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It was their strong religious conviction that led a large number of Wends to consider
immigration in the mid 1800's. When the ruler of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III, initiated a
program whereby two Protestant church bodies, the Lutherans and the Calvinists, would be
united into a single church body, many of the Lutheran Wends could simply not abide it. They
were ready to leave. They wanted to go to a place where they could practice their religion in
freedom, maintain their mother tongue and enjoy their unique culture. The answer was Texas.
About three or four Wendish families had migrated to Texas in 1853. their letters, sharing
their favorable impressions, led to a migration of some 600 Wends to Texas in 1854 under the
leadership of Pastor Jan Kilian.
Of the more than 600 Wends migrating to Texas in 1854, among them were the families
of several of my forebearers: Mickan, Neitsch, Symank, Birnbaum, Kieschnick, Pilak and
Zoch. They made their way first to Hamburg. From there they took a steamship to Hull, England.
From Hull, they made their way by train to Liverpool, England. When they got to Liverpool
they encountered a plague of cholera. Fourteen of the more than 600 died of cholera in
Liverpool. From Liverpool, the group boarded the sailing ship Ben Nevis. In route, cholera
broke out on board and the captain decided to make port at Queenstown, Ireland. Here the
healthy were brought ashore on the ship Inconstant while the sick were taken aboard the ship
Elsa which had been turned into a hospital ship. On September 30, 1854, my great-great-greatgreat
grandfather, Andreas Pilak, died aboard the ship Elsa at Queenstown, Ireland. He is
buried there. Some two weeks later, On October 15, 1854, his daughter and Johann Birnbaum
(my great-great-great grandfather) were married aboard the ship Inconstant at Queenstown,
On October 23, 1854, the Ben Nevis again set sail for Texas. The trip again had its
harrowing experiences and tragedies. A terrible storm once threatened to capsize the vessel.
Deaths due to cholera and other sicknesses continued to occur. A poignant narrative written by
one Johann Teinert, who was a young boy on the voyage, tells of one such death:
"One night my mother also died. The following morning
as I reached the deck, I saw several men lower a corpse
slowly into the deep sea. That was my mother, which I have
never forgotten. "17
Finally, on December 15, 1854, the Ben Nevis arrived at Galveston, Texas. It was here
at Galveston that my great-great grandmother, Maria Neitsch, was born on June 5, 1855. With
few exceptions, most of the Wendish colony made their way to what was then Bastrop County,
to the area where the 1853 immigrants had settled. Ultimately, a league of land called the
Delaplain League, was purchased by the colony at a cost of one dollar per acre. One of the
first duties to which the colonists tended was to construct a church.
The first church was a simple frame structure. The second church, a stone church with
walls nearly three feet thick was constructed in 1871 in what is now called Serbin, Texas. The
church building is still in use today.18 My great-great grandfather, John Birnbaum, helped to
construct this church building.
The Wends dreams of maintaining their religious freedom came true. They still worship
as Lutheran Christians at Serbin, Texas, and countless other daughter churches throughout
16 George Nielsen, In Search of a Home (Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1989) pp. 6475.
17 Anne Blasig, The Wends of Texas (The Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas, 1954) pp. 26-27.
18 Ibid., Nielsen, p. 103.
Texas State Genealogical Society. Stirpes, Volume 34, Number 1, March 1994. San Antonio, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth39868/. Accessed August 21, 2014.