Wends of Texas

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Texas Wendish Heritage Museum
Texas Wendish Bell

The Texas Wends or Wends of Texas are a group of people descended from a congregation of approximately 588 Sorbian/Wendish people under the leadership and pastoral care of John Kilian (Sorbian languages: Jan Kilian, German: Johann Killian) who emigrated from Lusatia (part of Germany) to Texas in 1854.[1] The term also refers to the other emigrations (and all descendants) occurring before and after this group. However none came close to the size or importance of the Wendish culture in Texas.


In 1817, King Frederick William III of Prussia ordered the Lutheran and Reformed churches in his territory to unite, forming the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union. The unification of the two branches of German Protestantism sparked a great deal of controversy. Many Lutherans, termed Old Lutherans, chose to leave the established churches and form independent church bodies. Many left for America and Australia. The dispute over ecumenism overshadowed other controversies within German Lutheranism. The group which eventually became the Wends of Texas was part of this movement, its members distinguished in their specific ethnic identity as Wends, i.e. a Slavic minority living within a predominantly German environment.[2]

Resisting the merger of Lutheranism and Calvinism being forced by the national church, this group, comprising members of many congregations and villages met at Dauban[3] on March 23, 1854, to make decisions on what was to be done. Finishing the meeting it had been decided to meet again in May to call a pastor. May 25, 1854, saw the call of Pastor John Kilian as pastor of the newly formed congregation and plans began to form for the emigration to Texas.

Converging at Hamburg, they traveled to Hull, England, where they were expecting to begin their voyage across the sea. Upon arrival they found their intention to travel on one large ship was fouled as two smaller ships awaited them. After negotiating and waiting for news to come back, their would-be ship line transported them to their requested ship among the White Star Line's line of packet ships, the Ben Nevis in Liverpool, England.

Kilian's gravestone in Serbin, in German.

Of particular note is the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak that this group of Wends was apparently exposed to while in Liverpool, England. After setting sail they were forced to drop anchor at Queenstown, Ireland, to have the ship quarantined and the disease complete its cycle. Continuing on they landed in Galveston, Texas, after passing the health inspection. Finding the largest city of Texas (at that time) beset by yellow fever they hurriedly continued on to Houston (then almost half the size of Galveston). By the time they left Galveston, a total of 73 had died from various ailments, chiefly though of cholera (55 died from it alone).

Upon arrival in Houston, many of the Wends did not have enough money to continue the journey inland other than to travel on foot, carrying what they could. Along the way many stopped short of the congregation's aim in other German communities. Ultimately arriving in present-day Lee County, they founded the Low Pin Oak Settlement (now Serbin, Texas).

Through their first winter they survived in little more than dug-outs and meager shelters. Through the coming year, they finished building their first church and a school, and continued to preserve their culture. Their pastor Johann Kilian persevered, preaching in both Sorbian and German as more German migrants moved closer. Eventually he added English to the list of his preaching languages. The use of German had made such inroads into the community that gravestones for Kilian and his family were carved in German. His sons continued the Wendish preaching and teaching, but with them ended the last of major Wendish language exposure to the small colony.

Because of the poor soil quality in much of the surrounding land, many moved to join or start new Wendish communities and churches, though without any Wendish speaking pastors their culture died out within a few generations.[4][5]

Present day[edit]

With renewal of the sense of Wendish culture since the 1970s, the Texas Wendish Heritage Society preserves the history and culture of this group with their museum located in Serbin, Texas. The 3000+ artifacts, documents and original log buildings of Johann Killian and his congregation serve as the chief voice of this bygone era. A Wendish Fest occurs annually every fourth Sunday in September to celebrate their cultural background. They continue to decorate eggs in their cultural fashion and their egg noodles are never far from the table.

The original church bell, having been brought from Lusatia and since replaced in the St. Paul Lutheran Church's bell tower now rests at Concordia University Texas (a university in Austin, founded by Texas Wends and affiliated with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod) as a testament to these founding Texas Lutherans' desire and motivation for continuing their faith even so far from home.[6]

Bag of Wendish noodles, made by volunteers as a fundraiser for the museum.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Remember the Wends? Hardly Anyone Does". The Paris News. December 8, 1982. p. 35. Retrieved March 22, 2014 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ Benton, William, ed. (1974), "Lutheran Churches", Encyclopædia Britannica, 11 (15 ed.), Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., p. 198, ISBN 0-85229-290-2.
  3. ^ "Dauban (Germany) map - nona.net". nona.net.
  4. ^ http://www.texancultures.utsa.edu/publications/texansoneandall/wendish.htm
  5. ^ http://www.rastko.org.yu/rastko-lu/istorija/texas.html
  6. ^ http://www.concordia.edu/html/wendish/wendish.htm

Other sources[edit]

  • Blasig, A. (1957) The Wends of Texas. The Naylor Company. San Antonio, Texas. ASIN B0007DXAP2 OCLC 1224161
  • Caldwell, L. (1961) Texas Wends: Their first half-century - With historical, biographical & genealogical information on the Serbin Wends, the Schatte & Moerbe families in particular. (The Anson Jones Press. Salado, Texas) ASIN B0007E9MBC
  • Cravens, Craig and David Zersen, editors. Transcontinental Encounters: Central Europe Meets the American Heartland (Austin, TX: Concordia University Press, 2005)
  • Engerrand, G.C. (1934) So-Called Wends of Germany and their Colonies in Texas and Australia. (University of Texas bulletin, no. 3417. Austin, Texas: The University) ISBN 0-88247-188-0
  • Grider, S. (1982) The Wendish Texans. (The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures. San Antonio, Texas) ISBN 0-86701-000-2.
  • Malinkowa, T. (2009) Shores of Hope: Wends Go Overseas (Austin: Concordia University Press) ISBN 978-1-881848-12-7
  • Malinkowa, Trudla, ed. 2014. Jan Kilian (1811–1884). Pastor, Poet, Emigrant. Sammelband der internationalen Konferenz zum 200. Geburtstag des lutherischen Geistlichen, Bautzen, 23.–24. September 2011. Papers of the International Conference on the Occasion of the 200th Birthday of the Lutheran Minister, Bautzen, 23–24 September 2011. [each chapter in both German & English] Bautzen: Domowina Verlag.
  • Nielsen, G. (1989) In Search of Home, Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration (College Station: Texas A & M University Press) ISBN 0-89096-400-9.
  • Wukasch, Charles. A Rock Against Alien Waves: A History of the Wends Second Edition (Austin: Concordia University Press, 2008)
  • Zersen, David. An Exciting Find in a Wendish Vault in Texas. Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly. Fall 2012.
  • Zersen, David, ed. The Poetry and Music of Jan Kilian (Austin: Concordia University Press, 2011)

External links[edit]