Remembering Dr. Joe Wilson

The obituary written by George Boerger first appeared in the October 2018 edition of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter.

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Dr. Joe Wilson made incredible contributions to uncovering our Wendish history, a story he discovered through his Wendish bride, Adele Herbrich. Our paths crossed in 1986 when Weldon Mersiovsky pointed me in Dr. Wilson’s direction for help in my own family research. He was a help to me over the years and a wonderful person. Having great respect and esteem for him, I always referred to him as Dr. Wilson, even though I counted him as a friend.

Joe never sought the spot light. He was much happier researching and writing than mingling with large crowds of people. St. Paul Lutheran congregation welcomed Dr. Wilson’s expertise as he took on the task of translating birth, baptismal, confirmation and death records recorded by Rev. Jan Kilian and Kilian’s son, Rev. Herman Kilian. St. Paul members had as much respect for him as he had for them. It was a cherished relationship that lasted for decades and spanning three pastors.

Joe learned Wendish but it was probably only his fifth language. He studied French in college and in 2005, when he met my wife, he immediately spoke French to her. My wife commented that it was the way French was spoken around 1900 and he spoke it well. It had been more than 50 years since he studied the language in college, yet he retained it exactly. How is that possible?

One of Joe’s earlier and largest projects was translating from the old German script to English the baptismal records recorded by Rev. Jan Kilian. Kilian’s records were descriptive and meticulous, but so was Dr. Wilson. With a little help from a graduate student assistant, the records were translated word-by-word and phrase by phrase. Everything was proofed and reproofed, as Dr. Wilson wanted no errors. The result of this work was a book that has become the foundation of family research for many people of Wendish descent. Wilson’s quest for perfection has been immensely beneficial to users of the translated records.

In translating Kilian’s death records, it was a challenge to accurately translate cause of death because terms used in the 1800s were quite different to modern-day medical terms. But Dr. Wilson researched and deciphered Kilian’s words.

In the early 1990s, computers were not what they are today. While Joe employed the latest technology, the index was still prepared by hand, and that in itself was a major undertaking. There are several thousand entries of names including the baptized children, the parents, and the witnesses/sponsors/godparents. As an example of the challenges he faced with his translation project, the index lists six different Johann Noack’s, a Johann Ernst Noack, two Johann Hermann Noack’s, and a Paul Noack whose first name – Johann – was not recorded in the baptismal record. As anyone who has researched his/her Wendish ancestors has learned, the Wends often went by their middle name, and just as often their first and middle names would be reversed in records. Can you imagine figuring out if this is Johann Noack #3 or an additional Johann Noack? There were also seven Maria Noack’s! It would be enough to give me a headache!

Dr. Wilson was one of the great pioneers of research on our Wendish ancestors. While he is no longer with us, his work will outlast us all.

George Boerger

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Slavic Germans by Dr Joe Wilson

Notes on assimilation, discrimination, and self-awareness of Wends in Germany and Texas[1]

Joseph B. Wilson

The Wends, or Sorbs, of Germany are a Slavic group in what is now southeastern Germany, in the area called Lusatia (Lausitz), around the cities of Bautzen and Cottbus. They were surrounded and infiltrated by the German expansion to the east in the Middle Ages. Even in the most Wendish regions, the majority has been Germanized for centuries. The German melting pot has similarly absorbed Danes, French, and other Slavs. Originally, the Wends had a rich oral folklore, but the large number of dialects and a lack of a written language were critical disadvantages, and there was pressure from the victorious German government in the direction of Germanization. Thus the Wends mostly adopted the German language, names, and culture.

Over the centuries, the Wends were discriminated against in choice of professions and otherwise. By the mid-nineteenth century their situation had improved and was apparently little different from that of other rural Germans. At that time, many of them migrated to Texas. As can be seen from the Ben Nevis passenger list and from the baptismal records of the Texan town of Serbin, among the incoming Wends were pastors, blacksmiths, locksmiths, tanners, bakers, often with the prestigious title ‘master’ appended. In Texas, they could freely use the Wendish language in churches, schools, books and newspapers. While many were emotionally attached to Wendish, it was of little practical use, whereas German was not only the language of the majority of immigrants from Germany but also a major world language. Thus Wendish tended to be used less and less.

In Germany today, the word ‘Wends’ is felt, at least by some linguists and historians, especially in eastern Germany, to have a pejorative ring, and the word ‘Sorbs’ is often used instead. Neither term is very exact: many people are confused by the old German usage of ‘Wends’ to mean the many different Slavic nations on medieval Germany’s eastern borders, and say that the present Wends are the remnant of a mighty race that controlled a vast region. Actually, the present Wends of Germany stem from two different Slavic tribes which had settled in the north and south of Lusatia in the early Middle Ages. In Texas, the descendants of these people have always called themselves Wends,’ if not simply ‘Germans,’ and the rather artificial new term ‘Sorbs’ is unknown among them.

The Wendish language is linguistically situated between Czech and Polish, as its geographical location would suggest. Like Czech, it accents the first syllable of the word. It exhibits the Slavic case system with even more than the normal complexity, and has preserved some features that other Slavic languages have lost, such as a full range of dual forms (that is, special plural forms for two) in verbs, adjectives, and nouns, and an aorist-imperfect simple past tense. There has of course been a great deal of German influence, in word order and in loan-words like sula (Schule, school), farar (Pfarrer, clergyman), bur (Bauer, farmer), srybar (Schreiber, teacher), or such loan translations as horjewzac (aufnehmen, take up).

Wendish has a multitude of dialects which are grouped into two major divisions, ‘Upper Wendish’ (in the higher country of the south) and ‘Lower Wendish’ (in the lower country of the north). While speakers of the two major dialects can understand each other, the differences are great enough to have caused the development of two separate written languages. The Upper Wendish has been best preserved, both in Texas and in Germany.

Owing to the saturation of the Wendish area with German (and, earlier, the use of Latin in church services), written Wendish did not develop until the Reformation. Since that time, the written language has been largely in the service of religion. The first Wendish hymnbook was published in 1710, with 199 hymns; within 50 years, in its reprintings it had grown to 629 hymns. In 1838, 104 new hymns were added; in 1888, additional 84 appeared. In 1930, the hymns were rearranged and renumbered. This 1930 hymnbook was used until Wendish church services were forbidden under Hitler. As this miniature history of hymnology indicates, the Wendish cultural identity remained vigorous even in the period of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf, when the large Slavic minorities in Prussia were discriminated against in various ways.

The struggle to preserve Wendish intensified in the nineteenth century. Of the various writing systems which were tried, there remained a Lutheran one which adapted German spelling conventions to Wendish and used German (‘Fraktur‘) type, and a Catholic one which was based on Czech and used Latin type (with ‘s’ rather than ‘sch,’ for instance). Thus, two different spelling and printing systems developed, compounding the problems of the split into two major dialects.

In mid-nineteenth century, there were 150,000 people speaking Wendish among a million Germans in the area. At present, there are perhaps as few as 20,000 speakers left, but estimates vary widely and exact statistics have not been kept by authorities in East Germany or in united Germany. After World War II, the East German government supported the teaching of Wendish in some schools, but the decline in usage was not halted. Since the reunification of Germany, much of the government support for Wendish has been eliminated. There still are a few newspapers and books being published in Wendish, however. Since World War II, only the Czech-type spelling has been used.

The Wends came to Texas in mid-nineteenth century and settled in what is now Lee County. They formed a colony where both Wendish and German were used. They were conservative ‘Old-Lutherans’ who were scattered throughout the Southern (‘Upper’) Lusatian area, politically divided between Saxony in the south and Prussia in the north. Pastor Johann (Jan in Wendish) Kilian had been serving as pastor of all the Wendish Old Lutherans in Prussian Lusatia who did not wish to become part of the Prussian state church. In Lusatia, Kilian’s headquarters were at the neighboring villages of Weigersdorf and Klitten, each of which had its own church, and from there he traveled every few weeks to the areas of Spremberg in the west and Muskau and Cottbus in the north, to serve his congregations there. Each of these branch-congregations in turn was the focal point for the Old Lutherans of the surrounding villages. Thus, Kilian was the pastor of several thousand Lutherans in Prussia. Previously, he had served congregations in Saxony, so he was well known in scores of villages in both the Prussian and Saxon part of Lusatia.

The first Texas arrivals included several Lutheran families from Kilian’s congregations. They departed from Bremen on 4 September 1853, and after many misfortunes arrived in Galveston and Houston, where they were met by one of the earlier Wends and escorted from there to the Industry-New Ulm area where they stayed temporarily.

The 1853 emigrants wrote such favorable letters about Texas that, in 1854, over 500 of their fellow Lutherans decided to leave for Texas. To this end they entered into a formal alliance, constituting their group as a new Lutheran congregation and as an emigration society (for mutual financial help), and called Kilian to accompany them as their pastor. In September 1854, they traveled by rail from Bautzen to Hamburg, then by ship to Hull, on the east coast of England, then by rail to Liverpool on the west coast, where they were to embark on the large sailing ship Ben Nevis. Kilian and his family were unable to go with the group, because he had to face charges of instigation of emigration. Luckily, he was able to clear himself and caught up with the group in Liverpool. In Liverpool they got caught up in a cholera epidemic, which caused many deaths and pursued them all the way across the Atlantic. Their sailing was delayed and when they did sail, so many still were sick and dying that the captain took the ship to Queenstown, Ireland, where they spent three weeks in quarantine aboard the Ben Nevis and another ship, the Inconstant. When they finally arrived in Galveston in December, seventy-eight people had died. They proceeded by steamer to Houston where some of the poorer ones stayed, lacking the funds to go further. Others continued, on foot and in wagons, to the Industry area, where the earlier immigrants received them. Here, again, lack of money forced some to remain, while a nucleus group, joined by some of the 1853 emigrants, continued westward to the land which became Serbin: they bought a league of land in what is now Lee County, south of the present town of Giddings. Nearly all of those who stayed at first in the Houston or Industry area proceeded to the Serbin area as soon as they could afford it, usually after a few years. Even though the Industry area was about forty miles from Serbin, the people who stayed there formed a branch of the Serbin church, and for twelve years Kilian regularly visited them, preaching and performing pastoral services.

