The following was published as the lead article in Volume I of a series of books published by the Texas Czech Genealogical
Society in 2005 and 2007 titled “Czech Family Histories.”
THE FIRST GROUP MIGRATIONS OF CZECHS TO TEXAS
pages 1 - 11
The first group migration of Czechs to Texas occurred during 1851, followed by
several other groups in the next several years. This account identifies these pioneers and
explains why they chose to come to Texas, some of the difficulties they encountered in
their journeys, and some of their early experiences in their adopted land. A glance at the
lists of Czech immigrants to Texas during 1851 to 1855 will reveal many family names of
current residents who can trace their heritage to these pioneers. For the purposes of this
account, “Czechs” refer to people of Slavic origins primarily from the geographic region
known as Bohemia (Cechy) and Moravia in the 18th century and today known as the
Czech Republic. Included in this account also are Slavic people of Czech origin living in
Slovakia and Silesia. Most were under the political control of the Habsburg dynasty of
Austria in 1850.
Among the first Czechs to come to Texas were Dr. Antonin M. Dignovity (1832),
Bedrich Lemsky (1836), the everend Bohumir Menzel (1840), the Reverend Josef Arnost
Bergman (1849), and Vaclav Matejovsky (1851). These men came either alone or with
their families as members of German or Dutch groups. They were not accompanied by
groups of other Czechs.
The Reverend Bergman, who left Prussian Silesia in 1849 and came to Cat Spring,
Austin County, Texas in early 1850, set the stage for the first several groups of Czechs to
become attracted to Texas. Bergman wrote from Cat Spring about the advantages of his
new home to the Kolacny family, friends from Silesia whom he wished to persuade to
join him in Texas. He liked the climate, was impressed with the local people and the
abundance of available timbered and watered land, and especially appreciated the
religious and political freedoms. Some of the letters were circulated among the people in
that region, and a copy was obtained by Joseph Lidumil Lesikar from the Landskroun
region of northeastern Bohemia who was at that time was encouraging friends to leave
the area to seek more opportunity in another country. Lesikar forwarded a copy of the
Bergman letter to an acquaintance named Klacel who reproduced the letter in “Moravske
Noviny”, a Czech-language newspaper that was circulated in Moravia and Cechy. The
first of Bergmann's letters is included in Appendix VII.
The favorable reports about America which were written by Karel Antonin Postl, a
native of Moravia who wrote under the pen name of Charles Sealsfield, may also have
had some influence on the enthusiasm of the first groups. Postl's work definitely had an
effect on later Czech immigration.
There were many reasons why the Czech people were willing to leave their
homeland. One reason was the religious persecution of the Protestants. Family
manuscripts from Europe depict how a Kroulik ancestor was physically beaten because of
his religious faith. Several Krouliks were condemned for reading non-Catholic books.
Such books, when found, were confiscated and burned. The Czech people also resented
the Germanization of their homeland by the Hapsburgs, the ruling family in neighboring
Austria. The Czech language was saved from extinction only by the peasants, who kept
the spoken language alive. The Czech people, especially the young men, were willing to
leave their homeland in order to avoid serving in the Austrian army under their vicious
Northeastern Bohemia, as most parts of the Czech lands, was not very industrialized.
It was difficult for the people to obtain employment, especially if they did not have
Teutonic surnames. This was one of the reasons why many Czechs felt it necessary to
adopt German family names. Some Czech names were Germanized by the Hapsburg
government. This latter procedure-- Germanization by the government--was especially
applied to the names of most of the Czech villages and cities.
The climate and soil conditions of northeastern Bohemia were not very conducive to
the production of agricultural crops. Only a small portion of the people owned land, and
usually these were only small plots because of the subdivision of family land over time
among a number of children who would survive their parents. The small plots of land did
not produce enough to support a family. The majority of the people were laborers, but
there was little demand for their work. Living conditions were very congested. Often
more than twenty individuals lived in one small cottage. The people were poor; perhaps
at times even hungry.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the Czechs felt that they had little chance of
gaining relief from the authority of the Catholic church and the absolutism of Austria's
repressive regime. The encouraging letters about Texas from Bergman were of great
interest, and there was much enthusiasm about starting a new life in a new land. Meetings
were held, and plans were formulated for the transfer. Much of this planning was done
under the leadership of Josef Lidumil Lesikar, an advocate of Czech migration.
Lesikar was born to Josef and Rozalie (Prokop) Lesikar of Herbortice, Cechy, on
May 16, 1806. As a young man he spent some time in the Banat region of the Balkans.
