Silesian Immigration to the U.S.
Reasons for Emigrating from Silesia
There were multiple factors that led to a large migration of Silesians to America:
- In the 1860’s under Bismarck’s rule, school instruction was required to be in the German language.
- Bismarck also felt that the Pope in Rome was a threat to his rule and attempted to suppress the Catholic faith of Silesia. About 1300 priests were imprisoned, leaving the churches without priests.
- Prussians bought up Polish lands and colonized them with German peasants and laborers. This pushed the Poles out and they were offered money to move to Berlin or other parts of Germany to “Germanize” them.
- Poor economic times, food was scarce.
- Letters from Father Francis Xavier Pierz that extolled the virtues of central Minnesota, where they could own land and speak their language freely. The Homestead Act of 1861 created opportunity for free land.
Routes of Emigration
Silesian migration to America came mainly between 1868 and 1900. These settlers came by ship, mainly from Bremen and Hamburg, Germany, with some coming from Antwerp, Belgium after traveling from Silesia to Antwerp by train. Some of the immigrants went from Bremen and Hamburg to Liverpool, England and then to America. Most arrived at ports in New York or Baltimore but some went to New Orleans and a few went to ports in Canada and either settled in Canada or came to the United States after arriving by ship in Montreal or Quebec.
The early immigrants came mainly as family units. The families sold their possessions and booked passage on a steamship, bringing their own food for the long voyage. The first Silesians to MN arrived in New York in 1869-1870. Upon arrival in New York, they had to pass a health test to make sure they were free of contagious diseases.
Immigrant trains would carry them to the interior of the United States. Many stayed in Chicago or Milwaukee. Others went on to St. Paul. From there some went to central Minnesota between Little Falls and St. Cloud, to Delano Minnesota, to Wells in southern Minnesota, and to Independence, Wisconsin.
Settlements in the U.S.
The oldest Polish settlement in the US was settled by Silesians in Panna Maria, TX, founded in 1854. Silesians were initially recruited to Texas by a Silesian priest originally from Plużnica Wielka, 26 miles southeast of the city of Opole in the Opole Voivodeship. Later immigrants expanded to Karnes, Wilson, and Bexar counties in Texas.
Where Silesians Settled in Central Minnesota
The largest settlement of Silesian Poles in Minnesota was in Morrison County, Stearns County and Benton County. These new settlers were farmers who had lived north of the city of Opole in Upper Silesia. Some immigrants from Strzelce Opolskie (south of Opole) also settled in Little Falls, in Morrison County. The immigrants began farming upon arriving, built their Polish churches and communities, and raised very large families.
The terrain between Opole and Wroclaw looked very much like central Minnesota with relatively large fields of corn and small grain that had been harvested.
Silesians initially settled near North Prairie, in Two Rivers Township. North Prairie originally was located in the northeast corner of Stearns County, about four miles from its present location in Morrison County. The area was a small strip of land on the western bank of the Mississippi and was initially know as the “German Settlement.”
The Catholic Church was built in North Prairie in the late 1860s. Reverand Edward J. Nagl, a Bohemian Catholic priest there, was instrumental in getting the Silesians settled in the early 1870s, helping them with land purchases and language barriers.
By 1880, there were over 60 farmers from Silesia living in Two Rivers Township and over 20 in Swan River Township, both townships in Morrison County.
This Silesian settlement expanded from the North Prairie area and eventually included the villages of Royalton, Bowlus, Sobieski, Flensburg, and Elmdale and Bellevue Township in Morrison County. Silesians also moved to Opole and Holdingford, both in Stearns County. All of the immigrants from Silesia were farmers and remained as farmers.
South Central Minnesota
Where Silesians Settled in South Central Minnesota
Over 200 Silesians immigrated to Wells, Easton, Minnesota Lake (all in Faribault County) and Mapleton (in Blue Earth County) in south central Minnesota along the Southern Minnesota Railroad. This group came from villages near the Silesian village of Syców in the Lower Silesian Voivodeship. Others came from Tulowice in Opole County, Opole Voivodeship, 14 miles southwest of Opole in the historic region of Upper Silesia. These 200 individuals have many thousands of descendants and they are now scattered across the entire United States.
The first few Silesians immigrated to Mayville, Wisconsin in 1851 where they worked on farms and did tailoring. The desire to own their own farm motivated them to move by oxen southwest of the Minnesota Lake area in Faribault County, Minnesota between 1859 and 1860. They purchased farms that were up 160 acres, which is much larger than the farms in Silesia where the average size of farms was around 40 acres.
The Catholic community decided to build a new church in Easton. The new town had been plotted following the laying of the Southem Minnesota Railroad. A new frame church was completed in 1885 on the site of the present brick church.
The history of St- Casimir’s Catholic Church in Wells, Minnesota began in 1881 with the arrival families of Irish descent. Settlers of Polish descent soon followed. Some of the families in this parish were from the village of Nowa Wieś Ksiażéca.
Other Parts of Minnesota
A group of Silesian immigrants settled in Browerville (Todd County) and came from Strzelce Opolskie, which is a town in southern Poland. It is currently located in Strelce County in the Opole Voivodeship and southeast of the city of Opole in Upper Silesia. Some immigrants from this area of Silesia also settled in Little Falls, in Morrison County.
Delano (Wright County) was a German and Polish town in an agricultural setting. Many Poles who settled there came from the Opole area of Upper Silesia. The Silesians in Delano immigrated between 1868 and 1890 (peaking around 1880). Kashubians also settled in Delano.
It is noted in the PGS-MN newsletter archives that some Poles from Silesia settled in Perham, Otter Tail County, and Ivanhoe, Lincoln County. However, currently, we don’t have any detailed information on this.
Another large group of Silesians came to the Independence and Arcadia areas of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin between 1868 and 1870. Both are small towns northeast of Winona, Minnesota. Some Silesians moved to nearby Buffalo County. These Silesians were from the villages of Popielów (14 miles northwest of the city of Opole), and Stare Siołkowice (12 miles northwest of the city of Opole). Both villages are located in Opole County, in the Opole Voivodeship. Before 1945, the area was part of Germany.
Some of the settlers stayed in this area for only a few years and later moved to the vicinity of Royalton, Minnesota. However, many of the current residents of Independence and Arcadia are descendants of the original Silesian immigrants.
While PGS-MN does not endorse specific Facebook sites, we know that members have found it valuable to connect with others on Facebook regarding genealogy resources. The following Facebook site has been identified by a PGS-MN member:
- The Silesians of Trempealeau County