Karel Kysilka – Emigration from Bohemia to the USA in the 19th Century

Karel Kysilka:
Emigration to the USA from the Policka region
in 1850 – 1890
(An historical – statistic essay)

The following paper was presented at the Genealogy Seminar
of the Czech Heritage Society of Texas, Hillsboro, TX.,July 31, 1999

In 1832 the Austrian emperor and the
Czech king Franz I declared the first
Emigration Act

In the middle of the 19th century, an immense wave of the emigration from Bohemia and Moravia, mainly to the United States, was reported. In 1848
serfdom was abolished in Austria, which the Czech lands belonged to, and
the first constitution was granted. But the personal freedom did not last a
long time. Under the government of the Austrian prime minister Alexander
Bach a rigid, reactionary order was introduced. There were two reasons for
the emigration: a need of personal freedom, and a desire for better living
The emigration from Austria abroad was administrated by the Emperor’s
Franz I decree of March 24, 1832. An emigrant from Austria was every
subject, that moved out of the state with the intention of never coming back.
The emigration was of two kinds: an official and an illegal one. Who wanted
to emigrate legally, had to apply for a permission at the Supreme Provincial
Office via the respective landlords´ or later the district authority. This
Supreme provincial office was Bohemian or Moravian Governor’s office, a
kind of the Provincial Government.
The applicants had to be capable of managing their own affairs, military and
other duties free, free of any (financial, judicial etc.) liabilities and to be able
to pay for the transportation costs. The statement and consent had to be
received by the district military command, gendarme post, revenue office
and district court. Of course, the reference had to be done by the domicile
community of the applicant. In most cases within one or two months from
the date of application the Governor´s office expressed their standpoint.
Consent to emigrate was given in writing, either in the form of an official
document ( in Moravia), or by an ordinary letter having been sent to the
applicant by the district office. Subsequently the applicant received the
Emigration Consent, a form issued by
the Moravian Governor´s Office
Original Austrian Passport from
1816.The bearer of the passport was
obliged to present the document in any
town he visited and to have his stay
confirmed by a “vision” mark. This
original passport was replaced in
1850s by a new one.
The centers of emigration from
Bohemia at the beginning of the first
emigration wave on the turn of 1852.
The emigration during the following
year 1852 strengthened and the total
number of emigrants reached 3600
Emigration Passport for himself and his companions, mostly members of
the family. The passport was valid only for the duration of the journey – only
for this period the emigrants were still under the legal protection of Austrian
Authorities abroad. As soon as they entered the port of arrival, they ceased
being the Austrian citizen. The travelers had to set out on the journey not
later than six (since 1856 only four) months after the date of Emigration-
Consent. Otherwise the Consent became unvalid, and a new application
had to be submitted.
According to Austrian statistical sources, the number of emigrants from
Bohemia in 1850 was about 160 people, in the following two years their
number went up to 340 in 1851 and 430 in 1852.
In these figures only official emigration is reflected. Besides the illegal
emigration, the Austrian statistics did not state the movement of the people
who crossed the border with a normal traveling passport, valid usually for a
period of two or three years.
These traveling passports were issued only to traders, journey-men, state
officers, intellectuals and other reliable people, whose status guaranteed
their come back to the country.
Their absence was regarded as an illegal emigration only if they didn’t
return to the country during the following three months after the expiration of
the passport validity. The frontiers at that time were not watched so closely
as today, and the one who managed to get across was admitted on ship
with whatsoever personal document, like a journeyman bill, later certificate
of apprenticeship, or an identity card, valid in Austria only. It was an
opportunity to leave the country for thieves and out-laws, of course.
This illegal emigration was much frequent than the official one in fact. Those
people were leaving illegally who would not have received the permission in
the official way, who were lack of assets, fugitives before justice, rookies,
deserters and simple common people who did not even know that there was
anything like a passport or an Emigration-Consent at all.
German authorities were rather benevolent, in case of a detention of an
Austrian citizen without the passport. They mostly let him pass farther. Even
as late as 1895 the Bremen Steamship agency F. MISSLER- J. BRUGK
distributed a pamphlet with a convenient name: How to Get to the Port of
Bremen without any Passport.
We know from the preserved reports of individual regional administrations,
that the authorities knew about the illegal movement. The reports state how
many families or individuals actually left the country. If summarized, the total
figure of all emigrants reached 4000 people in 1852.
The most important localities of emigration from the Eastern Bohemia were
the districts of Litomysl, (until 1855 judicial district of Policka was
incorporated in the district of Litomysl), Vysoke Myto and Lanskroun.
According to the unofficial data a total of 210 emigrant-families left Austria
from the whole region of Pardubice at the turn of 1852, most of them being
from these three districts. In 1852 their figure grew up and, according to the
report of the regional administration in Pardubice to the Prague Governor´s
Office, out of 979 emigrants, 341 were from Lanskroun, 233 from Vysoke
persons. The official figures of the
Austrian government were much
Myto and 203 from Litomysl. At the beginning of July 1855, the region of
Pardubice returned 168 emigrants, of which one quarter were from the
newly built district Policka. A year later after the reorganization of the
regional administration, the region of Chrudim shows 499 issued emigration
passports (the whole of Bohemia 2088).
A so called Miller´s map of Bohemia
from 1720s, describing the region
around Polička
A modern hiking map of the villages
westwards from the town of Policka.
1:50 000
Frantisek Cerny of Breziny applied
for the emigration consent fro the
first time in 1854. The family was
granted the approval, but they did
not emigrate within 6 months
because of birth of daughter Josefa.
In April 24, 1855 a new application
was made.
