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Johann Andreas August Grabau (1804-1879) Family Collection, 1840-1866.

  • Collection Number: M-0110
  • Collection Size: 2 Folders

Biographical Sketch

Johann Andreas August Grabau was born 18 March 1804 in Olvenstedt, Saxony, in the Kingdom of Prussia, the son of Johann Andreas Grabau (d. 1822) and Anna Dorothea Grabau née Jericho. J.A.A. Grabau had a brother John and a sister Lisette. He was married in Erfurt on 15 July 1834, to Christine Sophia née Burgraf, the daughter of Johann Andreas Burggraf and Friedericke Louise Elizabeth née Beulke. They had at least three children: Johann (pastor in Bergholz, New York), Wilhelm (married Maria von Rohr, pastor in Cedarburg, Wisconsin), and Beata (whose married name was Gram). Grabau died on 2 June 1879 in Buffalo, New York.

Grabau was educated at the grammar school in Olvenstedt (1809-1818), the Magdeburg Gymnasium (1818-1825) and finally at the University of Halle (1825-1829). After three years as a teacher in Magdeburg and Sachsa bei Nordhausen, Grabau was ordained and installed as pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Erfurt in June 1834.

In 1836 Grabau ran afoul of the Prussian state church for his opposition to the Union Agenda. After two years’ imprisonment (1837-1839), Grabau was finally granted permission to emigrate along with his congregation. This group, under the leadership of Grabau and Captain Heinrich von Rohr, departed for America in the summer of 1839. Grabau and a majority of his congregation settled in Buffalo while von Rohr and some of the families continued to Wisconsin. In Buffalo the settlers established Trinity Old Lutheran Church, quickly followed by the founding of a school.

Grabau and his congregation soon met with controversy, however. First was a split with a congregation of Silesian Lutherans who had accompanied Grabau’s congregation across the Atlantic. While the Silesian pastor, Leberecht Friedrich Ehregott Krause, was in Germany, Grabau excommunicated the Silesians because of an unsettled debt to the shipping agent who had arranged their passage. The Silesians denied Grabau’s authority in the matter, but Pr. Krause, who passed through Buffalo again in 1841 on his way to take up a call to Wisconsin, sided with Grabau. The Silesians approached the Saxon pastor E.M. Bürger [Buerger] who was passing through Buffalo at the time, intending to return to Germany, and Bürger, having investigated the situation, finally accepted their call and became the pastor of the congregation, known in distinction from Grabau’s as First Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Relations between Grabau’s group and the Saxon Lutherans in Missouri had already been placed on a shaky footing by Grabau’s 1840 Hirtenbrief, a letter which he had written in response to the situation of the emigrants who had traveled with von Rohr to Freistadt, Wisconsin. In the absence of a pastor, they had appointed a schoolteacher to preach and administer the sacraments among them, a practice of which Grabau strongly disapproved. Grabau sent a copy of the Hirtenbrief to C.F.W. Walther and G.H. Loeber. The Missouri pastors disagreed with Grabau’s teaching but were not able to send a response until 1843. An increasingly acrimonious exchange between the two groups continued for several decades, providing impetus for Walther’s Voice of our Church on the Question Concerning the Church and the Ministry. The gap between Grabau and the Saxons widened further as portions of the Wisconsin congregations in Freistadt, Milwaukee, and Kirchhayn, offended by Pr. Krause’s liberal use of excommunication, sought Saxon pastors to serve them.

Meanwhile, Grabau proceeded with the work of church organization. In 1845 the Synod of the Lutheran Church Emigrated from Prussia [Synode der aus Preussen ausgewanderten lutherischen Kirche] was formed by Grabau, von Rohr (who had in the meantime been trained and ordained as a pastor), Krause and Pr. G. A. Kindermann, a Pomeranian whose congregation had emigrated to Wisconsin. Grabau was elected senior ministerii or president of the synod, popularly known as the Buffalo Synod. The synodical paper, Kirchliches Informatorium, was established in 1851 under Grabau’s editorship. In 1853/4 the Synod established the German Martin Luther College in Buffalo with Grabau as its rector.

