History of the First German-Lutheran Settlement in Altenburg, Perry County Missouri: pages 5 - 9


According to the written documents the German-Lutheran settlement in Perry County, Missouri was the result of one massive communal migration of Saxon and Prussian Lutherans. In the fall of 1838 this group left its fatherland upon the decision on one man, who was considered the leader of this emigration movement. This man was Martin Stephan of Dresden. There was nothing typical about this emigration. The majority of people, who composed this group, were not going to America to find their fortune. Many of them were quite wealthy. The greater portion of these people were landowners and trademen along with merchants, artists and civil servants. Many gave up distinct advantages which they could never hope to find again and many dissolved familial ties with people who were dear to their hearts. Most left with the intention of finding something higher and greater than all the advantages their fatherland, their wealth and their families could offer them if they stayed. Most of these people had not only been thoroughly convinced by God's word but had been made to see through repentance and faith just how empty and hopeless their lives in this world had become. They had suffered emnity and persecution because of their faith and had hoped to find refuge in America so they could live quiet and peaceful lives in accordance with God's word and they could cultivate the precious gem of pure teaching for their children and grandchildren. On the surface the emigration movement was religious in nature. Unfortunately it later became apparent that it was the grand fantasy of a man who inspired, nurtured and exploited the dream for his own purposes. The emigrating congregation thought they had found a man of God rarely seen in this world.

At that same time the government authorities in Prussia established a Union Church, which expeled righteous-faith Lutherans from


the state church and permitted them only as many legal rights as other sects. Most of the time they were forced to hold their religious services in secret. The police often disrupted them in their congregational meeting places and made them disperse. Their pastors were persecuted, spied upon, seized and imprisoned while the congregation members were fined. In Saxony confessional Lutherans still had legal rights however there was no lack of oppressive restrictions on those few of righteous faith. It cost many family fathers much time and effort going to police superintendents and church councils just to secure the rights to have their children baptised according to the Lutheran formula. They were often threatened with legal prosecution. The eyes of many true members of the church were opened by the shocking skepticism being preached from the pulpit. These people had to travel miles to find the wholesome nourishment and proper preaching of God's word. They had to endure hatred, emnity, scorn and derision because of it. Others were forced to send their children to schools, which did not teach the Lutheran catechism but rather used religious books containing outright non-faith tenets. When parents tried to find an audience for their complaints they were threatened with legal action and fines.

Is it any wonder that a man such as Martin Stephan, who so clearly exposed the intentional corruption of the church and its shameful doctrine of skepticism and who warned others with heartfelt simplicity to adhere to faith in the word of God and the precious gem of pure Lutheran teaching, should find a following among those seeking redemption from the yoke of tyrannical corruption? He taught many, even those among the clergy, to once again acknowledge the treasury of past church fathers such as Luther, Arnd, Spener, Skriver, Herberger, Heinr. Müller, and others. So many distressed people caught between doubt and faithlessness perceived light and peace in the strength of his faithful words and came to know certainty and joy. Few suspected that this man's testimony of faith was only a mask behind which lurked a soul,


once enlightened and sanctified but later fallen through the art of deception and hypocrisy. He knew how to preserve the appearance of piety before his followers. Few suspected his self-serving reasons for emigrating. He had hidden them by speaking of the necessity to remain true and steadfast to God's word. He had feared for a long time that his secret sins would come to light. He had been working on an emigration plan for some time so that when the critical moment arrived his people could be set to work. The critical moment came when his secret sins became the object of a government investigation. He managed to convince his followers that the government was persecuting him because of his beliefs and religious profession. Now was the time to call upon the Lord, take up the wanderer's staff and seek asylum in free America. Emigration was nothing other than a religious folly incited by one man through his ability to mislead. He knew how to give it the appearance of truth taken from God's word. Even though there were many reasons at hand for wanting to improve the church, emigration was not yet a mandate of conscience. Stephan's art for deception helped to supply the erroneous grounds for convincing people that emigration was now a necessity for conscience. The church must emigrate. No one could remain behind without risking the greatest danger to his soul. From every side people were fed this dreadful lie: Stephan and his followers alone were the righteous-faith church. All other past and present righteous-faith ministers and Christians were suspect as weak in faith and fickle because they did not adhere to Stephan. Due to its loveless and arrogant separation, the Stephanist congregation was considered a sect. This sectarian spirit was carefully nurtured and it became the mother of a thousand loveless trials and condemnations. Conscience was taken in by folly and so the church emigrated.


No one could remain without the greatest peril to his soul. Urged on by seduced consciences, married people separated and children lost parents. This wanton fantasy was the reason why the holiest were ripped from God's bonds, why the most crucial of duties were neglected and false statements against the government authorities were permitted. How many people, later realizing that according to God's word these were sins, experienced bitter pain and distress for years as a result? Many were able to redeem themselves in the eyes of others by returning to their duties once they realized how evil they had become through folly and error.

Due to the large number of participants and the extensive preparations, the migration created quite a sensation both far and wide. Six pastors gathered around Stephan along with a select group of congregation members and 13 ministerial candidates. In all 750 souls emigrated with Stephan. A cash account had been set up with the wealthier members depositing all or a portion of their capital so that travel expenses for even the poorest members could be paid. The amounts were to be repaid after they reached America. Land purchases were supposed to be made from the account and any expenditures incurred by the congregation's administrators would be covered by it. However even this fund designated for charitable ends served to escalate Stephan's inordinate desires and selfishness. The money entrusted to the account ran out not just because of the lack of frugality on the part of the administrators but because Stephan squandered huge sums on personal comforts. Once they had reached their destination the administrators should have sought council on handling their assets. Instead hesitation, indecision and poor planning dissipated a large portion of the credit account before it ever came time to purchase land. Many suffered heavy financial losses since they had deposited all their money into the account. They saw themselves reduced to the same state of poverty as those


who had been brought over through the charity of their brothers.

Agents had gone to Bremen in advance to negotiate contracts with ship owners for passage of the entire congregation. Five ships were placed at their disposal. On November 3, 1838 the first ship, the Copernicus, set sail carrying Pastor M. Bürger. The Johann Georg sailed next with Pastors C. Walther and W. Keyl. The Republic departed with Pastor H.G. Löber. The largest of the ships, the Olbers, carried Stephan himself and Pastor O.H. Walther. At the same time the smallest ship, the Amalia, set sail with ministerial candidate Welzel and two school teachers along with 50 people from the emigrating congregation. This last ship had the misfortune of sailing in open waters at the time of a massive storm, which had severely damaged the Olbers. The Amalia sank, leaving no survivors behind to tell of the ship's fate. This catastrophe deeply distressed the entire emigrating congregation yet served to strengthen the folly that the church must emigrate. God would not permit one of their ships to be buried in a watery grave. This was the first powerful slap from the hand of the Lord to awaken the congregation from its stupor. The remaining ships arrived safely on America's shores after journeys lasting 7 to 8 weeks. The ships arrived in the order they had left Bremen.

The first, the Copernicus, landed on the evening of December 31st in the harbor of New Orleans. St. Louis was the final destination for the emigrating congregation so after a few days stay the first arrivals traveled up the Mississippi in the steamship Nienzi and arrived in St. Louis on January 18th. They were greeted by Pastor Örtel and 2 members, who had broken away from a New York congregation in order to join with the new arrivals in establishing a new Lutheran settlement in Missouri. The pastor was still a very young man yet he had worked for many years in New York as a minister and through his inspiring sermons concerning Christ he had assembled a host of souls seeking sanctification around himself.


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