Province of Posen

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The Province of Posen (German: Provinz Posen, Polish: Prowincja Poznańska) was a province of Prussia (1846-1918). Known as the "cradle of the Polish nation", this region was the home to Poles, Germans, some Jews and a smattering of other peoples. Almost all the Poles were Roman Catholic, and about 90% of the Germans were Protestant. The small numbers of Jews were primarily to be found in the larger communities, mostly in skilled crafts, local commerce and regional trading. The smaller the community, the more likely it was to be either Polish or German. These "pockets of ethnicity" existed side by side, with more of them being German in the northwest, and more being Polish in the southeast. As the years progressed, the population became more German until the end of the 1800s, when the trend reversed (so called Ostflucht). This was despite efforts of the government in Berlin, which established a resettlement program to buy land from Poles and make it available only to Germans.



The land is mostly flat, drained by two major watershed systems; the Notec (German: Netze) in the north and the Warta (German: Warthe) in the center. Ice Age glaciers left moraine deposits and the land is speckled with hundreds of "finger lakes", streams flowing in and out on their way to one of the two rivers.

Agriculture was the primary industry, as one would expect for the 1800s. The three-field-system was used to grow a variety of crops, primarily rye, sugar beets, potatoes, other grains, and some tobacco and hops. Significant parcels of wooded land provided building materials and firewood. Small numbers of livestock existed, including geese, but a fair amount of sheep were herded.

When this area came under Prussian control, the feudal system was still in force. It was officially ended in Prussia (see Freiherr vom Stein) in 1810 (1864 in Congress Poland), but lingered in some practices until the late 1800s. The situation was thus that (primarily) Polish serfs lived and worked side by side with (predominantly) free German settlers. Though the settlers were given initial advantages, in time their lots were not much different. In simplistic terms, serfs worked for the lord and the lord took care of them. Settlers worked for themselves and took care of themselves, but paid taxes to the lord.

Typically, an estate would have its manor and farm buildings, and a village nearby for the Polish laborers. Near that village, there might be a German settlement. And in the woods, there would be a forester's dwelling. The estate owners, usually of the nobility, owned the local grist mill, and often other types of mills or perhaps a distillery. In many places, windmills dotted the landscape, reminding one of the earliest settlers, the Dutch, who began the process of turning unproductive river marshes into fields. This process was finished by the German settlers who were used to reclaim unproductive lands (not only marshland) for the host estate owners.

Changing hands

Originally part of the Kingdom of Poland, this area roughly coincided with the Polish region known as Great Poland. This area became controlled by the Kingdom of Prussia during the Partitions of Poland. The first Partition (1772) took just the northern portion, north of the Netze (Polish: Noteć) river. The Second Partition added the remainder in 1793. Prussia lost control briefly during the Kosciuszko Uprising (1794).

Initially, it was called "South Prussia". Prussia (and later Germany) retained control until the end of World War I, with the exception of the period of time when Napoleon changed the landscape of Europe (1806-1815). The Duchy of Warsaw, was created following the Prussian defeat at the Treaty of Tilsit. Polish people were the main ally of Napoleon in Central Europe, participated in the Great Poland Uprising of 1806 and supplied troops for his campaigns.

After the fall of Napoleon in 1815 according to the Vienna peace congress, Great Poland returned to Prussia, and became the Grand Duchy of Posen (1815-1846), an autonomous province under Hohenzollern rule with the rights of "free development of Polish nation, culture and language", and outside the German Confederation. At this time the city of Posen was the administrative center and the site of the "prince Antoni Henryk Radziwiłł of Posen". However, shortly after the outbreak of the November Uprising Prussia broke the Vienna peace congress arrangements, ignored the autonomy and in 1846 the province was renamed to Province of Posen. With the unification of Germany, the province of Posen became part of the German Empire (1871-1918) and the city of Posen was officially named an imperial residence city.

Most of the province passed to Poland with the end of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles after Great Poland Uprising 1918 and became Poznań Voivodship. The part remaining in Germany formed Grenzmark Posen-Westpreussen with Schneidemühl (Pila) as capital, until 1938, when it was divided between Silesia, Pomerania and Brandenburg. Finally, all the territory was returned to Poland only after the end of World War II.

Ethnic conflict

Due to the large number of resident Germans (first as settlers and then as occupiers) and the presence of powerful, warring nations on all sides and the internal strife between three major religious faiths, the area was often a battleground of ethnic conflicts.

During the first half of the 1800s, the German population grew due to state sponsored colonisation. In the second half, the Polish population grew gradually due to the Ostflucht and higher birth-rate. The clash peaked during the Kulturkampf, when many Catholics Germans in Posen joined with ethnic Poles in opposition to the Protestant Prussian government.

Polish language were gradually removed from the schools and offices due to Germanisation.


