West Prussia

This is a translation of excerpts from the article on West Prussia printed in the late-19th century Polish gazetteer Slownik geograficzny Kr—lestwa Polskiego. Remember that these articles contain information “current” when they were written, sometime after 1885 and before 1902.

by Rev. Frydrychowicz

West Prussia, formerly Royal Prussia, part of Pomerania, currently one of 12 provinces of the Kingdom of Prussia, has already been partially discussed in the articles on Gdansk and Kwidzyn, and from an ecclesiastical viewpoint in the article on Chelmno.   Here we will give only complementary details….

Surface formation. West Prussia occupies part of the Sarmatian plain.  Its distinctive trait is the Baltic Heights, called the Pojezierze [German Seenplatte, English “lake district”] due to the numerous lakes scattered across them.   These Heights, stretching from the east to northwest, divide the Wisla [Vistula] into two parts.  The eastern part extends to the Drweca river, the western to the valleys of the Notec river. In Kartuzy powiat the Heights reach their greatest elevation in the peak Spiczasta g—ra [German Thurmberg or Spitzberg] in the band of the Szymbark hills near Kartuzy, elevation 1,020 feet above sea level.   Toward the Wisla and the Baltic the highlands fall sharply to the extent that lower-situated regions on the water have to be secured with dikes… Across the whole lake district are scattered numerous erratic boulders, pushed across from Sweden by the glaciers….

The most fertile lowlands are those located along the Wisla, especially the so-called Zulawy by its outlet.  On the other hand Tuchola Forest [Tuchler Heide], between the Czarna Woda and Brda rivers, is not at all fertile and is largely covered with pine forests….

Climate. West Prussia’s is a sea climate and therefore damp, variable, and harsh.   Western winds are most frequent, southern and northern winds fairly frequent, and eastern winds are the rarest.  Summer lasts a short time, the hot season gets on average to 86 degrees F, on occasion 95 degrees F; winter is long and quite cold.  On the shore winter begins later but lasts longer.  Spring usually begins no earlier than the end of April.  Northern winds and night frosts lasting to the beginning of May delay plant development.  In mid-May the temperature suddenly drops again 6-12 degrees… Storms and lightning are frequent in June.  Fall is sunnier than in northern Germany.   According to 20 years of observations, the mean temperature on Hel Peninsula is 45.5¡F, in Gdansk (9 m. above sea level) 45.99¡F, in Szymbark in Kartuzy powiat (250 m. above sea level) 42.24¡F in Chojnice (155 m.) 44.04¡F.  Next to Orzysz in East Prussia, Chojnice is the coldest point in the whole province.  Yearly rainfall in Gdansk is 475 mlm., in Chojnice 487 mlm.  The growing season lasts 4ý to 5 months.

History, area, and division … [As of 1773] Warmia was incorporated into East Prussia, and Gdansk and Torun still belonged to Poland, whereas the East Prussian cities of Kwidzyn, Prabuty, Susz and Ilawa and their districts were made part of West Prussia, as was the Notec region [Netze-distrikt] in 1775…  As a result of the second partition in 1793 Gdansk and Torun were incorporated into West Prussia, and from then to 1807 there was no change in the province’s territory.  The Peace of Tilsit in 1807 created the Duchy of Warsaw and took away from West Prussia the greater part of the Notec region, namely the entire powiaty of Inowroclaw and Bydgoszcz with the greater part of Kamien and Walcz powiaty, as well as the ancient province of Chelmno, i. e., the newly created powiaty of Chelmno and Michalowo, except for Grudziadz and three villages between the fortress and the outlet of the Osa river, and finally Gdansk and its district… When in 1815 the Duchy of Warsaw was dissolved by the treaty of Vienna, Chelmno province and Gdansk were re-incorporated into West Prussia.  In addition to the districts of Lebork and Byt—w, which were split off in 1803, the province of West Prussia was divided into two regency districts, Gdansk and Kwidzyn, and the border that had existed up to that point was established so that West Prussia occupied all of Royal Prussia, except for the Duchy of Warmia and four powiaty: Zlot—w and Walcz, seized from Great Poland, and Kwidzyn and Susz, previously part of Ducal Prussia.  In 1824 West and East Prussia were made a single province, but in 1878 they were divided again….