In 1862, when the „Bach´s Absolutism“ came to the end, the emigration
somehow stopped, but it became a common phenomenon in all of the
poorer areas of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. The Chrudim administration
returned 141 emigrants in 1862, but about a decade later the emigration
wave began to rise again and reached his top at the turn of 1880 and
This common trend can be attested even by the emigration figures from
the district of Policka, where in total 12 communes were touched by the
emigration. The emigration referred mainly the villages west from the town
of Policka: Stary Kamenec and Novy Kamenec, Sadek, Borova, Siroky
Dul, Oldris, Breziny, Teleci and Pusta Rybna, i.e. the areas of the
Protestant parishes of Borova and Teleci.. Emigration wave stroke even
the town of Policka itself, in particular in Fifties of the 19th century. On the
other hand the emigration did not affected the German parts of the district
(with once exception). Unlike the adjoining Litomysl district the emigrants
went almost entirely to America, the emigration to Russia (Volhynia),
Ukraine and the Crimea appeared only later. There is no mention on
emigration to Serbia with two or three exceptions in 1852.
Some sources have been preserved in the District Archives in Litomysl,
that enable the emigration trends to be captured, reconstructed and
quantified in the district of Policka. The oldest archival document is the List
of issued passports between 1852 – 1856. The List is not accurate, entire
and does not have many particularities about emigrants, such as the
collection of individual applications for Emigration-Consent that covers the
years 1854 – 1857. These applications have already information on the
social character of the applicant and his family, they inform about the
economic and religious situation, in many cases the execution process of
the applications is documented step by step including the date of approval
and issue of the passport .
For the period 1858 – 1875 any data are missing. We only found general
statistics of the emigrants from the Policka district for 1876 – 1880.
Probably some data could be unveiled in the State Regional Archives in
Zamrsk (archival collection of the Regional administration in Chrudim) or in
the State Central Archives in Prague (fund of the Governor´s Office).
The decade 1881 – 1890 is documented in the best way of all periods. The
archival collection of the District Office of Policka contains the Emigration
Applications, the references of community councils, detailed description of
applicants and their companions, viewpoints of the district court of justice,
gendarme headquarters, military command and Governor’s Office. Farther,
there are information, referring to Steamship Company Agencies, posters
and brochures, that officially or illegally circulated amidst the residents.
Based on the studies of all these collections, it was possible to compile an
aggregated, however incomplete outline about figures and structure of
emigrants, that is discussed in the following text. It’s necessary to keep in
mind, that all these data, however incomplete and inaccurate may be, are
District Office in Litomysl announces
(1854, August 5) to Josef Kucera in
Borova, that he was granted the
official consent with emigration.
The journey must be set on within
next 6 month and return is not
Emigration Passport of Anna
Lopour, aka Rola of Kamenne
Sedliste. She emigrated in 1871 and
about ten years later she visited the
old country, in order to travel back to
America with her son.
Consignation of Frantisek Cerny of
Breziny and his family, i.e.list of
family members who applied for the
emigration consent with individual
statements of involved state
authorities (district office, district
court, military command)
The columns are : Name, Age,
Religion, Profession (Taglohnerdaily
laborer), Stand, Place of birth
mainly valid as the generalizing relative indices and not the absolute
The providing information are not exhaustive. It may have happened, that
some applications are missing. For example, it can be ascertain only from
the application of Catherine Major from Borova, that she followed her
husband Vince to America, who had legally emigrated a year earlier. His
own application has not been preserved.
Our survey does not deal with the people who actually emigrated, but with
those, who applied for an emigration, and the consent was them granted,
and farther those, where we positively know, that they actually moved out
in the mentioned periods. For 1850s we keep files of 90 applicants. Only
two or three families of them, after having been granted the consent with
emigration, changed their minds and stayed at home. There are 120 such
cases recorded in the Eighties. We absolutely know, that emigration wasn’t
allowed to 6 applicants (, but thereby we do not want to say, that they did
not emigrate later – afterwards, no matter if officially or illegally) and one
family decided to stay at home after having received the consent.
Not all the illegal emigration is recorded here, with an exception in the
years 1852.- 1854, when about 4 illegal emigrants are quoted on the list,
and some mentioned cases in later periods.
In some application cases not all the family members are enumerated (for
instance in 1852: Josef Wosmek, his consort Catherine and children, or in
the same year Jan Smetana of Borova with all the family). Some aged
applicants and little children could have deceased before the journey.
Some emigrants changed their decision, decided not to move out and this
was not recorded in archival sources. In case of Frantisek Petrzalek of
Stary Kamenec such a note was made: he changed his mind and went to
Austria for harvesting.
It happened in many cases that the emigrants did not manage to abandon
the country during the determinated time of six (four) months (difficulty with
selling of their homestead, illness, death, birth of a child). Such a situation
may be proved in most cases by a new application in the following year.
But only exceptionally we can prove, whether they actually set out on the
journey in the same calendar year, a year later or not at all, in cases when
the consent was issued in the second half of the year. The most
appreciated in this connection are the Czech Immigration Passenger Lists
issued by Mr. Leo Baca in Texas, but we have to take into account, that
they are also inaccurate and incomplete.
Our review between 1852 – 1857 indicates in total 298 emigrants and their
arrival to America can be documented only in 68 cases and in the second
period 1881-1889 we can prove an exact date of arrival in 126 cases of
390, i.e. less than one third of those, whom the emigration was allowed to.
It is interesting, that we’re able to document the arrival to New York of
nearly all the emigrants from Policka in 1854, however for following year
1855 and first half of 1856 we did not find the respective entries in Baca´s
lists for none of the emigrants with one exception.
By comparing with American sources we can detect, that legal emigrants
and domicile, reason of emigration.
Then there is a note that the
recruitment duties were carried out.
Following column indicates the
amount of money they are taking
with (800 guldens). In last column
the District Court and 18th Inf. Reg.
Military Command have no
objections against the emigration.
were joined by their kinsfolk in the port of departure, who either did not
asked for emigration or were not allowed to. This was the case of siblings
Josef and Francis Jukl from Teleci who met their parents in Bremen on the
Taking into consideration all these limits cited above and possible errors,
we can make a picture of the extent of emigration from Policka district in
both periods 1852 – 1857 and 1881 – 1889. For the future, we would like to
proceed in elaborating of the rest time of the last century. This will involve
a different and more sophisticated attitude to the archival sources. It would
be necessary to accomplish the comparison of information found in vital
registers, in Land books and census data with other sources as communal
and ecclesiastical chronicles and other additional material.