The Wends who emigrated were bilingual. German was used for nearly all business matters, sometimes even personal letters among family members. Wendish was used in church services alongside German. Pastor Kilian taught the school in Wendish and German. The congregational meetings, which doubled up as the government of the group, were held in Wendish through 1865. The minutes of these meetings, nearly all written by Kilian himself, are the main documents we have of the Wendish language in Texas. The official church records: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, were kept in German. The grave inscriptions, often lengthy and eloquent, were also in German (with one Wendish exception at Serbin). The other major category of documents in Wendish are the handwritten, page-long obituaries, called in German ‘Lebenslauf‘. These were read in church the Sunday after the burial. About 60 of those that are preserved are in German and about 215 are in Wendish.

The Wends of Texas tended to mingle with Germans rather than with the nearby Czechs or Poles. They called their community Serbin, meaning ‘Wendland,’ from the Wendish word ‘Serbja,’ which is of course related to the word ‘Sorbs.’ It should be noted that the Wends of Germany and Texas are not the same as the ‘Windish‘ (German Windisch) Slavs of the old Austrian Empire, presently called Slovenes. The major settlement of these Windish people in the United States is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The Wendish-German culture in Texas is a unique double heritage. It is often difficult to decide whether a given custom or saying is originally Wendish or German. The custom of the ‘birds’ wedding’ (usually called by the German term, Vogelhochzeit) was originally Wendish, but the ‘Rumplich‘ (Santa Claus), sometimes touted as specifically Wendish, was German (Knecht Ruprecht).

After 1880, it was mostly only older people that spoke Wendish on a daily basis. Wendish church services continued to be held (alongside the German ones) until 1920. From 1920 until about 1940 the world of the Texas Wends was almost exclusively German. Only after the transition to German had been completed, did English begin to make any kind of impression on the group. The final assimilation to English began slowly in the 1930s, and a bilingual German-English life began to evolve. German was the dominant language until the 1950s, and it was the language of the congregational meetings at Serbin until 1966. In the 1990s, German among the Wends is in the same situation as Wendish was in 1919: still used for church services for the elderly. Only a few old people still speak Wendish with any fluency, and even for them it was their second language, after German and before English. Some other people, whose home language was already German, know quite a few Wendish phrases and can understand quite a bit, but they are not speakers of the language.

Pastor Johann (Jan) Kilian, the leader of the Texas Wends, was a Wendish patriot but considered himself ‘just as much a German as a Wend’, as he once wrote. Thoroughly fluent in Wendish and German, he had become a figure of some importance in the development of the Wendish language and literature, translating works of Luther and other theologians, and writing religious poetry and hymns. He was a member of the Wendish scholarly society Maçica Serbskaja from 1847 until 1852, and was acquainted with the Wendish scholars Chr. Tr. Pfuhl and Johann Ernst Schmaler, with whom he corresponded from Texas. Pfuhl’s monumental Wendish dictionary of 1866 credits Kilian (pp. xvi, xxxi) with a ‘small collection of words.’

Here are some samples of Kilian’s Wendish poetry, with English translations:

Wojny Bo sapala,

Wojazy padaja,

Konz je mjer a dobycza radosz.

Wandrowski sprozny

Widzi dom wotzny,

Tam Bo spokoji styska a zadosz.

Wars will ignite,

soldiers will fall,

the end will be peace and the joy of victory;

The tired wanderer

will see his father’s house,

where his yearning will be satisfied.

In Spjewarske Wesselje [Songs of Joy, 1846], Kilian admonishes his flock to remain true to their language and faith. The refrain of the first song has become quite famous:

Sserbjo, sakhowajcze Bwjeru

Bwojich Wotzow Rycz a Wjeru.

Wends, preserve faithfully

Your fathers’ language and belief.

Kilian led the group in Texas from 1854 until his death in 1884. His oldest son, Gerhard, became schoolteacher in 1872. Another son, Hermann, succeeded him as pastor and continued the use of Wendish for church services until his own death in 1920. His successor, Pastor Hermann Schmidt, worked almost exclusively in German, although he spoke Wendish and used it in private pastoral services when necessary.

The Wends and other Germans of the Serbin area prospered after the initial difficult years. Pastor Kilian had personally joined the conservative (similarly ‘Old Lutheran’) ‘German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States’ (now called the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). The congregation formally joined this Synod in 1866, after being delayed, in part, by the Civil War. As the original congregation grew in the early decades, it spread for miles around the town of Serbin, and daughter congregations were formed: Fedor, Manheim, Warda, Loebau, Greens Creek, Winchester, and Lincoln. The Greens Creek congregation was too small to survive, but the others are still alive and well – especially the mother congregation, itself, St. Paul’s of Serbin, which is thriving.

Between 1900 and 1950, Serbin became so thoroughly German that its Wendish heritage was practically forgotten. Wendish was treated like the German dialect that a person’s grandparents might speak: a curious and useless relic. My parents-in-law used to say (in German), “Oh yes, the old Wends, those were the old people; my mother was Wendish. We are German.” In the 1950s, a new interest in Wendish began to develop and the Wendish heritage began to be cherished. Texas Wendish Heritage Society was founded in the 1970s and has flourished: it has about 500 members, quarterly meetings are attended by about 100 people, and it has maintained a museum (in Serbin, near the church), which has displays of old artifacts and a considerable collection of books and archival materials.

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Joseph B. Wilson is a retired Professor of German at Rice University and the author of Texas and Germany: Crosscurrents (1977).



[1] The best single book on the Wends in Germany and in Texas is George Nielsen, In search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration (Texas A & M 1989). I married into the Texas Wends nearly fifty years ago, and have studied their Wendish which was already in decline fifty years ago. In particular, I have been working on the manuscripts of the church archives of Serbin’s St. Paul’s congregation including Johann Kilian’s documents of the first thirty years of the Sorbian colony in Texas (1854-1883). The documents comprise several thousand ms. pages; of these, about six hundred pages are in Wendish. There are records of births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, as well as letters and minutes of meetings. I published a translated edition of some of these documents (Southern Historical Press 1985). Other volumes are forthcoming, including an annotated version of the Ben Nevis passenger register. Parts of this article have been adapted from materials I have previously published elsewhere.

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Unusual German Lexical Items for the Lee-Fayette County Are of Texas by Dr. Joe Wilson

This article by Dr Joseph Wilson, now retired from Rice University, first appeared as Chapter 8 in Texas Studies in Bilingualism, edited by Glenn G. Gilbert.

Unusual German Lexical Items

from the Lee-Fayette County Area of Texas[1]

In a previous article[2] I gave a general description of the German spoken in the area between La Grange (Fayette Co.) and Giddings (Lee Co.), Texas. It need only be repeated here that this is one of the most important German regions in the state, although it is frequently ignored in histories of the German element. The settlements are all the more interesting in that they are composed largely of German Wends (Sorbs), so that the language situation is threefold, with many of the settlers being trilingual in Wendish (a Slavic language), German, and English. The German spoken is a modified High German with relatively few peculiarities of phonology, morphology, and lexicon. Those peculiarities which are present are usually reflections of Ostmitteldeutsch (Obersächsish-Schlesisch)[3] or English.

 The purpose of this present paper is to supplement the previously given general description by listing all the unusual German vocabulary items I have been able to find which are still in common use in the German of the area. I hope soon to be able to publish similar lists of English words used in German (e g., die Fence) and of Anglicized usage of German words (e.g., Acker ‘acre’); therefore such items will not be included here. These materials come from my own conversations over a period of many years with natives of this region.[4] Since, as mentioned, Lee-Fayette German employs relatively few dialectal or otherwise unusual words, the following list is felt to have some measure of completeness and thus to give a serviceable idea of the nature and extent of the nonstandard vocabulary used.

 Besides adding interesting items that have eluded me, further research could make more exact studies to determine, for instance, the geographical distribution of the various items. Such studies would have to be based on carefully formulated questionnaires, for which this list might serve as a beginning. Since the deviations from Standard German (and from other forms of American and Texas German) are not numerous, the questionnaires would have to be designed to elicit information on these particular points.

 Another field for further research would be the clarification of the origins of the unusual vocabulary items. This can obviously be an almost open-ended project, since a single word can become a major research topic. As a first step in this direction, the items have been checked in Grimm’s Deutsches Wörterbuch, in Karl Müller-Fraureuth’ s Wörterbuch der obersächsischen und erz gebirgischen Mundarten, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1911-14), and in W. Mitzka’s Schlesisches Wörterbuch, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1963-65). The notations O (for Obersächsish), S (for Schlesisch), and G (for Grimm) mean that the item is found in the respective dictionary, though perhaps only as one of a number of variant forms given. If the usage is similar but not the same, the notation ‘cf. O (or S or G)’ will indicate this. It will be seen that most of the items are ostmitteldeutsch, but usually not exclusively so, as normally indicated by the listing in Grimm. Sometimes I have attempted to summarize in a word or two Grimm’s information about the occurrence of the item. The most challenging words are naturally those which are not listed in these dictionaries at all (although, of course, this may simply be due to the incompleteness of the latter). Here and there I have ventured a conjecture concerning the origin. When Wendish words are cited, they are given as in Filip Jakubaš, Obersorbisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (Bautzen, 1954).

 The items given are the common words used for the terms in question, generally to the exclusion of the more standard form (given as the translation); indeed, the latter is frequently not even understood. The gender is indicated only when it deviates from the standard. The glosses have been given in German since the items are frequently variant forms of standard words. When, in discussions of the interactions of words, the term ‘confusion’ is used, it is meant without negative value-judgement.



[1] I wish to thank the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Rice University, which jointly made it possible for me to spend a sabbatical year in Germany, during which time I was able to work on a number of projects, including this one.

