The Oldest Immigrant

I have mentioned before that I do not often look at dates of death when locating stories to tell on this blog, but today is such a case.  In fact, for the individual we will look at today, the death record is all we have.  We do not know a birth date, a wedding record, or anything else for the woman whose name was Christiane Sophie Barthel.  We do have a death record, and it states that she died in Altenburg on November 23, 1839.  This is her death record in the church books of the Altenburg congregation.

There are several interesting facts associated with this woman who was one of the members of the Gesellschaft.  First of all, she was the oldest person who traveled on the original five ships that came across the Atlantic Ocean in 1838-1839.  When she arrived in New Orleans, the passenger list gave her age as 76 years old. Here is that passenger list that shows all the members of this Barthels family which was part of the Gesellschaft.  It is found on two pages.

Barthel Family passenger list – Olbers

I am thinking that the word in front of Christ. Sophie Barthel is “widow”.  This document also lists this Barthel family as being from Leipzig, Germany.  Widow Barthel’s son, Friedrich Wilhelm Barthel was a tax official in the city of Leipzig.  He also became the treasurer of the Gesellschaft as well as the first treasurer of what became called the Missouri Synod, and her grandson, Martin Barthel, once was the manager of the Missouri Synod’s publishing company which eventually came to be known as Concordia Publishing House.  The Christian Cyclopedia has this biography of Friedrich Wilhelm Barthel.

The Barthel family traveled aboard the Olbers, the same ship upon which the leader of the Gesellschaft, Rev. Martin Stephan, traveled.  I am not surprised at all that Rev. Stephan would make sure that the treasurer came on the same boat with him.  The Olbers was making its maiden voyage when it came to America carrying German Lutheran immigrants in late 1838.  There is an interesting painting by Carl Justus Harmen Fedeler of the Olbers.  What makes it so interesting is the fact that it is said to have been painted in 1839.

There is another painting of the Olbers done by a different artist, and the place where I located this image online has the following description of the history of the Olbers.

The translation of the death record mentioned earlier for Christiane Sophia Barthel states that she was buried in the Altenburg Cemetery.  The Trinity, Altenburg Cemetery did not have its first interment until the spring of 1840 when Christiane Loeber died and was buried on a piece of property that she owned.  That property later became the Trinity Cemetery.  Where an “Altenburg Cemetery” was located in 1839 is up for debate.  There are a few records written by Pastor Loeber that indicate this Altenburg Cemetery, but nobody knows for sure where it was.  There are some other notations that some folks were buried “at camp”.  One possibility may be that it was in the Dresden area where Rev. C.F.W. Walther was the pastor for a short time.

The Barthel family did not remain in Perry County for very long.  As mentioned before, Friedrich Wilhelm Barthel became the first treasurer of the Synod, which was headquartered in St. Louis.  There is some indication in Zion on the Mississippi that F.W. Barthel was a friend of Adolf Marbach.  I have this sneaking suspicion that the Barthels moved to St. Louis after the Altenburg Debate in 1841.  The two main participants in that debate were Adolf Marbach and Rev. C.F.W. Walther.  After the debate, Adolf Marbach moved back to Germany, and Rev. Walther accepted a call to St. Louis.

Let’s return to Christiane Sophia Barthel.  I am amazed that a 76 year old widow would make the decision to make a potentially dangerous trip across an ocean in the winter to make a new home halfway around the world.  I know that there would have been a certain draw for her to stay with her family, but it I think there was more to her decision than that.  I think the fact that she was willing to make this trip indicates that she likely had the same attitude that so many of the immigrants had.  They were dissatisfied with the religious circumstances in Germany to such a point that they felt the need to leave the country to go somewhere where they would have the freedom to worship their God according to their beliefs.

Another thing that amazes me is that some of the older members of the immigration society managed to survive the difficult voyage across the ocean which lasted for about two months.  When you look at the deaths that occurred aboard the ships coming to America, you discover that most of those deaths occurred among those that were young children and infants, not the older ones.

In the case of Christiane Sophie Barthel, she made it all the way to America, only to live for less than a year here.  She was buried somewhere in the wilderness of Perry County.  I wish I knew where the location of her grave.  My intuition is that she is buried somewhere near where I now live.

3 thoughts on “The Oldest Immigrant

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:

    “Tis another holiday season, and I will be traveling to spend time with family. I may not be able to do much researching and writing for the next several days. Today, I am re-posting a story I wrote 4 years ago.


  2. Such a cool story! We must never forget the freedoms we have here in America and the sacrifices that were made! May God continue to bless us and may we remain ever thankful especially during this Thanksgiving !


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