2 January 2012

Maria Wilhelmine (Fiegenbaum) Winter

1833 — 1917


Wilhelmine Fiegenbaum Winter

I was born in Germany, on the 27th day of July, 1833, and as an infant came over the ocean in a sailing-vessel.  The voyage lasted fourteen weeks.  I was the smallest of all the passengers, and was so ill that the travelling-companions frequently said to my apprehensive mother that she should not give herself so much trouble with the little thing for that was destined for the fishes. 1 

However, the fishes did not get me; I am now seventy-one years old and am still living and well, and I thank God therefor. 2 

The earliest recollections of my existence carry me back to the age of six or seven years, where my parents had settled in Missouri.  We lived in a block house which my father had built with his own hands, in the forest, near a large creek, where mighty Sycamore trees stood, as also Hickory and Walnut trees.  At not a great distance from the house, there were cliffs and hills, overgrown with wild fruit:  strawberries, black-berries, blue-berries; also wondrously beautiful wild flowers.  Of all these I was exceedingly fond from infancy - and when I could go into the woods with my brothers, those were my days of joy.  There we could at one and the same time, eat and gaze to our supreme content.  That was all the fruit we had, until our father had grown apple and peach trees and the like. 3 

Here the years of my childhood were passed, glad and happy.  I had good parents and loved them exceedingly.  When we, - parents and children, - in the evening after supper, grouped ourselves around the cheerful wood-fire in the fireplace, where then my father usually took me on his knee, while my mother held the still younger brother, Rudolph, on her lap, we were a contented and happy group.  I, especially for I was still too young to share in the cares of life.  Privation we never suffered - although in comparison with the present times, we had to do without a great many things.  Often too, great pleasures fell to my lot.  So, for instance, one day when I, as so often, was with my brothers in the forest, climbing up the hills and gathering berries, I saw, all at once, a little baby deer lying before me in the grass.  It was SO SMALL and SO BEAUTIFUL and SO CLEAN!  OH!, cried I, to my brother Frederick: "Do get it for me!" - for I could not move for the very joy.  And he took hold of it, lifted it up, and gave it to me in my arms.  Filled with joy, I carried it home.  "Yes," said my good mother, "that shall be yours, but you must feed it well".  She gave me some milk for it, and soon it ate, and shared with me my bread and butter, and wherever I went or stood, there was also, at once, that beautiful little animal.  It grew so rapidly that I could not comprehend it at all, for in a very short time it was taller than I, - and I, too, would real gladly have become big rapidly.

But soon there came more earnest thoughts.  I was perhaps eight years old when my mother took me with her to a funeral.  This was the first time that I beheld a dead person, and as the man lay in his coffin, and was carried forth and lowered into the deep grave, that affected me so greatly that I could not sleep that night and I was glad when daylight came, and I found everything about me as it had been.  But I began to ponder; asked my mother if she too, sometime, must die: if I too, - if all men, must die?  She answered: "Yes surely - all men must die.  Then I became so fearful!  Whenever anything ailed my mother I feared she was going to die.  Then I had only the one wish:  that I might die with her and be laid in the same grave.

At about this time I began to read for my mother had taught me.  Books we had none, save the Bible and catechism.  I now began to read at the beginning of the new Testament, for I wanted to read it all through.  I read aloud so that my mother could hear whether I was reading aright and also explain to me the many things which I could not understanding.  This all pleased me real well, and I was very glad that I could read, until I came to the words where Jesus says:  "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee",  And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee".  There I paused in my reading and pondered over that.  My mother, noticing this, said: "Well, forward,".  "But", said I, "That is really too bad.  Did the Lord Jesus really say this?  How could I cut off the hand - , tear out the eye?"  Then my mother explained it to me - :  that it was our sins we should cast off and turn away from and avoid.

At length, in the beautiful Spring, I could go along to school.  That was about three miles distant from our home, and my only sister who was seven years older than I, led me carefully thither. 4   There was a German teacher who was paid by the German people, according to the number of children.  The Free School System had not, at that time, and in that region, been introduced.  And we should also remain German.  In this school we learned only reading, writing, and some ciphering, and committed to memory some Bible verses.  The teacher greeted me very kindly, and said to me that he was very glad that I was already able to read.  On the first day he gave me a Bible verse, which I should commit and recite on the following morning.  It was the words of the Lord where he said:  "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the Lord".  Concerning this my mother taught me that one should be very faithful in the smallest thing for, she said, Jesus on another occasion spoke thus:  "For if ye be not faithful in the least things, who shall entrust you with the heavenly" and that the word "faithful" means very much indeed, - and that the entering into the joys of the Lord meant our eternal salvation.  Never have I forgotten this Bible verse nor the meaning which my mother connected with it.  It was from our mother, that we received, for the most part our teaching and correction.  She was always very lively and talkative.  My father, on the contrary, was a quiet man, of few words, yet he was always in accord with my mother, and when he said a thing, that counted.

