In 2010 I wrote:
It is possible that during the Prussian era from 1795 to 1807 with the expansion of New East Prussia that our -at families resettled into what became German territory. However, Prussian-German domination halted when Napoleon conquered Europe, and Prussia lost New East Prussia. German colonists in the Duchy of Warsaw came under Russian domination.
Based on research between 2011 and 2015, two adjacent areas, East Prussia in the German Empire was also home to people with the Spurgat name in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 19th century people with the Spurgat name, including the three Spurgat families that immigrated to the United States, also lived a few kilometers farther east in Suwalki Province, a Protectorate of the Russian Empire. Understanding how these two regions belonged to two different empires—German and Russian— helps explain how “our” Spurgats may have become a part of the Russian Empire.
The land where people with the Spurgat name lived –Prussia, (known as East Prussia when Prussia was divided into two provinces [East Prussia and West Prussia] in 1824) fell under the jurisdiction of several different powers in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Various “German” rulers–dukes, knights, margraves, and kings–had been colonizing the area where the native Pruzi, usually referred to as the Old Prussians, had lived for centuries. Because of their superior culture over the centuries, Germans became the dominant power over the native Prussians. Their language and church became German. One of the great ironies of history is that the name Prussia survived even though the people and their language did not.
German Map of New East Prussia—1795 to 1807
In 1863-64 the northern appendage became known as Suwalki Province, and today the southwestern region of Lithuania is still known as Suwalki. Adjacent to the west (left) is Prussia, which after 1824 became known as East Prussia. That area was also known variously as Prussian Lithuania, Lithuania Minor, or Kleine Lituen. Wilkowischken and Maryampol are on the upper right.
Although historians disagree about the reasons behind the Three Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1792, and 1795, the division of Poland between Austria, Prussia, and Russia, stabilized the region for the time being. Austria gained land in the south. Russia gained a large portion of what had been Poland, and Lithuania in the east, and Prussia received the two smallest but adjoining parcels: land south and west of Prussia became known as South Prussia. The parcel that most concerns my –at family was east and southeast of Prussia, and now became New East Prussia or Neu Ost Preussen. These lands increased the size of and power of Prussia dramatically, but the acquisition of New East Prussia only lasted for less than a decade.
Poland ceased to be a nation from 1795 until 1918. Historically, the borders of Poland were very different than those of modern day Poland.
When Napoleon conquered Europe in 1806, the Prussian (German) administrative state ceased to exist and what had been New East Prussia became part of the Duchy of Warsaw under French control.
That administrative division, too, ceased to exist with the defeat of Napoleon in 1812. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna decided upon the new division of empires. The land that had been New East Prussia became a Protectorate of the Russian Empire. New East Prussia and other lands became known as the Kingdom of Poland, Congress Poland, Congress Kingdom, or Russian Poland. The northern appendage became Suwalki Province in 1863-64.
So the land that had belonged to the native Pruzi for at least 500 to 1000 years went from Prussian, to German, to French, to Russian in a matter of twenty years from 1795 to 1815. Each empire left its distinct mark. The Prussians kept their names in the families with whom they intermarried and with the places they inhabited. The Germans kept their language and religion. The French left their system of civil registration. The Russians who dominated the region for over a hundred years from 1815 until 1918, allowed, at least for a time, the vestiges of language, religion, and civil registration. They allowed other native peoples—the Poles and the Lithuanians—to keep the records of their lives in their own languages. They allowed the Lithuanians to worship in their own Roman Catholic churches. But a Polish insurrection in 1863 and a ban in 1864 on anything printed in the Lithuanian language resulted in complete control of the people by the Russian Empire—known as Russification. Not until the end of WWI would new boundaries establish a new national state—Lithuania as it is known today.
But for families whose ancestors were firmly planted in today’s Lithuania (formerly New East Prussia, the Duchy of Warsaw, Kingdom of Poland, and Protectorate of the Russian Empire), one must simply ask, “How did our branch of our family get from Prussia to Russia?” The answer to this question partially lies in understanding the history of New East Prussia.