May 17, 1839 was the day that about 100 immigrants from New York arrived at what would later be called Wittenberg, Missouri. Today we will discuss the route that these German Lutherans traveled to get here and what they found when they arrived.
The group of immigrants that were part of the Stephanite immigration in 1838-1839 were in communication with another group of Lutherans which had come to America earlier and were living on Manhattan Island in New York City. That group would eventually decide to travel to Missouri to join Martin Stephan’s group. This group would not travel to New Orleans and up the Mississippi. They took what had become a more economical route from New York to Missouri which involved using a few canals which were still relatively new.
This group of immigrants has gone down in our local history as the New York Group. They left Manhattan on April 22, 1839. They had to wait for the Erie Canal to open up after the winter months on April 20th. According to the journal of Hartmann Grebing, a member of the New York Group, it says they traveled by rail to Albany, through the Hudson River Valley. In Albany, they were able to use the Erie Canal to travel to the Great Lakes. The Erie Canal had begun operations in 1825 and is credited with opening up the interior of America to its citizens living on the East Coast.
I found this video which tells the story of the Erie Canal. It’s one of those old historic videos made in the 1940’s which I love to watch. It is about six minutes long. The first portion tells about the canal during the time period when the New York Group made their trek along that canal.
There is a rather famous painting of the Erie Canal that I am going to include, mainly because it is said to have been painted in 1839, the same year the New York Group was traveling.
This painting depicts the western end of the Erie Canal where it empties into Lake Erie. The city located there is Lockport, New York. This is not far from Buffalo. Here is a map showing the path of the Erie Canal.
Here is another drawing of what it may have looked like for the German Lutherans traveling the Erie Canal. Note that these boats were often pulled by horses on a path next to the canal.
The next leg of the journey was to take a ship across Lake Erie to Cleveland, Ohio. Here is a photo which shows the type of ship they may have used.
When they got to Cleveland, they would next get on canal boats again. This time they would travel south along the Ohio and Erie Canal. This canal would eventually lead them to Portsmouth, Ohio where the canal emptied into the Ohio River.
It was at this point that these immigrants boarded a steamboat and made the last leg of their journey to Wittenberg. Here is a drawing of the steamboat Tecumseh, which was built in 1826 in Cincinnati and traveled the Ohio River. We do not know the name of the steamboat the New York Group used.
Ken Craft, the founder of our Zion Roots Research Library, put together this map to show the entire route the New York Group took from Manhattan to Wittenberg. That trip took about thirty days.
I have an issue with where he put the “X” for Wittenberg. Also, there’s no doubt that he misspelled Wittenberg.
As I said earlier, these immigrants arrived on May 17th. These people walked into a hornet’s nest of controversy. Rev. Martin Stephan had been in Perry County for a short while along with some others who came to prepare the area for the rest of the immigrants who would arrive later. However, Rev. C.F.W. Walther had just arrived a day before, on May 16, because he had to confront Rev. Stephan about an issue. On May 5th in St. Louis, Rev. Loeber had preached a sermon on repentance. This sermon had an impact on several young women, who as a result, came to Rev. Loeber to confess their sins of sexual impropriety involving Rev. Stephan. The immigration society now had a scandal to deal with. Rev. Walther was chosen to bring these charges against him. And this is the situation that the New York Group entered.
While C.F.W. Walther was still there, May 19th was a Pentecost Sunday, and Rev. Stephan invited everyone to a worship service near the river. Rev. Walther invited them to a worship service in the Altenburg area. Almost everyone attended the service in Altenburg. Rev. Stephan’s future as the leader was coming to an end. Walther would return to St. Louis to lead the rest of the immigrants to Perry County.
The New York Group had actually arrived almost two weeks before the rest of the immigrants arrived in Perry County. They arrived on May 29th aboard the Prairie and Toledo steamboats from St. Louis. It was just one day later that the decision was made to send Martin Stephan into exile. The next day after that he was rowed across the Mississippi River and dropped off in Illinois with instructions to never return. One of the rowers who ferried him across the river was Teacher Mueller, who was part of the New York Group.
In the end, most of the members of the New York Group left Perry County and moved to St. Louis and became part of Old Trinity Lutheran Church there. However, there are still some names left from the New York Group in East Perry County. These would include the Grebings, the Roths, the Schirmers, and the Seibels.