The Peoples of East Prussia

Early East Prussian Peoples

The province most family researchers know as East Prussia was the originally a duchy and a kingdom. In the 19th century the original land that was Prussia became a province known as East Prussia.

The first surviving Protestants were the Waldensians. The Early French Hugonauts, the Salzburgers, and ethnic Poles populated the southern part, and the Unitarians, also known as the Polish Brethren, settled there as well.

Lithuanians settled in the northeast. Eventually this area was known as Klein (Little) Lithuania or Prussian Lithuania. Most inhabitants were Lithuanians until great plagues of 1708-1711.

The early Hugonauts and Waldensians played a major role in the repopulation of the northeastern area where Lithuanians had settled. The eastern half of East Prussia, which became known as the Gumbinnen Administrative District in the early 19th century, became an ethnically mixed region.

Native and Non-Germanic Settlers

Other groups who settled in East Prussia included the English and Scots, the Balto-Prussians, and Lithuanians.

The Balto-Prussians were also known as the Pruzzen, Prussian, or Borussians. Lithuanians, Cours (Latvians), Mazurians, and East Slavs were represented as well as Kashubians, Mazurians, Poles, and Jews. Scots and English came as sailors, soldiers, and merchants. Swedes came as soldiers in the armies and navies of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. Today’s DNA has revealed this mixture of people as well as historical documents. In the 19th century there were Russian Old Believers.

East Prussian “Colonists”

The Swiss came under the Settlement of Swiss Colonists within the Framework of the Repopulation of East Prussia: Investigation of a Group Which Emigrated in 1712 from the Rural Baliwick Municipality of Sax-Forseck. Those from Franconia (The Ehmer Franconian Card Index File) also populated East Prussia.

Specific references to the population lists of people who lived in certain localities in East Prussia are available through the Verein fur Familienforschung in Ost and Westpreussen. VFFOW.

Those from the northeastern Prussian territories were mostly Pommern, Niederunger or Vistula Valley Lowlanders.

Baltic Germans

Baltic Germans in Estonia and Latvia were involved in trading in the Hanseatic League in the 15th century. Notice the absence of any reference to Germans in Lithuania in these early centuries.

Baltic Germans are a distinct group from the two groups of Germans who settled in Lithuania.

However, there were some Germans in the early 1700s in Kovno, now Kaunas, Lithuania, who were involved with trading in the Hanseatic League.

South Prussia (1793-1807) and New East Prussia (1795-1807) Colonists

Later in the 18th century southwestern German Swabians from Wuerttemberg and nearby states and Mecklenburgers were recruited to settle in South Prussia and New East Prussia from 1793 to 1806.  Lithuanians and Salzburgers also settled in New East Prussia. Later arrivals came from Wuerttemberg. Fewer numbers of southwest Germans and Mecklenburgers settled in New East Prussia than in South Prussia.

Map of Early 19th Century Migratory and Political History

This map shows how the migrations coalesced once the borders of East Prussia remained stable in the second decade of the 19th century. This map may narrow one’s search as it shows areas of Catholic and Protestant Germans, Lithuanians, and Poles. Green shows the dominance of Protestant Lithuanians in the northeast. Darker blue shows German Protestants in the Konigsberg Administrative District. The next largest group are Protestant Poles in the southeast.

Two groups, both in Konigsberg, show two kreise of Catholic Poles in lighter red and two kreise of Catholic Germans in lighter blue.

An Alternative View: Polish Encyclopaedia of 1923, 65.

After Poland regained its status as a nation after World War I, this encyclopedia was written to help explain a variety of subjects from the Polish perspective. About the people who settled this area, the authors wrote:

In the Middle Ages the Germans who colonized Prussia and the Kingdom of Poland were primarily Northern Germans (Lower Saxons) and Germans from the Centre (Franconians). A few Dutchmen and Southern Germans (Bavarians) also came to this area. After Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century, Germans emigrated from all parts of Germany. In the Kingdom of Poland, the most numerous were Prussians, South Saxons, Franconians of the Palatinate, and Swabians from Württemberg.

About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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