Strieter Autobiography: Subscribing for the Book

If you are interested in owning a hard copy of Strieter’s autobiography, please read on. (If you do not yet know anything about the autobiography, please read Part 1 here.)

The most recent installment of Strieter’s autobiography, that is, the last part of the chapter “Hardships and Happenings,” will be the last installment from that work that appears on this blog. The remaining chapters are:

  • “Battle with the Fanatics” – his encounters with the Methodists and Albright Brethren during his Wisconsin years
  • “My Departure from the Injunland”
  • “Aurora” – his time in Aurora, Illinois
  • “Snippet on Squaw Grove and Pierceville”
  • “Peru” – his time in Peru, Indiana (today St. John’s, Peru)
  • “Proviso” – his time in Proviso, Illinois (today Immanuel, Hillside)
  • “The Saloon and Ball” – his battle against drinking and dancing in Proviso
  • “The Lodge” – his battle against lodge membership
  • “Pleasant Experiences” – the stand-out joys that God gave him throughout his ministry, including his marriage, and also his retirement from the ministry
  • “Addendum”

At this point, the plan is to publish the autobiography as a hardcover book when finished, even to self-publish if necessary. If self-publishing is necessary, complimentary volumes would be given to anyone who has been helpful in this process, most notably the Concordia Historical Institute, the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Library, and a select group of Pastor Strieter’s descendants. I would ask any other descendant of Pastor Strieter for a donation simply matching the per-volume cost of publication. And to anyone else interested, I would ask for a donation marginally exceeding the per-volume cost (the goal being to make up for the complimentary volumes and ultimately to break even). (If a professional publisher accepts the manuscript, then I would only see to it that the complimentary volumes were distributed.)

If self-published, the format and size of the book would tentatively be something akin to a David McCullough hardcover, minus the dust jacket – with a small, elegant, professional emblem on the cover (silhouette of a profile of a bearded man with horse and buggy), two or three groups of pages with pictures related to the content inserted at intervals (thus no picture will be by itself in the body of the text), and a section of endnotes at the end of each chapter (as opposed to footnotes on each page) so that they don’t distract the reader who simply wishes to enjoy the autobiography by itself. Regardless of how it is published, I will also see to the provision of an index of names, places, concepts, events, etc. including modern-day churches descended from or related to the congregations Strieter mentions.

I am hereby asking all interested parties – whether individuals, societies, or organizations – to provide me with their name(s), address(es), and the number of copies desired. You can email me at:

redbrickparsonage@gmail.com

I will compile these names in a subscription spreadsheet so that I have a good idea of how many copies to have printed.

The other benefit of an advance subscriber spreadsheet is that, if the number of subscribers adds up sufficiently, I may be able to use that spreadsheet to persuade a publisher to accept the manuscript and take over publishing responsibilities. While this might affect format, size, and layout, it would definitely make my life easier and most likely result in broader distribution.

Thank you for your interest in Strieter’s autobiography, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Strieter Autobiography: Counseling and Instructing

[Continued from Part 22. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Wisconsin (continued)

One time a woman asked me to stop by her place sometime; she had something to tell me about. I stop by. There she relates this: Over in Germany she had been a rich farmer’s daughter, and her husband had been her father’s servant, and because he was such a good person, she had fallen in love with him and suggested that they get married. But he had said, “Get that idea out of your head. Your father will not agree to it, and if he did agree to it, our wealth would come from you. I have nothing, and it is not good when the wife makes her husband rich. You are a hothead; you’ll fly off the handle at some point and rub it in my face.”

“So I promise him, ‘I will say nothing about it all my life.’

“I approach my mother and she approaches my father. ‘Good,’ said my father, ‘I will give you such and such an amount, then the two of you can move to America.’

“We got married. My father gave me money and we came to America and bought ourselves the land here. Just think, sir, I got annoyed over something recently and say to my husband, ‘You didn’t have anything but your jacket!’

“He doesn’t say a word, but shoots me a look. Oh, that look went right through my heart! If only he weren’t so good! But I have such a good man. He can go anywhere and while this one or that one comes home and has too much, mine never does. And he is so good to me and the children. And now I had promised him I would never rub it in his face, and I did it anyway. So do you think that God can forgive me my sin?”

I say, “First of all, you must apologize to your husband, ma’am, and he must first forgive you.”

She says, “Ah, I have already asked him for forgiveness many times, and he has said to me, ‘Just forget about it; everything is fine!’”

I say, “Good, now ask your dear God for forgiveness too.”

She says, “O how often I have done that!”

