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Germans from Russia in Kansas

Volga German immigrantsIn 1763 Catherine the Great of Russia issued the second of her manifestos encouraging immigration to her country from Germany in order to colonize underdeveloped land on the Black Sea and on the banks of the Volga River. Catherine, herself a German, had also hoped that the colonists would improve Russian agriculture though the introduction of more modern methods from western Europe.

The timing of the manifesto was crucial to its success. Germany was just beginning to recover from the Seven Years' War. Promising freedom from taxes, a loan for transportation to Russia and exemption from military service, Catherine appeared to be offering a new beginning to those tired by war.

Between 1763 and 1768 more than 25,000 Germans established 104 colonies on the banks of the Volga and Karaman Rivers. There they attained relative prosperity and lived for over one hundred years in relative isolation, both from their Russian neighbors and their country of origin.

Incentive for another move was given in 1871 when Czar Alexander II revoked their exemption from military service. In response to his order, a conference was called in Herzog, Russia, in 1874. There, delegates from all of the colonies chose to send representatives to the United States to investigate land in Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas.

The first group of settlers left for Topeka in 1875. Upon arrival they were encouraged by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to settle on land owned by the railroad in Ellis and northern Rush counties.

Large settlements also emerged in Russell County and North Topeka. The movement of German-Russians into Kansas continued until the First World War, after which political developments in Russia eliminated further immigration.

Although at first the German-Russians were often met with hostility, they have proven themselves to be among the state's most worthy citizens. As was the case on the steppes of Russia, through their industry they adapted to an inhospitable environment once thought unsuitable for cultivation and left their mark on the history of Kansas.

Entry: Germans from Russia in Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: December 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.