Martin Stephan: Onwards to Missouri

Each emigration ship was assigned a separate steamer for St. Louis–a trip of some 1,300 miles upstream. There was financial pressure to spend as little time in New Orleans as possible. Saxons passengers on the first ships were allotted short layover times in New Orleans, but those on the Olbers waited longer–10 days for technical reasons.

On Jan. 21, 1839, they took the chance to visit New Orleans, thinking their steamer would be leaving in two days. Instead, they were unable to board their streamer, the Selma, 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 pittance for years of work.

Meanwhile, those first three steamers carrying Saxons set off with dispatch, and docked in St. Louis according to schedule. When those same three steamers arrived back in New Orleans before the Olbers contingent had embarked with the Selma, everyone believed their trip upstream would also be unproblematic.

And thus, on Jan 31, 180 Saxon passengers from the Olbers headed out, only to find that the elegant winding Mississippi had now started to freeze over in the shallowest places. February is always the coldest month of the year. As if the Olber’s voyage had been longer than any of the other three, their large steamer got stuck more than once in ice and sandbars and the normal time of eight days to Missouri lengthened by a further eleven.

On the midway point of the trip, the sand bars proved especially difficult for the huge Selma. Eights days passed and she had not yet reached the Arkansas border. Sitting sandbagged on the river, their food was running out, they had to contend with a rough and tumble captain and crew. Added to this, the frustration of watching the Selma almost capsize while being pulled across a huge sand bar mounted. And, as immovable objects, it increased the danger of snakes, or so they thought. About now, they no doubt would have traded a stein of good Saxon beer (guaranteed to have pure ingredients), for passenger water mixed in with that of the Mississippi. Misery reigned on the way to Missouri.

An interesting note: during their delay on the sandbars, 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. A break in the boredom and frustrations. Finally the Selma docked at St. Louis on Feb.19, 1839. All tolled, the Olbers/Selma trip from Bremerhaven to St.Louis had taken 65 days and proved longest of the surviving four ships.

One bright spot: the exhausted Selma passengers debarked to the cheers of their fellow colonists when they saw Stephan emerge. The personal, signed document by each adult member of the 180 Saxons, known as the “Selma Declaration” which served as the recommitment to their faith, Christian conduct, reverence and loyalty to Stephan and his leadership, was ratified by all the other members of the colony. His election to Bishop was thus confirmed unanimously. Stephan was in the height of his power.

# 13 revised and edited , November 15, 2019

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