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Our History - Shipwreck

In the middle of May, 1831, a group of emigrants from the Odenwald region of Germany started on the 400 mile trip through Darmstadt and Kassel to Bremen, where they finally sailed for America in late July. They severed all the ties that bound them to their homeland and relatives left behind. Those sailing on the British vessel "Famous Dove" were bound for Baltimore, Maryland. Families on board were named Arras, Beach (Bietsch in the original German) Bosse, Essinger, Gossman (Gassmann), Heldman, Luniak, Price (Preisz), Traucht (Tracht with 22 individuals so named), Wilch (Willisch), and others. Despite inferior food and the usual hardships of ocean travel in those days, everyone was in good health. Two children, one an infant, had been buried at sea; otherwise the trip was uneventful. 

The emigrants were on the water several weeks when a nothwest storm caught them when they were close to the shore of America. They were cast about and blown off their course, losing first the mast and then the rudder. The wind changed to the northeast with heavy seas washing the desks. On September 16th, the ship started to fill with water faster then the sailors could pump it out. At about midnight, all had to move to the upper deck, and waves were running high. In the darkness on the ocean, no one knew just where, the ship was sinking. Some were praying, but the captain, having been under the influence of liquor from the time the ship left Bremen, became sober in the face of disaster and ordered the mates to launch a lifeboat in which he intended to escape the sinking vessel. However, the leader of the expedition, Johann Adam Tracht, was inured to danger; he had not campaigned with the mighty Napoleon for naught! He was the owner of seven guns which he was bringing to America - not for the purpose of shooting Indians, but in anticipation of hunting gam, a pleasure which was "verboten" to the common people of Germany, Perceiving that the captain intended to abandon the ship and leave the passengers to their fate, he armed six man of his party, keeping a gun for himself. His orders were to shoot anyone who tried to go over the side of the boat. None tried. 

In the mist of all the confusion, fourteen year old Margaret Arras said that Christ stilled the waves and saved the disciples from drowning... "Maybe he will save us also". A sailor standing nearby said to 'slap that dumb girl in the mouth for talking so foolishly, that anyone could see that the ship was sinking and all will be drowned'. The girl started singing a hymn. Her faith was contagious, and the emigrants were soon all singing, with even most of the sailors joining in. The ship sank no further, and the waves began to be smaller.

When daylight came, they found that they were close to land. The ship had blown off course to a sand bar off the cost of Virginia, east of Norfolk, close to Cape Henry. The unmarried men remained aboard the wrecked "Famous Dove" until the children and parents were landed, and it is interesting to note that Johann Adam Tracht, the organizer of the group, was the last one to leave the vessel. Black people, ready to give assistance, gathered on the shore; these were the first such people the immigrant had ever seen. Many, on reaching shore, knelt down and poured out their hearts in gratitude to the Saviour for deliverance. They solemnly vowed that annually on that day a "Schiffbruchsgottesdienst" (shipwreck thanksgiving festival) should take place in remembrance of that abject terror and the wonderful rescue. This occasion is still observed.

In 1832 passengers of the shipwreck settled in this area and were instrumental in establishing Trinity, Jenera, and St. Paul's, Jenera.  St. Paul Lutheran then developed Good Hope, Arlington, and St. John's, Dola. Shipwreck Sunday is observed in honor of the conviction of these early settlers as they worked to establish life and witness in this "new world".

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