Later he settled in Nepomuky, Cechy, where he was a tailor. He was a Notary Public and
also served as secretary to the Justice of the Peace. The Hapsburgs considered him an
agitator. Josef Lidumil Lesikar married Terezie Silar, daughter of Jan and Rozalie (Rypl)
Silar of Nepomuky, on February 18, 1828.
At about the time the Bergman letters were appearing, the Czechs living in the
northeastern part of Cechy were considering moving to the Banat in the then Hungarian
Empire, which at that time contained diverse ethnic groups. However, the Magyars
(Hungarians) were not very receptive to having more Slavs (nor Germans) settle in that
region. Thus the Czechs abandoned the idea of settling in the Banat and began looking to
Details of how the Czechs of the Lanskroun area prepared for their departure have
been uncovered in Czech archives and reported by Frantisek Silar, historian from the
Landskroun area, in the 1970's and 1980's. On August 19, 1851, about 118 passports
were issued to Czechs desiring to leave their homeland. The passports for the Czechs
were issued in Vienna, Austria. Most of the people began making final preparations for
the journey. They sold their property if they had any, and many of their personal
belongings in order to have enough money to make the journey and hopefully to have
enough left to purchase land and the essentials to live in the new land.
As the day for departure approached, however, about 44 of the people who had
obtained passports decided, for various reasons, not to go. Mr. and Mrs. Josef Lidumil
Lesikar and their four sons originally did plan to go with the group in 1851, but later Mrs.
Lesikar decided that she could not abandon her way of life and start over in an alien land.
This left the group without a dominant leader, but apparently a 61-year-old widow from
Nepomuky, Mrs. Pavel (Johanna Balcar) Silar, became the spokesperson for the group.
This partially blind and devout Christian woman was leaving her homeland with eight of
her children and nineteen grandchildren. Another son of Johanna Silar, Frantisek Silar,
recently married to widow Rosalie Coufal Lesikar, remained behind. They later came
with a second group on the SUWA.
On November 6, 1851, about 74 Czechs left their homes in Albrechtice, Dolni
Hermanice, Horni Cermna, Horni Tresnovec, and Nepomuky (all small villages near the
town of Lanskroun in northeastern Bohemia) to board the train in Usti nad Orlici for the
first leg of the long journey ahead. The boarding of the train at 4:30 a.m. on November 7,
1851, was a very emotional experience not only for those who were leaving their
homeland forever, but also for the relatives and friends who stayed behind.
The group left Usti nad Orlici for Hamburg, Germany, where they were scheduled to
board a German ship directly for Galveston, Texas. Misfortune beset the Czechs in
Hamburg, where they were defrauded by a man named Hirman, who talked them into
abandoning their plans of taking a German ship directly to Galveston and taking instead a
ship from Hamburg to Liverpool, England, boarding another ship at Liverpool bound for
New Orleans, Louisiana, and finally a third ship to Galveston, Texas. His selling point
was that although there would be transfers, in the long run the trip would be cheaper.
Unfortunately the Czechs fell for his sales pitch - the decision ultimately cost the lives of
half of the group.
It is believed by some historians that a ship of the VICTORIA line took the group
from Hamburg to Hull on the Leeds in eastern England, and that then the passengers went
overland to Liverpool.
The group left Liverpool for New Orleans on December 1, 1851, on the sailing
vessel MARIA. A passenger list (Appendix I) compiled in Liverpool of the people who
sailed on the MARIA on that trip is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It
contains the names of 74 Czechs with surnames as follows: Coufal, Jezek, Lesikar,
Mares (Maresh), Motl (Mottle), Rosler (the Roslers were from Dolni Hermanice, Cechy,
but they may have been descendants of Sudeten Germans.), Rypl (Ripple), Silar,
Szornovsky and Votava. Thirty-one of the 74 names listed were of the surname Silar
(later Shiller or Schiller).
The MARIA was built in Quebec, Canada, in 1849, of oak, hackmatock and pine.
She was of 1014 tons register or 837 tons net. She had one main deck and a poop deck,
and was 150 feet long, 32 feet wide and 22 feet in depth. As the MARIA left Liverpool,
there were about 295 passengers on board. Besides the Czechs, there were German and
Irish people coming to America. This made the living conditions rather congested. The
food was scarce and of inferior quality. Much of it was stale. The rationed water was
dispensed in an unsanitary fashion. As a result of the poor living conditions, many of the
passengers became ill.
