At this point, I will stop long enough to discuss a single voyage
of especial interest, that of the 1,347-ton "Ben Nevis," a
clipper ship built in Canada in 1852, and one of the largest of its
day, which carried Pastor Johann Kilian and 588 members of his Wendish
congregation from the provinces of Saxony and Prussian Lusatia in
Germany in September, 1854, to Serbin,
Texas, now in Lee County
but then a part of Bastrop
County until 1874. Large or not, the "Ben Nevis" was only 146
feet long, meaning that the 588 people were stuffed into a space not
even as long as the city lot your home is built upon. Pastor Kilian
and Pastor C. F. W. Walther of Missouri, the founder of our Missouri
Synod, had been students together at the University of Leipzig, and
indeed, many believe it was Pastor Walther who induced these Wends
to migrate to Texas at a time when most of the Wends
were migrating to Australia. Of the 588 Wends
who left Hamburg on that first voyage in 1854, 76 of them died along
the way, mostly of cholera, which they caught in Liverpool, England,
but many of them died of diarrhea as well. When the "Ben Nevis" docked
on December 16th, about 3 months later, only 512 of them were still
alive when the plague ship was placed under quarantine by the customs
department. Although one of every 8 people died en route, the loss
was still below average for immigrant ships from Germany, where usually
the loss was one in every six people. One book commented on how clean
the immigrants had kept the "Ben Nevis" at a time when the only thing
that smelled worse than an immigrant ship at Galveston
was a slave ship arriving from West Africa. Indeed, many slave ships
that arrived in the New World from West Africa suffered less loss
of life than the "Ben Nevis" did.
But the Wendish colony's troubles were not over. When the 512 immigrants
arrived in Houston, then
a town of 2,300 people, shelter could be found only for the small
children, and most people had to sleep on the cold ground during the
month of January. Those with money left over bought ox carts and began
the 200 mile journey overland to Serbin.
Of course, many of them had no money left and had to walk, and it
was late in March before the congregation was reassembled at Serbin,
having spent the entire winter around camp fires.
Other than Pastor Kilian, the following families aboard the 'Ben Nevis"
appear to be the ancestors of many of our Holy Cross and Trinity Lutheran
Church members, as follows: the families of Andreas Kieschnick, Johann
Kieschnick, Johann Carl Teinert, whose wife Maria died and was buried
at sea; -- Wukasch, whose first name is unreadable on the ship's register
and whose descendants are enrolled at both Holy Cross and Trinity;
Matthaus Domaschk and 4 Noack families, these being well-known Port
Arthur surnames, Georg Caspar, Christian Kaspar, Johann Kubitz,
Andreas Miertschin, whose descendent Harry Miertschin formerly belonged
to this congregation, and whose brother, Rev. Elmo Miertschin, is
the LCMS chaplain at Methodist Hospital; Johann Biar, the ancestor
of our Louis Biar; Matthaus Wagner, and Johann Knippa, the latter's
descendants being related to some of our members. Also, the progenitors
of the Fritsche, Moerbe, and Bohot families aboard the "Ben Nevis"
have descendants in the Sabine area.
As a matter of curiosity, I went to the census listings of the Texas
counties in search of some of these families, and for any of you
who may be interested, I found the same families grouped together
there just as they had been on the ship's register of the "Ben Nevis."
Since Lee County did
not become a county until 1874, one must search for the Serbin census
in Bastrop County
in the 1860 and 1870 census enumerations. However, the Lee
County 1880 census reveals that a lot of children that were aboard
the "Ben Nevis" had grown up, married, and had children of their own.
I found family names as follows: 3 Kieschnick families, 3 Kaspar families,
2 Domasckh families 5 Teinert families, 1 Kubitz family, 1 Noack family,
3 Biar families, 2 Miertschin families, and 5 Wukasch families, all
in a matter of a few minutes.
there is no evidence that subsequent German contingents suffered quite
so badly as the first ones, the risk of death while en route was always
great. Occupants of one early German immigrant ship at Galveston
died to the last person from yellow fever. In a 25-year span between
1835 and 1860, the yellow fever plague visited New Orleans annually
in late summer and early fall, and around 2,000 people died there
each year of the plague. About 1830, my great grandmother Schmidt
was orphaned as an infant there when both of her parents died of yellow
fever, and to this day no one has ever learned what her true birth
name was. In a 14-year period beginning in 1846, the Deutsche Gesellschaft
of New Orleans redirected 7,600 Germans to Texas, on one shipload
of which the Blocks traveled. That ship took refuge in Sabine Lake
to escape a hurricane, and it may have been a Godsend that that's
as far west as any of them ever got. Otherwise, my great grandparents,
their daughter and eight sons might have died on that first
death march to New Braunfels.
