Kashubian Emigration

Kashubians were the first group of Poles who began emigrating, starting in 1855 up to the end of World War I in 1918. The peak of Kashubian emigration was in the early 1880s.

Why They Emigrated

The  Kashubians began emigrating in the mid-1800s for several reasons:

  • As a result of the partitioning of Poland, the Kashubs were early targets for Prussian and German control and were met with institutionalized hostility.
  • The threat of conscription into the Prussian army also influenced young men to leave their homeland.
  • It was illegal to use the Kashubian language in public, including in churches and schools.
  • Many priests were imprisoned or exiled, so churches were left with no parish priests.
  • The Kashubian ethnic identity was also being threatened. Those who accepted German authority were rewarded and those who opposed it were punished or discriminated against.
  • Poverty also played a major role in emigration. 

Ports of Departure

The Kashubians emigrated from several different European ports between the 1850s and the 1890s. The German ports of Hamburg and Bremen were the most popular, and Kashubians traveled by train from Gdansk to those ports.

Rooming houses and special halls were available at the Hamburg and Bremen ports where the emigrants could stay until their ship was ready to set sail, though the conditions were crowded and dirty. Also, emigrants were often taken advantage of and charged higher fees for the rooms.

German Passenger Lists

While the Hamburg Passenger Lists are available, it is unfortunate that most of the early Bremen passenger departure lists (from 1875 to 1908) were destroyed. As a result, the arrival ports are the only way to get ship records that originated from Bremen.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

PGS-MN Newsletter Article

Newsletter IssuePageTItle/Author
Summer 19971Searching Ships’ Lists for Your Polish Ancestors: Passengers on the Ship, the Bark Agda
by Shirley Mask Connolly

Ports of Arrival

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, item 93512805

Baltimore and New York were common arrival ports. Some sailed to England and re-embarked from Liverpool or London, with an endpoint in New York. Other routes to North America were through New Orleans or Quebec.

In the 1850’s, it was a three month trip by sea from Kashubia to the United States and the cost was about $60 per person. Once on the ship, the emigrants were in crowded conditions below deck, which had been built to transport cattle (which explains why below deck was labeled as steerage). Illness and disease were easily spread and some died on the ship. 

Families were limited in how much they could carry on to the ship, often one box that contained their food for the journey, which left little room for physical possessions. Prayer books, rosaries, crucifixes, and recipes were common items that were brought over.

Kashubian Immigrant Settlements

Many Kashubians settled in Renfrew County, Canada, starting around 1858. Others traveled to the United States, particularly to the cities of Winona, Minnesota, as well as Dodge and Pine Creek, Wisconsin (just across the river from Winona). Kashubian immigrants were the earliest significant Polish immigrants in Minnesota and started settling in Winona in 1855. They arrived in New York, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri by train, then took a Mississippi steamboat up river to Winona. The expansion of railroads in the mid-1800s replaced steamboat travel, providing easier routes to get to Minnesota.

Some Kashubians settled in rural parts of Minnesota, and other cities such as Sturgeon Lake, in Pine County as well as New Brighton, and St. Paul in Ramsey County. Other parts of the country where they settled were Stevens Point and Polonia, both in Portage County, Wisconsin; Buffalo, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Walsh County, North Dakota; and Detroit, Michigan. A group from the northern part of Kashubia (the Puck area and Hel Peninsula) settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Because Kashubians left Poland during the time of the Partitions, Poland did not politically exist, so they usually claimed Prussia as their country of origin when immigrating and when becoming naturalized.