was written by any of the people themselves. The letter was published in Wendish in the Wendish newspaper Serbske Nowiny in early 1854, pp. 85 and 92. The Kaspers were evidently writing to a friend, who turned the letter over to the newspaper for publication. The Wends usually wrote in German, and this letter, too, almost certainly was originally in German (there is internal evidence of this; also, in the few cases where letters were written in Wendish, that fact was mentioned in the newspaper). The newspaper editor (the famous Wendish intellectual Ernst Schmaler [Smoler]) evidently translated such letters into Wendish for publication in the paper. The following is my translation of the published Wendish version. I have included, in square brackets, supplementary information, in order to make make this account of the trip as complete as possible.

‘Letter from America:

New Ulm, Austin Co., Texas, Dec. 26, 1853.

Dear Friend,

Since now, with God’s help, we have arrived in America, we shall not delay giving to you and to all who remember us with love a report of our trip and of our circumstances. -We arrived in Bremen Aug. 31 [after leaving Bautzen by train on Aug. 29th, see Item C, above] and stayed there two days. On the third day, we were transported onto a ship on the Weser River. We put to sea on Sept. 4; there were 90 passengers on this two-masted ship[the brig Reform, as mentioned in the article above, from the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, and in Leo Baca, Czech Immigration Passenger Lists, v. I, p. 33, which gives the captain’s name as P. Meyn and the number of passengers as 94, but does not list the passengers’ names]. Our voyage was very good, because we mostly had a good breeze. [About the birth of one child and death of another, see Kilian’s report, Item F, below]. But the 53rd day, Oct. 26th [Oct. 25th, according to Kilian’s report] at 11 o’clock at night, our ship hit a rock off the island of Cuba; its front part hung on this rock, but the back part was thrown back and forth by the waves and water was running with great force into the ship. As a signal of the distress that we were in, a lantern was quickly hung up, and since we were near the island, it was soon noticed. We had to stay in fear and danger on the wrecked ship for about four hours, and we would have had time enough to pull many things from the water, but nobody was thinking about saving possessions because no one knew if he would save his own life. At three o’clock in the morning, a small ship arrived which took us to land. Our possessions already were mostly in the water, and since the ship then soon sank, our possessions and trunks were all lost; only what we had on us and with us, such as clothes and bedcovers, were saved. – The island of Cuba belongs to Spain and is mostly inhabited by Spanish people. When we got to shore, we couldn’t communicate with anyone; we had to send for a [German] interpreter five English miles away. We were taken to the town of Neuwied [evidently the port Nuevitas], well cared for and richly bestowed with money and goods. After a three day stay, a steamer took us to the city of Havana, where we were very well received and given bountiful help by the German Society and by the [German] consul.

After three days, we were transported from Havana on a steamer to New Orleans and sent to the German society there. There, too, they looked after us well and clothed us from head to foot. The next day we traveled to Galveston, also by steamer [the Mexico, according to the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung article above]. On this occasion we also saw the famous Mississippi River. When we arrived at Galveston, each [adult] received six dollars from the [German] consul and each child three dollars, which money the German Society in Havana had sent there.

In Galveston we stayed a day and a night and then traveled on Buffalo Bayou to Houston. In Houston we quickly found wagons and [also] Mr. [F.G .] Seydler*, the master mason from Bautzen, and from there we traveled overland to New Ulm, where we arrived after a week. There are two Bautzeners [living] there as farmers, namely Mr. Seydler and Mr. [George] Helas [Helass]. We two brothers are working for Mr. Helas; we get half a dollar a day and good meals (meat and coffee three times a day). Christiana Kasper [Mrs. Hans Kasper] is also working for Helas and getting at present four dollars a month. Hanna Kasper [Mrs. Johann Kasper] with the children is living with a neighbor and is fine; her oldest daughter Helena is working for the neighbor and gets a dollar and a half a month and meals.

