German Settlers in the Netzekreis District of Prussia

My Schmidt and Winkelmann families settled in the Netzekreis district of Posen, Prussia sometime around 1875 or so, having moved East from the Brandenburg region near the town of Modderpfuhl. I compiled relevant information from various sources into this brief history of the region as it concerned the Kolonists like my family.

The Netze district had been only minimally affected by the first German immigration surge in the 13th century. This early colonization consisted of a few minor settlements near the manor-houses of some German estate-owners.

The second German immigration in the 17th and 18th century, however, included the Netze district to a much larger degree. The region received a great increase in population from immigrants from the west. Many Evangelicals, especially from Silesia, found themselves compelled to immigrate in the course of the Thirty Years War against religious oppression. Polish landlords in the mid 1600’s approved the Evangelical affirmations of their old laws and allowed freedom from taxes for 6 years for all new settlers. An enormous stream of immigrants poured into the south of the province and then gradually filled in areas more toward the north. Most were likely to have come from Lower Silesia, especially since there were many cloth-makers among them. In Silesia at that time cloth-making was in its golden age.

The first establishment was the village of Schönlanke in 1580 (the city arose only later), Lemnitz followed, then Putzig in 1586. The settlers there came mostly from Brandenburg and Pomerania.

The “Kolonists” were for the most part Evangelical. Although the intolerance against the Protestants was rising and the Polish landlords themselves were strict Catholics, they vested in the newcomers free practice of religion when new villages were being founded. In spite of the strong persecution of all Evangelicals beginning after 1717, the German settlement increased during the 18th century.

To draw them to settle on their lands, some estate owners set aside tax-free land for a schoolmaster. Land was also made available for a church and cemetery. Colonists were offered use of the land tax-free for 7 years. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon during the 18th century for Evangelical churches to be burned, robbed, or to have their lands reclaimed by the estate owners. Some estate owners also raised taxes through harsh methods and forced the setters to pay much more in money, labor, grain, and livestock than they had initially been promised.

In addition to the settlement and creation of new villages, there was an influx of Germans into many Polish communities. In certain formerly-Polish villages, the Germans began to constitute a not inconsiderable minority. Nevertheless, no resident Pole would be driven away by the gradual immigration of Germans into Polish villages, as each settlement could only take place with approval of the underlying Polish authority. Generally, the German farmers would only be settled on plots of land that were lying fallow or were left behind by their owners, so this settlement was generally encouraged by the resident Poles.

In the year 1768 the Warsaw treaties granted full religious liberty for Evangelicals. This was the cause for optimism, but residents of the cities reacted with fear. Entire villages were burned, and troops were assembled which robbed and plundered German towns. Evangelicals fled over the border in large numbers. Eventually West Prussia and the Netze district fell to Prussia on 13 September 1772. Money was made available to restore damages from the war. Within a few months many villages in the district had German mayors, and the Evangelical community began to re-establish itself in the parishes near Czarnikau.

The Prussian governmental colonization after 1772 had had only a minimal affect on the region. The majority of the settlers came from the Polish landlords enticing German colonists onto profit-poor estates. They would get settlers to take marsh-meadows overgrown with bush, and turn them into productive farms.

After the Vienna treaty of 9 May 1815 the area was back under Prussian rule after briefly having been under Polish control for about 8 years. There were about 2000 residents of the district at that time, roughly 44% Evangelical, 32% Catholic, and 23% Jewish. The main occupations were farming, lace-making, cloth-making, and yarn twisting.

In 1822 Russia closed its frontiers for imports and exports and the machine age began. This was the beginning of the end for the formerly thriving textile industry, and the next few decades saw a marked decline in the demand for textiles from the Netze region. The cloth-makers guild was dissolved in 1888. In its place more and more craftsmen immigrated to the region: bakers, butchers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and merchants arrived during the period from 1815-1850. The population of German settlers climbed.

A railroad station was built to support the industry of the region in 1851, but after that high point the economy stagnated until the “Gründerzeit” (the founder epoch about 1870), when the tobacco and timber industries resurged. Many sawmills, lumber mills, joineries (carpenter shops) were established around this time.

After that, however, the German population declined drastically. Between 1850-1895 many Germans left to come to North America where cheap land and greater opportunity awaited them.

Distilled from: and other sources.


About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

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