Wendish Immigration Trunk
A journey of faith
by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content
Wendish immigrants risked everything to preserve their religious beliefs and cultural identity when they journeyed to Texas from Germany in the mid-1800s.
Originally from the Lusatia region of Germany, southeast of Berlin, a small handful of Wendish families began immigrating to Texas in 1849. In 1854, a larger migration of Wends occurred — people driven primarily by a search for religious freedom. Tensions had been building in Germany since 1817 when Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III merged all of the religious faiths into one state-regulated Protestant body. Reports from previous immigrants of abundant land in Texas added to the appeal of relocating.
Facing economic hardships and wishing to maintain their autonomy as Lutherans, over 500 Wends from 65 cities and villages in Lusatia planned their move to Texas. Led by respected pastor Johann Kilian (1811–1884), in September 1854 the group set out from Hamburg, Germany in route to Galveston, Texas. They traveled to Liverpool, England, where the Wends signed a contract to sail to Texas on the ship Ben Nevis. The group’s departure from Liverpool was delayed by a cholera epidemic. When they were finally able to set sail, so many individuals were sick and dying that the ship stopped in Ireland for three weeks. By the time the immigrants arrived in Galveston in December, more than 70 people had died.
George Kasper (1816–1864) and his family survived the trip, carrying their possessions in this pine wood trunk. Kasper’s brothers had moved to Texas in 1853 and advised him “not to drag along a lot of things, because you can get everything here.” Consequently, the family packed personal items like linens, a Bible, and a christening gown. Painted directly on the trunk are the simple shipping directions, George Kasper aus Kilpen nach Hamburg und Galveston (George Kasper from Kilpen to Hamburg and Galveston).
After brief stops in Galveston and Houston, the Kasper family and other Wendish travelers established new homes on Rabbs Creek, in what is now Lee County. There, two Wendish leaders purchased over 4,000 acres of land on behalf of the group and divided it into town lots and farms that were sold to individuals. When a post office was built in 1860, the town was named Serbin, meaning “Wendish Land.”
The Wendish contributed to the remarkable growth of Texas in the 1850s. The population of the state more than doubled from 212,592 to 604,215 between 1850 and 1860.
Courtesy Texas Wendish Heritage Museum, Giddings, Texas
Time Period: 1845 - 1861
This artifact is not on view.