Whether New Orleans, Galveston
always the hardest ones hit by the yellow fever plague were the Irish
and German immigrants, who of necessity had to pass through and stay
in the harbor and dock areas, where that disease always concentrated.
During 1845, 1848, 1853, and 1858, about 500 people died of yellow
fever each year at Galveston,
and German immigrants suffered badly on each occasion. During those
antebellum years, the German population of Galveston
was about 40%, and in some parts of the city, German was the prevailing
language on the streets. In 1867, over 3,000 people died of yellow
fever in the Galveston Bay area, 1,100 of them in Galveston,
and 1,900 more in Houston
and surrounding towns. In 1858, over 300 Germans died of yellow fever
In 1873, a severe epidemic of that plague broke out in Brenham
killing hundreds, and fleeing refugees soon carried the disease in
all directions. And one doesn't need two guesses to determine what
nationality of pioneer Texans bore the brunt of that epidemic.
the slow voyages of the immigrant sail boats were an exercise in endurance.
Typically, the voyage from Bremen
required from three to 3 1/2 months, with up to 300 people closely
cramped into the steerage quarters of sail ships no more than 150
feet long. However, upon checking the passenger lists of a several
of those German immigrant ships of the 1845-1850 era, the usual number
of Germans aboard was between 100 and 200, these boats being considerably
smaller than the "Ben Nevis."The usual sailor and passenger fare was
dried beef and hardtack, with no fruit or fresh vegetables aboard,
which led to such nutritional diseases as scurvy, pellagra, diarrhea
and dysentery. Normally, yellow fever victims had a one in two chance
of survival, but I'd wager that newly-arrived German immigrants, after
three long months at sea, were left with no bodily resistance with
which to fight off that dreadful disease that so severely attacks
one's liver functions.
There was one other German emigration scheme, that of 'impresario'
Henry Castro, who had obtained a fairly large land grant from Mexico,
present-day Medina County
on the Medina River west of San
Antonio. Early in 1844, Castro began recruiting in the Catholic
provinces of Alsace, Swabia, Baden-Wurtemberg, Bavaria, and the Rhineland.
Castro's recruitment in Germany must have been quite fraudulent because
some people suggested in letters sent home that Castro be barred from
returning to Germany because of his extreme neglect of his colonists.
Altogether, Castro brought 2,134 families to Texas, founding colonies
but he brought them to an area where there was not one stick of timber
to be found, only mesquite underbrush and cactus. Hence, the colonists
could choose to build their abodes either out of sod or Mexican adobe.
Although these towns retained a small number of German settlers over
the years, a majority of Castro's colonists eventually moved into
San Antonio. In 1850,
population was about 65% German.
this time I am going to give you some figures on German immigration
and the number of Germans in Texas during the last century. And you
will readily note that the peak years of emigration to Texas came
long after the Civil War. The figures are estimates for some years
and others are taken from census records for those years ending in
zero, as follows: for the year 1845--10,000 Germans in Texas; for
1850--28,000; for 1860--35,000; for 1870--41,000; for 1880--86,400;
for 1890--125,000; and for 1900---157,000 Germans.
By 1860 Galveston
and Harris counties
were 30% German. Austin,
Lavaca, and Lee
counties were from 20% to 30% German, and San
Antonio was 20% German. Comal
counties were 90% German and Kendall
and Medina counties
were 65% German. I might add that some counties that have sizeable
German populations today were not organized until after the Civil
In earlier days there must have been 250 or 300 German or predominately
German settlements, but time will not permit me to name more than
just a few of them. Some of the settlements I am going to name may
be today no more than a crossroads general store or may be accredited
to the wrong county because I had to work with some poor maps. There
were two settlements each named Blumenthal and Sisterdale.
Generally, these settlements can be described as the coastal and eastern
group in Central Texas and the Hill
Country group in the west. Of the latter, there were in Kendall
County the settlements of Boerne,
Jungfrau, Lindendale, Kendalia
and Bergheim. In Gillispie
County were Doss,
Cain City, Kreuzberg, Rheingold,
and Blumenthal. In Medina
County were Castroville,
In Comal County were
Solms, Spring Branch, Gruene,
Farmer's Hall, Anhalt,
Freiheit, Schoental, and Wenzel.
As an example, Comal
County in 1860 had 3,627 Germans, only 94 Anglo-Americans, and
193 slaves. The ten German slaveholders there are said to have owned
one female domestic slave each to assist the wife with household chores
and rearing children.
