Podcast: Galveston, Texas and German Immigration

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Before Texas ports opened for immigration, German people have played a prominent role in Texas history from settlement to the Texas Revolution. The battles of the Alamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto all had German contribution. Shortly after Texas won its independence from Mexico, Germans seeking prosperity and freedom began to pour into the seemingly open land that was Texas and the United States.

Immigration into the Republic of Texas opened in the 1840s through ports like Galveston and Indianola. The majority of German immigrants used Galveston as an entry point to the United States. Europeans sought land and prosperity in the expansive, fertile territory of Texas. Galveston, second to only Ellis Island by number of immigrants passing through the port. German immigrants typically arrived through Galveston or Indianola after a three-month voyage from Germany. Not just a gateway to Texas, Galveston was a logistical gateway to German settlements in the Texas Hill Country such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg as well as the American Midwest. The Port of Galveston was 700 miles closer to the German communities in Kansas and Nebraska than any Atlantic port.

To summarize German immigration through Galveston is no easy task. The German immigrants who settled Texas were diverse in class, religion, education, profession, and character.

They included farmers and intellectuals, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists. From Prussians, Saxons, Hessians, and Alsatians. Many abolitionists and a few pro-slavery. Every one of these varied German groups had a cultural impact on Galveston, Texas, and the United States.

German communities began migrating together and setting up communities in Texas with their German neighbors. The Adelsverein, or the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas, established in 1842 by a group of German nobles would create an economic foothold in Texas and potentially alleviate overpopulation in rural Germany. The Adelsverein would organize voyages and transit from Germany and into German communities in Texas.

German immigration was so prevalent that as early as 1850, they constituted more than 5 percent of the total Texas population and were once the largest ethnic group to immigrate through Galveston.

Despite the majority of immigrants using Galveston as a jumping point into the rapidly expanding U.S., several thousand chose to make the booming port city of Galveston their permanent home and made up nearly a quarter of the total Galveston Population. In 1843 a Galveston newspaper article discussed German immigrants, noting their patience, industriousness and untiring work habits and most scrupulous regard to punctuality in their contracts.

By 1860 it is estimated that as many as 30,000 German immigrants had arrived in Texas. Although German immigration halted due to the civil war, as soon as the war ended in 1865, Germans began to pour in through Galveston once again. From the late 1860s through the 1890s, it would have been as common to hear German spoken on the streets of Galveston as it was to hear English.

In 1876, a group of German businessmen organized the Galveston Garten Verein or "Garden club" as a social club for family and friends. Only Germans or German speakers could hold stock in the club, but others could petition for membership. The group purchased the five-acre homestead of Robert Mills, a prominent Galveston businessman, and laid out the property as a park, with a clubhouse, lawns, gardens and walkways, bowling alleys, tennis courts, croquet grounds, playgrounds and a dancing pavilion.

Germans brought along their distinctive architecture, foods, customs, and which can be seen when traveling through Galveston and German-settled communities today. Generations of Germans had been settled throughout Texas with the German language and traditions rooted deep into their culture.

Germans had a passion for educating their children, after all, the word Kindergarten is German! German schools were established through neighborhoods throughout Galveston, one of the Kindergartens still stands today. The Mathilda Wehmeyer House and German-American Kindergarten School in the East End Historic District. The home was built in 1887 and operated as a German Kindergarten from 1891-1898.

Two world wars and the associated anti-German prejudice damaged the interest in German folkways and curtailed the use of the German language. It was the official language of Fredericksburg, Texas until the beginning of the war. Store signs, street names, and spoken language changed from German to English overnight following the U.S. entering World War II.

The United States, Texas, and Galveston are a product of the mix of German culture. We can see the effect to this day, from language, architecture, and even food!

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."