About 63 days after departing from Liverpool, the MARIA reached New Orleans on
February 3, 1852. Many of the Czechs who had become ill entered a hospital in New
Orleans, and several of them died in that city. Much of their financial resources were
exhausted in medical payments and in living expenses for the unanticipated delay in their
journey to Texas.
After staying in New Orleans for 10 days, 36 of the healthier Czechs departed on the
coastal steamer MEXICO, leaving those still very ill in New Orleans to follow later. This
first group landed in Galveston on February 17, 1852.
From Galveston the surviving Czechs went to Houston via Buffalo Bayou on a
steamer. Two infants died on this leg of the journey and were buried in Galveston Bay.
Arriving in Houston on February 18, the Czechs again faced delays due to illness and
difficulty in obtaining land transportation. They were in Houston for 14 days, during
which time 18 more of the group died, including their leader Johanna Balcar Silar. It is
presumed that these dead were buried in the old city cemetery by Jeff Davis hospital.
Some Houston newspaper accounts (Appendix IV) mentioned the Czech immigrants and
their troubles, suggesting that immigrants like these were becoming a burden on the
Houston residents and perhaps should not be allowed to land.
The journey from Houston to the Cat Spring area in Austin County was made
mostly on foot. There were no railroads along that route at that time. Some of the
heavier possessions and a few of the individuals were transported by ox-drawn wagons.
The first group left Houston March 4, and arrived at the Brazos River near Brookshire on
March 10. The river was flooding at that time, forcing the Czechs to camp on its bank
for 18 days. During this time, those who had remained behind in New Orleans caught up
and reunited with the first group. They ran out of food and had to pay a high price to
have supplies shipped from Houston. Six more died before crossing the Brazos. The
survivors finally arrived at Cat Spring about April 5, 1852. There is no accurate record of
how many of the approximately 74 Czechs reached Cat Spring almost five months after
departing from their homes in Europe. Most estimates are that fewer than half (about 34)
reached their destination. Apparently the entire Szornovsky and Votava families died or
went elsewhere from New Orleans, because there are no known records in Texas of them.
Of the Lesikar family (this was not the Josef Lidumil Lesikar family), only two small
children reached Cat Spring where they were raised by other families.
An account of the journey is told in a letter found in Czech records in 1987, believed
from MARIA passenger Vincenc Silar, written October 26, 1852. This letter is
reproduced in Appendix V.
Most of the surviving Czechs settled in the Cat Spring/New Bremen/New Ulm/
Industry area of Austin County. Instead of settling in a colony, they scattered among the
Germans, depending on where they were able to buy or rent land. Most of the Czechs
were fluent in the German language, which was to their advantage under the conditions
as found at that time.
A small group of Czechs from the Hradec Kralove area arrived in Galveston on May
25, 1851, on the ship “Herschel”. These included Vaclav Matejovsky, Franz Herrmann (7
persons) Joseph Slievensky, Catharine Schultz and George Pech. The Herrmann family
returned to Bohemia after a short stay in Texas. Matejovsky lived for a short while in
Bastrop, then married and settled northeast of La Grange, founding the town of Nechanitz
(named for his home in Bohemia).
Another early group of Czechs influenced by Rev. Ernst Bergman's letters migrated
to Texas in 1852. They sailed on the Brig WANDERER (Captain J. D. Halden) on
October 12, 1852, arriving in Galveston on December 1, 1852. The passenger list printed
in a Bremenhaven newspaper indicates 118 individuals, but other sources indicate 148
people. Occasionally poorer "steerage" passengers were not included on the published
lists. The passengers were mostly from Germany, but there were eleven families aboard
who were of Czech ancestry from the town of Mnichovo Hradiste (renamed
Munchengratz by the Hapsburg Austrians). Mrichovo Hradiste is located north of Prague
and adjacent to Zapudove, where the Rev. Bergman was born. It is assumed that this
group of immigrants decided to do so because of Bergman's letters, which were received
by family and friends and printed in several issues of the newspaper, "Moravske Noviny".
These Czech families numbering some 42 individuals were as follows (some names
Josef Kostka (6)
Michael Bubak (4)
Manuel Lammatsch (7)
Mathias Kuna (3)
Anton Stupl (6)
Dorothea Marek (1)
Theresia Wollman (1)
Anton Brodek (8)
Josef Stiebeler (1)
Michael & Anna Prokop (2)
Anton Medelenka (4)
It is believed that the Josef Kostka and Anton Medlenka families settled in
Houston. The Anton Stupl family first settled in Austin County. One of the children
became a well-known photographer in Industry, with descendants moving to Houston.