Along the coast, settlements in Dewitt
County included Yorktown, Weser, Cuero, Nordheim, Westhoff,
Fordtran, Meyersville, Arneckville, and Hochheim. In Lavaca
County were Yoakum, Henkhaus, Vienna, Shiner,
Breslau, Koerth, Wied, and Sweet
Home. Some of these counties also had a sizeable Czech or Bohemian
Fayette, one of
the eastern counties, enumerated Flatonia,
Hill, Waldeck, Round
Top, and West Point. In Colorado County were Weimar,
New Ulm, and Ellinger.
German settlements in Austin
County included Cat
Welcome and Bellville.
And in Lee County,
where so many members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church have their origins,
were Giddings, Serbin
(the home of the Texas
Wends), Lexington, Lobau and Warda.
Although there were many other settlements in other counties, time
will not permit me to digress farther. Even Port
Neches had 13 immigrant German families in 1880, most of whom
I was related to.
There were two other German settlements I need to deal with, even
if only briefly, both of them populated by those agnostic, abolitionist,
intellectual Free Thinkers who left Germany following the 1848 Liberal
Revolutions. Forty men made up the communist, agricultural colony
of Bettina during the one year of its life, with the intention of
owning in common the land and whatever it produced. Perhaps one key
to its failure was the fact that seven men of the forty were lawyers,
whereas only one was a farmer. At any rate, during that year, about
half of them labored in the sun while the remainder preferred to rest
in the shade, yet at year's end, the latter were there, ready to share
the harvest with the workers. Needless to say, those forty settlers
went their separate ways the following year.
One of those forty was Gustav Schleicher, who later owned a mill in
New Braunfels, practiced law in San Antonio, and as a graduate engineer,
built the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad. During the Civil
War, he served as a Confederate Major of Engineers and helped build
some of the forts at Sabine Pass. After 1872, he was elected three
times as U. S. Congressman from West Texas, and he died in Washington
in 1879. Schleicher County, south of San Angelo, is named after him.
Texas, was founded in 1854 by Ernst Altgelt, who gathered around
him a large nucleus of those agnostic, abolitionist Free Thinkers.
So anti-religious was this group that no church was built in Comfort
until 1894, forty years later. Nevertheless, some of the finest German
American poetry, prose, music, and folk art were to originate in that
city, and in 1981 "Newsweek" named Comfort as one of its ten best
small American towns in which to reside.
were likewise centers of militant Unionism at the outbreak of the
Civil War, which was to give the Confederacy more headaches than it
cared to contend with. Hundreds from Kendall and Gillispie counties
went north to serve in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Texas Regiments of the
United States Army, and of course, many of them were either killed
or never returned to Texas. Another group of Comfort men sought to
escape military service by fleeing to Mexico, and in 1862, they fought
the Confederate Regulars at the Battle of the Nueces River, where
all of the Comfort men were either massacred or captured.
Civil War brought very mixed feelings among the Germans. While Gillispie
and Kendall counties voted overwhelmingly against secession, the 3,600
Germans of Comal County voted to secede from the Union. Many Germans
also served in the Confederate Army. Captain Charles Welhausen's battery
of artillery, composed entirely of Fayette County Germans, served
at Fort Manhassett, Sabine Pass, with my grandfather, and four of
that battery were killed at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass, fought in
May, 1864, at Cameron, Louisiana. An entire book, THE BIG GUNS OF
FAYETTE, was written about that battery by Judge Paul Boethel of Hallettsville.
About 20 Germans from Jefferson County served in the Confederate Army,
including four Block brothers from Port Neches, even though their
father was a Unionist who refused to take the oath of allegiance to
The most illustrious of the Texas Germans in the Confederate Army
was Brig. General Augustus Buchel. A soldier of fortune, he fought
in wars in Spain and Turkey before arriving at Indianola among those
6,000 ill-fated immigrants of 1845. Immediately he mustered a German
company of U. S. Infantry, and as its captain, they fought under Gen.
Zachary Taylor at the Battles of Resaca de las Palmas and at Buena
Vista during the Mexican War. As a Confederate cavalry colonel, Buchel
raised the 1st Texas Cavalry Regiment in 1861, and after the Battle
of Sabine Pass, Gen. Magruder of Houston sent Buchel to Sabine
Pass to command Confederate troops in Southeast Texas and Southwest
Louisiana. On April 9, 1864, Gen. Buchel was killed at Mansfield,
Louisiana, while leading his brigade at the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
A century in retrospect, what has been the heritage left to us by
this hardy band of German souls who, despite the oppression in Germany,
left the comforts of home to take up the trail and endure a long voyage
at sea, suffer untold hardships and even death in order to establish
a better life for themselves and their descendants in Texas? What
we descendants call the good life today, those immigrants knew only
as raw wilderness, Indian raids, backbreak farm labor, slow transportation,
and a harsh scrub board, outdoor plumbing and candlelight environment.
