Martin Stephan: Onwards to Missouri

Each emigration ship was assigned a separate steamer for the trip to St. Louis–some 1,300 miles upstream. There was financial pressure to spend as little time in New Orleans as possible, but baggage had to be transferred, and the colony was exhausted after sailing 7-9 weeks.

Saxons passengers had short layover times in New Orleans, but those on the Olbers waited longer–10 days for technical reasons. On Jan. 21, 1839, they seized the chance to visit New Orleans, thinking their steamer would be leaving soon. Instead, they were unable to board the Selma–booked for Jan. 23–until Jan 30. Delay was costly to the treasury. Stephan, not surprisingly, was accused of wasting money during that delay. Items were indeed purchased for him: a sofa, some wine and later a one horse carriage. A small pittance for years of work.

The other three steamers set off with dispatch and arrived in St. Louis according to plan. The same steamboats used returned before the Olbers embarked. Therefore, everyone on the Selma believed their trip upstream would be uneventful as well.

On Jan 31, 180 Saxon passengers headed out. Soon the elegant winding Mississippi had started to freeze over in the shallowest places. As if the Olber’s voyage had not been enough, the elegant steamer Selma got stuck more than once in ice and sandbars and the normal time of eight days to Missouri lengthened by a further eleven.

Particularly in the second half of the trip, the sand bars proved especially difficult for the huge Selma. Eights days passed and she had not reached the Arkansas border. Sitting sandbagged on the river increased the danger of snakes. Food was running out and water was mixed with that of the Mississippi. Then, too, the passengers had to contend with a rough and tumble captain and crew, unsanitary conditions for the cheaper paying passengers, and the frustration of watching the Selma almost capsize while being pulled across a huge sand bar.

An interesting note: some of the Saxons went ashore and encountered a black man who took them on a tour of the area. In exchange, they helped clear the land on a nearby plantation.

Finally the Selma docked at St. Louis on Feb.19, 1839. Their trip had taken 65 days and proved to be the longest of them all. The exhausted German passengers debarked to the cheers of their fellow colonists when they saw Stephan emerge.

A personal, signed document by each adult member of the 180 Saxons, known as the “Selma Declaration” served as the recommitment to their faith, Christian conduct, reverence and loyalty to Stephan and his leadership, was later ratified by all the other members of the Colony. His election to Bishop was also confirmed unanimously.
Stephan was in the height of his power.

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