The Volga-German story begins in Germany shortly after the Seven Years War had brought disaster and poverty to many Germans. Catherine the Great was now Tzarina, empress of Russia, but she had been a German princess by birth. Catherine felt that some people from Germany would move to and settle in the wild uninhabited areas in Russia to escape the aftermath of the Seven Years War. She issued a manifesto in July 1763 offering travel costs, religious freedom, 5 to 30 years of tax exemption, and most of all, freedom from military service forever. Between the years of 1764 and 1766, approximately 25,000 Germans set sail for Russia seeking peace, freedom and prosperity.
104 German colonies were established in Russia in the Volga River region, and the people prospered there for many years. However, in 1873, only 100 years after moving to Russia, the promised freedoms were threatened. A new law by Czar Alexander II in 1871 required the induction of German sons into the Russian army. This law alarmed the German people, and other problems soon developed.
In 1874, five men representing a number of colonists were sent to America to scout for land in Nebraska, Kansas and Arkansas. After finding land in Kansas to be favorable, they returned to Russia and made plans to move their families to Ellis, Rush and Russell Counties in Kansas. The first Volga-German settlers arrived in Ellis County in the spring of 1876 after spending the winter of 1875 in Topeka. They brought with them to America, their customs, traditions, heritage and faith.
The following communities were established in Ellis County by these settlers: Antonino, Catherine, Emmeram, Herzog, Munjor, Pfeifer, and Schoenchen. I will tell about some of these towns in future blog posts.
The Kansas Historical Society has an online exhibit that addresses the story of the Russian-Germans in Kansas. This exhibit also highlights the Mennonites, who settled in Marion, Harvey and McPherson Counties in Kansas. You may view the exhibit at this link – http://www.kshs.org/p/online-exhibits-from-far-away-russia-introduction/10679