Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Weller Family's Move from Louisiana to Indiana

The following is the second group of excerpts of Clara Alvina Koenig's manuscript An Afterglow of Yesterday. The manuscript was described in this earlier blog article.

The first excerpts, about J. George Weller's mother, was in this blog article.

J. George Weller's parents -- Johann George Weller and Katerina Regina (Meyer) Lehnberg -- were born in Germany. They met in New Orleans, Louisiana, and eventually married there in 1854.

The manuscript is confusing about their children, but it seems they had two daughters who died in infancy and then two sons who grew to adulthood. Then a third son also died in infancy. The oldest of the two surviving sons was Johann George (born in 1860), who eventually became a Lutheran pastor and then the Concordia president. The younger surviving son was Heinrich Herman (born in 1862), who eventually became a merchant.

The family moved from Louisiana to Indiana in about 1866. In 1873, when Johann George was 13 years old, he entered a preparatory school at Fort Wayne, Indiana, to obtain an education to become a Lutheran pastor.

The manuscript's second group of excerpts begins with the family still living in New Orleans:

Eventually, Johann Georg Weller owned five drays, drawn by horses and mules: he drove one of them himself and hired four other men to take charge of the rest. They hauled hundreds of bales of cotton to the ships and brought many boxes of tea and sacks of coffee to the warehouse.

A daughter was born to the Wellers in 1856 and another daughter in 1858. Both lived but a short time.


When the Civil War began, the best horses and mules were seized to be used by the army. This ruined Johann Georg Weller’s business. Because of flat feet, he did not have to go to war but was left in New Orleans with several others to look after the soldiers’ families.

Supplies had to be collected for the army; food became scarce and prices soared. A single barrel of flour cost fifty dollars. The Wellers shared their meager supply of food with a neighbor and his five small motherless children. One evening, “Mother” Weller informed the neighbor that only a little flour and about two pounds of bacon remained in spite of careful rationing, but offered to share that even to the last.

Before the sun rose on the following morning, six shots echoed through the neighborhood. Katerina and Georg heard and understood: the neighbor had despaired. Perhaps they should not have told him that the supply of food was nearly exhausted. Several other men helped Georg construct rude coffins and dig the graves. Short and simple was the burial service. Lovely garden flowers, five small crosses, and one large cross marked the six mounds.

Sadly Georg returned to his work. Although the future looked dim and hopeless, there was always work to do. He made his way to the riverbank to fell dead trees, which were used as fuel for cooking purposes. Suddenly the man stopped and stooped to examine what lay before him: a shirt, a pair of trousers, a purse containing $50.00, a hat, and a pair of shoes. Georg called and searched along the river banks but found no one. He wondered what to do, then resolved to carry the purse to town to find its owner. No results were obtained although several notices were posted about town and an article was inserted in the newspaper. The contents of the purse proved a veritable godsend to the Wellers.

On an April evening in 1862, a hurried meeting was called of all the men who had been left in New Orleans. Without doubt the city would have to surrender to Union forces within a few days. Plans were made to burn all ware-houses and to destroy whatever provisions remained. They would rather lose it through fire than to surrender it to the Northern men. Johann Georg resolved not to help with the burning; Katerina warned him that he could be jailed, but nothing was ever done to punish him.

No deeds of cruelty were committed by the Union soldiers, who were too sick to molest anyone. They were not accustomed to the extreme heat and the strange food and water of the South.

It was a January evening in 1863, shortly after President Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Katerina sat on the wide verandah rocking little Henry while three-year-old Georg played on the lawn with his father. An old negro woman walked sadly down the street. One wrinkled hand grasped a cane while the other carried a bundle tied in a bandanna.

“What seems to be the trouble, auntie?“ asked Katerina.

“Oh, missie, ah is so sad ‘cause my massa put me out -- and ah served him many long years. He heard dat Pres’dent Linco’n set de colo’ed folks free an’ massa wouldn’t keep me even one mo’ night.

The old negress was invited to stay with the Weller family as long as she liked. “Auntie” helped as much as she could about the house. This proved a boon to Katerina when little John was born in the spring of 1864 (May 16th). He was not as healthy as the parents had hoped, and in spite of loving care, the child died shortly before its second birthday. Katerina’s health had been impaired by the birth of her first child; the anxiety and sorrow concerning little John made her condition a little worse. She was obliged to use a cane because of the pain and discomfort in her left leg. From this time on a maid, or a hired girl, was a necessity in the Weller household.

After the war had destroyed most of their property and they had lost little John, the Wellers decided to start life anew in the North. “Auntie” was asked to accompany the family but she refused because the change of climate might prove fatal to an old woman who had spent all of her life in the South. The dear old negress promised to tend the little mound in the churchyard. Tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks as “Auntie” said good-bye.

Various members of Zion Congregation accompanied Georg and “Katy” and their two sons to the boat landing. A river steamer carried the Weller family up the Mississippi and the Ohio. At length, the family arrived in New York City, where they visited Katerina’s oldest brother and planned to establish a new home.

Georg found employment in a planing mill. During his first week of work, an accident deprived him of one finger. While temporarily unemployed, Georg considered the future: the neighborhood in which they lived offered them no Lutheran church and school -- little George was old enough to attend school and ought to have religion and the other three r’s. On the other hand, Fort Wayne was widely known as a Lutheran center, and Adam Saeger and George Kronmueller, the two brothers-in-law in Fort Wayne, would be glad to help them locate in Indiana. Besides, Johann Georg was anxious to see his sisters again and to meet their families.

So the Wellers went to Fort Wayne and were welcomed by the Saegers and the Kronmuellers, who introduced their southern relatives to neighbors and friends and to the pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Dr. Sihler.

Although the Scheumanns lived only about fifteen miles from Fort Wayne, they belonged to the Friedheim Congregation and did not meet the Wellers until many years later.

Johann Georg and Katerina soon joined “Dr. Sihler’s church” in Fort Wayne, and their son George was enrolled in St. Paul’s Parochial School. Johann Georg found employment in Bassis Foundry. He worked in this place for about three years.

During this time, Wilhelm Suedhof came to Fort Wayne to live with his Aunt Katy and his Uncle Georg. After Katerina Meyer had spurned the rich young man and fled to America, her younger sister married Suedhof. Their only child, Wilhelm was left an orphan at fourteen. He lived with his grandmother for a few years. Then the grandmother died and the young man emigrated to the United States. He worked for the Wolff Clothing Store of Fort Wayne for a number of years.

In 1870, Johann Georg Weller rented part of the “college farm,” near Fort Wayne. This farm was a hundred-acre tract bought by the founders of the Practical Seminary as an endowment: the rent from the land helped pay expenses and professors’ salaries at the college.

Having been a “Landwirth” (that is a farmer who owned his land) in the old country, Georg was happy in his work. His sons George and Henry attended St. Paul’s school and helped on the farm during their spare time.

When George was thirteen years of age, he joined the communicant membership of his church through confirmation. Having decided to become a minister, George entered the preparatory college at Fort Wayne in the fall of 1873. Two years later, Henry’s school days ended with his confirmation. He helped with the farm work, spending free hours with neighbor boys or in town.

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