Personal description of Frantisek
Cerny, cottager of Breziny of May
14, 1855: religion – protestant,
statue-small, face – oval, hair –
brown, eyes – blue, mouth – usual (!),
nose – pointed, special sign – none
Emigration in both periods seized particularly indigent hilly villages with
evangelic population west off Policka. This territory was linked to
additional emigrant centers in adjacent districts – regions of Svratka,
Krouna and Prosec in districts of Vysoke Myto and Chrudim, vicinity of
Dolni Ujezd, Budislav and Jarosov in the Litomysl´s district and the
neighborhood of Jimramov and Nemecke in adjacent Moravia. All these
areas were characterised with a relative congestion, low-rate autarchic
agricultural homesteads, and, consequently the majority of the poor
rustic population – day-laborers and hinds, an unproductive weaving
trade and starving workmanlike manufacture. Former glory of glassworks
and iron-mills, that gave subsistence to a rather big part of the
population, had already passed by. The Protestant reformed confession
was able to bid its worshippers the belief and the strength, but couldn’t
keep their pots boiling.
To summarize all data, the total number of emigrants in 1852 – 1857
was around 300 people, in 1881 – 1889 reached their number to 400.
The share of Policka district on the global emigration from Bohemia at
the beginning of 1850s was more than 5 per cents and the share
dropped to 2 per cents in 1855. In 1880s this quotient did not exceed
one hundred. By applying this one per cent to the period 1858 – 1875,
for which the data are missing, an estimation can be made, that the
number of emigrants from the district in this period was between 300 –
500 people.
In general, we may estimate the decline of population by the migration
to America for the whole second half of the 19th century at roughly 1000
people, prevailing from villages Borova, Teleci, Breziny, Oldris and
Kamenec. There were 7000 inhabitants there in 1850. Thanks to high
nativity, the population decrease in 1890 was only moderate.
See TAB 1:Emigration from Policka district between 1852 – 1890
according to individual villages

Perhaps the oldest known emigrant to America from our county was
Wenceslas Makovsky, a joiner, son of Jan Makovsky from Borova No.
71, who emigrated shortly after the Religious Reform Law (the Letter of
Tolerance) in 1781 with 80 guldens in his pocket, that represented his
inheritance on the native house. First records concerning the emigrants
Report of the community council in
Breziny referring to Josefa Cerna´s
manners from 1854
were administrated in 1852. The highest emigration figure is reported for
the year 1854 and applied already to all mentioned communities.
In 1850s the entire emigration number from Borova was around 100
people, which represented 9 p.c. of the population. The share on the
village population was only a bit lower in Pusta Rybna and Oldris (each
with 5 p.c.). Thirty years later the stream of emigrants moved to Breziny
(5 p.c.), Kamenec (7 p.c.) and mainly Teleci (8 p.c.). The share in Pusta
Rybna, Borova and Oldris prevailed.
The multiple growth of emigration wave from Teleci could be probably
connected with the quarrels in local Protestant community and activity of
its priest Josef Martinek, who was accused of exciting, provoking the
emigration process. He was later sentenced to a penalty of 20 guldens.
Then the stream of emigrants from Teleci ceased.

Birth certificate of Jan Tomsu of St.
Kamenec No. 38, issued by the
Protestant parish in Teleci in 1874.
Who were actually those emigrants ? Were they objectors, troublemakers,
adventurers, dreamers, refugees, misleads or emigrants by their
own will ? Were they even the traitors of the nation or the people whose
national maturity was not evoked yet ? A Czech writer and historian of the
last century Ferdinand Schulz wrote about them:
„They separate themselves from their own nation, they reduce Czech
national property, they export substantial, remarkable economic strength
from the country and they hurry up to multiply the welfare of foreign
states, because they either do not know the duties that bound them to the
native soil, or they are already tired, fed up by constant bringing the
sacrifice for the prosperity and rights of their own nation.“
In fact, this was not only the official Austrian propaganda, but this was the
opinion of the rest of the nation. Austrian authorities tolerated the
individual emigration, if it was evoked by the living conditions and or by
the desire for a freedom. They were afraid of organized emigration that
could grow into a political process, which were only hardly manageable.
Therefore the authorities executed the emigration agenda and passports
in a rather flexible and fast way. They were benevolent in granting the
emigration permission and many of the applicants received the Consent
and Passport within 14 days after the date of application. The faster they
disappeared, the better (for the state). With one exception – people with
military duties.
Let us go to elucidate the lives of these miserables and let us try to
understand the reasons, that led them to such an important fatal decision
that changed not only their lives and lives of their families, but also the
lives of their ancestors until now. Lives of people, who decided to create
a new, free nation.

What was the demographic structure of the emigrants?
See: TAB. 2 Demographic structure of emigrants
In both periods, there were mainly the families with children, who decided
Domicile confirmation for Jan
Makovsky, a retired farmer from
Borova of 27.2. 1855
for the emigration. In 1850s we counted up to 51 families with one to
seven children. Similar situation was 30 years later, when 47 families with
children emigrated. The numerous families prevailed mainly in the
Eighties. The family of Frantisek Makovsky of Borova had 5 children in
the age from 4 to 11 years, the families of Frantisek Madera and
Frantisek Teply were similar. Ignac of Teleci had even 8 children, the
youngest were the twins Antonie and Amalie who were born several
months before the emigration, the oldest Anna was 18. Seven under-aged
children stated the smith Frantisek Stegner and two other matured
children emigrated already some years before. The largest family in the
Fifties was Josef and Frantiska Zvacek´s with 6 children.
We figured several uncomplete families, where one of parents was
missing. A poor, old maid, Frantiska Fajmon of Borova applied for
emigration in 1856 together with her unlegitimate two-year-old son Jan.
