Julia Stephan and Martin Stephan Jr.

All but two of the 651 Lutherans left for Bremerhaven, the port city for embarkation to America in early November. There they waited for Martin Stephan and his son to arrive. Time was of the essence.
On October 23, 1838, the Duke of Saxony absolved Martin Stephan of all changes and investigations. On the 26th, The High Appeals Court determined that Pastor Martin Stephan was free to emigrate to America. His wife Julia declined to follow, even when facing the loss of her only son. (The Stephan’s named their first born male child Martin IV, honoring a Stephan family tradition) Sadly, he died in childbirth. Seven years later another boy was born, and named Martin V, (or Jr).) In the eyes of the High Court, the father had the last say about their only son. Any underage daughters traveling without their mother was out of the question at that time.
Without a husband, his income and his house (a parsonage is only for the duration of the pastorate), Julia faced an uncertain future. She would scramble to stay solvent, even though coming from a wealthy famous Dresden family of architects and men with royal appointments. She brought silver, gold and other valuable objects as wedding gifts as well as financial help over the years.
Her grandfather, Johann Friedrich Knöbel, was the Royal Treasurer to the King of Poland, August the VI. Her father, Julius Friedrich Knöbel, originally an architect like his father Johann, served as chamberlain, treasurer and house marshal for the elector of Saxony. A brother, Carl Knöbel, a cavalier in the Saxon military, became a role model for Martin and no doubt gave him pocket money from time to time. Julia’s uncle Leonhardt provided her with a loan of 300 Thalers for a mortgage payment, and financial support.
Both parents agreed to ensure financial support for their children from separate funds. In fact, Martin left a bag of 400 Thalers, albeit unused at the time of her death. He relinquished his property to Julia, and agreed that she would retain those family items that had come into the marriage. Nevertheless, she bore total responsibility for the family.
For Julia, a seemingly dream marriage to a charismatic preacher turned into endless childbearing (12 in all), infant deaths and physical challenges for three of seven daughters. Martin IV, preoccupied with brewing religious strife, the police and theological/political changes to the church, became a man obsessed with a mission. He believed leaving Sodom (i.e. Saxony), for the promised land meant a better future for Lutherans. Was it so important to preserve the Reformation above all else? Tough choices at an impasse.
By 1838, Martin Sr., 61, was not in the best of health, yet the pressure to emigrate outweighed all options of staying. For the children left behind, their sadness would be almost unimaginable. Little did the pastor know what awaited him in the New World. Had Martin known would he have turned back, erased all the plans, cancelled the ships?
Another factor played a big role in the separation. Julia had enough of her husband’s nightly walks and Bible studies until dawn, and the aforementioned nurse, Fräulein Günther, who doted on Martin’s physical problems. Or was it more, as some from the LCMS claimed?


Julia stood staring at the front door. She walked across the room to the china cabinet and sat down at an adjoining walnut table with glass decanter of sherry and two slender flutes, one with sherry remaining. Removing the ornate fan-shaped stopper, she reached for the empty flute, filled her glass halfway and took a sip. In a semi circle, the children stood like statues in a park. Setting her glass down, she ran her hand over the embroidered hem of the tablecloth, an heirloom from the Stephan family. The table, draped with embroidered white doilies not uncommon in the household, were sewn by Martin’s weaver ancestors. A lovely memory of decorating the new parsonage.
Softly, Marie broke rank and went to the study where earlier, guests had mingled with her father. She carrying a small porcelain plate with finger foods, she placed it next to the carafe. Julia smiled and reached for a piece, before placing it back almost untouched. As Marie rejoined the group of her sisters, ten year old Friederike dabbed her eyes with a lace hanky.


The grandfather clock rang 1 am. In a barely audible voice Julia instructed Marie to accompany the girls to their upstairs bedrooms. When Friederike approached her mother, Julia motioned with her finger to join the others. No customary good night kiss.
While her daughters prepared for bed, Julia took time to collect her thoughts. Time alone had never been a luxury in this household. In the blink of an eye, she’d lost her husband, security and way of life. Her husband was on his way to America and Julia’s major worry was to continue living in the parsonage. In the morning, she threw herself at the mercy of the church and received permission to remain.


Martin Jr. embraced his mother. Had he ever embraced her before? The secret hope that he might stay was in vain. With a heritage of Lutheran pastors on both sides of the family, children were to obey, not feel. To abandon a mother in her greatest hour of need must surely have plagued Martin Jr. for a lifetime. To have Martin Jr. accompany his father on the emigration was a forgone conclusion for practical reasons: daughters alone without their mother simply was out of the question.
For his part, the youngster had to leave school mates, numerous relatives, and his home town behind. Standing alone at the rear of the steamer, he watched the crew loose the rope from its mooring. As they eased out onto the river, Martin craned his neck for one more look at Dresden’s beautiful skyline crowned by the magnificent Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s Church) and the Court Church perched at the famous Augustus Bridge with its semi-circle balconies for pedestrians to sit and rest. The Brühl’s Terrace stretched high above the Elbe, captured in numerous paintings by Canaletto. Dresden, the Paris of the North, faded from view. Now he would have ample time for reflection during the two week journey up the Elbe to Bremen. Attorney Vehse, a fellow passenger, later to become one of Stephan’s worst enemies, overheard Martin Jr. say to a trusted friend on the ship Olbers: “My father will meet an evil end, and you will find it out in very short time.” Prophetic words.

Julia soon took in roomers to offset expenses for her four daughters, while three others, Friedericke, 10, their last born, Celestine and Adelheid would soon go to a home for the deaf at state expense. Less than six years later, Julia died from exhaustion at age 54 with Martin Jr. present at her side. He had returned in 1841 after she wrote a pleading letter for help. Her son would stay on for another two years, after graduating from the Dresden School of Fine Arts in Architecture. Though he never saw his father again, the Stephan men’s urge to fulfill their duty and become a pastor remained deep in their DNA. My father Curtis, as a boy of fourteen, was whisked off from his mother without a whimper to an LCMS prep school in St. Paul, later to serve the very church body which sneered at men who bore the surname Stephan.

One Response to “Julia Stephan and Martin Stephan Jr.”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Am Hoping you does not mind, but I made this spotify playlist influenced by your writing.


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