The Kashubian diaspora resulted from the emigration of Kashubians, with significant waves having occurred in the second half of the 19th century. The majority of Kashubian emigrants settled in the United States and Canada, although some also seem to have emigrated to Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand. Their reasons for emigration varied. Until the Franco-Prussian War, Kashubians emigrated primarily for economic reasons. After the Franco-Prussian War and especially due to the Kulturkampf, Kaszubian emigration accelerated as socio-political factors came into play.
The Kashubian diaspora is of note in American history because it predated the Polish American diaspora, which is regarded as having peaked at the beginning of the 20th century. In addition, Kashubian immigrants to the United States preferred to live on farms and in smaller cities, as opposed to the Polish immigrants' preference for large cities like Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit.
Kashubians, Poles, and Germans
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The Kashubians have always been primarily an agrarian people, making a living by either farming or fishing. As such, they have traditionally considered themselves an entirely separate entity from both the Polish and German peoples. The question of Kashubian origins, with particular reference to Polish origins, remains vexed. Yet the Kashubian people have managed to retain their distinctive ethnic identity despite centuries of attempted Germanization and Polonization. Due to historical necessities, Kashubians have traditionally been able to understand and make themselves understood in both Polish and German; however, they never lost their own Kashubian language. Despite their shared Slavic heritage and their common devotion to Roman Catholicism, Kashubians and Poles have not always lived comfortably with each other; siding with ethnic Poles against ethnic Germans was not a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, modern Kashubians are comfortable in their status as citizens of the modern Polish Republic.
Reasons for emigration
The primary reason for emigration was economic. Kaszubian farmers were not targeted by Prussian laws immediately after 1850. As the eminent Kaszubian scholar, Professor Józef Borzyszkowski of Gdańsk University has observed, Kaszubians were more or less comfortable with Prussian governance at the time. Rather, smallholders of all ethnicities were disadvantaged because the greater part of arable Pomeranian land already belonged to estate owners, and what remained was not particularly fertile. Another problem was the population boom among the Kaszubians and Poles. Large families were typical of devout Roman Catholics, and in this particular case children were welcomed as additional workers. Once grown to maturity, however, the surfeit of young people were a further drain upon Pomerania's already strained fortunes. Recognizing this situation, the Prussian government tried to free up land by encouraging (but not forcing) Kaszubians and Poles to emigrate. One very early incentive was inexpensive or even free travel to North America.
In the wake of the Franco-Prussian War and the unification of Germany, Kaszubians and Poles met with institutionalized hostility. The Kulturkampf brought further indignities. It became illegal to use the Polish (and by default, the Kashubian) languages in public, including (or especially) church. By this time, too, the first wave of Kashubian emigrants had formed viable communities in towns such as Wilno (Ontario), Winona (Minnesota), and Stevens Point and Pine Creek (Wisconsin). Letters and remittances flowed from the contented North American immigrants, encouraging more Kaszubians to try their chances in the West. One particular selling point was the availability of homesteads. Many did; more, in fact, than the Kaszubian immigrant communities could effectively absorb. As the Kaszubian community within Germany became more self-aware (thanks to figures such as Florian Ceynowa and Aleksander Majkowski) it became more resilient in contending with the Germans; another result of the Kulturkampf was that Kaszubians were more likely to make common cause with Poles. The primary sources of the twentieth-century Polish emigration boom were the Austrian and Russian zones of occupation.
First wave (1855-1870)
The first wave of Kaszubian emigrants tended to sail from Hamburg to either New York City or Quebec. They emigrated, if not in clans, in extended family groups which replicated themselves in North America. Winona, Minnesota's first Kaszubian settlers, the Józef Bronk family, are believed to have reached that town in 1855. Portage County, Wisconsin's first Kaszubian settlers, the Koziczkowski family, arrived in the fall of 1857. Renfrew County, Ontario's first Kaszubian settlers are said to have arrived in 1858. The families which settled in Portage County and in Renfrew County quickly established farming settlements: Polonia, Wisconsin and Wilno, Ontario. The group of emigrants which came to Winona was rather larger and had trouble finding farmland in the immediate vicinity; consequently in 1862 the community of Pine Creek was founded across the Mississippi River in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.
Second wave (1870-1890)
The pace of Kaszubian emigration picked up as the Kulturkampf gathered force. 1872 saw the founding of a small Kashubian community on Jones Island in Milwaukee's harbor by Kashubian immigrant Jacob Muza. Unfortunately, the harbor land was too valuable and the Kaszubians had never acquired title: the last Kaszubian settler was forced out in 1944. In the middle 1880s, a Kaszubian enclave formed in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park, and the parish of Saint Josaphat was established there in 1884. In 1902, a huge new Romanesque church was completed there. In Winona, the Kaszubian community attained such a size that in 1894 the Roman Catholic parish of Saint Stanislaus Kostka had to level its old sanctuary and build a new one seating 1800 worshipers. Since jobs in Winona's dwindling sawmill industry were in short supply, many of the newer immigrants proceeded west to newer Kaszubian settlements in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota. Toward the turn of the century, minor Kaszubian settlements were established in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
- Hanna Popowska-Taborska, Kaszubszczyzna: zarys dziejów (Warszawa, 1980), p. 21.
- For a fuller account, see now Jozef Borszyskowski's chapter "A History of the Kashubs until the End of Communism," in Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński and Tomasz Wicherkiewicz (eds), The Kashubs: Past and Present (Bern: Peter Lang, 2011), pp. 5-74.
- See Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński's chapter "Dilemmas of Modern Kashubian Identity and Culture," in Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński and Tomasz Wicherkiewicz (eds), The Kashubs: Past and Present (Bern: Peter Lang, 2011), pp. 179-226, especially pp. 220-336.
- Jozef Borszyskowski, The Kashubs, Pomerania and Gdańsk (English translation), p. 62.
- Jan L. Perkowski, “The Kashubs: Origins and Emigration to the U.S.,” Polish American Studies, 23.1 (1966), p. 5.
- Sarah Biondich, "Squatting on Jones Island," ExpressMilwaukee.com, 24 June 2009