[2] “The Texas Germans of Lee and Fayette Counties,” The Rice Institute Pamphlet, XLVII, No. 1 (April, 196O), 83-98.

[3] On the German spoken by the Wends in Germany (Neulausitzisch), cf. Günter Bellman, Mundart und Umgangssprache in der Oberlautsitz, Deutsche Dialektgeographie, Vol. 62 (Marburg, 1961).

[4] Cf. footnote l of my article, footnote 2 above. Any phonetic symbols used have their standard IPA values.

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du Älte ‘Alter’ (G), but Alterschwäche.

andonnern ‘anfangen zu donnern.’

angeschossen ‘betrunken.’

anstekig ‘ansteckend’ (S anstecklich).

Apfel, Äpfel, (plural of Apfel).

das or der Ast ‘der Ast.’

Aten, Aden ‘Atem’ (O).

gebaden ‘gebadet’ (O; G: rare, obsolete).

Bambel ‘Bummel’ (O Pampel). 

bechten,verbechten ‘verschwenden’ (O, S).

behacken, ‘mit der Hacke bearbeiten’ (G).

belockern ‘lockern’ (e.g., die Erde, mit der Hacke).

Beruf ‘Ruf’ (e.g., von einer Gemeinde an einen Pastor).

beschneiden also for ‘verschneiden.’

gebeten, gebetet ‘gebebet’ (gefragt substitutes as participle of bitten).

Bissel ‘Bißchen’ (O, S, G: süddeutsch, Südsachsen).

bläken [æ or ɛ] ‘blöken’ (O, S, G); bläkig ‘blökend, weinerlich’ (e. g., bläkige, Kinder, Kälber) (cf. S pläglich).

blöde [e:] ‘schüchtern’ only (G).

der Bobba, Bobbak ‘Schreckgestalt, schwarzer Mann’ (S); this Slavic word (bubak, the source of German Popanz) is widely used in Ostmitteldeutsch (cf. S), therefore it is reasonable to assume that the Lee-Fayette word stems from this usage, rather than being a recent loan from the Wendish.

brinkeln ‘krümeln’; brinklig ‘krümelig’; (cf. O, S).

Brummberre ‘Brombeere’ (O).

brühen ‘Wärme sammeln’ (e. g., die Federbetten brühen) (cf. S brühen ‘brennen’).

därf, därfen ‘darf, dürfen’ (O; G: oberdeutsch).

dawegen ‘sometimes for ‘deswegen.’

denn ‘dann’ (S; G: general).

derbe ‘sehr, schmerzhaft’ (e.g., das tut derbe weh) (G; O derb).

deshalb, deswegen ‘dennoch’ (O, G).

Deutschverderber (humorous) ‘Deutschsprecher.’

dichtig ‘tüchtig, sehr’ (G: widespread; O, S tichtig).

dienen ‘als Dienstmädchen arbeiten’ (G).

dorte ‘dort’ (O, G).

der Dummlack, ‘Dummkopf’ (O, S).

durch ‘vorüber’ (e.g., es ist schon fünf durch ‘fünf Uhr vorüber’) (O).

ei-ei childish expression used when caressing a pet or doll, like English ‘nice Kitty;’ ei Machen ‘liebkosen’ (e.g., Mach Kitty ei ‘streichle das Kätzchen’); (O, S, G).

Eichkatze ‘Eichhörnchen’ (S).

eine in plural (e.g., die haben die Sachen zu eine Leute gegeben, was sehr arm sind; so eine dumme Kinder!) (G: ahd, mhd, not nhd).

ermachen ‘schaffen’ (e.g., es ist zu spat, wir werden’s nicht mehr ermachen) (O, S, G).

etliche usually used rather than einige.

die Faulienza ‘Faulheit, vorgetäuschte Krankheit’ (punning on Influenza) (cf. O Faulenzia under Influenza).

Fenstern (pi. of Fenster) (O).

die Fliegenklietsche ‘Fliegenklatsche’ (G Klitsche), cf. klietschen.

er, ihr frägt [-ɛçt] ‘fragt’ (O, G).

der Fräß ‘Hautentzündung’ (d. S Fras).

Freischule ‘öffentliche (nicht-kirchliche) Schule’ (G).

der Früh ‘(früher) Morgen’ (e.g., den [nächsten] Früh sind wir zeitlich aufgestanden) (S, G).

fuffzig, fuchzig, fünfzig ‘fünfzig’ (O, G).

geben ‘aufgehen (von Teig)’ (G; O under Teig); das Kleid geht zu waschen ‘kann gewaschen werden’ (O, G).

genung [-ņk] ‘genug’ (also genug [-ʊx]) (O, S; G: mitteldeutsch).

ich gib [ɪ], ihr gibt [ɪ] ‘gebe, gebt’ (G: oberdeutsch, obsolete).

gramhaftig ‘geizig’ (S, G; O gramhaft).

Griewen (pl.) ‘Griefen, Grieben’ (O, S, G).

gut sein ‘bürgen’ (e.g., er wird für das Geld gut sein) (O, G).

Hausnam(e) ‘Familienname.’

Hefe, Hewe ‘Hefe’; eine Hefe is ‘ein Stück Hefe’; more generally the plural is used (cf. O).

heißen, pp. gehießen ‘heißen; befehlen’ (O, G); ausheißen ’empfehlen’ (e.g., einen Arzt); geheißen ‘befehlen.’

heita machen, gehen (childish) ‘schlafen gehen’ (cf. O Deidei ‘Bett’; S heiti gehen ‘mit dem Kind auf dem Arn spazierengehen’).

Henne, pl. Hühner; sing. Huhn seldom used except as in Sonntag gibt es Huhn zu essen; Hühner used at times as general plural, at times for ‘Hennen’ as opposed to Roosters ‘Hähne’ or Fryers ‘Brathähnchen’ (such confusion is widespread, cf. O, S, G).

herrlich ‘wählerisch im Essen’ (of persons and animals) (O, S).

heute [aɪ] ‘heute’ (O, G).

Hucke used only in the humorous answer to a request for the time of day: Viertel durch die Hucke, wenn du’s nicht glaubst, geb kucke! and not understood even there.

Hühnerfleisch ‘Huhn’ (as food) (G).

Ihr (or usually Sie) polite address to one person (G: Sachsen).

immer ‘schon, doch’ (e.g., fängt immer an!) (O, G).

jackern ‘plappern’; Gejackere, ‘Geplapper’; contrasts with gackern of chickens.

jagden jaxtņ] ‘jagen, auf die Jagd gehen’ (e.g., sie sind jagden gegangen; sie haben Eichkatzen gejagdet); contrasting with jagen in other senses (sie jagt ihn aus das Haus; die Kinder jagen rum).

(o) jau jau jau! expression of astonishment.

jukeln ‘langsam fahren’; Gejukele (e.g., ach, so ein Gejukele hat der da vor uns!) (S; cf. G jucken, juckeln).

Käfer often [v] (O).

kapṹt often for ‘kaputt.’

Kauwachs, ‘Kaugummi.’

kiáutschen ‘miauen’ (loud and irritatingly) (e.g., warum kiautscht die Katze so?).

sich hinklecksen ‘sich hinsetzen’ (humorous or in vexation) (cf. S klecksen, G klecken).

der Klesel ‘Kloß.’

klietschen ‘klatschen, schlagen’ (e.g., ich hab ihn eine hingeklietscht) (O; G, S klitschen); contrasting with (in die Hände) klatschen.

Klucke ‘Glucke’ (S, G).

Knirps [œ] ‘kleines hartes Körnchen; kleiner Mensch’; the first meaning evidently derives from confusion with variant forms of Knorpel (cf. S Knorps; G Knirps).

die Knoche sometimes for ‘Knochen’ (cf. O, S Knoche ‘Fuß, Hand’).

Kochwurst ‘Sülzwurst.’

Kornstäbler, Ko(r)nstapel ‘Sheriff, Konstabel.’

Krampel often for ‘Krempel’ (O).

der Kran (Wasser-) Hahn’ (G: niederdeutsch); contrasting with Hahn ‘rooster.’

das Kräutig ‘Krautwerk’ (O, S; G: ostmitteldeutsch).

kreideweiß! ‘Potztausend!’

krimmen often for ‘jucken’ (O, S, G).

die Krippe ‘Scheune’ (G, obsolete).

Kuffer ‘Koffer’ (O, G).

kuken, usually kucken ‘gucken’ (S; O guken).

küntstlich ‘künstlerisch.’

kurz ‘schachsinnig’ (e. g., die Alte ist bissel kurz).

Kusenk, pl. –e ‘Cousin’ (O).

Kuvert, pl. –e ‘Kuvert, Umschlag.’

Landsmann, common as form of address (e.g., wie geht’s, Landsmann?), but often taken to mean ‘Landmann, Bauer.’

lang often for ‘entlang’ (O).

langkommen ‘auskommen, vertragen’ (e.g., man kann mit ihn, gut langkommen).

lappig ‘schwach, krank’ (O, S).

Lehrers (pl of Lehrer).

Liichtkäfer ‘Glühwürmchen.’

Lotsche,lotschen often for ‘Latsche, latschen’ (S, G).

lulu machen (childish) ‘harnen’ (O, S, G).

sich machen as in es macht sich zu regnen ‘anfangen, im Begriff sein’ (cf. O).

Mädel [æ] or [ɛ], pl. -s, usually for ‘Mädchen’ (whose pl. is also -s) (O, S, G).

malen, only ‘farbig malen,’ not used for ‘anstreichen.’

Madratze often for ‘Matratze’ (O, G).

Mäuserimpel (pl.) a wild plant with small black berries, cf. Rimpel (O, S, G list similarly formed names of various plants).

meestern ‘befehlen, nörgeln’ (e.g., seine Frau tut ihn immer meestern), evidently from Meester (O), which has, however, been replaced in Lee-Fayette by Meister; berummeestern,‘planlos arbeiten, pfuschen.’

mehr, ‘mehrere’ (O, G).

meinem, also for ‘bedeuten’ (G: ahd, mhd), possible influence of English.