She stated in her application, that she only seldom had a job, she suffered
by need and by wretch. She had nobody in the world except for her
brother Vaclav Fajmon of Pusta Rybna, but he applied for emigration
simultaneously, and she would have nobody here at all, if she stayed.
A widow Anna after Jan Makovsky of Kamenec wrote several decades
later: My sister „…invites me in every letter, and writes that the living there
is easier by all means and that the future of my son Josef will be secured.
Here I am in debts more and more and I would have to sell the house and
pay the debts – and nothing would be left for living.“
In 14 cases we figured families, consisted of more then two generations –
i.e. grandparents, parents and children. A typical case was the emigration
of Josef Stodola from Borova – sv. Katerina, his wife Aloisia, both
grandparents and seven children in 1887.
Not always all the family members, stated in the application, actually left
their homes. It happened that a child or an elderly died, sometimes even
on the ship or before they set out for the journey. A farmer Josef Dostal of
Blatina (63) asked for permission in 1854 for his six-member-family and
his 77-year-old father Jan. They received the consent and passports but
they did not find a buyer for their farmstead and therefore they decided to
postpone the emigration for the following year. It happened, but without
their grand-dad who decided to stay at home, to die in peace there.
The emigration of childless families was in either period on the same level.
In 1850s there were eight, in Eighties nine such cases. Predominantly,
they were older couples, but still in productive age. They had either
enough money to start a new life or, they belonged to the poorest in a
village, and decided to follow their friends and relatives who mostly even
paid for their passage.
In 1880s the number of emigrating individuals increased by 200 per cents
to compare with the situation in 1850s. There are a lot of young emigrants
mainly in 1880s. Frantisek Zvacek of Teleci was a 17-year-old orphan.
Father died, mother got married and moved out of the village. Frantisek
had lived with the family of his grandfather Josef Zvacek until he
emigrated with his spouse Marie to Nebraska in 1879. He promised to
Frantisek, that he would send him money for the passage, when he
collects some. Now he kept his word and Frantisek abandoned the
Austrian citizenship and left for the new future.
Another notable trend in 1880s is the joining of families. In the first
emigration waves the trip to America was a real mystery tour. People did
not know what they could expect. In 1850s we figured only 7 cases, when
the emigrants went to follow their relatives.
Antonín Navrátil of Borova with his consort and two children left
Bohemia for Wisconsin in 1854. Two years later he was followed by his
two brothers Vaclav of Pusta Rybna and Frantisek of Oldris and their
families and in 1857 even their old mother Veronica decided to emigrate
after a long hesitancy. Thirty years later such a practice was quite
common. Brother followed brother, parents their children, nephew his aunt.
But the familiar consistancy preserved in the USA only in the first
generation of immigrants and later most of the contacts were broken.
Josef Tusla of Sadek intended to emigrate to Burnett, Nebraska in 1881
where: „my brother-in-law, Frantisek Vodstrcil from Kamenec as a smith
has lived and invites and assures me, that I, as a cartwright, will have lots
of jobs with good earnings there.“
František Nunvar of Borova sends his 19-year-old son Antonin (1881/25)
to father´s brother Antonin, and to Josef Ehrenberger, his brother-in-law,
who „live in the state of Iowa and promised me that he would support any
of my children, if they come to America.“
Josef Picha confessed that his sisters and brothers in Minnesota bought
several acres of field for them, „they will cultivate them for us and when we
come, we will only have to harvest the crop and the subsistence for the
first period will be secured.“
Jan Andrle of Siroky Dul emigrated in 1879 with wife and two children.
Before the emigration he had lost some money and he could not have
taken all the children along with them, there were four of them to stay in
service in Vysoke Myto, until father will be able to pay for the passage. He
sent pre-paid travel tickets to their daughters Anna and Rosalia
(1881/39). Their guardian, father´s brother Frantisek intercedes for issuing
passports for them: „The girls, though under-aged, are fully developed in
growth and in mind, they are healthy and moreover, they will travel
together with adults they know.“
A widower, Jan (or Vaclav) Jilek of Kamenec 80, a farmer, emigrated in
1881 (29), after he had lost his farm because of bad housekeeping. His
two children, a 10-year-old Josef and seven-year-old Anna were left with
their aunt Josefa Pavlis in Kamenec. They met their father again eight
years later in New York, in 1889, when the Pavlis´ came to America as
The following table states the emigrants according to their age.
See TAB.3 – Age Distribution of Emigrants
There are not big differences between both periods. The share of children
was between 40 – 50 p.c. Journey to America was an adventure they
never forgot. They were the first generation, that fully assimilated in the
USA, Americanized. Only half of their parents was in biologically active
age (20 p.c. of total), whereas the other half were older parents, thought
they were still active economically. The group of old people, above 55
years of age, formed 10 per cent of all emigrants. Their assimilation in new
condition was only low and nearly neither of them built a new life, different
from the old one. They were in their memories still at home until the death
and seldom learnt English. In the 1850s some seventy-year-old
emigrantes are recorded. The oldest among them was 85-year-old Terezie
Nunvar of Borova . We do not know if she really lived to see America.
Josef Bohac of Pusta Rybna was 72 when he and his wife Katerina
reached the American coast on October 10, 1854. Having arrived to the
Port of New York, they declared their age to be ten years lower. They may
have been afraid of not being allowed to entry, if they stated their actual
See TAB. 4 – Social Distribution of Emigrants
The emigration from the Policka district can be characterized in either
periods as predominantly the agrarian emigration. The farming families
formed in the Fifties two-thirds of all emigrants. The share of the local poor
(day-laborer, hinds and weavers) was about 20 p.c. in the first period, later
it increased to forty per cent, whereas the share of middle class declined.
The highest percentage of emigrants was formed by landless families who
had to help themselves in living by weaving of linen fabrics. Jan Telecky
of Oldris (1881/2), complained in his application, that he is completely
unable to ensure subsistence and better future, even „now, when the
weaver’s work stagnates and there was a poor crop of potatoes during
several last years.“ One of the poorest families, that intented to emigrate,
were the Mrazs of Siroky Dul (1881/22). They had no job, no earning, no
property. The family of Jan Makovsky of Pusta Rybna (1855/55) was
considered by the village judge as the poorest family at all.
