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.]