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The German Russians Come To Sutton

Fertile land and freedom brought these wandering Europeans to Nebraska

In 1763 Catherine the Great of Russia issued a manifesto of sorts. This document asked for Germans to migrate into Russia to farm the lands while also giving them relative autonomy to live. They would become Russian citizens but still were able to maintain their language and culture.

The moved by Catherine was due in part to religious persecution and intolerance going on in Europe during the time. This along with troubled economic conditions made the move to the fertile grounds and ideal situation to many of these Germans. Catherine, who was of German decent, also had a soft spot for the people. She wanted to allow them to settle and prosper under her reign.

She promised these immigrants land to farm, exemption from military service, and freedom to worship however they wanted. Many also saw tax benefits that others in the region did not receive. This was quite the offer considering this was all the way back in the 1700’s and many in the Europe did not have these freedoms. The people who came over from the German lands experienced a way of life that they had never had before. They lived this way for over one hundred years. They worked the land and built up their communities well past Catherine’s rule.

This migration and settlement lasted well into the 19th century until Alexander II took the crown. When he came to power in Russia he repealed the immigration policy set forth by Catherine the Great. With that the autonomy and tax privileges that many of these Germans had in Russia were gone. Alexanders II reign also saw an increase of Russian Nationalism that left many of the immigrants disenfranchised. They no longer felt the need to stay in the lands promised to them by Catherine the Great.

With this change many of these Germans moved to Americas where the lands were ripe for cultivation and they could practice their religions with little trouble. In the United States they landed in the Great Plains region. The breadbasket if you will. Here they were able to take their agrarian practices and knowledge and start fresh in this rich uncultivated land.

One such location was in Sutton, Nebraska. There a number of families settled starting in 1873. These newcomers came from the Volga River and Black Sea regions of Russia. Sutton become an important stop for these German/Russians. Here they settled and had a great influence over agriculture, education, and culture of the area that is still felt to this day.

In 1968 the American Historical Society of Germans from Russians was formed to preserve the history of these people. They are currently based in Lincoln, NE and have a museum showcasing the history of these people in the area. If you are a history buff then I recommend you make it down if you have the chance. It is a wonderful museum that will give you a better understanding of the lives these people led when they arrived to the United States.

In 2015 the Nebraska State historical society erected a marker commemorating these immigrants to the area and the importance they had in shaping the region.

It reads:

“Twenty-two German families from the Russian villages of Worms and Rohrbach arrived in Sutton in September 1873, the first of many German Russians to settle in Nebraska. The immigrants were descendents of ethnic Germans who began colonizing the Volga River and Black Sea regions of Russia beginning in the 1760s at the invitation of Catherine the Great. She promised the Germans land, freedom of religion, exemption from military service, and political autonomy. When Czar Alexander II revoked these privileges in 1871 many Germans living in Russia began emigrating to the United States.

The Burlington Railroad built an immigrant house near the Sutton depot to shelter the new arrivals until they could build homes and acquire land, much of which they purchased from the railroad. Throughout the 1870s Sutton remained a destination for German Russians coming to Nebraska. Those who settled here were excellent farmers with a strong work ethic and firmly held religious beliefs. Although German Russian colonies sprang up in other Nebraska communities and throughout the Great Plains, Sutton remains a center of German Russian history and culture.”