In 1888 Antonin Ehrenberger, a 33-year-old cottager and weaver of
Teleci received the Emigration Consent. His old friend Josef Makovsky in
Nebraska, offered him one half of his 160-acres lot and the parents
promised to give to him 150 guldens for the passage.
The farmer’s families emigrated only exceptionally – mostly, when they
were exposed to a misfortune or misery. The farm No. 140 in Teleci,
belonging to Frantisek Plihal was burnt down in 1880 and in 1881 all crop
was destroyed by hailstorms. This was the reason for his application. His
neighbor Antonín Fajmon of house No. 141 states in his application one
year later, that „in 1882 all cereals rotted on the fields and that they did
harvest even less than what they had planted.“
The share of artisans/craftsmen increased in 1880s. The emigration refers
predominantly to the journey-men and craft-helpers ( for instance two
young lads from Teleci traveled together in 1881 – Frantisek Stegner,(12)
a smith-helper and Adolf Pajkr (Peiger), a miller´s son (13).) and poor
country handicraftsmen – a local tailor Frantisek Pavlis of Borova
(1852/4), carpenters Frantisek Bren and Frantisek Hladky of Breziny
(1854/15, 16), or the Borova´s miller Pavel Korab (1854/39).- We may find
also a shoemaker, joiner, saddler, butcher and some more among the
emigrants. Jakub Prochazka (1887/106) of Kamenec is a locksmith and
his brothers-in-low prepaid the ticket for the whole family. He wrote in the
application from March 1887 that they intended to move out as soon as
possible, maybe in the same month. In April he wanted to leave the
backdoor open: If the things there go badly, we will return.
Only two members of the higher class – the town burghers of Policka –
emigrated in 1850s. They were Prokop Hnevkovsky, a son of the former
„Burgmeister“ – town mayor in 1855 and Jan Novotny, a wealthy
inhabitant, emigrated a year later.
See TAB.5 – Financial Means of the Emigrants in 1852 – 1887
One of the basic conditions to receive the Emigration Consent was the
sufficient finance amount for the passage to America and for the initial
period there. The authorities took care about it and did not allowed the
emigration, if the family did not gather at least 100 guldens per person.
The amount that was to the emigrants´ disposal, is recorded in statistics
and lists (consignations) of individual families.
In 1854 the Moravian Governor’s Office drew up an overview of travel
expenses per person for the voyage from Brno to New York via Bremen
and Hamburg. An accurate officer enumerated the rail-way costs from
Brno to Bremen at 17 guldens, the cost for the stay in Bremen were
estimated at 10 guldens, the provisions (wine, sugar, tobacco and food for
the voyage) at 12 guldens, the passage itself on a sail-boat 65 guldens,
the luggage ca. 14 guldens. The whole voyage was figured at 140 – 145
guldens for an adult ( i.e. 65 – 70 dollars – the exchange rate of that time –
2,1 guldens equal to one dollar.)
The majority of emigrants had only required 140 guldens or a bit more per
person. Only 13 p.c. of emigrants had to their disposal more than 400
guldens per each, on the other hand, one tenths could not collect even the
required amount. They were probably those who went on foot either to
Prague, or to the frontier-station of Podmokly on the Saxon border. Some
cases are known, when the emigrants, mostly individuals, went on foot to
an European port. The nearest railway station in 1850s was in Chocen,
where the emigrants had their assembly place. The travelers from Policka
and Litomysl were followed there by people from Lanskroun and Rychnov.
Many friends, relatives and acquaintance came there to see the emigrants
off. The departure of the train use to be very sad. It meant leaving forever.
The individual, childless families and farmers exported more money. Only
five families had more than 3000 guldens in cash. Among them Josef
Svanda with the wife and son of Borova No. 8, Josef Zvacek of Teleci
with her wife and 6 children, Frantisek Lorenc of Oldris, with the wife and
4 children, Josef Kucera of Borova with spouse, son and his parents and
Frantisek Teska of Oldris. The peasant Jan Makovsky states only 2200
guldens, though the village judge in his report announces, that Makovsky
sold his farmstead No. 100 in Borova for 8825 guldens. Most families had
between 700 – 1400 guldens.
It would be interesting to find out how the emigration influenced the market
prices of houses and cottages. Many potential emigrants had to give up
their idea, or they had to postpone the emigration for a later time, till they
found buyers for their properties.
Frantisek Teska could not sell his farmstead with 45 morgens of fields
and meadows in 1854. His idea of 7200 guldens was too high and he did
not find the buyer, unless he decreased the price by 1200 guldens in the
following year. He had to apply for an emigration once more. The price of
small houses and cottages was between 400 – 800 guldens, but even here
it was sometimes difficult to sell.
Frantisek Picha of Oldris hopes, that he will sell his cottage at 400 and
the remaining 200 guldens will be somehow scraped up, in order to have
the required amount of 150 guldens per person.. Frantisek Cerny of
Pusta Rybna put off his voyage for a year. One reason was that his wife
was pregnant, the second one, he could not find a buyer whom he could
sell his homestead at 540 guldens.
It was very hard for some people to get even the minimal amount. Already
mentioned Veronika Navratil in 1857 stated she had 200 guldens chased
for the voyage, but there were hesitations about her property.
