WITAJĆE K’NAM to the 34th Annual Wendish Fest in SERBIN, Texas!

One of the unique ethnolinguistic enclaves is the settlement of Serbin – considered the main center of Lusatian Sorbs outside of their homeland in Central Europe (nowadays Saxony and Brandenburg in Germany).

The following are fragments of T. Wicherkiewicz’s travel diary from September 2022:

WITAJĆE K’NAM to the 34th Annual Wendish Fest in SERBIN, Texas!

Behind the seven ranches, behind seven rivers, in deep Texas, there is SERBIN, the main center of the only Wendish~Sorbian diaspora of this type in the New World.

On the last Sunday of September, we have been invited to the biggest annual celebration of Texas Wends, WENDISH FESTIVAL.

The Wends, known in Europe as Sorbs, are Western Slavs whose ethnolinguistic homeland is Lusatia located in the upper Spree valley in eastern Germany, around the towns of Bautzen~Budyšin and Cottbus~Chošebuz. The Sorbian language used there, and more precisely, two Sorbian languages: Lower (in former Prussia/Brandenburg) and Upper (in Saxony) are considered endangered (Lower Sorbian – critically endangered), although officially recognized in European and German legislation as a minority language.

Outside of their homeland, the Wends settled only in Texas and Australia. Texas Wends commonly express the belief that their ancestors came here mainly for religious freedom.

In 1817, the Prussian King Frederick William III ordered the union of the Protestant Lutheran and Reformed churches, creating the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union. The unification of the two branches of German Protestantism caused controversy and many Lutherans (called Old Lutherans) decided to leave their existing churches and went to America and Australia. Around 1848, small groups of Slavic Wends began to emigrate. These pioneers sent letters home, many of which were published in local newspapers.

In May 1854, Jan Kilian became the pastor of one of the newly established congregations in Lusatia, and in the autumn a group of almost 600 conservative Lutheran Wends under his leadership left Germany to join their compatriots in Texas. This group is the only known mass exodus of Wends in history. By rail and steamer, they traveled from Bremen to Liverpool, where they boarded the Ben Nevis ship for Texas. However, while in Liverpool, many Wends contracted cholera and 73 people died on board the ship. After a three-week stopover in Queenstown, Ireland (to remove the sick and disinfect), Ben Nevis sailed for Galveston, Texas, arriving there on December 15, 1854. There was an epidemic of yellow fever in the city at the time, so from December to January the Wends walked 85 miles on foot to New Ulm and Industry, and two of them traveled 30 miles away and bought 5 acres of land for a church and school in a nearly uninhabited area in what is now Lee County.

That is where SERBIN was born.

The first building was a two-room Kilian house, where the first services were held. It was the first Lutheran church of the Missouri Synod, which is the mother church not only of the Wends, but of all conservative Lutherans in Texas. In 1860, Serbin already had a post office; however, after 1871 its importance and numbers began to decline as a new rail link made the region’s business and commercial center from nearby GIDDINGS.

Nowadays, the Texan Wends no longer speak Sorbian, and the diasporic variety of that language can be considered extinct. Even the knowledge of German (which is part of the heritage of this community) is negligible.

Research on the structure and use of the Wendish language in Texas was conducted by Dr. Charles Wukasch / Korla Wukaš, whose works can be seen, e.g., here.


Here you can watch the interview with the distinguished activist of the Wendish Sorbian community of Texas, Weldon Mersiovsky. More materials on Texas Wendish by W. Mersiovsky are available here.