People who have become familiar with the story of the German Lutheran immigration to America in 1838-1839, which was led by Rev. Martin Stephan, are probably familiar with the name of Louise Guenther. Rev. Stephan was exiled from the Perry County colony in May of 1839, partly as a result of sexual impropriety. The main female character involved in that impropriety was Louise Guenther. In today’s post, I will not avoid that scandalous part of Louise’s life, but I hope to focus more on what happened to her later in life. After all, there came a time when she became a member of Old Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis and was married there.
I will begin by going back to Louise’s hometown of Dresden, Germany to look at a couple of events. First of all, Louise was born on July 7, 1808, the daughter of Johann Samuel Guenther. I do not know the name of her mother. We do have her baptism record, but it only mentions the father. Rev. Martin Stephan became the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dresden in 1810, so if the Guenther’s were members of that church, Louise just missed being baptized by him. She would have been about 2 years old when he took the call to St. John’s. From what I was able to find, she was the oldest child in her family, and all her siblings may have been baptized by Rev. Stephan.
I will be displaying a few church records from Dresden today. Usually I crop such documents so you just see the applicable record. I am not doing that with these German records. I want you to see the whole page where the record is located. A red arrow will point at the significant record. Here is the page on which we find Louise Guenther’s baptism record.
I do not know exactly when it happened, but sometime between 1811 and 1829, Louise’s mother died. I do know that Louise’s brother, Gotthold Guenther, was born in 1811. Gotthold is known for keeping an interesting journal of events that took place on the journey to America. Then in 1829, Johann Samuel Guenther remarried. His second wife was Christiane Friedericke Kolbe. Here is a marriage record for this couple from Dresden.
Louise’s stepmother was about 25 years younger than her father. She was also only about 5 years older that Louise. I have to think that it must have been somewhat awkward to have such a young stepmother. There were 4 more children born to this Guenther couple before the immigration in 1839. All of them were boys. I found the baptism record for Martin Guenther, one of those boys, who was born in 1831.
Now, we come to the time for the voyage to America. The entire Guenther family became part of the Gesellschaft. They traveled to the United States aboard the Olbers, the same ship on which Rev. Stephan was a passenger. Here we see the Guenther family on the passenger list for that ship.
You may notice that there is a name missing from this list. Where is Louise? We find her on the Olbers, but not with her family. She is listed among the passengers that were in the “Cabin” .
Please note that Rev. Martin Stephan was also a cabin passenger, and he only brought one teenage son with him, Martin Stephan, Jr. Rev. Stephan left his wife and several other children back in Germany. Rev. Stephan was 61 years old and Louise Guenther was 32 years old when they came to America. Louise has been described as a maid, one who served Rev. Stephan. However, she was also included in a group of young ladies with whom Stephan was accused of having inappropriate relationships. Louise, in fact, would later confess to having an affair with him. Several weeks after Rev. Stephan was exiled to Illinois, Louise would follow him and remain with him until his death in 1846.
I am no psychologist, but I cannot help but think that the fact that Louise’s father had a relationship with such a young woman may have had an influence on Louise getting involved with a much older man.
We find Louise living with her father again in the 1850 census for St. Louis. She was 42 years old.
Louise’s stepmother had died in 1849, a victim of the Cholera Epidemic, one year before this census. Her death record is found in the Old Trinity Lutheran Church books. Her stepmother died just one day before Louise’s 41st birthday.
Now, let’s take a look at Louise’s future husband. His name was Johann Gottfried Burkhardt. I choose to call him Gottfried. He, too, was part of the Gesellschaft, and it looks likely that he and his small family came to America with his father’s family from Niederfrohna, Germany. The Burkhardt’s came aboard the Johann Georg. Here is the passenger list for them. I included some names above theirs in order to show that they were from Frohna. Gottfried was shown as being 28 years old on this list, and he and his wife, Christiane Concordia, had one young child.
Gottfried’s wife also died of cholera, but not until 1852. Her death record is also found in the books of Old Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis.
On this date, April 14, 1853, Gottfried Burkhardt married Louise Guenther at Old Trinity Lutheran Church. Here is a civil record for that marriage.
Rev. Fr. Wyneken was the pastor that performed this wedding ceremony. He was the second president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I found what I think might be the correct Burkhardt couple in the 1860 census.
Although I cannot find a death record in the Old Trinity books, there is a John Burkhardt buried in the Concordia Cemetery in St. Louis who died in 1865. There is no photo of a gravestone. Unfortunately I was not able to find a Louise Burkhardt in the next few censuses. Louise died in 1894 at the age of 85. There is a death record for her in the Old Trinity church books.
The Professor Guenther mentioned in the above record was Martin Guenther, whose baptism we viewed earlier. He later became a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Findagrave.com also includes a Louise Burkhardt as a person buried in the Concordia Lutheran Cemetery.
Now I need to share another story that I have heard. I have been told that Louise is indeed buried in the Concordia Cemetery, but her grave is not marked. In fact, part of the story I heard was that it was intentionally not marked because of Louise’s checkered past. However, I am going to stress that this is a story, not a documented fact. If it is documented in church or cemetery records, I don’t know about it.
I like to think that Louise, despite the mistakes she made in her early years, through repentance, had a reformation of her own and became an active member of her community and church.