Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Good Ship "Elbe"

On May 14, 1859 the good ship "Elbe" sailed from Hamburg for Quebec. Included on its passenger list were 62 Kashubian Poles. Some of these immigrants were destined to settle in Ontario's Renfrew County colony, which had been founded in 1858: Canada's oldest Kashubian Polish settlement. Some went on to settle in the Portage County, Wisconsin colony, which had also been founded in 1858, making it the oldest Kashubian Polish settlement in the United States. Still others went on to Winona, Minnesota. Although not founded by Kashubian Polish settlers - the city had been established eight years earlier, in 1851 - Winona would in time become the Kashubian Capital of America. As best I can establish, the families which came across on the good ship "Elbe" were Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers.

One of these families was that of Jozef and Franciszka von Bronk, long considered to have been Winona's first Kashubian Polish settlers. Though the names are spelled in German fashion, the passenger list from the Elbe matches the other Bronk family records perfectly: Jos. and Francisca come first, followed in chronological order by their sons Johann (Jan), Ignatz (Ignacy), Vincent (Wincenty), Lorenz (Wawrzyniec), and Jacob (Jakob). Even the listed ages pretty much check out.

As a professor of classical languages and literature, I realize that legends, by their very nature, contain a kernel of historical fact. But this particular legend goes back to the spring of 1859 and no further. I will continue to peruse passenger lists as time and opportunity allow, but I doubt I will find anything that researchers such as Anne Pellowski, Adeline Sopa, Larry Reski, and Ron Galewski haven't already seen. That being the case, I have to conclude that Winona's Kashubian Polish settlement is but the second oldest in the United States, and the third oldest in North America. None of this information, however, changes the fact that Winona remains the Kashubian Capital of America.

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