Messern (pl. of Messer).

Millich ‘Milch’ (O, S; G: mhd).

mupsig ‘mürrisch’ (S; O, G under mopsig).

Musikant ‘Musiker’; without the niedrigen Beisinn mentioned in G.

nach ‘zu’ (e.g., nach Großmutter gehn, nach die Tür gehn) (G).

nackig ‘nackt’ (O, S, G).

Nam(e), pl. Näme(n) (O, G).

Neeche, Neege, ‘Neige, kleiner Rest’ (O, S).

ich nimm, ihr nimmt ‘nehme, nehmt’ (G: oberdeutsch, obsolete).

nischt ‘nichts’ (O, S; G under nichtsnicht).

nuscheln ‘naschen, schnüffeln’ (e.g., die Kinder sollen nicht in den Kuffer nuscheln) (G; cf. O).

der Nutsch ‘Schnuller’ (O; G: schlesisch).

nutschen ‘saugen’ (O, S, G), also ‘winseln’ (S).

panschen (intr.), aus, verpanschen (tr.) ‘vergießen’ (e.g., pansch nicht so! sie hat die Millich ausgepanscht); Panschgans ‘Person, die etwas vergießt’ (cf. O, S, G panschen, ‘naß machen, Flüssigkeiten mischen, etc.’).

(herum-)pappeln ‘planlos arbeiten, pfuschen’; Gepappele.

(auf etwas) passen ‘aufpassen’. (S, G); aufpassen, is used when the preposition is absent (e.g., paß doch auf! but ich muß auf die Kinder passen).

Pastór, but with a name Pástor (e.g., Pástor Froehlich ist unser Pastór) (cf. G).

Pate often for ‘Patin’ (O, S, G).

die Patéte, pl. -n ‘Batate, sweet potato’; possibly from English potato, confused with Batate.

die Penne ‘Stall’ (e.g., Pferdepenne, Kuhpenne); evidently from Englisb pen.

die Pfoste, often for der Pfosten (O, S, G).

pinzeln, pimpseln ‘winseln’ (O, S, G): pinslig, pimpslig ‘weinerlich’ (S).

Platz often [b-].

der Plinz, pl. –e, or der Plinzel ‘Plinse, Pfannkuchen’ (cf. G Blinz, O Blinse, S Plinze; Wendish blinc).

plumpsig ‘plump, unbeholfen’ (cf. S plumpsch).

der Pojjatz. ‘Bajazzo, Hanswurst, Schelm’ (S Pojatz).

der Popphans, Pupphans ‘Hanswurst,’ evidently a form of Popanz (cf. O, G) with a shift of meaning.

der Pumps ‘Furz; ‘pumpsen, ‘furzen’ (O, S).

Puter, Puterhenne only, not Truthahn, -henne (O, G).

pussen ‘ärgern’ (e.g., das tut er mich zu pussen) (O, S, explained as zum Possen,a variant of Posse ‘Streich, Jux’).

putzig ‘niedlich’ (O; cf. S, G).

quackern ‘plappern’ (O, S, G).

Quarksack, Quarkschniete (humorous) ‘Kind’; cf. Schniete (cf. S; O Quarkkäse).

rankern ‘wühlen’ (e. g., die Kinder rankern im Bett um); ein-, verrankern, ‘zerwühlen’ (e.g., das Bett ist verrankert) (O, S, G); verrankern also ‘mit Ranken umschlungen’ (e.g., ein verrankerter Baum) (cf. G verranken).

rechnen also for ‘rechen’ (e.g., tu die Blätter zusammenrechnen) (G: tirolisch; cf. S rechen ‘rechen, rechnen’).

der Rimpel ‘kleine Kugel aus Dreck oder Mist’; possibly a diminutive of Rumpf ‘Körper, Stück’ (cf. S Rumpen ‘dicker Körper, großes Stück Brot,’ etc. and Rümpftel ‘Brotende, Brocken’); Rimpelroller [-o:-] ‘Mistkäfer.’

Roderhacke, ‘Rodehacke’ (S).

rösseln ‘hart arbeiten’; ein guter Rößler ‘ein fleißiger Arbeitet’; apparently from English rustle and hustle; however, cf. also G rüsseln ‘wühlen, sich ereifern’; O, S ruscheln ‘schnell oder planlos arbeiten’; Wendish rozsylnić ‘erstarken,’ rozžehlić ‘erhitzen.’

der Rumpricht, Rumplicht ‘Knecht Ruprecht, der Weihnachtsmann’ (S).

ruppen, röpfen ‘rupfen.’

Sá1amander ‘(English) gopher.’

Sálat (O).

sharnieren ‘genieren’ (S).

scheechen ‘scheuchen; spuken’ (e.g., tu die Hühner bissel scheechen; in das alte Haus sheecht es ‘Gespenster gehen um’); verscheechen ‘verscheuchen, erschrecken’; Gescheeche, ‘Vogelscheuche; Gespenst; unheimlich aussehender Mensch’; Scheechstunde ‘Mitternacht, Zeit der Gespenster’ (O, S; according to S this is the falling together of two different verbs, mhd schiuhen and schëhen).

die Schichte, ‘Schicht’ (G).

der Schiewer ‘Splitter’ (S; O, G Schiefer).

Schistérne ‘Zisterne.’

schmoken ‘rauchen, räuchern’ (S; cf. O schmoochen; G schmauchen; undoubtedly also influenoed by English smoke).

Schniete ‘Schnitte, Butterbrot’ (O, S, G).

Schwanz also used for small fish of any kind (e.g., wir haben nur paar kleine Schwänze gefangen).

schwänzeln ‘schmeicheln, herumkriegen’ (e.g., die Tochter hat so lange rum geschwänzelt, bis die Mutter getan hat, was sie wollte) (G).

schwänzig ‘ungleich’ (of the hem of a dress) (cf. G).

schwefen ‘spülen, schwenken zum Spülen’ (e.g., sich dem Mund ausschwefen; die Washmaschine tut nicht richtig schwefen) (O; S, G schweifen).

sehre often for sehr (O, G).

sein often for sind (O, S, G).

sechte schlafen ‘nicht tief schlafen’ (cf. S, G).

Sie as polite address only singular (pl. Ihr).

der Sieb often for das Sieb (G).

der Splinter ‘Splitter’ (smaller than Schiewer) (G; cf. O Splint, S Splind) possible influence of English splitter.

der Stechel ‘kleiner Stachel’ (as on roses) (G).

Stinkatze ‘Stinktier, Skunk’; modeled after Eichkatze?

strakt ‘gerade’ (e.g., ein strakter Weg, straktes Haar) (O, G).

Stück, pl. Stücken (O, G); the type fünf Stück ‘fünf Exemplare’ can refer also to persons (e.g., Wieviel Kinder sind da? Vier Stück).

tausend schlimm ‘sehr schlimm’ (humorous) (cf. O, S, G for similar usage of tausend as intensifier).

teita machen (childish) ‘Stuhlgang haben’; cf. heita machen.

telpsch, telpisch ‘tölpisch’ (S; O under tolpatschig).

tichschen ‘tückschen, schmollen’ (O, S, G); austickschen ‘seinen Dickkopf durchsetzen’; Tickschopf ‘Person, die schmollt.’

der Tiffel ‘Töffel, Dummkopf’ (cf. G Tüffel); tifflig ‘dumm’ (but cf. S tifflich ‘erfinderisch’).

Tóbak ‘Tabak’ (O, S, G; cf. Wendish tobak); Potz Tobak! ‘Potztausend!’

Tocht ‘Docht’ (O, S, G).

totgeben; totmachen ‘verenden, sterben; töten’ (of animals, for which sterben and töten are not used).

treist ‘dreist’ (S).

trmpeln ‘trampeln’ (O, S, G).

der Tschutsch ‘Schnuller’ (O under Zutsch); tschutschen ‘saugen, zutschen’ (S; O under zutschen).

tun as auxiliary (e.g., er tut fischen; tu nicht so lachen!; ich tät lieber weinen) (O, S, G: widespread).

etwas über haben ‘zu verwalten oder beaufsichtigen haben’ (e.g., er hat das Schlacten über) (O, G).

überfahren, übernehmen conjugated as separable verbs (e.g., er nimmt das Geshäft über; sie hat die Katze übergefahren) (G).

Umlauf ‘Entzündung am Fingernagel’ (S, G; O Umläufer).

verdeckt ‘verflixt’ (cf. G ‘verhüllt, böse’).

verdohlt, verdlollt ‘verflixt.’

verfrieren ‘(er-)frieren’ (e.g., die Tomaten sind verfroren) (S, G).

verpassen ‘vermissen.’

verplimpern ‘verplempern, verschwenden.’

verschwitzt also ‘beschlagen’ (of windows) (cf. S Fensterschweiß; O, G schwitzen; possible influence of English sweaty).

vor ‘bevor’ (G: rare).

vorfahren ‘überholen’ (e.g., er ist uns vorgefahren) (G).

vorübel, verübel nehmen ‘übelnehmen’ (O, S, G).

was the usual relative pronoun (e.g., der Mann, was da war) (O; G: mitteldeutsch).

Weg: in die Wege, ‘im Wege’; the standard construction evidently misunderstood as plural and reformed.

weich ‘krank, empfindlich’ (of the stomach) (cf. S).

Wellfleisch ‘gesottenes Fleisch vom eben geschlachteten Schwein’ (O, S).

wems, wem sein ‘wessen’ (O, S; G: widespread).

wenn also for ‘wann; als’ (O, S, G).

wir often [mir] (O; G: mittel-, oberdeutsch).

wissen: jemand etwas zu wissen lassen (e.g., laßt uns zu wissen, wenn ihr etwas braucht); evidently a confusion of wissen lassen and zu wissen tun (cf. O, G).

Wittfrau ‘Witwe’ (O, S; G: widespread).

geworden also for ‘worden’ (e.g., er ist beerdigt geworden) (G).

gewunken ‘gewinkt’ (O, S; G: widespread).