The Michael Bubak family first settled in Austin County, but later moved to Dallas.
Mathias Kuna first settled in Millheim in Austin County; descendants later moved to
Another large group of Czechs who left for Texas about 23 months after the
first group was from Horni Cermna, Nepomuky, Dzbanov, Voderady and other small
villages near the towns of Lanskroun and Litomysl in Cechy. Many of this group were
relatives of the MARIA group, and had received word of the results of their journey.
Josef Lidumil Lesikar was the leader of this group. Mrs. Lesikar had finally consented to
leaving her homeland for the new foundations in a secular country. They were aware of
the fate of the MARIA group before they left, through the receipt of the letter mentioned
above from Vincenc Silar in Texas. This fact would later be related in a letter from Josef
Lidumil Lesikar in his later years (Appendix VI).
The group left their homes by railroad on about October 9, 1853, for Bremenhaven,
Germany, where on November 11, 1853, they boarded the German bark SUWA, bound
direct for Galveston. There were about 206 passengers, mostly Germans, on board the
SUWA. At least two Czech infants, Jan Janecek and Amalie Silar, were born on board
the SUWA at sea.
The towing of the bark SUWA into the docking area at Galveston apparently
occurred on December 23-24, 1853. The arrival of the SUWA at Galveston is recorded in
the Galveston newspapers for that week. The passengers disembarked the SUWA on
December 26, 1853.
After a few days rest in Galveston, the Czechs went by water on a schooner to
Houston, where they remained just long enough to purchase the necessary supplies and to
make the arrangements for the overland trip to the Cat Spring area in Austin County. As
was the case with the earlier group, most of the settlers proceeded on foot, with a few
individuals and the heavier possessions transported by ox-drawn wagon. This 60-mile
overland journey lasted about 14 days, and the group probably reached the Cat Spring
area about the middle of January 1854. Austin County deed records indicate that three of
the families of the SUWA group (Kroulik, Janecek and Cermak) pooled their interests and
paid $300 cash for an 80-acre farm a few miles west of Industry on January 19, 1854.
A copy of the official passengers list for the SUWA has been located in Germany.
The January 13, 1854, issue of the Neu Braunsfelser Zeitunq, a copy of which is in the
Texas State Archives in Austin, contained a list of the surnames of the families. A
translated copy is included as Appendix II. On this SUWA passenger roster, the first
name was given only when one or two people were of the same family name. In other
cases only the number of individuals of the same surname was given. The names of the
cities where the passports were issued were shown, rather than the names of the villages
from where the people originated. To complicate matters, all of the Czech names except
one (Janecek) were misspelled and/or Germanized. Fortunately, in July 1987, Frantisek
Silar of Horni Cermna, Czechoslovakia, developed a detailed list of the SUWA
passengers from Cechy, including additional data on the families and individuals obtained
from records on their passport applications. This partial list of the SUWA passengers is
attached as Appendix III. Czech surnames on the SUWA include Busek, Cermak, Coufal,
Janecek, Jarasch, Kroulik, Lesikar, Marek, Mares, Pavlicek, Pechacek, Rypl, Silar, Slezak
and Tauber. There were about 85 Czechs in the group. The Silars again comprised the
largest group. At that time the Lanskroun district in Cechy had over 200 individuals with
the surname Silar (Shiller).
This group of Czechs also dispersed out of the Cat Spring area to various parts of
Austin County, and apparently to other parts of Texas. Some of the people settled in
Colorado County, especially near Frelsburg.
Arriving in Galveston on January 23, 1854, on the bark “WESER” from Bremen
were 27 Czech families including:
Baca, Joseph, wife and 2 children
Kutej, Tomas, wife and child
Guttish (?), Johann, wife and son
Hajek, Johan and wife
Hrdlika, Joh. and wife
Kaleb, Mathias and wife
Kollatschny, Gottleib and Jon.
Kunc, Thomas, wife and 3 children
Piwonka, M. and wife
Chalupka, Jacob, wife and child
Chalupka, MartinSunka, Franz, wife and child
Sunka, Franz, wife and child
Sunka, Vaclav and wife
Svoboda, Joh. and wife
Stanek, Franz and Joh.
Stock, Franz and Joh.
Wotipka, Joh. and wife
Wotipka, Joh., wife and child
Wunder (Munder?), L. and wife
Ziegelbauer, W. and wife