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Wendish immigration to America and Australia
Until the 18th century, it was difficult for the Wendish serfs to obtain permission to leave their home land. They finally began purchasing their way out of bondage and left their native villages to escape famine, find religious freedom and avoid the draft. Famine primarily affected the Lower Lusatians because of the area’s poor soil. Three large groups of Lusatians immigrated overseas to new homelands. First all of these Wendish immigrants inter-married, later began speaking English, and eventually lost their Wendish language.
Immigration to Iowa
In 1847, Christian Wilhelm Stempel from Drachhausen, Lower Lusatia, began a chain migration to Iowa. At age seventy-two, he immigrated with several of his children, two in-laws, and a personal friend. They settled in Fort Madison, Iowa. More than two-hundred additional Wendish immigrants followed. They were influenced by Stempel’s positive letters, the availability of inexpensive land and the
current famine in Lusatia. The new immigrants settled the towns of St. Anthony and Zearing in central Iowa. During the U.S. Civil War, a few of these Iowa Wendish families were forced to immigrate through Canada. The Wendish Heritage Group of Iowa is a helpful resource.
Immigration to Texas
In 1854, Jan Kilian a Wendish Lutheran pastor, organized a large immigration to Texas from Hochkirch
(Bukecy in Upper Wendish) in Upper Lusatia. Positive letters from Wendish settlers in Texas heavily influenced their decision. Kilian’s group was struck with cholera in Liverpool and yellow fever in Galveston. Sixty of 600 emigrants died during the journey. They founded and settled the town of Serbin in Lee County. The Lutheran Concordia College of Texas, known today as Concordia University,
was instituted by their posterity. The Wendish Heritage Museum of Serbin has been established in a former schoolhouse and is a helpful genealogical resource (cf. Texas Wendish Heritage Society found at
<www.wendish.concordia.edu> and Anne Blasig’s book “The Wends of Texas”, published online at <texascultures.com/ publications/texasoneandall/wendish.htm>).
Immigration to Australia
Between 1848-1860, 2,000 Wends immigrated to Victoria, Australia. The Australian Wends were gradually assimilated into the neighboring German immigrant population and English eventually replaced their native language (cf. The Wendish Heritage Society of Australia found at <wendishheritage.org.au>).
Blasig, Anne. The Wends of Texas. San Antonio, 1954.
Malinkowa, Trudla. Ufer der Hoffnung. Sorbische Auswanderer nach Übersee. Bautzen, 1995.
Petersen, Cathy. “The Iowa Wends and their Heritage.” Unpublished papers. California, 2008.