It’s early 1855. You are one of the fortunate ones who survived the two-month trip across the Atlantic in the Ben Nevis. The brutal winter will, in a few months, give way to Spring. Unfortunately, though, your husband was one of the seventy-some souls who perished en route to Galveston. Now that you’re in Texas, what will you and your children do?
It may not be easy for a single parent to raise children on their own today, but it is not uncommon. For folks in the nineteenth century, though, particularly out in what was then the frontier, things wouldn’t have been nearly as easy. Remarrying, and soon, would have been a priority.
Fortunately for you and your children, one of the men of means who lost his wife during the voyage has asked you to marry him. You are willing, so naturally you go to your pastor, the Rev. Jan Kilian, so that he might perform the ceremony.
It’s not clear precisely when the first such request came for Kilian to perform a marriage in Texas, but he quickly discovered that he had a problem, which resulted in his writing to C.F.W. Walther, president of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States on February 9, 1855.
Walther, like Kilian, was a Saxon by birth. He and a number of other Lutherans, frustrated by the leftward slide of the state-controlled church in Saxony, emigrated to the United States in late 1838 and settled in Perry County, Missouri. Although not Wendish, these folks were also “Old Lutherans” like Kilian.
In his letter, Kilian expressed in interest in associating with the Missouri Synod, and described his quandary as follows:
“After I now came here with my brothers, I hear that all certificates and documents which a Pastor brings along from Germany is not sufficient to authorize him in the States to perform marriages [a Marriage-Pastor], that for this rather an authorization from his Synod is necessary. Now, alone for the reason that during the trip several husbands were robbed of their wives through death and several wives of their husbands, many marriages are necessitated. I must therefore, before I am authorized to perform a wedding, allow the legitimate marriage to be accomplished by the squire or by another pastor near at hand. Also in such adversity 2 bridal couples of my congregation already got married by a Methodist preacher in my absence and without me knowing about it in advance. It is also clear that I must have the authorization from a Synod quickly.”
Along with this authorization, Kilian also requested that Walther send along any information he had about the doctrinal positions of the Methodists. While they aren’t all that unusual to us today, this may have been Kilian’s first personal experience with them. Methodist missionaries from Britain had only begun to work in and around Stuttgart (some three-hundred and fifty miles from Bautzen) in 1830, and it wasn’t until the 1850s that American Methodist missionaries began their work in Saxony, after having arrived in Bremen in 1849. At the time, they were considered to be fanatics.
It isn’t clear from the letter when and where the two couples were married by the Methodist minister. We do, however, know that the Wends reached an agreement with Absalom Delaplain to purchase the league of land around what is now Serbin two days after his letter, so they’d clearly been in the area long enough to find a suitable plot of land, locate the owner, and negotiate a mutually acceptable price. We also know that German-speaking Methodists were active in the area one year later, in 1856.
Regardless, it seems clear that the two couples were experiencing at least some reservations about Kilian’s pastoral leadership since they sought out the Methodist pastor without Kilian’s knowledge. In the coming days these reservations would grow among his congregation, and along with the activity of the nearby Methodists would soon become thorns in Kilian’s side.
You can read Kilian’s letter to Walther here: