The first ship that was part of the Gesellschaft, the Copernicus, arrived in New Orleans on December 31, 1838. What they would experience there would both amaze them and disgust them. Arriving on New Year’s Eve would add to that experience.
As a result of the Louisiana Purchase, the American flag would first be flown over the port city of New Orleans on December 20, 1803. Here is an artist’s rendition of that time period.
Although you can see several oceangoing sailing ships in the painting, you do not see any steamboats. The era of steamboat use on the Mississippi River did not begin until 1811-1812 with the maiden voyage of Robert Fulton’s steamship, the New Orleans. Interestingly, that voyage almost ended in tragedy. After entering the Mississippi River and traveling down the Mississippi, the massive New Madrid Earthquake took place on December 15. By all accounts, it was rather remarkable that the New Orleans managed to escape that devastating event and reach the city of New Orleans.
After the Louisiana Purchase, the city of New Orleans entered a period of tremendous growth. By 1840, the city was said to be the wealthiest city in the nation, and it had become the third largest American city in population. It is estimated that it had a population of 102,000 in 1840.
Quite a large percentage of the population of New Orleans was made up of slaves. Slave auctions were commonly held in New Orleans when the German immigrants arrived in 1838. The increase of sugar plantations in the deep South brought an increased demand for slave workers. This work was incredibly harsh, and slaves farther north would dread the thought of being “sold down the river” to work on sugar plantations.
German immigrants to America, for the most part, were opposed to slavery. Certainly, the Saxons who were part of the Gesellschaft were very disgusted by the idea of slavery. They would indeed been repulsed by the slavery they witnessed in New Orleans.
The Stephanites aboard the Copernicus had no desire to remain in New Orleans. Their intended destination was St. Louis, Missouri. In order to get there, they had to travel by steamboat.
Rather quickly, arrangements were made to travel up the Mississippi aboard the steamboat, Rienzi. They would arrive in St. Louis on January 19, 1839.
After settling in Perry County, the immigrants became aware that slavery also existed there. Several Presbyterians living in Brazeau, Missouri, owned slaves. Although there were good relationships between the Lutherans and Presbyterians, the Germans always remained in opposition to slavery. When the Civil War occurred in the 1860’s, Germans in Missouri joined the Union Army in great numbers. The Germans in Missouri are even given credit by some for keeping the state from becoming a slave state.
The Anzeiger des Westens, a German St. Louis newspaper once wrote the following:
“For us Germans, emancipation is a matter of life or death. If Missouri remains a slave state, then we will not remain here any longer. …We will always be seen as a dangerous, incendiary element, and…it would be inevitable that we would always be outvoted, and looked at askance, defeated in all matters and cheated, and it would then be best for us to leave. If Missouri became a free state, on the other hand, then we would be saviors…and they would look on us with respect in the free states; German immigration would not simply rise, but increase…tenfold.”
The Civil War did indeed put an end to slavery in America. This must have pleased the German Lutherans living in Perry County, Missouri.