I say, “Okay, what more do you want? Now everything is just fine. Your husband has forgiven and God has forgiven, and you don’t need any forgiveness beyond that.”

She says, “Has God really forgiven me too?”

I say, “Why, in the Fifth Petition he says he has.”

Then she was happy. —

One time a man came to me with his wife and told me that his wife was going out of her mind. He had heard that such women should be given a good, sound beating, and should he try it once?

I say, “Of course not. How is that going to help? You must be kind, sir.”

I speak with the woman. She said that one child after another would die on her when it was born, and that was God’s punishment for her sins. I point her to her Savior and recite passages to her. She listens to it, but that’s it. I arrange to meet the man again and again. Finally have no idea what else to say. One day I had her in front of me again and asked her whether she really wanted to be saved.

“Oh yes!” she exclaimed.

I say, “Good, and God wants it too and affirms it with an oath [cf. Hebrews 6:13-20]. Now who’s going to prevent it?”

Suddenly she lifts up her head and looks at me beaming with joy and cries out, “That is true!” From then on she stayed happy.

Yes, when God’s hour has struck, he helps through a simple little word.

One time a man came and told me that his woman was a Jewess. They were not married yet and his girl, 12 years old, was also not baptized yet.

I say, “Come over and bring the woman along.”

He came. I start with Moses and the Prophets and prove to the woman that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by the prophets and ask her what is her position on that. But she gave me no answer. He says, “Come on, talk to the preacher.” She remains stock-still.

I arrange to meet her again. She comes and I take her alone and start again and ask what she thinks, but she remains stock-still. If I talk about something else, she is very talkative. If I start talking about Jesus, her head turns to the ground and not a word. I cannot start anything with the woman.

I tell the man, “So I cannot marry you, sir, for the woman does not believe in Jesus, so I also cannot marry her in the name of Jesus. Go to the justice of the peace. Your child, though, I will instruct and baptize.” The child is sent to me and I instruct and baptize it in the presence of witnesses. The mother, however, did not show her face.19

While I’m on the subject of the Jewess, I will also add this: One woman asked me, “Mr. Preacher, your wife is a Jewess, is she not? She has such large, black eyes and such heavy, black hair.” —

I also had to deal with the musicians. Especially at weddings they knew how to have a good time. If it was going to be a proper one, it lasted three days and three nights. During that time there would be music-playing, dancing, and boozing. The performers were my churchgoers. One of them, a teacher from abroad, knew better than to go to the Lord’s Supper, but always went to church; the others – there were 4 of them usually – also went to the Supper. I speak with the musicians, but accomplish nothing except that they become defiant towards me. I thought, “You must put up with this for the time being.” But it didn’t take long before I just couldn’t give the performers the Supper any more in good conscience, but they still went to church and their wives also went to the Supper. Not just at weddings, but also at get-togethers things often got out of hand. I had to rebuke and to instruct; had much opposition from the flesh and often unpleasant confrontations. Ah, many sighs were sent to heaven, many tears were shed. My short impromptu prayer was always: “Comfort me once again with your help and let your joyful Spirit uphold me!” [Psalm 51:12].20

I did most of my studying when I was riding, driving, or sitting. I had Luther, the Erlangen edition, the German volumes, which I picked up cheaply in Euclid from one of Kühn’s members through Kühn’s negotiation. Luther’s House Postil was my constant companion, as well as another extra volume.21 I read my Luther, and my manner and method of preparing my sermon in my mind, as already noted, now came in very handy. First I would go through my Gospel, then I would run through my Luther, then I would outline, then I would think and organize, then I would preach in front of the group in question in my mind all the way from the first word to the last, and would then step confidently in front of my people. I never preached long.

For confessional services I used the Catechism exclusively, simply covering part for part in order, but I didn’t just preach outright, but asked a lot of questions, doing more catechesis and taking answers so that I would also know whether they understood it. Especially a former teacher [Mr.] F. answered me very often.

I did not labor in vain. Quite often it was expressed: “We never heard such sermons abroad.” Quite a few tears were cried; quite often there was grieving over the fleshly condition.

The people were not to blame, for they must have had miserable preachers – rationalists, hirelings, belly-servers,22 and babblers. You could tell from some of the things that were said. One man, Administrator B., was once asked to tell me that I should preach more humbly. I say, “I am constantly striving to be humble and am not aware of anything particularly arrogant in my sermons.”

He says, “Oh, that’s not what I meant. What I mean is this: Our preachers would often have the whole church in tears when they preached.”

