A Woman on the Building Committee?

Today’s story really sent me on several different paths with quite unusual results.  A woman in a position occupied mostly by men.  Some interesting baptismal sponsors.  A mistake made in transcribing a church record.  Deaths and an immigration with significant timing.  A return to Altenburg.  This post will be full of records that are part of the story.

Records indicate that one of the members of the very first building committee here at Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg was Widow Köppel.


Building Committee – 1845 Trinity church

Just who was she?  When the Republik arrived in New Orleans in January of 1839, two of its passengers were Johann Friedrich Köppel, a shoemaker, and his wife Maria Susanna Köppel from the town of Kahla in Germany.  Kahla is the same town where the first pastor of Trinity, Rev. Gotthold Loeber, was the minister before coming to America.  Kahla is also the town from which my Schmidt ancestors came.  The Koeppel couple (say that three times very fast) lived in Altenburg after arriving here.  Trinity’s records indicate that Johann Friedrich died of pneumonia on November 2, 1843, thus making Maria Susanna a widow.  He was buried on November 5th, and that is why the Koeppel story attracted me today.


One might wonder how a woman managed to land a position on the church building committee for its first church which was to be completed in 1845.  It was not exactly common in those days to name women to positions of leadership in the church.  Could it be that Johann Friedrich was on that committee and she took her husband’s place after his death?  Or did the church recognize that she had certain skills that qualified her to be on that committee?  We will probably never know.

What we do know is that Widow Koeppel remarried Johann Gottlieb Schau at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis in 1846.  Maria Susanna had been a baptismal sponsor of one of Johann Gottlieb Schau’s twin children while he still lived in Altenburg.  These twins were born on January 27, 1842.


Schau twins baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg

For quite a few years, this record had been transcribed as being a Schall family.  The “u” in Schau had been read as a double “l”.  This had the research team here at the museum snookered for a while.

The sponsors for Amalia Schau were Maria Susanna Köppel, Joachim Schmidt (my great great grandfather), and Johanne Rosine Hennig, wife of the Fr. Hennig shown in the building committee above.  Amalia would die at only 11 weeks old.

The sponsors for Furchtegott Schau were Johann Friedrich Köppel, Christian Friedrich Henning (the Fr. Hennig above), and Charlotte Schmidt (my great great grandmother).

Johann Gottlieb Schau was one of the first people in Perry county to buy some property.  He bought 40 acres in 1841.


The Schau family apparently did not stay in Perry County very long.  Johann’s wife Juliane died of typhus when the family lived in St. Louis on October 9, 1844, leaving Mr. Schau alone with four children, one of which was about two years old.

Apparently Johann Gottlieb knew his children needed a mother, and he found one in an old family friend in Altenburg who had also recently lost a spouse.  That friend was Maria Köppel, who was 9 years older than her new husband.  When Maria Susanna and Johann Gottlieb married in 1846, the couple lived in St. Louis.  So Widow Koeppel’s time at Trinity, Altenburg was short, but her contributions were important.  And her contributions to the Schau family were important too.  I really think that Johann Gottlieb was looking more for a mother for his children than he was looking for a wife.

One of the Schau children, Rosetta, died as part of the cholera epidemic in St. Louis in June of 1849.  One year later, in the 1850 census, we find Maria and one of her stepsons, Ferdinand, once again living in the Brazeau Township in Perry County.  The census taker wrote their name as Schaw.

1850 census

I could not resist tracking down this Ferdinand Schau a little bit.  In the 1860 census, Ferdinand was a carpenter in Lebanon, Illinois married to his first wife, Saphronia.  Saphronia died, and Ferdinand married Mary Ann Thurston, an English immigrant from Cambridge.  Since I don’t get to see English records very often, I will share a census record for Mary Ann that we find from Cambridge when she was 2 years old.

1851 Census Record – Cambridge, United Kingdom

Here are photos of Ferdinand and Mary Ann.

In the process of looking at Ferdinand Schau, I was able to find the passenger list for the Schau family which came through New Orleans aboard the Louise on May 21, 1839.  I had been wondering when this family arrived because you do not find them among the original immigrants, but they must have arrived very shortly after the first immigrants arrived.

Passenger list – Louise

The Schau family came from Roda in Germany.  The Köppel family came from Kahla.  I found three different Rodas in Germany.  Here is a map of all three, including Kahla.  Your guess is as good as mine which one it was.


Here’s where my mind starts to wonder.  If the Schau’s arrived on May 21, 1839 in New Orleans and then boarded a steamboat to come up the river right away, is it possible that they might have arrived in Wittenberg in time to see Martin Stephan rowed across the river on May 31st?  If this happened, you can only imagine their shock.




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