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Our Wendish Heritage

written by Angie Collier April 2002

The Wends came from Lusatia, located on the Spree River (former region of eastern Germany and southwestern Poland). The Wends are an ethnic group that has maintained itself to the present day in Lusatia. Their language, Wendish, is a West Slavic language similar to Polish and Czech. Many of the Wends began immigrating in the mid-19th century to Australia and Texas. They were a people searching for economic, political and religious freedom.

In 1817 the Prussian government decreed the union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches. In 1832 the Prussian reform laws dispossessed the Wends of their property. The Prussian government further insisted the Wends speak and use the German language, even to the extent of Germanizing their names. Kubitz (the name of my great-great grandfather) is the German version of Kubica; Kubica is Wendish and Kubitz is German. The Wends were denied the right to do the skilled labor for which they were trained. If they were hired at all, they received less pay than their German counterparts. In 1840 crop failures in Lusatia and land shortage resulting from population growth brought economic hardship.

Around this time Friedrich Ernst wrote glowing accounts about Texas, the land of economic opportunity and of religious and political freedom. My Wend ancestors came to Texas in 1854 (Kubitz), 1868 (Schoppa), 1869 (Zoch and Buettner), 1871 (Hentschel), and 1882 (Graf). They preserved their own language and customs forming a Wend community in Lee and Fayette Counties.

The first few years in Texas were difficult. The familiar crops of Lusatia (rye, wheat and flax) did not grow well in Texas. The Wends had to adopt the local cotton and corn economy. The hard working Wends believed in owning their land. Michael Schoppa purchased 274 acres of land in Fayette County in 1871. His son Christian Schoppa bought 320 acres of land in Wilbarger County in 1900.

Michael and Maria Schoppa's first home was a one-room cabin. They could not afford wire for fences, so cattle and hogs ran wild feeding on acorns. Michael made all the family shoes from willow trees, and in the summer they went barefoot. They drove 25 miles to Brenham with an oxen driven wagon to sell cotton.

The migration to Texas continued until the end of the 19th century. The largest groups of emigrants were Germans from Prussia, Saxony, and other Lusatian towns, mostly Lutherans. After landing at either Galveston or New York, the migrant made his way to Serbin, Fayette County. As a result of natural reproduction, continued emigration from Germany, and the limited production capasity of the soil, many of the Wends left the Serbin area for better lands. In 1926 Concordia University was founded by Wendish in Austin, Texas. (More on Concordia)

The shift from Wendish to German is documented in the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt . The newspaper was primarily German although it did contain Wendish articles. The Wendish language began to die out in Texas. Rural communities used German until World War II.

Sources: http://www.bartleby.com/65/we/Wends.html, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/print/WW/plw1.html, The Wendish Texans by Sylvia Ann Grider page 50, Nineteenth-Century Emigration of "Old Lutherans" by Clifford Neal Smith pages 48-50, http://members.aol.com/BeallComp/wends.htm, Texas Wends Their First Half-Century by Lillie Moerbe Caldwell page 41, In Search of a Home by George R. Nielsen page 96, The Wendish Texans, and The Schoppa Family Album by Mary Schultz Guggisberg and Kenneth W. Schoppa, Texas Wendish Heritage Museum.

E-mail comments or questions to: gunner@totacc.com.

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