“Ah, so,” I replied, “you mean, sir, that I should preach more emotionally?” Their preachers had had it as their goal to elicit the emotions, so that they would be praised for what a fine sermon they had given.

Especially for funerals they must have had this practice, for one man even gave me two dollars before his mother’s burial. That was unheard of. He said, “Please give a nice address; my mother was a good woman.”

But I read as my text: “Death is the wages of sin” [Romans 6:23], and preached law and gospel.

One man told me, “What my pastor [Seelsorger] in Germany liked best was when he got to sit down with the musicians at weddings and play the Brumm” – the bass viol.

They also could be bribed. I noticed that too. There was a man who came from 12 miles away to bring us two beautiful, nicely dressed ducks, and soon he started in, telling me that he was living in conflict with his neighbor, and I should settle it. But he gave me to understand that I should take his side.

Another man asked if he could ride with me to the next congregation. I invited him up. Soon he pulled a small, folded-up paper parcel from his pocket and handed it to me saying, “Mr. Preacher, I would very much like to give you some pay, sir.”

I say, “You certainly don’t owe me any pay, sir. You’re just a servant on the prairie.”

He says, “Even so, I want to give you this just this once. Please take it; I give it gladly.”

I took it, stick it in my waistcoat pocket and say, “Thank you very much!”

Pretty soon he started in: “Mr. Preacher, you have a girl as your maid, sir, whom I would very much like to have as my wife. You will put in a good word for me, won’t you?”

I say, “Listen here, sir, I did not study for the matchmaking trade, but let me give you a good piece of advice: Ask L.’s parents” – he had none himself – “and if they say Yes, ask L., and if she also says Yes, then come to me and I will marry you.”

He was quiet. In front of my house he got down and went on his way. My L. saw us coming and I hardly get into the house before she asks, “Papa, what did he want from you, sir?”

I say, “He wanted you.”

L. says, “Just what I thought! How often have I already told that guy that I do not want him.”

I say, “Yeah, but he gave me money too,” and pull out my small parcel. It is 5 dollars. I say, “You poor guy, spending so much money for nothing!”

My L. laughs and claps her hands: “If only it were 10!”

Whenever anyone came with a gift, I was suspicious. But soon they learned to think differently.

Endnotes

19 The man in this story was Gottlieb Busse and “his woman” was Charlotte Jacobson. Their 12-year-old daughter was Julie Busse, born on February 15, 1851. (Thus most of the events in this story took place in 1863.) Strieter baptized her on March 27, 1864, in the presence of Julius and Rose Breitenfeld and his wife Elizabeth.

20 One of the evils of Pietism enumerated by Valentin Ernst Loescher (1673-1749) in The Complete Timotheus Verinus (Milwaukee: NPH, 1998) is precisionism in matters of adiaphora, that is, unyielding strictness in matters neither explicitly commanded nor forbidden in Holy Scripture (p. 150-160). Pietists like Joachim Lange (1670-1744), Gottfried Vockerodt (1665-1727), August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), and Paul Anton (1661-1730) taught that producing or attending comedies, joking, and dancing were sinful. Pietists took activities that often lead to sin – e.g. dancing often leads to lust (cf. Matthew 5:28; Romans 13:14), and those who love to joke often end up being obscene or coarse (cf. Ephesians 5:4) – and wrongly labeled them sinful in themselves. The effects of the Pietistic movement can still be felt in the Lutheran Church today, and Strieter was not exempt from them in his day either, even though he certainly knew about Pietism and opposed it in principle. One can appreciate his concern: Lust, drunkenness, and self-abandonment are all sins, and certainly those sins abound in the kind of raucous scenes he is describing. However, while acknowledging that we do not know all the details and therefore must be cautious in judgment, it could be that Strieter went too far in refusing the Lord’s Supper to the musicians.

21 See previous chapter and endnote 12 there.

22 An expression taken from Romans 16:18

[Read the next part here.]

Strieter Autobiography: Vermilion

[Continued from Part 18. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Into the Ministry (conclusion)

We [i.e. my new bride and I] took the railroad cars from Elyria to Vermillion. When we arrived, my Lisbeth’s cousin, H. Ernst, peeked in through the door and sees us sitting. Then he was gone. We went to Mother. As already said, she had her own house in Vermillion. The T[heiss]’s25 were already there. We sit down at the table and eat our good noodle soup, which Mother Ernst had cooked for us. There goes a racket outside. There was a large open space in front of the house. There stood a large group, big and small, making a shivaree that was tremendous. Among other things they had planed the edges of a large merchandise box and smeared it with resin, and now two people were sawing on the box with a scantling. Boom, boom, it rumbled dreadfully. My H. T[heiss] says, “You’re going to have to give those guys some money to get them out of here.” But I didn’t have any. The last cent was spent on the trip. H. T[heiss] reached into his money-bag and took out a handful of small stuff – apparently he had caught wind of what was going to happen – and gave it to me.