Most of farms were in debts. their owners paid the installments all their life,
there was a scarcity of a free liquidity. In 1880s the yearly income of 100
guldens was nearly incredible in the countryside. Many daily laborers
wrote in their applications that they did not earn more than 2 guldens
weekly. How princely were the wages mentioned by happier relatives in
America. Josef Makovsky, a 23-year-old cottager´s son quitted the
country for Nebraska in 1881, in order „to avoid hunger and to find
sustenance.“ Two years later he was followed by parents and siblings. The
father gave reasons of their decision that „the son in America has 18
dollars per month and he was already able, after two years of being there,
to provide them with money for the passage for three persons.“
A miller´s journey-man Frantisek Fiala of Oldris was invited by a friend
Jan Romportl who emigrated in 1877. „He said that I would definitely
secure a better future there. The wages of a miller´s helper are more than
1 1/2 „tollars“ a day.“
What was the literacy of emigrants like? We can not say that all were
capable of reading and writing. But nearly all male applicants even in the
Fifties, were able to undersign their applications. Scarcely anybody was
able to write the letter to the District office by his own hand. Among them,
who wrote own application by himself and helped his fellows, was for
instance Vaclav Navratil of Pusta Rybna, who was also able to speak
German. People addressed their parish-priest, a teacher, a local official
scrivener or a village judge to help. Several applications were written by a
former priest, and writer Josef Vaclav Justin Michl, a.k.a. Drasar, who was
a famous, but a tragic presence of the Policka region in the middle of the
last century. He was excommunicated from the catholic church, he
converted to Protestantism and settled down in Breziny, where he taught
children and served as a village scribe. He was probably more active in
writing the applications for emigration, then it was usual, and he was then
investigated for assistance in stimulating the emigration which was, as we
mention already, a crime. He promised in 1854, he would cease this
activity but still we do have letters and reminders to the Governor´s office
written by his own hand in 1855. (For instance a reminder by Frantisek
Cerny, where he urged the issue of the passport)
In Borova the applications were mostly written by the village clerk Kucera,
or by Protestant priest Kosut. Some writers were afraid they could be
accused by the same way as Drasar. The scribe in Pusta Rybna refused to
write the application for Jan Makovsky. Or Frantisek Filipi, being
investigated at the District Office on 21 April 1855, announced that „more
Moravian citizens had their applications written by a certain local scrivener
in the village of Nemecke, and so I went there as well.“ But for certain he
forgot his family name. The question who compiled and wrote the
application for a Passport issue, was a usual question in case of any
interrogation of potential emigrants at the District Office.
There were not only social and economic reasons, but as far as Policka
district is concerned, also religion was the cause of the emigration. We
have to realize, that the Protestant confession was not equivalent to the
Catholic one. Protestantism since the time the Letter of Tolerance was
accepted, was only tolerated. But both Protestant confessions, that is
Lutheran and Reformed, were not natural, were not proper to the
population of the Bohemian East. Their ancestors confessed the belief of
the Bohemian Brethren (same as the Moravians) but this confession was
not named in the Letter of Tolerance and thus not recognized. So it
happened, that in the region the differences in opinion, quarrels and
unsatisfaction appeared and they resulted in existence of various streams,
groups and sects. People were convinced, that only the full religious
freedom in America may fully satisfy their spiritual needs.
We can not evaluate from the applications, whether these tendencies were
direct causes of emigration, but from the history of the reformed Protestant
church in Teleci we are informed about the quarrels in this community, that
led into its splitting and creation of a new parish in Pusta Rybna at the
beginning of 1880s. And look – the number of emigrants from Teleci, Pusta
Rybna and Breziny in the period of these quarrels remarkable increased.
The emigration of Catholics was only an exception. In the Fifties the
catholic emigrants were the cabinet-maker Jiri Wosmek of Policka,
Frantisek Andrlik of Oldris and the families of Navratil´s brothers in Borova.
The only German emigrant Heinrich Weber from Nemecka Bela was also a
catholic. The emigration did not nearly touch the Czech, but catholic
communes in the Southern part of the district – Korouhev, Bystre, and
Svojanov. We can hardly assume, that the economic situation there was
better, than in the villages west of Policka.
In the Eighties the share of Catholics on the emigration from Borova,
Oldris and Sadek is somewhat higher. We checked about 60 Catholics of
260 emigrants, who stated their religion. We remarked two mixed families,
where the parents had a different confession. The story of a 58-year-old
Protestant Terezie Kucera of Borova-Cerkytle, is worth noticing. She filed
her application in 1855, together with her daughter Josefa and son Vaclav,
but her husband Josef Kucera, who was a Catholic, was not involved. The
District Office did not like it and called Josef Kucera to be examined. He
said, that he „really did not want to emigrate, because he was old and ill.
But the spirit drew permanently his wife to America“, and so he was ready
to give her 1000 guldens for the emigration and he had understanding for
the children leaving as well. Terezie then emigrated one year later with the
daughter, whereas the son was not allowed to emigrate because of his
recruiting age.
The conscription and military duties were the biggest obstruction to
emigration consent. Military conscription referred to all male persons of 21
years of age and more. They were obliged to report (call-up) to a draft. A
system of lot drawing was introduced, which meant that not all recruits
were ranked in the army. Who pulled up a high number, was released and
Army release certificate of soldier
Josef Bren of Sadek from Nov. 11,
Army release certificate of corporal
Josef Jonas of Teleci from 1881,
June 6. They both served at the 3rd
Engineer regiment in Nymburk
he had to come again the following year together with the recruits who
were one year younger. This procedure was repeated three times (there
was a special term for it – a recruit in 1st, 2nd and 3rd class -) and the one
who was not drafted for the third time, was released to the reserve and
after ten years he was discharged absolutely (only with a duty to serve in a
case of war). The recruits, who were drafted, had to serve either in normal
army or in „landwehr“ The length of an active military service was 8 years
until 1868, when this duty was reduced to three years. After having
finished military service the soldiers went to a reserve for 7 years (they
had to exercise regularly with their regiments) and then for a period of two
years to landwehr. That means that men were free from all their military
duties in 33 – 35 years of their age and then they were called veteransoldiers.
There were some health and social respects that could reduce
the military duties either in part or completely.
The soldier, released from the active service, was subordinated to the
District Military Command, that used to be in the city of Hradec Kralove.
The most soldiers from Policka served either in Infantry regiment No. 18
with the garrison in the fort of Josefov (later also regiment No. 98 with the
District Command in Vysoke Myto), or in Engineers regiment No. 3 in
In order to secure the complete executing of military duties, free
movement of male population abroad was prohibited and therefore the
people willing to emigrate had to apply for a consent at the District
command or the Governor´s Office.
