A closer look at the Stephan and Knöbel families

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).) 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 Martin and Julia Stephan agreed on the financial support of Julia and their children from Martin’s funds. He left Julia a bag of 400 Thalers, albeit unused at the time of her death. He also relinquished his property to Julia, and agreed that she would retain those family items that had come into the marriage. Now, after all, 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.

By 1838, Martin Sr., 61, was not in the best of health, yet the pressure to emigrate outweighed all options of staying. He felt it was important to preserve the Reformation above all else..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? Tough choices at an impasse.

Another factor played a big role in the separation. Julia had enough of her husband’s nightly walks and Bible studies until dawn. An nurse, Fräulein Günther, attended to Martin’s physical problems. Or was it more, as some from the LCMS claimed?

*

Time minute her son for his journey. Julia stood staring at the front door and Martin’s packed bags with the communion cup she entrusted to him. She walked across the room past the china cabinet where it had stood so long. At an adjoining walnut table, she sat down 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 when she decorated the new parsonage.

Softly, Marie broke rank and went to the study where earlier, guests had mingled with her father. She brought back a small porcelain plate with finger foods, placing 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, the security of a home, and her way of life. Her husband was gone to America and Julia’s major worry was to continue living in the parsonage. In the morning, she would throw herself at the mercy of the church and receive 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 young Martin 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 Jr, looked up at the famous Augustus Bridge with its semi-circle balconies for pedestrians to sit and rest, and captured in numerous paintings by Canaletto. Dresden, the Paris of the North, it was called, for good reason. Now he’d have ample time for seeing other parts of his homeland, for the first and final time during the journey up the Elbe to Bremen.

We know nothing of any actual written thoughts at this time. 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 acted quickly, and 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.(We had roomers in Bloomington for years, even with my father present.) 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 man’s urge to fulfill his duty and become a pastor remained deep in his 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.

Martin Jr. would go on to become a Lutheran Pastor, and regularly sent money back to his sisters. He was known as a kindly soft spoken man. More on him in a future blog.

#9 Revised and edited, November 11, 2109

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