I went out and asked who was in charge. They pointed me to a large guy, to whom I gave my handful of money and I thank them for their kindness. They say in English, “Hooray for Mr. Strieter! Hooray for Libby Ernst!” and now they headed for the saloon. After that, those guys were uncommonly friendly.

Libby Ernst was a beautiful, sensible, and virtuous girl and a good student. During winter the sailors would lodge in Vermillion. My Lisbeth’s cousins were also sailors. One of them, Caspar Ernst, went to the college [Hochschule] in Oberlin every winter. He would pester Mother Ernst to let Lisbeth go along with him to the school. He said he would take care of everything; it wouldn’t cost her a cent. Mother Ernst would say, “Lisbeth knows enough to get along in the world. She is not going to Oberlin.” Others would come and want to take her to a party or a ball. Mother says, “Lisbeth is staying at home.”

During winter they oftentimes had “spelling school” there. That was a always a big deal. Everybody ran there together, so that the large schoolhouse was crammed full. It was conducted like this: Two “choosers” were elected, and they posted themselves up at the desk opposite each other and now chose their spellers. Soon the aisle was filled in two rows back to the door. The “choosers” elected were always the two best spellers, and that was Gust Pelton and Libby Ernst. The spelling got going. The schoolmaster gave the words. During her final years there they had a fine schoolmaster, Mr. Salos. Pretty soon the rows were spelled down, since whoever missed a word had to sit down. Finally Gust Pelton and Libby Ernst would still be standing. It might occasionally happen that one of these two would spell down the other, but most of the time they would say in English, “We will give up.” Even Mr. Salos one time posted himself opposite Libby when she was the only one still standing, and someone else gave the words. But Libby spelled down Mr. Salos too. In this way Libby was generally liked and the boys were understandably not too happy that the minister had caught Libby.

I now lived at Mother Ernst’s house and had it nice and good. I held church, two days of school, and went down to the South Ridge and held school the remaining days and still preached on the South Ridge, for in Elyria everything was finished. T[heisen]s26 had moved to Liverpool and [Mr.] B[öse] moved back to Germany. Apart from that there was only a German joiner still there, who never came to church though, and a Catholic store-clerk.

Even on the South Ridge I only had seven to eight listeners left; the others moved back to Germany, especially the Hessians. Here’s how that came about: The daughter of [Mr.] S. – the lovely house I mentioned earlier – married a brother-in-law of T[heisen] the miller who, as already mentioned, ran out of work. He [i.e. Mr. Theisen] would kind of sit around and often on the front steps with his small little daughter. Soon his sister-in-law27 started talking badly about him, saying that he was just sitting there to look at the women to see if they were pretty. She said that to a woman and her mother, and they in turn immediately told the T[heisen]s about it. [Mr.] T[heisen] went to her and confronted her about it and was probably a bit harsh. The young woman ran home immediately and complained about the experience to her parents.

I came home, for I was still living in [Mr.] S.’s house at the time, and was met with dark faces. The daughter had already left again. I asked what was the matter. Then she starts in and relates how [Mr.] T[heisen] had treated her daughter. I went over and spoke with [Mr.] T[heisen] and then with the young sister-in-law, but she denies everything. [Mr.] T[heisen] says, “I have my witnesses.” They were brought and both the young woman and her old mother verified that she had said it.

I dismissed the witnesses and said, “Now there’s no more denying it.” She now confessed that she had said it and apologized.

I stayed overnight. When I came home, I was immediately asked how it went. I say, “Very well; they have reconciled.”

“What!” [Mr.] S. pounded on the table. “My daughter has reconciled with that milljack?” And right away he went over to see her. Then she was making an angry face again, and my hosts were now like people possessed by the devil. Before that the old man would eat with me, while the others ate outside. But now the small boy would call over into my little room, “Dinner!” When I came out, no one was there and the door was closed. I ate by myself. I also used to prepare a family devotion. When the man and I had eaten, I would call the others inside and would read and pray. But now he would read outside and would yell loudly, so that I couldn’t help but hear it. None of them gave me a kind look any more. I kind of let this go for a while and then I spoke with the old folks. They looked at the floor and said nothing. I spoke with the old man in private, but to no avail.