In 1856 a special military tax was introduced in Austria, that was paid by
people who were not drafted or were released from the army or enjoyed
any relief. The tax was payable yearly and those, who wanted to emigrate,
had to pay the tax for all remaining years once for ever.
In the Fifties a District Military Command had to give their standpoint to
any application, no matter if the applicant was twenty or seventy, later only
in cases of conscription age of the applicants, i.e. 21 – 35 years of age.
In 1850s, when the military service was bound to eight years, there were a
minimal number of people in military age, who applied for emigration. Most
of applicants are about 29 years old and that means, they were already
released from the army. In most cases there were no objections against
emigration of these people – we can name Tomas Korab of Borova, Jan
Bednar of Breziny or Jan Makovsky. Frantisek Cerny of Pusta Rybna
was only 23 in 1854, when he applied for emigration. He was probably not
drafted in the 3rd class and then released from his duties. Frantisek
Lorenc of Kamenec asked for emigration for the first time in 1854. He was
refused from „to him unknown reasons“. In 1885 he applied once more
and he received a letter from the District Office: „… we inform you that if
you do not comply with your recruit duties, you will never receive the
passport for emigration. Only then you may be granted our consent, if you
will not be recognized capable of military service.“ Lorenc then called up
probably the draft and was released. So he applied for the third time in
1856 and was granted the official consent with emigration.
In the Eighties the military body that made a statement to the emigration of
persons in military age, was the Governor´s Office in Prague of the
Ministry for Landwehr (Land-Defend) in Wien. There were two groups of
applicants who were liable to conscription. Firstly they were men after their
active military service, who were subject to District Military Command.
Should they ask for an emigration, the Governor´s Office met their
demands in most cases, if the applicants paid for the military tax for the
remaining years of the reserve. The second group of applicants were
recruits, or young men, who were not drafted even in the third class.
Some applications were rejected. For instance a 24-year-old butcher and
innkeeper Josef Lorenc of Borova, who was recently released from the
army, was refused. The same has happened to a young couple Frantisek
and Filomena Zaruba of Oldris. Frantisek, a tailor, returned just from the
active service, he got married, inherited a large farmstead and they were
said not to be suffering by any needs. The emigration was not allowed to a
widow Frantiska Filipi with her two sons – Josef Lopour from the first
marriage and Josef Filipi from the second one. The Governor´s Office
refused to release Lopour from reserve. The reason was probably the fact,
that the third son, Frantisek Filipi, emigrated several years ago illegally.
The disapproval solved nothing. Shortly after refusal the widow with both
sons appeared in the port of Hamburg and they set of on a journey to New
York, where they met their third brother on May 22, 1882.
Josef Zelenda, a shoemaker from Oldris faced the troubles with the
military authorities, too. He returned from the military service and got
married. He moved to Breziny where their first son was born. He wanted to
emigrate together with his old father Pavel Zelenda. They were invited to
America by father´s sister Katerina Lorenc who emigrated in 1852. The
old Zelenda wanted to emigrate already in 1852 and he received the
permission, but later he changed his mind from unknown reasons and only
the Lorenc family moved out. In 1881 the authorities did not like the
reasons and Josef Zelenda had his duties in the landwehr. Josef´s
application was thus refused. Father Pavel received the official consent at
the beginning of April and by the end of June he was already in the USA.
Josef Zelenda did not give it up and with some delay he received the
Emigration consent in summer that year. A year later he was followed by
his brother Frantisek Zelenda with wife and two children.
It is interesting that certain people received the Consent without any
difficulties. Michal Halamka, a reservist of the 18th Inf. reg. from Breziny
received the approval within three months. Josef, the only Pavlis´ son
received the permission within four months. It was because his parents
were disabled and were dependent fully on the son´s help. Their disability
was the reason, that Josef Pavlis was free of military duties. They all
emigrated in 1855. Only to complete, Josef Pavlis was brother-in-low of
the above mentioned Josef Zelenda. Another Josef, the son of Mikulas
Bostik was even released from the active service at the 1st dragoon
regiment, in order that he could emigrate together with his parents.
Another Makovsky family owned a small house in Teleci. They had no field
and no job. Jan Makovsky was lucky in the draft, chose a high number
and therefore was not obliged to serve in the army, but only in the
landwehr. After he had paid the military tax for all 12 years of duties, he
was released and emigrated. Jan Dvorak from Oldris was three times at
the conscription and never drafted. Thus he carried out his duties and he
also received the Emigration consent.
We mentioned earlier the siblings Jukls who joined their parents at the
ship´s board in Bremen. They were in conscription age and did not believe
they could receive the consent in an official way. Only their parents Josef
and Terezie Jukl applied for emigration, did not mention they had two
sons. The parents were accompanied by Vincencie Bures, who was
stated in application as their maid-servant. I guess, she was rather a
fiancee of either son, than their maid. In this way the family cheated the
authorities and managed to get out off the country.
In the Eighties there were two more military men among the emigrants:
Josef Jonas of Teleci and Josef Bren of Kamenec. They both served at
the 3th Engineers Regiment in Nymburk. Jonas reached the rank of
corporal and was present when Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina
in 1878. He was awarded a military medal. The state did not make any
objections against their emigration, for they were already military veterans.
Only Jonas received the Emigration consent a bit late and his wife came to
New York a month earlier than he, who caught the following ship.
We showed that the emigrants were from very poor environs and that they
hoped they would gain better living standard after emigration. But some of
them were calculating individuals who intended either to leave their family
or to avoid paying taxes and debts. There were also people with a wicked
reputation. Most of them left Austria illegally. Nevertheless some tried to
get the emigration consent.