Wulle,wullen often for Wolle, wollen (O, S; G: widespread).

Zahnstecher ‘Zahnstocher’ (G: obsolete, rare).

zeitlich ‘früh, zeitig’ (O, S; G: widespread).

Zimmer felt to be on higher plane than the common word Stube (used for rooms of the home), thus reserved for ”better” rooms, e.g., Schulzimmer (G: obsolete).

zimmlich ‘ziemlich’ (G: various dialects).

Zimpelmütze often for Zipfelmütze (G).

zipflig, zjpplig ‘komisch, tölpisch, dumm’ (G).

zu Haus(e) gehn often for nach Haus(e) (O, S; G: widespread).

zurück: drei Wochen zurück ‘vor drei Wochen.’

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Wendish to German to English: The Texas Wends

This article by Joseph Wilson first appeared as part of Chapter 9, From the Other Side of ther Furrow: A Folk-Group Sampler in Texas Country – The Changing Rural Scene.  Edited by G. Lich and Dona Reeves-Marquardt (Texas A&M Press, 1986), pp. 221ff.

Introduction

Most Europeans coming to urban America managed to pass as Americans within one generation. In the city, they quickly learned to shed the quaint, distinctive features of the homeland, foremost among them the language and dress. They conformed to a new lifestyle, generally reserving old country habits and values for the privacy of their homes or churches. In the country, however, things are quite different. Immigrants may cherish vestiges of their home culture, marking the cadences of nature with the unique sound and structures of the native tongue, knowing that the neighbor over the hill – provided he doesn’t bum them out – will understand the concern for a good crop and a fine herd even if he doesn’t understand their language.

Language and culture seem to reflect each other. Wilhelm von Humboldt first asserted that “man lives with the world about him . . . exclusively as language presents it to him.” In order to understand a culture, first one must determine how language shaped a people’s construct of the surrounding world.[i] Language measures and dignifies the life-order of mankind; too often, not understanding the one has led to a break­down or the extermination of the other. In a pluralistic society such as in the United States, one group dominates smaller, subordinate groups to the degree that the smaller groups allow. When a group says “no” to efforts to subordinate heritage, culture, and life-order, language often remains that part of the baggage brought across the Atlantic that persists.

Early European immigrants recognized the good soil and healthful climate of Central Texas between the Brazos and the Colorado rivers. The area nurtures a rich ethnic mixture that today tolerates intermarriage across national and religious lines. That easy tolerance tends to swell the number of inhabitants with dual or multiple ancestries, the dominant group that tends to think of itself as “plain Texan.” But “no” has been heard in a variety of languages. Enter the country church at Serbin and find a Texan who yet regards the church as a bastion of culture; it supported grandparents in an alien country; it divided when they sensed their identity changing; it preserves the cyclical documents that mark life – baptism, marriage, death; it accepted their remains into its cemetery and marked graves in the language of the European homeland. Each generation sought its own identity in this quiet countryside, at a pace measured in decades rather than in years. The questions each generation of this tiny folk group asked would have been inaudible in a city.



[i] 17. John T. Waterman, Perspectives in Linguistics, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 67.

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Wendish to German to English:

The Texas Wends

Joseph Wilson

The Wendish Germans of Texas are in many ways unique. Typically, the immigrant communities in America maintained their language and their identity for a few generations and then accepted English and merged with the mainstream. The Texas Wends are different in that they first completed a transition from Wendish to German before starting the transition to English.[i] At the same time, they were making the transition from agrarian Europe to farms in Central Texas.

The main immigration of Wends into Texas took place in 1854, when nearly six hundred made the hazardous voyage together on one ship, the Ben Nevis, under the spiritual leadership of their pastor, John Kilian. The Wends (also called Sorbs) had been an ethnic minority group in Germany: Slavs who had been encircled by Germans centuries ago, and who over the centuries were being assimilated into the “German melting pot” (which had absorbed Poles, Czechs, Danes, French, and others) in the same way that ethnic groups were being assimilated in America. In the Germany of 1850 most of the Wends had long since become Germanized: they had given up their Slavic language for German, they had intermarried with the other Germans, and in general they had become indistinguishable from them. Sometimes their sur names might offer a clue as to their original Wendish origin, but usually even the name was no evidence. For one thing, intermarriage naturally brought purely German names in. And some originally Wendish names had been Germanized. Even left in their Wendish form, the surnames “looked German,” because Wendish was written with conventions of German spelling, and because German surnames, like American ones, have varied origins. However, in 1850 there were still about 150,000 unassimilated Wends in Germany who still spoke Wendish principally and had preserved some of their original folklore and customs.[ii] Even among these, naturally, the German language and German customs had made many inroads. Just as, in this country, English is the key to education, business success, and many other facets of life, in Germany, German was the key to upward mobility. Consequently, even these remaining “unassimilated” Wends were bicultural and largely bilingual. They felt the mixed loyalties any minority group feels. On the one hand, they felt that they were Wends and different from the Germans among whom they lived, but on the other hand they felt that they, too, were Germans, in a broader sense. That the Wends considered themselves to be Germans is clearly demonstrated in many ways: for example, by the fact that in every instance of Wendish immigration, into whatever country, the Wends always joined the other Germans.[iii] This kind of double identity should be easy enough for us in America, with our many ethnic groups, to understand, but it was an even more natural situation in the Europe of the nineteenth century, when nations often contained the most varied ethnic and linguistic groups within their borders, so that there frequently was an ethnic and linguistic difference between the village and the nation.

The Wendish Germans, who spoke Wendish at home and had to learn German for higher purposes, were not in such a very different position from most other Germans who spoke a dialect at home and standard German in school and business. And, like our Yankees and southerners, north Germans will often, even today, express contempt for Bavarians – and vice versa – but then unite against a common foe, realizing that they are both Germans. In very much the same way, a Wendish German might be angry with a non-Wendish German one day and join with him as a fellow German the next day.

As is unfortunately to be expected with any minority group, there was at times discrimination against the Wends and overt pressure on them to give up their language for that of the majority, but there was apparently little, if any, discrimination against them in Germany at the time of the immigration to Texas, contrary to what is sometimes stated.[iv] There is a similar, persistent, pious myth that the Wendish Lutherans who immigrated to Texas did so for purely religious reasons because they were being forced to join the amalgamated church of the Prussian state. George Nielsen in his work on Wendish migration has called attention to the fact that, at the time of the immigration to Texas, religious minorities in Prussia had the freedom to form “free churches,” and the Wendish Lutherans had long since done so.[v] This is not to say that a desire for greater religious freedom played no role in the migration, merely that this role has been overstated. Similarly, in regard to their economic situation, the Wends surely hoped for improved opportunities in America, but it is wrong to say that they had been living in virtual slavery in Germany. Even a casual glance at the passenger list of the Ben Nevis will show that there were landowners, mill owners, and master blacksmiths among them.[vi] Most were, to be sure, not so well off as these, but poverty was, after all, the general state of the masses in Europe. Pastor Kilian would hardly have applied to return to Germany to reassume a position in a Wendish congregation, as he did in 1864, if there had been significant religious oppression and ethnic discrimination.[vii]

When they came to Texas, the Wends naturally continued to consider themselves a subset of the Germans. As a matter of fact, they even still considered themselves Prussians and Saxons, respectively, depending on which of these two German kingdoms they had come from. Their first official action as a congregation, after boarding the ship for Texas, was to elect their leaders; for this they divided into two groups, Prussians and Saxons, and each group elected its own proportionate number of leaders. The minutes of this action were taken in German, and German continued to be used for most such official written purposes (baptismal records, marriage certificates, and the like) for the next hundred years in Texas, as it had been in Germany.[viii]

Wendish was, however, used for the minutes of the early congregational meetings. After a long and grief-filled voyage, the Wends were met in Houston by the German pastor, Caspar Braun, and members of his congregation, who helped them find food and shelter and passage onward. They made the ox-cart trip from Houston into the interior in small groups, making stopovers on the way at other German settlements such as Industry and New Ulm. Some stayed temporarily, and a few permanently, in these places; however, within a few months, most had gathered at or near what came to be called Serbin, in what is now Lee County. At that time, the area was part of Bastrop County, and for about two years, before the word Serbin was coined, the community simply called itself the Wendish Settlement. Although the region was largely wilderness, most of the geographical features already had English names – Low Pinoak Creek, Rabb’s Creek, Bullfrog Creek, Knobb’s Branch ­ and these names were used for giving the location of a person’s farm, naturally adapted into Wendish or German, Farmarja pschi Bullfrogu, or eines Farmers am Bullfrog, “of a farmer on Bullfrog Creek.”

Wendish was naturally written with the conventions of German spelling.[ix] Wendish books were printed in the standard ornate old German type, and handwriting was in the old German style. But, as was also the standard German usage of the nineteenth century, “Latin” print and handwriting, quite similar to those used for English today, were also often used for special purposes – proper names, foreign (not Wendish or German) words, and the like. The spelling of Wendish in Germany today has been changed radically, in a way that makes it look less like German and more like Czech; the Texas Wends, of course, never used this spelling. As examples, the surnames that were, and still are, spelled (in Texas) Pietsch, Schelnik, and Zieschank, would be Pič, Šelnik, and Cišank according to the new orthography, and would look very strange to the Texas Wends who bear these names.[x]

When they settled in the Serbin area, the Wends continued their intimate relationships with the other Germans nearby. Some organized German Methodists, whose more emotional preaching and services attracted a few of the Wends away from Kilian’s stately Lutheran services, were a major cause of the first split of the congregation.[xi] On the other hand, Kilian served for years as a kind of circuit-riding minister to various groups of German Lutherans nearby and even as far away as New Ulm and Industry, some forty miles away. These other Germans were evidently mostly not Wendish. Each year thereafter, more Germans ­ Wends and others – joined the group. The pastor’s records, all in German, make no distinctions between Wends and others or between members of the Serbin congregation and nonmembers.

