The largest ethnic group in Texas from Europe were people from Germany. As early as 1850, they constituted more than five percent of the total Texas population. Germans tended to cluster in ethnic territories. A majority settled in the “German Belt,” which stretched across the south-central part of the state.

In 1831 Johann Friedrich Ernst immigrated to America thinking he would settle in Missouri, but in New Orleans he learned that large land grants were available to Europeans in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. Ernst was granted more than 4,000 acres that lay in the northwest corner of what is now Austin County. His grant formed the nucleus of the German Belt. Ernst wrote letters to friends in Germany, describing fertile land, winterless climate, and game and fish. As a result of his letters, a steady stream of migrants left Germany for Texas. Within ten years they had established a number of rural communities.

In the late 1830s, German immigration to Texas was publicized back in Germany. The publicity attracted a group of noblemen who wanted to colonize German peasants in Texas. The nobles hoped the project would bring them wealth, power, and prestige. Their company, the German Emigration Company, started work in early 1840s. Thousands of Germans, mostly peasants, moved to Texas. Some of the immigrants died from disease, others stayed in cities, and still others settled in the Texas Hill Country to form the western end of the German Belt. They founded the towns of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.

At about the same time, another colonization project was launched. A Frenchman, Henri Castro, directed a project that brought more than 2,000 German-speaking settlers. The German settlers who had immigrated to Texas so far were solid, middle-class peasants. They were land-owning families, artisans, and a few were university-educated professional people and intellectuals. The majority were farmers with a modest experience in trade. They could afford the substantial cash investment required in overseas migration.

By 1850, when the organized projects ended, the German Belt in Texas was well established. Migration continued through the 1850s up until the Civil War. During the 1850s the number of German-born people in Texas more than doubled, surpassing 20,000.

The Germans who settled Texas were diverse in many ways. They included peasant farmers and intellectuals, people of many religions—Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and atheists, abolitionists and slaveowners, farmers and townsfolk. They had different dialects, customs, physical features. Many came seeking economic opportunities. A few came for political freedom, and some for religious freedom. The German settlements in Texas reflected their diversity. Even in the confined area of the Hill Country, each valley offered a different kind of German. Many German settlements had distinctive architecture, foods, customs, religion, language, politics, and economy.

Source: Germans
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

Back to top