A request of Josef Halamka, a 32 year-old, married daily laborer of
Breziny, from 1882, has been preserved. At the beginning, it seemed the
course would be smooth and running. He intended to sail alone to
America, to look around, earn money and only then if he establish himself,
he would be followed by his wife. She was said to argee. But the district
office did not like it and ordered the community council to investigate the
matter. And the results? “Halmka´s wife does not want to give her
approval, and she will not. If he wanted to work here, he could live here as
in America. The named Halamka is a drunkard, a good-for-nothing and a
lazy-bones.” Josef Haman, an inn-keeper and agent of the Norddeutscher
Lloyd in Policka draw attention to the fact, that Halamka is ready to
emigrate even without permission. A similar situation was in case of Josef
and Josefa Kadlec in Breziny in 1888. They owed more then 60 guldens
to a local bartender. He declared later, that the Kadlecs paid off their debt
and so they received the permission. Josef Cerveny from Oldris owed to
his own brother 50 guldens and about 2 bushels rye. The court session led
to a peaceful settlement, and the debtor promised to pay the debt in 14
days. But his brother is afraid about his claim, since he heard that Josef
Kadlec was going to emigrate in those days. The office probably held beck
their passports until the settlement was made.
It happened once, that the applicant cheated totally the Austrian
authorities. In May 1888, Josef Topinka from Oldris, a tiny village near
Policka, asked the District Authority for the Emigration-Consent for himself
and his wife Catharina, who was 20 years older than he was. The
application was approved but Topinka came to the Authority again and
said, that he had thought it over and he did not want to emigrate, but only
to travel to America and, if he finds the life appropriate, then he would
return and take his spouse along with him. His wife had no objections and
he then received the Passport with a 3-year-validity. He may have needed
more money before departure, and so he went in summer to Moravia for
harvesting. He did not want to také the documents (passports, birth
certificates etc.) with and therefore he left them not at home, but at his
father’s, whose name was Josef as well. During the summer father worked
in a farmstead as a daily laborer, and once, when he was caring for the
cattle, he probably lost all the bundle of documents either in muck or in
fodder and never found them again. In spring next year, Josef Topinka Jr.
and his father came to the District office once more, announced the loss of
documents and Topinka asked for a new passport for himself. The office
was unaware of anything and the new passport was issued. It could have
been end of the story, if it had not been for a certain Henry Grubhoffer from
Policka. In April he came to the Office with a complaint, that Josef Topinka,
who is known to be a spendthrift, owed him 188 guldens and asked to stop
his traveling. The office fetched a policeman for Topinka to Oldris, but the
officer came back, announcing, only a mourning wife Catharina was found
at home whereas both Josefs gone. It is clear that they did not lost any
document and it was Josef´s plan form the very beginning, how to get rid
of his wife, and how to receive passport for his father, without any
Ship Agents´Advertizing materials
The first steps of the East Bohemian immigrants aimed mainly to the state
of Wisconsin, though there are reported the cases, when they settled in
Texas. There was an influence of one of the first immigrants, Josef Ernest
Bergmann and mainly Josef Lesikar from the near Dolni Cermna. In 1860
there were about 7000 Czech immigrants in Wisconsin, mainly in regions
of Milwaukee and Racine. Both towns are mentioned in a few applications
for emigration in mutilated form as Milvanky (Mil-wahn-kee) and Rezyna
(Reh-zee-nah). Later the number of emigrants to Wisconsin declined and
in 1880 only the families Jandls or Kvetenskys mentioned that state as
their final destination. In 1860s the main stream of emigrants aimed to
neighboring states of Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.
See TAB. 6 – The Final Destination
Cedar Rapids in Iowa was the main center of the Czech new-comers. The
siblings Nunvars, who originally anchored in Wisconsin, moved later to
Iowa. They were followed by their acquaintances and relatives in 1880s –
the Letys, Romportls, Zelendas, Andrles, Chadimas and Pavlis´.
Minneapolis became the destination for the Policka emigrants at the end of
1860s and at the beginning of the following decade. Among others they
were families Makovskys, Dvoraks, Popelkas and Tipals who are
mentioned in the book by Helen Vavra and Albert Kranz. The destination
of those and other emigrants were the places as Charfield, Hutchinson,
Horesbur, Jordan and Hennepina.
Burnett, Nebraska, became a new home for Josef Tusla and his family,
Jan Vostrcil, for the Bostiks, Teplys and Travniceks.
In 1850s applications there was no place of destination mentioned. I
guess, that the applicants did not know in most cases at all, where they
were going, and that the decisions were made after discussions with other
emigrants during the voyage or even after coming to America.
In 1880s the information regarding the final place of destination is far more
specific. In about 50 per cent of all applications, there is a mention of a
specific state and in several dozens of cases, they applicants wrote, where
they exactly intended to move.

An advertizing brochure from 1870s
with the recommendations for the
As we discussed earlier, the most emigrants were farmers and agriculture
laborers. I guess that those, who emigrated with their families, kept their
original occupation even after coming to the USA. On the other hand,
those, who left individually and followed their friends and relatives, settled
in many cases in towns and cities and found there a job as trade people or
factory workers.
They were poor people, uneducated, nearly illiterate, who were hardy able
to undersign, and in any case politically unripe, backward individuals who
were leaving Bohemia. But they had their own sound rational core and,
being faced to the American reality, they were able to learn fast and to
In order to show how fast their minds and attitudes to the basic principles
of freedom and equality were changing, I will quote a Josef Kriz´s letter to
parents in Teleci of March 14, 1875, who settled in about 1868 in Cedar
“In to my opinion, I will say only following: In Bohemia, everything is
cooked at home in a big pot on the sly, in order the nation had no idea
what´s happened – but here, the nation is free ! And people are informed
about everything. I had enough time to look at the freedom principles and I
am ready now to become a citizen of American principles and freedom.
Nobody is forced here to do what he dislikes and nobody is condemned to
be a second-rate and law-less individual. I will defend the rights and
freedom of the American Union by the same way as the society will protect
me against the unlawful and sever treatment.”
Who were actually the emigrants to the USA ?
They were people who created the world of affluence, freedom and order,
who created the new American nation and were proud of it.
June, 1999
Karel Kysilka