John Koch – Teacher and Organist

One of the original immigrants arriving as part of the Gesellschaft in 1839 was Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Koch. I find his story to be interesting because he was a teacher. I suppose I am partial to teacher tales. As I proceed to tell this story, you will discover that it begs some interesting questions. They are questions that I will ask, but not answer, because I do not know the answers. I will rely heavily on a family history on Ancestry.com that is very thorough and authored by Donald Koch.

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Koch was born on January 13, 1811 in Bergisdorf, Germany. The family history on Ancestry says John was the firstborn child of 8 children born to Johann Heinrich and Johanna Rosina (Treuttler) Koch. John became a teacher while still in Germany. John’s first wife was from the town of Braunsdorf. Perhaps John had become a teacher and met his wife while teaching there. Let’s take a look at his first bride.

Agnes Amalia Niedner was born sometime around 1810 in Braunsdorf, Germany. She was the daughter of Heinrich and Henrietta (Wagner) Niedner. It appears that Agnes was the 3rd of 7 children born into this Niedner family. On September 16, 1838, about 2 months before the Stephanites left Germany, John Koch married Agnes Niedner in Braunsdorf.

These newlyweds traveled to America aboard the Johann Georg when it departed Germany on November 3, 1838. Several members of the Niedner family can also be found on the passenger list for that ship. Before I display that passenger list, let me say a few things about ship accommodations. Some people made the voyage in the “cabin”, while others traveled in “steerage”. Cabin passengers were the ones with better accommodations. People in the cabin portion of the ship are almost always listed first. It appears to me that one would get cabin accommodations either by having sufficient money to pay extra or by knowing the right people. We find Koch’s and Niedner’s in both the cabin and steerage sections on the passenger list below. I have highlighted John and Agnes in the image.

Koch and Niedner names – Johann Georg passenger list

Two pastors, Rev. G.W. Keyl and Rev. C.F.W. Walther, along with a pastoral candidate, C.L. Geyer, were found in the cabin area. So was Agnes Koch, but her husband, here called Friedrich, was in the steerage.

In Walter Forster’s book, Zion on the Mississippi, we find the Niedner’s and the Koch’s among his list of passengers. Agnes’s father died in Germany, so he is not listed.

Niedner names – Zion on the Mississippi
Koch names – Zion on the Mississippi

All of the Niedner’s, as well as the Koch’s, have an asterisk behind their names. According to Walter Forster, that indicates people who left the Gesellschaft after arriving in America. Based on later information that I found, I have to ask the question, “Why did Forster put the asterisks behind the Niedner and Koch names?”

The Koch’s and Niedner’s were among the people who did not settle in Perry County, but either remained in St. Louis or moved elsewhere. In 1843, a son named Alexander was born. That was the same year that Agnes died, so these deaths in the same year might indicate that Agnes died as a result of childbirth. What is interesting is that when Alexander later died in St. Louis, his death record shows that his place of birth was Mine La Motte, Missouri, which is located not far from Farmington, an area where much mining was taking place.

Alexander Koch – St. Louis death record

Here is a theory. Maybe John and Agnes left the Gesellschaft and for a while moved to Mine La Motte. John, now a widower, with a baby, moved back to St. Louis for help in raising this child and ended up back in the company of the German Lutherans in that city.

John would marry again, so let’s look at his second bride. Her name was Anna Eva Haas, who was born sometime around 1822 in Germany. Anna was the daughter of Johann Friedrich and Anna Margaretha (Eissert) Haas. I do not know when she came to America, but she was living in St. Louis in 1847 when she got married.

John Koch married Anna Haas on April 18, 1847 at Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis. Today would be the 175th wedding anniversary for this couple. There is a St. Louis marriage record for this occasion. You can see that Rev. C.F.W. Walther performed this ceremony.

Koch/Haas – St. Louis marriage record

There is also a record for this wedding in the books of Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis. Here is part of that record.

Koch/Haas marriage record – Trinity, St. Louis, MO

I found it interesting that a note can also be found with this record. It says that John Koch was the organist for that congregation.

Koch/Haas marriage record – Trinity, St Louis, MO

This begs another question: “Did John Koch learn to play the organ when he was in Germany or after he arrived in America?” And here’s another question based on the fact that Trinity Lutheran Church had dedicated their own church sanctuary in 1842: “When did Trinity Lutheran Church get an organ?”

When this couple began having children, baptism records appeared in the Trinity books. As early as 1849, I discovered that John was referred to as the teacher at their school. Also, other Lutheran teachers in St. Louis were sponsors in some of those baptisms. In the 1850 census, we find the Koch household living in St. Louis. No occupation is given for John.

1850 census – St. Louis, MO

In 1855, the first convention of the newly-formed Western District was held in Chicago. In a book telling the story of the Missouri District (once called the Western District), Heart of Missouri, we find a list of teachers who were present and absent at that convention. We see John (Friedrich) Koch on that list, and he is called a teacher at Trinity, St. Louis.

List of teachers – First convention of Western District – 1855

Next, we find the Koch’s in the 1860 census. John was a school teacher with 4 children in his household.

1860 census – St. Louis, MO

The 1870 census is the last one in which we find the Koch’s living in St. Louis. John was a 59 year-old teacher.

1870 census – St. Louis, MO

In the 1880 census, we find John and Anna living in the Covington Township of Washington County, Illinois. That is where St. John’s Lutheran Church is located in New Minden, Illinois. St. John’s, New Minden is one of the charter congregations of what is now called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Once again, John is called a school teacher, even though he is 69 years old.

1880 census – Covington Township, IL

Photographs were taken of both John and Anna Koch during their lifetimes.

John Koch died in 1881 at the age of 70; Anna Koch died in 1883 at the age of 61. The family history on Ancestry.com says they were each buried in the St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in New Minden, but Findagrave does not have entries for either of them.

This post leaves us with unanswered questions. Maybe some of our readers might supply some of the answers.

I don’t think it’s done as much anymore, but back in my days when I was studying to become a Lutheran teacher, efforts were still being made to equip such teachers with the skill of playing the piano or organ. As a result, over the years, many Lutheran churches have had Lutheran teachers as their church organists. Perhaps, back in John Koch’s day, such efforts were also being made to make church musicians out of their Lutheran teachers.


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