Area: 28,970 km2


  • 1816: 820,176
  • 1868: 1,537,300 (Bromberg 550,900 - Posen 986,400)
  • 1871: 1,583,843
    • Religion: 1871
      • Catholics 1,009,885
      • Protestants 511,429
      • Jews 61,982
      • others 547
  • 1875: 1,606,084
  • 1880: 1,703,397
  • 1900: 1,887,275
  • 1905: 1,986,267
  • 1910: 2,099,831 (Bromberg 763,900 - Posen 1,335,900)


Note: Prussian provinces were subdivided into units called "Kreise" (singular "Kreis", abbreviated "Kr.", English circle), which were similar to large counties in US terms. Cities would have their own "Stadtkreis" (English: municipal county) and the surrounding rural area would be named for the city, but referred to as a "Landkreis" (English: rural county). In the case of Posen, the Landkreis was split into two: Landkreis Posen West, and Landkreis Posen East.

Data is from Prussian censuses, during a period of state-sponsored germanization, and includes military garrissons. It is commonly criticized for being falsified.

Kreis ("County") Polish spelling 1905 Pop Polish speakers German speakers1 Jewish2 Origin
Posen district (southern)
City of Posen Poznań 55% 45%
Adelnau Odolanów 90% 10%
Birnbaum Miedzychód 51% 49%
Bomst Babimost 49% 51%
Fraustadt Wschowa 27% 73%
Gostyn Gostyn 87% 13% Kröben
Grätz Grodzisk 82% 18% Buk
Jarotschin Jarocin 83% 17% Pleschen
Kempen Kępno 84% 16% Schildberg
Koschmin Koźmin 83% 17% Krotoschin
Kosten Kościan 89% 11%
Krotoschin Krotoszyn 70% 30%
Lissa Leszno 36% 64% Fraustadt
Meseritz Międzyrzecz 20% 80%
Neutomischel Nowy Tomyśl 51% 49% Buk
Obornik Oborniki 61% 39%
Ostrowo Ostrów 80% 20% ?Adelnau?
Pleschen Pleszew 85% 15%
Posen Ost Poznań, Wsch. 72% 28% Posen
Posen West Poznań, Zach. 87% 13% Posen
Rawitsch Rawicz 55% 45% Kröben
Samter Szamotuły 73% 27%
Schildberg Ostrzeszów 90% 10%
Schmiegel Śmigiel 82% 18% Kosten
Schrimm Śrem 82% 18%
Schroda Środa 88% 12%
Schwerin Skwierzyna 5% 95% Birnbaum - 1877
Wreschen Września 84% 16%
Bromberg district (northern)
City of Bromberg Bydgoszcz 16% 84%
Bromberg Bydgoszcz 38% 62%
Czarnikau Czarników 27% 73%
Filehne Wieleń 28% 72% Czarnikau
Gnesen Gniezno 67% 33%
Hohensalza Inowrocław 64% 36%
Kolmar Chodzież 18% 82%
Mogilno Mogilno 76% 24%
Schubin Szubin 56% 44%
Strelno Strzelno 82% 18%  ??
Wirsitz Wyrzysk 47% 53%
Witkowo Witkowo 83% 17% ?Gnesen?
Wongrowitz Wągrowiec 77% 23%
Znin Żnin 77% 23%  ??

1 includes bilingual speakers
2 only religious jews, without regard of their native language

The Presidents (German: Oberpräsidenten) of Province of Posen

Time in Office Name
1815 - 1824 Joseph Zerboni de Sposetti 1760 - 1831
1825 - 1830 Johann Friedrich Theodor von Baumann 1768 - 1830
1830 - 1840 Eduard Heinrich Flottwell 1786 - 1865
1840 - 1842 Adolf Heinrich Graf von Arnim-Boitzenburg 1803 - 1868
1843 - 1850 Carl Moritz von Beurmann 1802 - 1870
1850 - 1851 Gustav Carl Gisbert Heinrich Wilhelm Gebhard von Bonin (1.time in office) 1797 - 1878
1851 - 1860 Eugen von Puttkamer 1800 - 1874
1860 - 1862 Gustav Carl Gisbert Heinrich Wilhelm Gebhard von Bonin (2.time in office) 1797 - 1878
1862 - 1869 Carl Wilhelm Heinrich Georg von Horn 1807 - 1889
1869 - 1873 Otto Graf von Königsmarck 1815 - 1889
1873 - 1886 William Barstow von Guenther 1815 - 1892
1886 - 1890 Robert Graf von Zedtlitz-Trützschler 1837 - 1914
1890 - 1899 Hugo Freiherr von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 1840-1905
1899 - 1903 Karl Julius Rudolf von Bitter 1846 - 1914
1903 - 1911 Wilhelm August Hans von Waldow-Reitzenstein 1856 - 1937
1911 - 1914 Philipp Schwartzkopf ?
1914 - 1918 Joh. Karl Friedr. Moritz Ferd. v. Eisenhart-Rothe 1862-1942


See also

External links

Culture and History

Article Map

This article is part of the Prussia portion of the Wikipedia Project "Historical States" which is structured upon the administrative organization of the Prussian government as it existed just before unification in 1871.

  • Kingdom of Prussia (between 1815 and 1871, part of the German Confederation; between 1871 and 1920, inside the German Empire)
    • Provinces <== YOU ARE HERE
      • Admin. districts ("Regierungsbezirke") - usually two or three per province
        • Counties ("Kreise") - around 30 - 40 per province
          • Civil registration districts ("Standesämter"), similar to a township - usually 5 - 10 per Posen

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