Martin Stephan from Stramberg to Dresden

It was October 28, 1838, just days before the annual Reformation celebration in Dresden on October 31, and 13 days before the Stephan’s 29th wedding anniversary. Six daughters, ages ranging from 24 to 10 gathered in anxious uncertainty around their father, Martin Stephan. Just this afternoon he learned the King had released Stephan from house arrest, and he could proceed immediately to Bremen to board ship. Time, although precious at home, was of the essence. The grand piano had already been removed, along with a large steamer trunk. An elegant gold plated chalice given to Pastor Stephan and his congregation by a Count von Einsiedel, as well as other precious and personal effects had been readied for shipment. The sofa, draped with embroidered white doilies sewn by Martin’s weaver ancestors remained behind, a legacy of Julia. Earlier that day, Martin Sr. had already formerly met with Celestine, aged 24, his eldest (hearing and speech impaired) daughter as well as to Julia, his wife of 28 years.

Later that evening, Martin returned to his daughter for a final farewell. Huddled in the space where the grand piano had stood, they heard the last details on this eventful day. Their only brother Martin Jr, was to accompany his father to America, departing in three days with a steamer up the Elbe to Bremen. They were to follow next year, along with their mother. A fairytale at best.

Did Martin think about his exile from his boyhood town of Stramberg (Northeast Moravia)? Together with sister Magdalena Wilhelmina, Martin III fled their parental (Lutheran) home in 1793, forsaking brother Jan and a second sister. The youngsters first hid in nearby Sipka Cave to escape marauding and Jesuits out to kill them. By night they made their way to Silesia, where it is thought Martin III become a journeyman weaver, like his father. Martin had earned his weaver apprenticeship a few years earlier, learning much about the trade from his mother, Zuzana. Sadly. she had died in 1790 at age 34. while Martin’s father followed his wife in death at just 38. What happened to Martin’s sister is unclear. So much loss at once for the young man. Martin Sr. was only 15–about the same age as his own son. Only a boy going with his father was possible. The daughters had to stay with their mother. Should Martin Sr. have stayed? There were reasons he perhaps could have found. After all, he was 61, and not in the best of health, yet his mission outweighed all considerations of canceling his plans.
Moreover, plans for the rest of Martin’s family to follow later were hinted at on the Olbers. The captain should watch for them and give them special care, Martin was heard to say. (Actual funds had been set aside for their passage.)
Did Martin really believe his daughters could manage the trip he had promised them for the following April–particularly his three profoundly deaf girls? Martin Sr. may have fantasized, but the reality was, Julia remained loyal to her children. The emotional strain of a faltering marriage and reports of painful events in Missouri struck the final blow to any of their emigration.

For the fatherless children to be, their sadness seemed almost unimaginable. Their beloved brother no longer there be the only man of the household. their mother without her only son. Laying his hands one by one on each daughter’s head, their father paused at two, Anna and Friedericke–hearing and speech impaired–to mouth a silent blessing. An official private goodbye between Martin, Julia and Celestine, their eldest and seventh living daughter, handicapped as well, had already taken place. As a witness reported, nothing now but a nod to Julia, his children’s mother and dutiful wife. No more tears would flow.

Little could Martin foresee what awaited him in the New World. Had the Pastor known would he perhaps have turned back, turned over the helm to someone else, or cancelled the ships? Was it so important above all else to save the Reformation? Tough choices and an impasse of historic proportion.

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