The following is a typical random sample of the surnames of settlers mentioned in the early records as being from the Serbin vicinity: Gröschel, Schulze, Matthiez, Kappler, Miertschin, Wünsche, Urban, Lehmann, Melde, Menzel. Presumably all these people were Wends, but the surnames give no direct indication. Nor do the given names, which are all standard German names: Magdalena, Andreas, Hanna, Matthaus, Dorothea, August, Johann, Carl, Ernst. The Germanization of the Wends had already proceeded to the point that they were voluntarily using German names almost exclusively. Only a few names still had double forms, such as Jan for use in Wendish and Johann for use in German, or Jurij and George. In the great majority of the cases even in a Wendish context the German form is used, naturally with the necessary Wendish inflectional suffix, if required, as Ernstej, “to Ernst.”[xii] And even in those cases where there was a different Wendish form available, the people themselves evidently preferred the German form, perhaps because it was too much trouble to keep up with two different forms. Pastor Kilian, a learned man, always signed his Wendish documents as Jan Kilian and his German ones as Johann Kilian, and his English ones as John Kilian, and similarly shifted between, for instance, Jurij and George, when he was listing people’s names, and when there was a different Wendish form available. But in the few cases in the Serbin records where the people signed their names themselves, they almost always used the German form, even in a Wendish document. To sum it up again: it is impossible to tell from the Serbin records whether any individual person is Wendish or “pure” German. The linguistic preference, Wendish or German, of the individuals cannot be determined from the records either. Presumably in the majority of the original families, the normal home language was Wendish, but in some it was German, and it is quite clear that nearly all were bilingual.[xiii]

Since they quite naturally joined the other Germans in Texas, their German-Wendish bilingual world, with German the culturally dominant, more official language, continued in Texas as in Germany. They joined the conservative German Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod, all of whose dealings were in German – its church services, schools, seminaries, books, newspapers, and correspondence. As in Germany, the tendency of Wendish to die out and be replaced by German continued – indeed, it accelerated. Any bilingual situation like this was going to produce squabbles – and, of course, all kinds of other disputes – in Serbin. But the complicated struggles there, which twice resulted in the split, and later reunification, of the congregation into Saint Peter’s, which was more “German,” and Saint Paul’s, which was more “Wendish,” revolved about the most varying factors; they were not at all simply the result of “ethnic-German” opposed to “ethnic-Wend,” as is sometimes stated.[xiv] This is abundantly clear from the fact that at the time of the second split (in 1870, which involved more of a Wendish-German clash than the first one had), both congregations conducted services in both languages – Saint Paul’s continued its practice of German and Wendish services every Sunday, and Saint Peter’s did so for several years, before discontinuing the Wendish because of the difficulty of finding a pastor able to preach in it. Both churches continued to consist of both Wends and Germans.[xv] When language usage did materially enter into the dispute, as in regard to the language of the congregational meetings, many of those favoring exclusive use of German were ethnic Wends, who felt they were being progressive in giving up what seemed to them to be a useless dialect. And even those Wends who clung most tenaciously to their Wendish wanted their children to be educated in German.[xvi] Clearly, it was only a matter of time before German would replace Wendish altogether.

By the 1880s the use of Wendish in the homes had largely been replaced by German, even when both parents spoke Wendish. From then on, Wendish was relegated almost exclusively to the older generation; although Wendish services were still held until 1920, the Texas Wends had been completely Germanized. Until approximately 1940 their world was almost totally German. Not only were their churches, their schools, their festivals, and their weddings completely in German (with the marriage certificates and other such documents in German), but even their local newspapers were in German.

All this time – during the “first transition,” to German – the use of English was practically nil among the Wends, except for the geographical terms (creek, branch) and new concepts (Smokehaus, Fence). Nevertheless, after about 1890, most people began to learn some English, because, after all, there were Anglos and blacks around who did not speak German, although a surprising number of both categories did. The “second transition” was beginning, although English was not to become dominant until the 1950s and 1960s. Nearly all of the Wends born between 1890 and 1940 became fluent in German and English, with German their originally stronger language, and those who still heard Wendish at home became trilingual – truly a remarkable situation.

The most eloquent and visible testimony to the Germanness of the Texas Wends is given by the cemetery in Serbin. All the older grave inscriptions, from the 1860s on, including the graves of the original old settlers from Germany, are in German, usually with lengthy Bible quotations or hymn verses. Only one, from 1889, is in Wendish; like the German ones, it is in beautiful Gothic letters. The cemeteries of such daughter congregations as Fedor, Warda, and Winchester are similar. Besides the one Wendish inscription at Serbin, the only use of Wendish I have found on a gravestone is in a single bilingual German ­ Wendish inscription in the Old Warda (Holy Cross) cemetery. The inscriptions naturally also bear witness to the rigors of pioneer Texas and to life’s continuing ironies. One stands over the common graves of three young brothers and sisters, who all died within a week, undoubtedly from one of the yellow fever or other epidemics; two others honor young World War I soldiers, both killed shortly before the end of the war, fighting for their new homeland against their old homeland, now resting forever beneath beautiful stones, one in English, one in German. The gravestones also graphically depict the second transition, to English. The one soldier’s stone is among the earliest in English, although there is a beautiful bilingual English-German stone from 1891. There are a number of English stones from the 1930s, but German continued its dominance until the 1940s and 1950s; it was used extensively even during World War II and long after. The latest German inscription to my knowledge, in Serbia is from the year 1963 -108 years after the immigration.

German was used as the exclusive language of the congregational meetings at Serbin from the mid-1860s until 1966, long after the other German congregations of the area had gone over to English. For the next three years, both German and English were used, with the minutes kept in both languages. Since 1969, only English has been used. This amazing language-loyalty to German at Serbin is the reason I have often referred to Serbin as “the most German place in Texas.”

The German-Wendish surnames have, of course, been retained by the descendants of the Wends, usually without any changes except for the normal anglicization of the German umlauts, as in Groeschel for Gröschel. The names have always been pronounced in German fashion; this is becoming a problem now that many of the younger generation have little knowledge of German, and because dealing with non-German-speakers has become common. In the 1920s a few people began giving their children English first names, even in instances where the family language was still German. Serbinites and others from the area born in the 1920s and 1930s, who were nearly all raised in German, will have either English names like Leonard or Milton or Victor or German ones like Christoph, Helmut, or Hedwig. After the late 1930s English names predominated, but even in the 1940s and in some case much later, some children were still being given German names.

Old Wendish and German Bibles, hymnbooks, and prayerbooks are common family heirlooms, but the bilingual catechisms – the basic books of religious instruction – offer especially visible witness of the two transitions in Serbin. From the time of the immigration through the early 1900s, bilingual Wendish-German catechisms were common throughout the book, facing pages give the Wendish and German versions of Luther’s explanations of the Lord’s Prayer and the sacraments. Since some of the children were confirmed in Wendish and others in German, the same books could be used for both groups. In the 1930s these were replaced by bilingual German-English versions, as some children began to be confirmed in English. Nowadays, they are simply in English.

Another such cyclic repetition is seen in the language usage of the family. In the 1880s and 1890s when Wendish was being displaced, parents bilingual in Wendish and German raised their children in German, but often used Wendish with older people and between themselves, frequently as a kind of secret language to keep the children from understanding – which ensured, of course, that the children learned some Wendish.[xvii] A generation or two later, from the 1940s right down to the present, this family scenario was being and continues to be repeated, but now with the roles being played in German and English.

The end of the second step of this historic integration process is still in progress. We are fortunate to be able to witness the living use of German in Texas. Serbin and five other churches in the area still conduct German services regularly every other Sunday or once a month; these are well attended, although naturally mostly by middle-aged or older people. Before and after the services the people talk together in German or English. Many still prefer German at home. There is even at least one person, Carl Miertschin, left in Serbin who is still fluent in Wendish, as well as in German and English. The use of German is still taken for granted in these communities. Even to the young people who speak only English, it seems natural to hear their elders speak German. However, in the not-too-distant future, when all the German speakers in the area have died, their descendants will surely marvel that their forebears – on this same Texas soil – spoke German, and before that, in many cases, Wendish.



[i] The same is true of the Wends who immigrated to other places, mainly Australia, Canada, and South Africa. The major difference is that these other Wends went in smaller groups and simply joined German communities, whereas the Texas Wends were numerous enough to form their own community and thus to use and preserve Wendish longer. See George R. Nielsen, In Search of a Home: The Wends (Sorbs) on the Australian and Texan Frontier, Birmingham Slavonic Monographs, no. 1 (Birmingham, England: Birmingham University Press, 1977), pp. 2, 56 ff, 99 ff. This book is the most detailed and accurate source of information on the Texas Wends and the other Wendish immigrations.

[ii] Nielsen, Search, p. 11.

[iii] Nielsen, Search, passim.

[iv] Gerald Stone, The Smallest Slavonic Nation: The Sorbs of Lusatia (London: Athlone Press, 1972.), p. 19; Anne Blasig, The Wends of Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1954), p. 11.

[v] Blasig, Wends, p. 11; Nielsen, Search, pp. 60 ff.

[vi] The list is reproduced in English in Blasig, Wends, pp. 92 ff.

[vii] Nielsen, Search, p. 90.

[viii] Serbin Papers, Archives of the Texas District Offices of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Austin, Tex. (hereafter referred to as Serbin Papers).

[ix] There also was a system of spelling Wendish with a Czech-based orthography, which was used by the Catholics; Stone, Slavonic Nation, p. 120. Both systems have their relative advantages; the German-based system was easier, since the Wends had to be able to use both languages, and thus could use the same spelling system for both.

[x] In Germany today, either spelling may be used for such proper names; Stone, Slavonic Nation, p. 163. Undoubtedly, most people will continue to use the traditional German form.

[xi] Nielsen, Search, pp. 87ff.

[xii] The –ej is a dative suffix. Wendish is a highly inflected language; the person who does not understand how to interpret the many suffixes and other inflectional changes will make false interpretations of Wendish words and names. Thus, the title pages of Pastor Kilian’s Wendish printed works sometimes give his name in genitive form as Jana Kiliana, but the uninflected normal Wendish form is Jan Kilian.

[xiii] Nielsen, Search, p. 91.

[xiv] Thus while admitting a multiplicity of factors, W. H. Bewie, Missouri in Texas (Austin: Texas District Offices, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, 1952), p. 11, says that the “real cause” of the 1870 split was “a language question.”

[xv] Kilian letter to Buenger, Nov. 15, 1873; Kilian’s declarations read to the congregational meeting of Jan. 16, 1870, Serbin Papers.

[xvi] Kilian’s notes for the congregational meeting of Aug. 8, 1869, Serbin Papers.

[xvii] My late mother-in-law, Emma Zoch Herbrich, born in 1885, grew up in this typical family setting. My father-in-law, Paul Herbrich, also born in 1885, heard little Wendish at home because his father, Ernst Herbrich (Herbrig), spoke only German, even though he was as a child one of the original Wends who came over on the Ben Nevis. Both always considered themselves German; if asked about the Wends, they would typically reply, “Oh yes, those were the old people; my parents were Wendish.”

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Wendish Language Gravestones at Serbin and Old Warda by Prof. Joseph Wilson, Rice University

First published in the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter, Vol II, No. 4 of July-September 1981.

 In Texas, as had been the case in Germany previously, the Wends used German as their more official language. Therefore it is not surprising that their grave inscriptions were also in German. Until about nine months ago, I believed that there were no Wendish-language gravestones at Serbin. The only use of Wendish I had found at all was on a bilingual German and Wendish stone in the Old Warda (Old Holy Cross) cemetery,[1] which will be described below. However, last fall, while completing an article on the Wends and their gravestones, I made a last search at Serbin cemetery for any use of Wendish — and was happy to discover a beautiful Wendish inscription, apparently the only one, and previously unknown. The stone is unfortunately broken at the base and in the middle, but could probably be easily restored. This grave is not one of the oldest, but rather is from 1889 — 35 years after the arrival in Texas. It is located in the easternmost row, approximately the 19th stone from the south end. The grave is that of a not-quite-eighteen year old young man, Emil A. Miertschin, (an uncle of the present Carl Miertschin), and even today we feel the sorrow of such an untimely death. The inscription which is in beautiful Old-German letters (called “Fraktur” or “Gothic”), reads:

Tudy wotpocžuje we tym Knesu

Emil A. Měrčin[2]

rodź. 20ty Nov. 1871 (rodźeny-born)

wumr. 15ty Okt. 1889 (wumrěł-died)

Krystußowe ßwjate rany, te ßu moja khowanka,

hdžež wšo budže nawakane, štož me wjěčnje wokřewja,

Krystus z ßwojim čerpjenjom, je nam prawdoć před Bohom.

Teho kiž to prawje wěri, njeńdže z njebjeß njewučeri.

The spelling is the 19th century Lutheran Wendish standard, as was used by the Wends in Germany and Texas. It was naturally based on German spelling and differs considerably from modern Wendish spelling, which looks more like Czech or Polish. The 1etter “ß” is the German letter for “s;” it is often transcribed as “ss” or “sz.”

The line before the name means “Here rests in the Lord.” The verses which follow are the third verse of hymn 488 of the old Wendish Hymnbook. This hymn is a translation of the German hymn 413, “Lasset ab, ihr meine Lieben, lasset ab von Traurigkeit,” which is apparently unknown in English.

In the German, the third verse reads:

In des Herren Jesu Wunden hab ich mich geschlossen ein,

da ich alles reichlich funden, wodurch ich kann selig sein,

Er ist die Gerechtigkeit, die vor Gott gilt allezeit;

Wer dieselb’ ergreift im Glauben,

Dem kann nichts den Himmel rauben.

A literal (non-poetical) translation of the Wendish verse would be: . . .

“Christ’s holy wounds, they are my refuge, there

where everything will be found, which will eternally refresh me. ­

Christ with his suffering is our justification before God

he who believes correctly in that,

nothing will drive him out of Heaven.”

-0-

The bilingual Old Warda inscription reads as follows:

Maria Schoppa[3]

geb. 23. Jan. 1840

gest. 15. Jan. 1881

Wie wohl ist mir, o Freund der Seelen,

wen(n) ich in Deiner Liebe ruh’.

Kak ßbožny ßym, dyž wotpocžuju,

moj Jesu, w Twojej luboszi.

Here the verse, first given in German, then in Wendish is from hymn 262 of the German hymnbook and 441 of the Wendish. In this case there is an English equivalent, hymn 362, where these lines are rendered:

”My soul’s best friend, what joy and blessing,

my spirit ever finds in thee.”

A more literal translation of the Wendish would be:

“How blessed I am when I rest,

my Jesus, in thy love.”

It is noteworthy that these two Wendish-language inscriptions, probably the only ones in Texas, are from the 1880s a generation after the arrival here. The oldest stones at Serbin are from the 1860s, and are all in German. We unfortunately know nothing about the grave markers of the first few years, which have all been lost, possibly because they may have been made of wood.[4] We can only assume that they, too, were in German. The factionalism of the 1860s which was based partly on language preferences, was, in the 1880s, long past, so there seems to have been no external reason for the use of Wendish in these two cases; the motivation was, no doubt, simply the individual devotion of the two families to Wendish.

Footnotes:

[1] Commonly known as Boon’s Creek.

[2] Emil August who died of kidney disease. No Kilian obituary exists for him.

[3] John Kilian obituary 181.

[4] There are approximately 150 gravesites not marked before 1868.

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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.

Note:

*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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The Wends In Germany and In Texas

This article was first printed, with Dr Wilson’s permission and consent, for the Krause family History, Shipwreck to Settlement, in 1990.

The Wends or Sorbs of Germany are an originally Slavic group in what is now southern East Germany, in the area called Lusatia (Lausitz), around the cities of Bautzen and Cottbus. They were surrounded and infiltrated by the German expansion to the east in the middle ages, and consequently have been living in and among a German majority population for about six hundred years. Even in the most Wendish areas, the majority has been German for centuries. It was inevitable long since, that the Wends would be assimilated into what might be called the German melting pot, which has similarly absorbed Danes, French, and Poles. For the Wends, the Germans were not only numerically superior but also culturally: for several centuries, while Germany and the German language were among the cultural leaders of the world, the Wends did not even have a written language. It is not that the Wends had no culture; indeed, they did ­ they had a treasure of folklore, customs, and folksongs, but it was only oral. The lack of a written language was a critical disadvantage. Naturally, there also usually was considerable pressure from the Germans and the German government in the direction of Germanization of the Wends and other minorities (compare the similar pressures on minorities in the United States to become Anglicized). Thus, partially forced and partially willingly, the Wends quite naturally more and more took on the German language, German names and German culture.

As also is commonly the lot of minorities, the Wends were often discriminated against, in choice of professions, in housing, etc. However, by the mid-19th century their situation had greatly improved and was apparently little different from that of other rural Germans. As can be seen from the Ben Nevis passenger list and from the Serbin baptismal records, the Wends who left for Texas had been practicing many professions (pastor, blacksmith, locksmith, tanner, baker, etc., often with the prestigious title ‘master’ appended, as in ‘master miller’), and some were property owners (f. ex., ‘mill property owner’). They were not prohibited from using their Wendish language; it was used in churches, schools (at least to a limited extent), books, and newspapers. While many were emotionally attached to Wendish, there were many incentives to abandon it, since it was of little practical use, while German was not only the language of the majority, but also a major world language.

In Germany today, the word ‘Wends’ is felt, at least by some linguists and historians, to have a pejorative ring, and the word ‘Sorbs’ is often used instead. Neither term is very exact: many people are confused by the old German usage of’ Wends’ to mean any of the many different Slavs on medieval Germany’s eastern borders, and say that the present Wends are the remnant of a mighty race that controlled a vast region. Actually, the present Wends of Germany stem from two different small Slavic tribes which had settled in the north and south of Lusatia in the early middle ages. In Texas, the people have always called themselves Wends, if not simply Germans, and the rather artificial new term ‘Sorbs’ is completely unknown.

The Wendish language is closely kin to the other Slavic languages, linguistically situated, as its geographical location would suggest, between Czech and Polish. Like Czech, it accents the first syllable of the word. It exhibits the Slavic case system with even more than the normal complexity, and has preserved some features that other Slavic languages have lost, such as a full range of dual forms (that is, special plural forms for two) in verbs, adjectives, and nouns, and an aorist-imperfect simple past tense. There has of course been a great German influence, in a more obvious way such as in recognizable loan-words like sula ‘Schule’ (school) and farar ‘Pfarrer’ (clergyman) and less obviously in older loan­words (f.ex. bur ‘Bauer’ (farmer), srybar ‘Lehrer’ (teacher) from Schreiber), loan-translations, f.ex. horjewzac ‘aufnehmen’ (take up), and in word order.

Like most languages in Europe, Wendish is, of course, split into a multitude of dialects, almost with a different dialect for every village. These many village dialects then are grouped into the two major divisions ‘Upper Wendish’ (in the higher country of the south) and ‘Lower Wendish’ (in the lower country of the north), this linguistic division being a result of the derivation from two different tribes. While speakers of the two major dialects can understand each other, although often with difficulty, the differences are great enough that from the beginning, two separate written languages have developed. This has naturally been a serious impediment for the development of Wendish, which already had enough problems.

Since the Wends had essentially always been ruled by and surrounded by Germans, and since they had no written language of their own for such a long time, the German language had always been used for all higher purposes. Not until the Reformation, with its desire to proclaim the Gospel to the common people and with the rise of learning and the invention of printing, were there efforts to devise a Wendish written language. And even thereafter, right down until the present, the written language has been largely in the service of religion. Even after the Reformation, it was a slow and continuous struggle to develop a written form for what must have seemed to many to be useless dialects. This struggle was particularly acute in the 19th century, when, for the first time, really serious efforts were made to establish and propagate the Wendish written language. Various writing systems were tried, which mainly fell into two camps: a Lutheran one which adapted German spelling conventions to Wendish and used German (‘Fraktur’) type, and a Catholic one which based on Czech and used Latin type (with s rather than sch, for instance). Thus, two rather different spelling and printing systems developed (compounding the problems of the split into the different dialects).