I thought, “Okay, it’s time to have a serious talk with this man.” We went to church; he was carrying my robe. I start in and confront the man with his sin, especially the Fifth Petition.28 I sincerely admonished him that he needed to break his stubbornness.

We now stood still and I stopped talking. Now he goes across under his chin with his hand and announces, “Mr. Pastor, this head will have to come off before I will reconcile with that milljack.”

I say, “If that’s how you are going to talk, then you, sir, are no Christian.”

“So!” he says and marches off ahead of me into the schoolhouse, laid his bundle on the table, and went home.

The following Sunday only six to eight people came to church on the South Ridge. The others, mostly Hessians, stayed away. I go to them and speak with them. Then one would give this excuse, the other that excuse. I found out that [Mr.] S. had gone around and told the people that they should not go to listen to me in church any more; I was half-Catholic. He had seen in one of my books that it said “you should bless yourself with the holy cross” and signs of the cross were printed in it.29 That was why they stayed away. But I preached to the few people out on the South Ridge. I always went the eighteen miles there from Vermillion on foot. It was a very difficult walk for me, for the poor, misled people weighed really heavily on my heart. A few remained faithful. One widow Z. even moved up to Vermillion and later moved to Newburgh when I did.

Endnotes

25 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T. (cf. endnote 18).

26 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T. (cf. previous endnote).

27 Namely “the daughter of [Mr.] S.”

28 That is, he referred especially to the man’s ignoring of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

29 Mr. S. probably saw a page from Luther’s Small Catechism in Strieter’s Book of Concord. In the section on “How the Father, as the Head of the Family, Should Teach His Household to Bless Themselves in the Morning and Evening,” Luther says that in the morning and in the evening, before praying, “you should bless yourself with the holy cross…”

[Read the next part here.]

Strieter Autobiography: Marriage

[Continued from Part 17. If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]

Into the Ministry (continued)

I went to live with [Mr.] T[heisen] in the small town and was treated like a lord there. In front was a large room, my table, my bed, and there I taught school to six children or so. One Sunday I would preach in Elyria and those from the South Ridge, two miles away, would come over here; the next Sunday church was there and those in Elyria went over there. After the sermon I would also give Catechism instruction.

I lived for my quarter-year at [Mr.] T[heisen’s] place in town. One time I was not feeling well. My host said he had a small, white powder that I should take. I take the powder and feel completely miserable. I need to go through the garden to the throne15, but get such pains there that I can’t even move. My hostess comes and calls, “Mr. Pastor, you’ve been in there so long. Why don’t you get dressed and we’ll get you out of there.” I pulled myself together and the mother and the girl bring me into the house and lay me on my bed.

No sooner do I lie down than I get the cramp in both calves, which pulls my flesh together in a clump. I yelled, and they rubbed. I yelled, “Get me a pail full of cold water!” The girl gets water, and I put both feet into the cold water and the cramp goes away. But I thought, “You are never taking that powder again.”

Later I lived at [Mr.] S.’s house over in the woods. They had a frame house. In the front they had a small, low addition, where they lived. Then the actual house. That had a large room and a bedroom. It had a fireplace, but no stove. The inside of the house was not “plastered [geplästert].” It was winter. When I would put wood on, she would come and douse it with water on me and say the chimney was starting to burn. My dear neighbor-lady, F., brought a bed. Not far from there was an old log schoolhouse in which I taught school. When I arrived in the morning, I first had to shovel out the snow. There was a stove there, but bad wood. They would bring the logs that had already sat in the water for ten years and saw them into blocks. I would split them and make a fire. But it did not want to burn. My little children came; I sat them around the stove and I stood behind them. The whole winter I never got one foot warm and I contracted a terrible head cold, which I didn’t get rid of until I was in Wisconsin. In the evening a number of folks would come and I taught them hymns for an hour [hielt Singstunde].

Mrs. S. was one short, angry little woman. She had two boys. The smaller one was terribly dumb and couldn’t grasp anything at all. The whole winter we taught the three letters a, b, c. She would help: “Jonnie, what’s this? Say a. What’s this? Say b. Now, what’s this?” – pointing back to a. He doesn’t know. “You Satan, won’t you just say it?” and she lays into him. The boy starts crying. Then she says, “No, no, my Jonnie, I will not hit you any more.” The boy rubs his eyes. “Jonnie, what’s this?” She tells him. “What’s this?” She tells him. Back to the first letter. He doesn’t know what it is. She lays into him again: “You Satan, won’t you just say it?” The boy starts crying loudly.

