- Collection Number: M-0022
- Collection Size: 0.15 linear feet
Martin Stephan was born on 13 August 1777 in Stramberg, Moravia. He was orphaned at an early age and was taught the trade of a linen weaver. At age 22 (1799), already an accomplished journeyman in his trade, he moved to Breslau, Germany, and through the kindness of friends he was able to continue his education there. In 1804 he entered the university in Halle. Two years later he moved to the University of Leipzig, where he remained until 1809.
His first call brought him to Haber in Bohemia, but he only stayed there for one year and moved on to serve St. John congregation in Dresden. He was active in the founding of the Dresden Bible Society and in organizing the Dresden Mission Society. Stephan gained popularity as a forceful preacher who stood by the Lutheran Confession, opposing the views of the state church. He was accused on several occasion of various offenses including conducting secret meetings called conventicles.
In early 1838 Stephan began planning to emigrate to America and convinced many others to join him, including five fellow clergymen and ten candidates of theology. The “Stephanites,” as they were called, left Germany in November 1838 and arrived in New Orleans in February 1839. While still on board the ship Olbers Stephan was declared to be bishop of the emigrants. This was formally confirmed in New Orleans on 24 February 1839.
Soon after settling in Perry County, Missouri, Stephan was accused of adultery and other offenses against the immigrant colonists and was removed from the office of bishop on 30 May 1839. He was taken across the Mississippi River in a boat. He then served a Lutheran congregation in Kaskaskia, Illinois, and later became pastor of Trinity congregation at Horse Prairie (now called Red Bud), Illinois. He died on 21 February 1846 in Horse Prairie and was buried in the church cemetery.
Scope and Content Note
The Martin Stephan collection relates closely to the Saxon Immigration Papers (M-0015). Some of the most significant documents pertaining to the life and work of Stephan are part of this collection, for example f.# 43 Martin Stephan’s Deposition [from the position of bishop].
The Stephan collection consists of correspondence, printed materials, several handwritten documents such as the “Confession” and the “Summary of Stephan’s Errors” written by Ottomar Fuerbringer. The correspondence folder (f.4) includes correspondence by Stephan and his immediate family, as well as letters generated in the 1930s by donors of the collection and scholars.
The folder “Printed Materials” (f.9) includes a copy of the booklet Exulanten Lieder, which was written by Otto Hermann Walther and dedicated to Martin Stephan. The original handwritten copy of these songs is located in the Saxon Immigration Collection (f.31).
More information about Stephan can be found in an unpublished manuscript by William Koepchen, “Pastor Martin Stephan and the Saxon Immigration of 1838,” which is part of Concordia Historical Institutes holdings and is located in the Biographical File under “K.” The William Koepchen papers include other materials related to Stephan. Walter Forester’s Zion on the Mississippi also presents and account of the life and experience of Stephan in conjunction with the Saxon Immigration.
Several documents in this collection were donated by Ludwig Fuerbringer, Wm. Moll, and by unknown sources.
f.1.: Appointment as Bishop
f.2: Bekenntnis (Confession)
f.4: Correspondence, 1831-1935
f.5: Doctoral Essay
f.7: Open Confession by E. G. W. Keyl
f.9: Printed Material
f.10: Refutation of Stephan’s Accusations
f.12: Stephan’s Seal
f.13: “Summary of Errors” by O. Fuerbringer
f.14: Various Accounts about Stephan