Yet these same Germans brought the first educations, the best craftmen,
European-style stone architecture, the first brass bands, the best
schools and libraries, and the first 'saengerfests' or choral societies
to the frontiers of Texas. Everywhere they settled, the Germans set
examples of what their own labor could produce on their cotton plantations
without the use of slaves. Yes, most of the pianos and musical instruments
in antebellum Texas were in the German homes. They brought the best
educators and educations in Europe to Texas, for the average Anglo-Americans
who lived on the outer fringes of civilization in that day rarely
could even read or write. They brought the best physicians, lawyers,
teachers, brewers, flour and corn millers, blacksmiths and wagon makers,
machinists, brick masons and carpenters to a frontier where those
occupations were always in short supply. Perhaps foremost, they brought
the first journalists, poets, authors, artists, sculptors, dramatic
societies, and musicians to the frontier, which in other words means
the Germans brought the fine arts to Texas. For years there were more
German-language newspapers in Texas than there were English. Only
in 1957 did the 110-year-old New Braunfels "Zeitung," the last and
oldest of the Texas German-language newspapers, cease publication.
I'll never forget an experience my wife and I had in Oct., 1951, when
we were passing through New
Braunfels. We stopped at a small cafe in the center of that city
of about 35,000 people, and as we entered, the 10 or 12 people who
were seated inside hurriedly quit their German conversations and for
10 minutes you could have heard a pin drop except for my words when
I ordered coffee and pie. In a town of that size, they could still
discern we were "fremdervolk," that is, strangers in town. After paying,
I looked back as we went out the door and already their jawbones once
more were going full blast in German.
About 25 years ago, an old German named Otto Figge died here in Nederland.
He was a brilliant old man, about age 95, who spoke four languages.
He once old me he arrived in New Braunfels in 1885. He liked the town,
but the strangest thing he said he found there were black people who
spoke German but no English. Apparently these people had grown up
as young slaves in the households of German families, and had never
had any occasion to learn English.
Perhaps you might be wondering what ever happened to Carlshafen or
the German seaport of the "Adelsverein" near Port
Lavaca. In August, 1875, it was hit by huge hurricane, one so
large that it almost destroyed Wallisville, the Trinity River town
that was then the county seat of Chambers County. Indianola was totally
destroyed, with many Germans drowned, but those hardy folks immediately
set about to rebuild it. Eleven years later, in August, 1886, the
second of those Gulf whirlwinds razed the town. Even as the winds
were ripping apart the timbers, the town also caught fire and it succumbed
completely to the flames, the winds and the waves. Over 300 people
drowned. The town was never rebuilt and out of its ashes came the
present-day city of Corpus
Christi, some miles to the southwest. All that is left of Indianola
today are a few concrete foundations out in the marsh.
I have only just begun to realize what a great volume of historical
literature now exists on Texas German history, a great deal of it
being available in Texas in books and journals, but a much larger
amount being written here but published in Germany, where generally
it is not available to historians here. Biographical writings about
a large number of these German immigrant men is available, some of
whom some of you may be descended from. Two book I have checked from
Lamar Library list several thousands of the Germans who arrived between
1845 and 1861, including what boat they were on, where they came from,
etc. Two other books that I have here list the 110 families on the
first boat load of Wendish Germans who settled in Serbin,
Texas in 1854. Apparently, the book that does not exist is a volume
on those pioneer Texas German women who left equally as great a legacy
and surely some one needs to write a book about them. Among some of
the better known of the pioneer German immigrant women were Johanna
Wilhelm, Emma Altgelt, artist Louisa Wueste, artist Edna Bierschwale,
Clara von Below, Caroline von Roeder, Rosa Kleberg, historians Caroline
von Hinueber and Luisa Stoehr, Vera Flach, author Ottilie Goeth, Caroline
Grobe, poet Selma von Metzenthin-Raunick, sculptress Elisabet
Ney, Betty Holekamp, and Ida Kapp.
I honestly believe it would take a full day to do justice to this
subject, but alas, I would certainly wear out my listeners first.
I appreciate your kind attention, and I hope that somewhere among
these words, you have become better acquainted with our forebearers
who have left us the great legacy we enjoy today. It has been a joy
for me to be here and I thank you.
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