I go in there: “Ah, just leave the child in peace!” That’s how it went every day.

One time the husband was by the fire in the field and didn’t come right away. When she called him for dinner, she tried to smash his brains with the fire poker. He just barely got out of the way so that he avoided her blow.

A family came from Germany. The wife became frightfully homesick and lost her mind. I visited her regularly. With God’s help I get her straightened out again. I went to live with [Mr.] F. I stayed there longer than usual. There I had it nice!

I had a listener who always went to sleep on me during the service. As soon as the sermon started, his head would start to hang. He came to announce for the Lord’s Supper. I said, “But my dear man, you are always sleeping during the sermon.” He replied that he could not help it. I said, “Let me give you a good piece of advice, sir. Come to church with the thought, ‘Today I am going to hear for once what the pastor knows.’ Then, when you are there, pray really earnestly that our dear God would please drive the sleep away. And if it comes anyway, then bite yourself on the tongue, and make it a good one.” And sure enough, from then on my dear man was a very attentive listener. Later everything closed down there for a while.16 Jüngel was now Steinbach’s successor in Liverpool. He told me, “[Mr.] H. came to me and asked me to begin there again, because people had moved into the area. He wanted to have me picked up with the buggy and brought back home and he would give me five dollars every time.”

I said, “Wow, that is a lot! Why is he willing to do all that?”

“Yeah, he said, ‘Pastor Strieter sowed seed in my heart, and now it’s growing.’”

I also began preaching in Vermillion.17 Several families lived there. I also used to preach on the South Ridge. When I did, I ate at [Mr.] H.’s at midday and marched eighteen miles to Vermillion, preached in the evening and taught hymns for an hour, and on Monday and Tuesday I taught school to eight little children or so. Tuesday after school I walked my eighteen miles back down and taught school the rest of the week back on the South Ridge. My miller [Mr.] T[heisen]18 had no more work in Elyria and had to go looking for work. He moved with his family to Liverpool.

In the spring of 1853 I was ordained by Schwan. He preached on the Good Shepherd. It fit well, and I earnestly made up my mind to become a good undershepherd. Steinbach assisted.19

I now went to live with [Mr.] S. on the rotation. At his house, next to the main room, was a small room that was to be mine. I made a proper table and bought myself a water pitcher and a glass. The room smelled terribly bad; it had been the cat’s den for years. When I went to bed, I felt things crawling over my entire body. I got up. Everything was covered in red.20 I got dressed, then sat down at my table, and laid my head on the table. That’s how I carried on.

One day the wife said, “Don’t you go to bed, sir?”

I said, “There are bedbugs.” She and her daughter go at it and start washing, but it didn’t help a thing; I had to stay at the table. The family simply did not live well. I could not eat their bread. It was three fingers high and so hard that you could have used it as a projectile and smashed in a person’s brains. Each morning he ran into the small town to fetch some meat, but every time he brought the udder, which he got for free or for a few cents. That went into the water and was brought to the table together with the gravy when it was just tolerably well boiled. Luckily they always brought boiled potatoes [Pellkartoffeln] to the table. So I could at least peel off the skin and eat my potatoes with salt, and I also would drink some water. The potatoes and the water did not fill me up, however, and it started to take a terrible toll on me. When I went to my schoolhouse on the South Ridge, I would have to stop and rest several times. How often I stood behind my table and thought, “It’s time for you to go and tell your people, ‘I can’t go on like this any more,’” but I never actually did so; I just kept on toughing it out.

One time my dear Ph[ilipp] T[heiss] loaded me on his buggy and drove me to Steinbach. Along the way he started in, “Sir, I would like to have a word with you on a matter of special importance.”

I said, “Okay, what is it?”

He said, “You must marry, so that you can get away from the S. family; you are in death’s clutches there.”

I said, “What are you saying! Sixty dollars a year – and that’s not coming in – and moving around every quarter year?”

He said, “You are always preaching to us about trusting in God; you should also take your own preaching to heart and have trust in God. God is clearly showing you that you need to marry, otherwise you may as well resign. And now let me also tell you whom you’re going to marry; take Lisbeth.” In Vermillion lived a widow, Anna Kunigunda Ernst, with six little daughters.21 The oldest, Lisbeth, she had sent to the parochial school by Steinbach and to be confirmed by him, since there was nothing happening in Vermillion. After confirmation the mother sent her daughter to Elyria, so that she would have church and Catechism instruction, and she made her home away from home at T[heiss’s].

