Early German Lutherans

Week 1: #52 Ancestors – First

By Eilene Lyon

I really have to learn German. It’s a huge chunk of my DNA (like 75%), but somehow I just can’t get the hang of it. But I do love German food and Germany itself!

Recently I discovered some ancestors who are probably among the first German immigrants on my tree. Their descendants eventually settled in “Pennsylvania Dutch” country. I’ve heard a rumor that some of them in that area still speak German to this day. Maybe I’ll move in with them and do an immersion language class. Think they’d mind?

This is the story of Georg Tobias Paul and Eva Barbara Dockenwadel (I can’t read that without thinking “duck and waddle”). Both were born in Germany: Georg in 1737, Eva Barbara in 1735. They arrived separately and ended up in Philadelphia. How Georg came to America is unknown, but church records suggest he immigrated in 1753.

Eva Barbara didn’t have enough money for her passage to America in 1754, so she signed a five-year indenture contract. In Philadelphia she lived with and worked for a furrier named A. Brechel. She attended the St. Michael’s Lutheran Church on 5th Street (now known as Old Zion Lutheran), one of earliest German Lutheran congregations in the country. She first appears in the pastor’s notes as attending a Pentecost service on May 27, 1756.

The pastor took note of Eva’s status as a servant and recorded how long she’d been “in country,” her age, and the remaining time on her contract. After her five year’s indenture were complete, she left the Brechel home. She lived for a time with the Oswald family, then later with the Stanleys.

For some reason, the pastor didn’t take a similar interest in Georg. Perhaps that is because he didn’t attend services until after he married Eva. They attended the Christmas service together in 1762, after their July 1 wedding that year.

In 1763, Georg and Eva attended the Pentecost service together and were noted to be living with Georg Eppeles, who maintained a well-known inn on Race Street.

St. Michael’s-Old Zion Church in 1858, showing the cemetery. The building was razed in 1872. (Public domain)

The German Lutheran denomination was just getting established in America about 1740. Earlier German immigrants were Quakers, Mennonites, Dunkards, Moravians, and members of the German Reformed Church. Most Lutheran congregations had been established by lay preachers. A plea from colonists in Pennsylvania went out for a Lutheran missionary from Germany and the result was the arrival of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in 1741. He’d been ordained just two years earlier.

Muhlenberg was energetic and a dedicated organizer. He began his work as far south as Georgia and traveled as far north as New York. He took charge of German Lutheran Churches all up and down the coast, including the Philadelphia congregations. His ministry lasted 45 years.

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (Wikimedia Commons)

Though he wasn’t pastor at St. Michael’s-Old Zion when Eva Barbara and Georg Tobias began attending or during their marriage ceremony in 1762, he did serve as pastor from 1764 – 1767 and undoubtedly had a hand in training the other pastors. He also baptized two of their four sons.

Georg Tobias and Eva Barbara’s sons were Martin (1763 – 1819), Valentine (1765 – 1823), Joh. Georg (1766 – 1767), and Joh. Michael (1768 – 1821). Michael is my 4th-great-grandfather. Unfortunately, we don’t currently have death records for George Tobias or Eva Barbara.

Sons Valentine and Michael were confirmed at the Jerusalem Lutheran Church in West Salisbury, Northumberland County (now Lehigh County, Pennsylvania), in March 1784. The record notes that their father, G. Paul, is deceased. No mention of their mother, though. It’s possible that Eva Barbara had some Dockenwadel relatives in that area, so she may have left Philadelphia to be close to them after Georg died.

The family remained strong in their Lutheran faith. Michael Paul helped found the Howerter’s Church at Line Mountain on the Lehigh/Schuylkill county line. In the fashion of their forbears, they kept good records, which makes it so much easier for those of us tracing our German roots. Somewhere, someday, I’m sure we’ll find records telling us what happened to Georg Tobias Paul and Eva Barbara Dockenwadel.

Georg Tobias Paul on Ancestry

Eva Barbara Dockenwadel on Ancestry

Feature image: St. Michael’s-Old Zion Lutheran Church about 1800 (Public domain)


Much of the research done on the Paul family has been compiled by my (distant) cousin, who goes by the moniker “Andrew Jackson Powell” online. I’ve drawn from his narratives on Georg Tobias Paul, Eva Barbara Dockenwadel, and Michael Paul.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St.Michael%27s_Evangelical_Lutheran_Church(Mt._Airy) (Note: this is not the same St. Michael’s Church mentioned in this post, but has some information about the German Lutheran denomination in America)

23 thoughts on “Early German Lutherans

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  1. Eilene,

    Welcome back!

    The Amish speak a colloquial iteration of German. They switch back and forth sometimes, between English and German when in public.

    Big thank you to you and your cousin “Andrew Jackson Powell” for this historical piece! Thorough and engrossing, as per usual.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I imagine it’s like the French Canadians in that they are speaking a more retrofitted language that is STILL that language. I’m fascinated with how languages change according to the geography.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to see you back! Another interesting read, which always leaves me with more questions, as I’m sure it does you too! Love to know more about why a single woman in the 1700’s chose to come to the new land, and what her life was like indentured to A. Brechel.

    Liked by 1 person

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