If anybody wants to come here, we would advise them not to travel from Bremen but from Hamburg. Generally it is said that the Hamburg ships are better provided with food than the Bremen ones. We experienced that, too, because the food was bad and there was little water. Our shipwreck must be attributed to the lack of order or the lack of skill on the part of the captain. As far as this area here is concerned, we like it; the earnings are good and there is great freedom in all things, both secular and spiritual. Everyone may exercise his religion according to his own knowledge and conscience, nobody asks you about your religion. The only thing everybody asks is if you can work. There are even churches and schools here. We also advise anyone not to drag along a lot of things, because you can get everything here; especially axes and such are better here than in Germany. It would be good to bring along clothing. Also, a person should not buy rifles unless they are very good. Here, everybody can go hunting, and rifles are both good and cheap. Whoever brings along a few hundred Thalers [German currency, roughly equivalent to dollars], can buy farms or real estate anywhere here, and whoever brings nothing along but his working hands can make his living.

Give our brother George our greetings, also all our good friends and acquaintances.

Johann Kasper, Hans Kasper

My address must be written in English: Mstr. Johan Kasper by Mstr. G. Helas, New-Ulm, Austin County, Texas.


*Three Seydler brothers from Bautzen had come to Texas in 1849 (see Ethel Geue New Homes in a New Land German Immigration to Texas, 1847 – 1861 p. 133). Since one of the signers of the letter published in Serbske Nowiny in 1855, pp. 212f, 220, criticizing Kilian and the leaders of the 1854 emigration, was ‘F. G. Seydler’ (the oldest brother), it is probable that he is the one referred to here. George Helas [Helass] and his family also came in 1849, with the Seydlers (Geue, p. 80), and he, too, signed the mentioned letter.

F. Pastor Kilian’s Description of the 1853 Emigration

From the Kirchenblatt fur die Evangelisch-Lutherischen Gemeinen in Preussen (church newspaper for the Evangelical-Lutheran Congregations in Prussia), published April 15th, 1854 (pp. 98f.; the following is my translation of the original German) (Thanks are due to Bill Biar for finding this item and making it available both to Concordia Historical Institute and to me):

‘Pastor Kilian in Weigersdorf gives the following information about his former congregation members who emigrated to Texas in America in August of last year:

There have recently come from Texas, from these, our emigrated brethren, five consecutive letters, which give a fairly clear picture of their experiences and of their situation. Their voyage proceeded well, with favorable strong winds. The wife of the one brother [i.e., fellow Lutheran] gave successful birth on the ship on Oct. 6th [the birth of Agnes Matthiez; see Kilian’s list above, where the date of birth is given as Oct. 9th]; another brother lost a little son to death on Oct. 19th [this child is either Johann Krause, Johann Polnik, or August Seemann Polnik, all of whom died in 1853 or 1854; see Kilian’s list above]. They sailed past the islands of Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo towards the Spanish island of Cuba. Then the captain got off course and ran his two-master onto the rocks. On Oct. 25th [Oct. 26th, according to the Kasper letter above], at 11:00 o’clock at night, the ship ran aground so badly that it was wrecked and the hold filled with water, so that the boxes and beds were floating. Our people spent a most anxious night on the deck, fearing the worst at any minute, until towards morning a ship found them and rescued them. The wrecked ship, however, sank in the morning with the possessions. Our rescued survivors were first given shelter in the town of Neuwied [evidently Nuevitas] and then transported by steamer to the rich trading city of Havana. There they experienced an extraordinary amount of loving care. The German Society in Havana had the survivors transported by steamer to New Orleans and from there again by steamer to Galveston, paying $2,200 for their passage. Over and above this, the people then received another $500, which the German Society of Havana had sent there. Also, they were all outfitted with new clothing from head to foot in New Orleans. Now they are doing well in Texas.’

G. Pastor Kilian Reports that the 1853 Group gave the Impetus to the Larger 1854 Emigration

After arriving in Texas with the Ben Nevis group in 1854, Pastor Kilian wrote to Pastor C. F. W. Walther of the Missouri Lutherans, describing his trip. Walther published the letter in the Lutheraner (1855, p. 117; the following is my translation of the original German). Kilian preceded his account with a brief mention of the 1853 group and its influence:

‘It was in 1853 that thirty and some odd Wends, Prussian Lutherans, who had returned from the Prussian State Church Union to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, emigrated via Bremen to Texas, suffered shipwreck off the island of Cuba, but escaped with their lives. In the winter of 1854, they wrote such favorable letters to their friends that now a group of more than 500 souls has followed them…’


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