Before this I got a letter from my brother, who wrote that [Mr.] L. had told him that he should write to me and ask me whether I wanted his daughter M. for my wife. One tramp after another was coming inquiring after her, but he had promised my father that I should have his M. I wrote that I could not think about marriage at this time; if God wanted to have it, he would surely work it out. In the meantime M. should not be bound to me. After a year my brother wrote to me that M. had married and had died while giving birth to her first child. I would have had a rich wife, but I would not have kept her; thus God cares for us without us even knowing it. —

We came to Steinbach. When he looked at me, he clapped his hands together: “Man, what do you look like? Whose house are you at?”

I said, “At S.’s.”

He said, “That’s enough of that; you are in death’s clutches there. You need to marry, so that you can get away from there.”

I said, “Marry with sixty dollars a year? How am I supposed to provide for a wife like that?”

He said, “Our dear God, who has provided for you to the present, will then provide for you both.” He continued, “You’re taking Lisbeth.” I would have been happy to take her, but she was too young for me.

We rode home, but from Elyria we went straight to Vermillion in order to hold service there in the evening. [Mr.] T[heiss’s] brother, H. T[heiss], was in the forest cutting wood for ship-building. When he came home: “Are you still at S.’s, sir? One only need look at you to see it. In that sh—house22 death has you in its clutches! Get yourself away from there.”

I said, “Whereto?”

He said, “Marry someone. Take Lisbeth!” She was right above us.

I said, “And where do I go with her?”

He said, “To Mother Ernst. She has a house in Vermillion; you’ll be well taken care of there.”

I said, “There are three of all good things; this is from God!”23

Mother Ernst and her little daughters came to church. I preached and taught hymns for an hour. Afterward Lisbeth went into the adjoining room to practice the melodion. I now say to Mother Ernst, in the presence of H. T[heiss] and Ph[ilipp] T[heiss], what was said to me three times in succession. She says, “If you would like my Lisbeth, sir, I give her to you with a happy heart!” We call Lisbeth out of the room and the betrothal took place.

"I found [this wedding picture] in an anniversary program from St. John Lutheran Church in Elyria, Johannes' first call." - Winfried "Joe" Strieter (13 April 2015), a great-great-grandson of Johannes Strieter

“I found [this wedding picture] in an anniversary program from St. John Lutheran Church in Elyria, Johannes’ first call.” – Winfried “Joe” Strieter, a great-great-grandson of Johannes Strieter, in an email dated 13 April 2015

After a quarter-year I rode with my Lisbeth to Elyria via railroad. There I borrowed a horse from the livery stable and we drove to Steinbach. He married us. On the way home I wanted to hurry up and I cracked one on the horse with the whip. It lashes out in back and its leg goes over the shaft. I have to unharness in order to get my horse free. After a while I lash again and my horse also lashes again and, sure enough, over the shaft yet again. I note that the beast knows his stuff, and I now must drive step for step.

I forgot to mention something, that the judge in Elyria wouldn’t give me a marriage license. He asked whether the girl was eighteen. I said, “No!”

He said, “Since you are honest enough to tell me that, I must also be honest with you and tell you that I can only give you a license with the consent of her parents.” So I had to get her mother, who then told the gentleman that I should have her daughter. My wife, Lisbeth, was born in Brownhelm, not far from Vermillion, on August 24, 1838, and we were married on January 17, 1854. There was certainly no eighteen years between those two dates.24

Endnotes

15 German: Pabst. Pabst or Papst is the word for pope. In many Protestant regions zum Papst gehen (“go to the pope”) was slang for using the lavatory or, in this case, the outhouse, alluding to the papal throne.

16 Strieter here is telling a story that happened much later to illustrate how this conversation, and the sermons now attended to as a result of the conversation, bore fruit for this sleeping man, whom he identifies a couple sentences later as a Mr. H.

17 Strieter’s spelling of Vermilion, Ohio

18 The print edition mistakenly reads F. for T.

19 From the “Church News [Kirchliche Nachrichten]” section of the June 7, 1853, issue of Der Lutheraner: “Most Reverend Mr. President! Herewith I am supplying the report I owe you, that Mr. J. Strieter, formerly a pupil at the Fort Wayne seminary, after he had received an orderly call from the German evangelical Lutheran congregation in and around Elyria, Loraine County, Ohio, was, at the behest of the Vice President, ordained by me and at the same time solemnly bound to all the confessional writings of our church on April 6 in the presence of his congeregation and with Mr. Pastor Steinbach assisting. Our brother’s field of labor is small by outward appearances; may the Lord be pleased to compensate for that by making it that much more fruitful through his blessing! — H. C. Schwan. Cleveland, May 6, 1853” (p. 142).

