The Voyage Begins

For passengers aboard the Copernicus and the Johann Georg, November 3rd in 1838 must have been a day of apprehension and excitement.  For many of these folks, the preparation for the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States had been going on for quite some time.  It was finally the day for them to leave their homeland, their family members, their friends, their church, and their communities.  I cannot even come close to understanding all of the thoughts that must have been going through the minds of these immigrants.

The Copernicus was the first of the ships to leave Bremerhaven, which is located where the Weser River empties into the North Sea just north of the city of Bremen.

Bremerhaven, Germany

A few hours after the Copernicus set sail, the Johann Georg left the port city.  Three other ships carrying people that were also part of the Gesellschaft would leave on subsequent days.  Rev. George H. Hilmer painted this picture of the Johann Georg in 1937, probably to help commemorate the centennial celebration of the 1838-1839 immigration a year or so later.

Johann Georg –
Rev. George H. Hilmer

A short description of this painting and the ships which were part of the immigration can be found on the website of Concordia Historical Institute:

A few years ago, I made this map which shows the path that a later ship, the Olbers, took on its voyage across the ocean.  The route the Copernicus and the Johann Georg took must have been very similar.


The passengers on these ships were required to limit the baggage they were allowed to take with them.  In our museum, we have several of the trunks which were used to transport a family’s belongings to America.  I am sure that several important decisions must have been necessary to make concerning which items would be brought to America and which items had to be left behind or sold.  Here is a photo of the Darnstaedt trunk.


I found this video on the internet which gives a little taste of what it must have been like to have made this voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America in the 1800’s.  It is about six minutes long and is well worth viewing.

The first destination for these five ships was New Orleans.  After arriving there, the plan was to take riverboats up the Mississippi to St. Louis.  There they would make decisions about where this mass migration of people would settle in America.

Here is the beginning of the passenger list for the Copernicus.  Rev. Ernst Moritz Buerger was a passenger on this ship.


Here is the beginning of the passenger list for the Johann Georg.  You can see that this is the ship upon which Rev. C.F.W. Walther and his brother-in-law, Rev. G.W. Keyl, were passengers.


I know that whenever I consider the act of making this voyage to America and what it entailed, I am astounded by the courage and faith that our ancestors had, not only to decide to make the trip, but also the fortitude to endure the ride.  I, for one, am very grateful that they made the decision to come.



2 thoughts on “The Voyage Begins

  1. Here is a copy of an email I sent to CHI on June 5, 2012, regarding the painting of the Johann Georg and comments made in the CHI article:

    The Concordia Historical Institute’s June 22, 2012, Pieces of Our Past No. 7 notes:

    “The Johann Georg, known as a ‘clipper’ ship, is pictured sailing up the Mississippi River, entering New Orleans (pictured on the left). Another ‘clipper’ is seen in the background on the right, coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.”

    While the 1937 painting by Rev. George H. Hilmer does show a clipper ship and another in the background, there is some question as to whether it is a portrait of the Johann Georg, which was a Bark (or Barque) rather than a Clipper ship. The difference between the two sailing vessels is that a 3-mast Bark has square rigging on foremast and mainmast and the rear mast (mizzenmast) is fore-and-aft rigged ( A 3-mast clipper typically had square rigging on all masts, as Rev. Hilmer’s painting shows. Both may have one or more jibs (headsails) on the front mast.

    The 340-ton capacity Bark Johann Georg sailed its maiden voyage from Bremen (or Bremerhaven; “Bremen’s harbor”), Germany, to New York from May 21 to July 4, 1838. Its second voyage was from Bremen, on Nov. 3, 1838, arriving at New Orleans on Jan. 5, 1839, carrying the Saxon Lutherans. Hermann Hohorst was the captain for both voyages and two subsequent voyages from Bremen to the U.S. in 1839. One voyage was to Philadelphia in July, and one left Bremen on Oct. 2, 1839, and arrived at New Orleans on Nov. 27 (

    Coincidentally, it was this Bark Johann George that Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse boarded at New Orleans for the return voyage to Germany, after leaving St. Louis (and not Perry County, as portrayed in the movie, Walther) on Dec. 16.

    “As was seamen’s custom, the painting shows the flag of the country to which a ship was sailing—in this case, the United States—hoisted above the native flag.”

    Do you have a reference describing such a custom? From what I have read, while the ensign flag of the country to which the ship was sailing may be flown, the native flag was always flown in the superior position, on an ensign staff at the ship’s stern or from a gaff rigged over the stern. A courtesy flag of the nation to which the ship was sailing might be flown from the second mast or yardarm forward of the stern, even in a higher position, but it was not considered to be in a superior position.

    Flying one flag above the other at the stern indicated the nation of the top flag has captured a ship of the nation of the bottom flag. The painting of the USS Chesapeake captured by HMS Shannon during the War of 1812 is an example. (,_H.M.S._Shannon_Leading_Her_Prize_the_American_Frigate_Chesapeake_into_Halifax_Harbour_(c._1830).jpg)

    Subsequently, some the CHI’s article, “Pieces of Our Past No. 7,” was revised to its current text.


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