In 1866 a schism arose within the Buffalo Synod itself. At the synodical assembly in June of that year, a majority of the Buffalo pastors, including von Rohr, turned against Grabau, accusing him of false doctrine. Grabau and three pastors withdrew, claiming to constitute the legitimate Buffalo Synod. In November von Rohr and his fellow pastors agreed to a colloquium with representatives of the Missouri Synod. As a result of this meeting, a majority of the Buffalo Synod pastors, under the leadership of Pr. Christian Hochstetter of Buffalo, joined the Missouri Synod at once. A rump group, with von Rohr, continued to constitute a separate Buffalo Synod until 1877.

Grabau continued as pastor of Trinity Old Lutheran Church in Buffalo and as president of the Buffalo Synod, which consisted of Grabau and those pastors who had refused to join in the condemnation of 1866. After a legal battle with von Rohr’s Buffalo Synod, Grabau retained control of the Martin Luther College in Buffalo and remained as its rector. The official organ of Grabau’s synod after 1866 was Die Wachende Kirche, under his editorship. He continued in these responsibilities until his death on 2 June 1879.

Scope and Content Note

The folder of correspondence, arranged chronologically, includes official correspondence from Grabau to the Missouri Synod, especially to Walther and Loeber, regarding the Buffalo Synod’s doctrine of the ministry and the activities of E.M Bürger and other Missouri pastors. Also included are letters to Grabau’s associates in the Buffalo Synod, particularly Kindermann and J.H. Sieker. In addition, there are several letters to Grabau from European correspondents (legible signatures include A. Knobler and C.W. Mangelsdorf), and one letter to Grabau’s wife from her uncle in Erfurt.

The second folder includes images of Grabau, material related to other members of his family (the sermon preached at the installation of his son. Johann Grabau at Kirchhayn, Wisconsin, in 1862 and an undated typescript titled “Meine Lehrstellung” attributed to a H. R. Grabau), and notes related to A.R. Suelflow’s work on the collection.

Folder List

f.1 Correspondence, 1840-1866
f.2 Family/Collection Notes


Grabau, Johann A. “Johann Andreas August Grabau: A Biographical Sketch,” tr. E.M. Biegener. Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly [CHIQ] 23 (1950): 10-17, 66-74, 176-81; vol. 24 (1951): 35-39, 74-79, 124-32; vol. 25 (1952): 49-71. [Translation of Lebenslauf des Ehrwürdigen J. An. A. Grabau (Buffalo: Volksblatt Printing Co., 1879).]

Marth, Elmer H. “Gustav Adolph Kindermann—Leader of a German Lutheran Immigration and Pioneer Southeastern Wisconsin Pastor.” CHIQ 38(1964): 135-45, 168-88, esp. pp. 172ff. [On Kindermann]

Owen, Ralph Dornfield. “The Old Lutherans Come.” CHIQ 20 (1946): pp. 3-56, esp. p. 34ff.

Sauer, Philip von Rohr. “Heinrich von Rohr and the Great Emigration of 1839.” CHIQ 56(1982), pp. 65-70.

Suelflow, A. R. “Who Has Buffalo Synod Records.” CHIQ 32 (1958): 107-08.

Suelflow, Roy A. “The First Years of Trinity Congregation Freistadt, Wisconsin.” CHIQ 18 (1944): 2-12, 55-62, 83-94, 119-26; vol. 19 (1945): 42-47, 84-94. [On G.’s relations with Krause and Kindermann]

———. “The Relations of the Missouri Synod with the Buffalo Synod up to 1866.” CHIQ 27(1953), pp. 1-19, 57-73, 97-132.

See also CHI’s microfilm holdings and congregational files for First Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and Trinity Old Lutheran Church (Buffalo, NY); also Grabau’s periodicals Kirchliches Informatorium and Die Wachende Kirche.

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