20 Bedbugs

21 I am indebted to Susan Hawkins, a great-great-granddaughter of Johannes Strieter, for sharing with me a document titled, “Sketch of the Parents of the Ernst Girls (Elizabeth, Martha, Sopie, Anna, Sarah, Mary)” by Henry F. Rahe, son of Anna Ernst and Henry H. Rahe. He relates the following concerning Anna Kunigunda (or Kunigunde) Ernst: “Anna Kunigunde Wittich was born March 16, 1811 in Kreis Rothenburg, Bebra Hessen Germany. Her parents were well-to-do and she received a good education for those times. She had a command of a fine High German and later in America acquired a good English. She was a very fine seamstress and a past master in fine knitting and crocheting. … She had the misfortune to lose her mother by death. Her father married again and [Anna] did not get along very well with her stepmother. Some of her cousins…and some friends decided to come to the United States. She thought it would be fine to accompany them here and if she would not like America, she could return to Germany. They left Germany in March 1836. … From New York they went up the Hudson to Albany, thence by Erie Canal to Buffalo, and by lake boat to Cleveland. Just how [Anna] got to Vermillion I do not know. My supposition is that some of her countrymen were interested in boat building and she accompanied them to the busy little boat building center of Vermillion. One of the men, Philip Minch, became a big lake boat builder and vessel owner. … At Vermillion, Ohio is where the married life of happiness and trouble for Casper Ernst and Kunigunde Wittich commenced, was lived and ended. They were married in 1837 by a Justice of the Peace. … As stated before, [Anna] Ernst would or could not put up with the weakness of her husband and divorced him in 1848 or 1849.” Earlier in the sketch Mr. Rahe had written: “Grandfather [Casper] Ernst was a six foot tall, broad shouldered, good-looking man. He had black hair and was dark-skinned. He was easy going and good-natured but his weakness was drink. Knowing Grandmother [Anna] Ernst as I did, although I was rather young to form an opinion, the trouble was that Grandmother would not stand for his weakness… Grandfather Ernst bought about an acre of land in the center of Vermillion and built a fair-sized frame house on it. This property and some money he gave to his wife at the time of the divorce. … Grandfather Ernst died in 1850 at the early age of forty-two, of typhoid fever… He was buried in a Vermillion cemetery along Lake Erie. The cemetery has since been washed into the lake.”

22 German: S—haus. Carl rendered the word pigsty, but he was being polite; pigsty is Schweinestall or Schweinekoben.

23 Strieter is referring to the fact that he was told to marry Elizabeth Ernst three times that day, by three different men.

24 The math puts her at 15 years old at the time of her marriage to Johannes, who was 24.

[Read the next part here.]

Luther the Matchmaker?

The following Luther story is often quoted in Luther biographies when talking about how Luther not only tolerated the note- and quote-takers in his house, but sometimes even encouraged them. However, the only English translation I’ve seen polishes Luther up (definitely not the first time that’s happened).

In my opinion, being faithful to Luther’s original rawness not only shows historical and factual integrity, but it also helps people to be more circumspect analysts of Luther – admiring only the admirable (of which there is plenty) and rejecting the reprehensible (which is also not lacking). In other words, it helps to keep Lutherans from being Lutherans for the wrong reasons. Presenting the original, raw Luther does not mean that one approves of him that way.

However, in this particular case, I really don’t see why the original was cleaned up. The original bares Luther’s heart better and is more entertaining.

I translated this story from the Weimar edition (WA) of Luther’s Works (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1913), TR 2:123, #1525. It was recorded by Johann Schlaginhaufen (his Latinized name is Turbicida – tur-bi-CHEE-dah) between May 7 and 13, 1532. Schlaginhaufen had been a student at the University of Wittenberg (enrolled in 1520) and was a regular guest in Luther’s home from late 1531 to 1532, when he became a pastor in the village of Zahna near Wittenberg.

After the doctor [Luther] had climbed into his bed, a man came to the door, sent by a widow of a pastor in Belgern to ask for a husband. Luther said to the messenger, “Give me a break! She is not seven years old any more! She’s the one who must look for a man she can take; I do not have any man to give her.” When the messenger had left, he laughed and said to me, “For God’s sake, Turbicida, I beg you, write that one down! Isn’t it a nuisance? Am I really their first option for getting husbands for the women too? I think that they must take me for a brothel keeper! Phooey on you, you dumb world! Friend, write it and note it!”