West Prussia lies between 52 degrees 50’24” and 54 degrees 50’8″ north latitude and 33 degrees 38’1″ and 37 degrees 38’55” longitude (Ferro), and borders to the north on the Baltic, to the east on East Prussia, to the south on the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Poznan, and to the west on Brandenburg and Pomerania.  Its area covers 25,584 sq. km. Gdansk regency district was formerly divided into 9 powiaty, and Kwidzyn contained 14.  In 1827, to strengthen the German element, a new powiat, Wabrzezno, was created in Kwidzyn district; Gdansk district was split into upper and lower powiaty, and new powiaty of Tczew and Puck were created.

Population: According to official statistics in 1867 West Prussia had 1,282,842 inhabitants; 1,343,057 in 1875; 1,405,898 in 1880; 1,408,229 in 1885; so in those last five years the population grew by only 2, 331, or 0.15%, while in the Kingdom of Prussia as a whole it grew by 3.79%. The rural population has diminished even in the last five years, caused by emigration to America – 13,749 left West Prussia for America in 1883; by the search for work in Westphalia and Saxony; and finally by expulsion of Poles not possessing Prussian naturalization- official lists give their number as 28,965 by 1 January 1887….

As for religion, in 1784 West Prussia had 203,721 Catholics and 122,201 Protestants.   In 1817 according to official statistics there were 31,463 more Protestants than Catholics.  In 1864 the Protestants outnumbered the Catholics by 25,553.  But in 1880 the ratio changed; there were 693,719 Catholics, and only 682,735 Protestants… In 1880 there were 26,000 Jews.  Mennonites, who in 1875 numbered 12,300, were included with the Protestants.  The 1 December 1885 census showed that of the total of 1,408,229 inhabitants, 701,842 were Catholic, 667,255 Protestant, 24,654 Jewish, and about 1,000 of other faiths.

As for ethnic origin, according to official statistics in 1885 there were 137,000 Poles in Gdansk regency, in Kwidzyn 280,000, for a total of 417,000-but that figure is too low, we can boldly state that the Polish population exceeded half a million.

West Prussia has 55 towns, among them 7 with more than 10,000 inhabitants.  As of 1880 the population of Gdansk was 108,551; Elblag 35,842; Torun 20,617; Grudziadz 17,321; Tczew 10,939; Malbork 9,559; Chojnice 9,096; Chelmno 9,937; Kwidzyn 8,238; Walcz 6,568; Starogard 6,253; Orunia ws 5,513; Brodnica 5,801; Wejherowo 4,715; Jastrowie 5,456; Lubawa 4,857; Nowe 4,947; Lubawa 4,857; Gniew 4,715; Wabrzezno 4,498; Koscierzyna 4,283 ….

Industry.  Agricultural industry employs 30.7% of the population of West Prussia, manufacturing 17.7%, trade 6.7%, and 44.9% work in other fields.  The area devoted to agriculture, gardens, meadows and pasture is 71.5% of the whole territory.   Poultry farming is highly developed, as is the dairy industry… [Other occupations discussed at some length: beekeeping, fishing, milling, the sugar industry]… In Gdansk and Elblag locomotives and ships are built.  Only Gdansk has a foundry for bells, but relatively numerous are factories for tobacco, vinegar, soap, and wood-distilling.  Other flourishing trades are: tanning, dyeing, printing, distilling, brewing, metallurgy, and pottery… At Nierzeja Swieza amber is found; some of the raw material is sent to Vienna and Constantinople, some is used for various ornamental items, especially buttons, cigarette-holders, and necklaces.

Source: Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego – Warsaw

Submitted by: This translation, by William F. Hoffman, first appeared in the August 1996 issue of “Rodziny, The Journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America” (Feb 1999).