In the mid-19th century, there were still about 150,000 people speaking Wendish (scattered in among over a million Germans). At the present time, there are only perhaps 20,000 speakers left (estimates vary widely), and all of them speak German also. The assimilation into the German mainstream has thus almost been completed. Since the end of the Second World War, the East German government encouraged the use of Wendish, and fostered the teaching of it in the schools, but the natural decline in usage has not been halted. There still are a few newspapers and books being published in Wendish, that is, either Upper Wendish (mostly) or Lower Wendish. Now only the Czech-type spelling is used.

The Wends who came to Texas in the mid-19th century are a unique group for several reasons. They were conservative ‘Old-Lutherans’ who were scattered throughout the Southern (‘Upper’) Lusatian area, politically divided between Saxony in the south and Prussia in the north. Pastor Johann (Jan in Wendish) Kilian had been serving as pastor of all the Wendish Old Lutherans in Prussian Lusatia who did not wish to be in the Prussian state church, because the state church was, by royal decree, ‘united’, that is, an amalgam of Protestant church bodies and consequently not purely Lutheran. Kilian’s headquarters were at the neighboring villages of Weigersdorf and Klitten (located about 18 kilometers or 10 miles northeast of Bautzen), each of which had its own church, and from there he traveled every few weeks to the areas of Spremberg (near Hoyerswerda) in the west and Muskau and Cottbus in the north, to serve his branch-congregations there. Each of these branch-congregations in turn was the focal point for the Old Lutherans of the surrounding villages. Thus, Kilian was the pastor of several thousand Lutherans in Prussia. Previously, he had served congregations in Saxony, so he was well known in scores of villages in both the Prussian and Saxon part of Lusatia.

Many Germans and other Europeans were emigrating at the time: most for the United States, but some also for other new lands, especially Australia. In the 1840s, some dozens of Wends had emigrated, mostly for Australia, where they joined other Germans.

In 1849 and in the early 1850s, a few individual Wends had come to Texas. Apparently they all had settled among the Germans in the area of lndustry, New Ulm, and Frelsburg.

The first small group emigration, comprising several Lutheran families from Kilian’s congregations, took place in 1853. This group departed from Bremen on Sept. 4th on a small sailing ship. Details of the voyage are given in the article, “Contemporary Materials Concerning the 1853 Emigration of Wends to Texas”, especially in the letter written by Johann and Hans Casper. The group suffered shipwreck off Cuba, losing all their possessions, but their lives were saved, and with the help of Germans in Cuba and New Orleans, they were able to finally get to Galveston and Houston, where they were met by one of the earlier Wends and escorted from there to the Industry – New Ulm area, where they settled, at least temporarily.

The 1853 emigrants wrote such favorable letters about Texas that, in 1854, over 500 of their fellow Lutherans, from many different villages, decided to leave for Texas. To this end they entered into a formal alliance, constituting their group as a new Lutheran congregation and as an emigration society (for mutual financial help), and called Kilian as their pastor. In September, 1854, they traveled by rail to Hamburg, then by ship to Hull, on the east coast of England, then by rail to Liverpool on the west coast, where they were to embark on the sailing ship Ben Nevis. Kilian, himself, and his family were unable, at the last minute, to go with the group, because he had to face charges of instigation of emigration. Luckily, he was able to clear himself quickly, and caught up with the group in Liverpool. Unfortunately, however, in Liverpool they got caught up in a cholera epidemic, which caused many deaths and pursued them all the way across the Atlantic. Their sailing from Liverpool was delayed by the epidemic, and when they did sail, so many still were sick and dying that the captain took the ship to Queenstown, Ireland, where they spent three weeks in quarantine aboard the Ben Nevis and another ship, the Inconstant. When they finally arrived in Galveston in December, 78 people had died.

They proceeded by steamer immediately to Houston, where some of the poorer ones stayed, lacking the funds to go further. Most, however, continued, on foot and in wagons, to the Industry area, where the earlier immigrants received them. Here, again, lack of money caused a number to remain, while the nucleus group, joined by some of the 1853 emigrants, continued westward to the land which became Serbin. Nearly all of those who stayed at first in the Houston or Industry area proceeded to the Serbin area as soon as they could afford it, usually after a few years. Even though the Industry area was about 40 miles from Serbin, the people who stayed there formed a branch of the Serbin church, and for 12 years Kilian regularly visited them approximately every five weeks, preaching and performing pastoral services.

The Wends who emigrated to Texas in the mid-19th century were already Germanized to a great extent. They were thoroughly bilingual in German and Wendish. We have indications that a few spoke only Wendish, and a few only German, but evidently nearly all were fluent in both languages. Similarly, their culture was a mixture of Wendish and German components. German was used for nearly all written language, even personal letters among family members. Wendish was used in church services alongside German, that is, usually every Sunday and holiday there was a Wendish service and a German one. Kilian taught the school in Wendish and German until the first teacher, Leubner, was called in 1868. Since Leubner knew no Wendish, the school became completely German; this was, however, not really a problem, because the Wends wanted their children to have German schooling. The congregational meetings, which also in a sense were the worldly government of the group, were apparently held mainly in Wendish for about ten years, at least the minutes of most of these meetings of the first years are in Wendish, nearly all written by Kilian himself. The other major surviving category of documents in Wendish is the Wendish component of the so-called obituaries. These were brief biographies, called in German Lebenslauf, about a page long, with an additional half page or page of expressions of thanks to friends and relatives for help at the funeral. These obituaries were read in church the Sunday after the burial. About 50 of those that are preserved are in German and about 200 are in Wendish.

Thus, in Texas they continued their bilingual Wendish-German life, continuing to mingle with other Germans, and continuing to use German for their more official language. Contrariwise, though they recognized the similarity of the Wendish language to Czech and Polish, there was no mingling with the nearby Czechs or Poles of Texas. They called their community Serbin, meaning ‘Wend-land,’ from the Wendish word for ‘Wends,’ Serbja, which is of course related to the word Sorbs on the one hand, but also to the word Serbs, again giving rise to confusion with the Serbs of Serbia, with whom the Wends are no more closely related than with any other Slavic group. Speaking of confusions, there is another one that should be noted: the Wends of Germany and Texas are not the same as the ‘Windish’ (German Windisch) Slavs of the old Austrian Empire (now part of Jugoslavia), who are usually called Slovenes. The major settlement of these Windish people in the United States is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They are as different from the Wends as the Czechs are.

The Wendish-German culture of the Texas Wends should be appreciated as a unique double heritage. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to decide whether a given custom or saying is originally Wendish or German, just as it is often similarly difficult to determine whether a certain Serbin family was originally Wendish or German. The custom of the ‘birds’ wedding’ (usually called by the German term, Vogelhochzeit) was originally Wendish, but the ‘Rumplich’ (Santa Claus), sometimes touted as specifically Wendish, was German (Knecht Ruprecht). Nearly all the beloved Wendish hymns were translated from German originals.

Texas had a very large German population at the time the Wends came, and also the other Americans the Wends had contact with in other states, such as other church bodies, were almost always German. Even much of their business correspondence, for instance to shipping firms, was conducted in German. In their isolation in Texas from other Wends, the usefulness of the Wendish language was even more severely limited than it had been in Germany, so Wendish was used less and less, and German more and more. After about 1880, it was mostly only older people that still spoke Wendish, and the Wends no longer considered themselves Wendish-Germans but simply Germans. However, Wendish church services continued to be held (alongside the then dominant German ones) until1920. From 1920 until about 1940 the world of the Texas Wends was almost exclusively German. Only after the transition to German had been completed, did English begin to make any kind of impression on the group; the final assimilation to English began slowly in the 1930s, and a bilingual German-English life began to evolve. But German was the dominant language until the 1950s, and it was the language of the congregational meetings at Serbin until1966. Currently (1991) German is in about the same situation as Wendish was in 1919: still used for church services for the elderly, but the younger generation not speaking it any more.

Pastor Johann (Jan) Kilian, the leader of the Texas Wends, who guided the emigration and the formative years of the colony in Texas, was an educated theologian with a degree from Leipzig. He was a patriotic Wend but considered himself ‘just as much a German as a Wend’, as he once wrote. Thoroughly fluent in Wendish and German, before leaving Germany he had become a figure of some importance in the development of the Wendish language and literature, translating works of Luther and other theologians, writing religious poetry and hymns, and even making small collections of Wendish words, one of botanical terms (which are mentioned in Pfuhl’s outstanding 19th century Wendish dictionary). Kilian led the group in Texas for 30 years, from 1854 until his death in 1884. His oldest son, Gerhard, became his school teacher in 1872. Another son, Hermann, succeeded him as pastor and continued the use of Wendish, alongside the then-dominant German, until his own death in 1920.

The Wends and other Germans of the Serbin area prospered after the initial difficult years. Pastor Kilian had personally joined the ‘German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States’ (now called the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) soon after arriving in Texas. The congregation formally joined this Synod in 1866, after being delayed, in part, by the Civil War. Kilian was constantly plagued by squabbles in the congregation, and some members left and established St. Peter congregation in Serbin. In 1914, St. Peter was dissolved and its members returned to St. Paul’s. As the original congregation grew in the early decades, it spread for miles around the town of Serbin, and daughter congregations were formed: Fedor, Manheim, Warda, Loebau, Greens Creek, Winchester, and Lincoln. The Greens Creek congregation was too small to survive, but the others are still alive and well-especially the mother congregation, itself, St. Paul of Serbin, which is thriving.

Notes:

* Parts of this chapter have been adapted from materials I have previously published elsewhere. For more details on the Wends in Germany and in Texas, see especially George Nielsen In Search of a Home: Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration (Texas A&M Univ. Pr., 1989).

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