About the year 1847 there came some German Methodists into our vicinity.  The first, Brother Schwalen, wanted to preach to us in a German Lutheran church, but the Deacon of that church, came along and locked up the church.  Many people had come together  Then said Brother Schwalen:  "Come - let us assemble under yon large tree, there I will preach to you God's word", and that he did.  When the service was ended, he said he would come again and preach for the people - was there any one present who would open his house to him to preach?  Then my father said: "Yes - he may come to my house, for he preaches God's Word" 5   Brother Schwalen came a few more times, and then it was "Conference" time.  Then Brother Horstman was sent to us as preacher and Father Köneke as Presiding Elder.  In the following winter we all became members of the church.  We were all converted, found peace with God, and can today say with joy that we have remained faithful to God and to the church; - to the Lord be all the praise.  Oh the wonders of the grace of God, which we could almost perceive with our eyes, in others, and the experiences of our own hearts - these gave us sure foundations on which we stood firm.

Thus several years passed by, - then changes.

I entered into the bonds of matrimony with Wilhelm Winter.  When I left the parental home, my father said to me: "Mina, be very faithful in all things - then all will go well with you." 6 

Soon thereafter my parents and two of my brothers removed to the State of Iowa, where they settled in a fertile region near the Iowa river.  In a few years we followed after them.  Here now, all founded new homes: the parents in the center, and all my brothers and my sister and I had lands which joined that of the parents; henceforth there should be home here for all of us.  However, this was all in vain!!! - - -  7 

In a short time all my brothers were standing on the Walls of Zion, preaching the "Word" that goes before all, - and they had no use for the land.  To my husband also, came the call: "Go work in my vineyard".  The parents grew old and entered into their rest.  The sister removed far away, and not one of us owns one foot of ground in that beautiful region!!!.

Grant me a short Retrospect:

Five years we lived there on our well-appointed farm.  There was the beautiful and fruitful orchard - there the vegetable garden - and the most beautiful flowers in the greatest abundance.  Near by us dwelt my beloved parents, now growing old in years, - and all my bretren [sic].  Here our home was to be for all our days - here our first three children were born - here I was exceedingly happy.  My heart was filled with love and thankfulness toward God and all mankind.

Here our first-born was taken critically ill - and suffered so that one could no longer indulge the hope that he could live.  But see!  What a miracle!  He was given back to us, to our great joy, and recovered.

At this time, our minister, Broyher [sic] Salser, with wife and child, visited us.  That child is now the distinguished and well known Henry Salser.  Then I rocked him to sleep many times in my arms.

One evening our minister grew very earnest in his conversation.  "Brother Winter", said he, to my husband, "I do not believe that the Lord destined you to follow the plow and cultivate the field" - He spoke further - the tears had sprung into my eyes, for I dearly loved our home and our life there.  For we had here the most attractive prospect to enjoy a quiet, peaceful, and contented life.  But in my inner consciousness it spoke: "Whoso loveth father or mother or house or land more than me, is not worthy of me".  And I did want to be "faithful" in all things.

And so it came about that in the year 1857, we were appointed to go to Rock Island, in the State of Illinois, there to work in the Lord's vineyard.

At that time this was a most difficult field - very few members of our church - and it often seemed to us that the hearts of the people were as hard as the stony ground there under our feet.  Brother Vongunten, then minister in Davenport, Iowa, on the other side of the Mississippi river (Where, a quarter of a century later my beloved life companion was to close his eyes upon this world) often visited us and sought to cheer us up.  He called his field of work, "Sodom" and ours, "Gomorra"  One morning he came to us early and said: "Brother Winter, come over with me to Sodom and help me; Sister Winter can tary [sic] for one day, alone in Gomorra"  So they went.  Scarcely a half hour had elapsed when my four year old son Louis was nowhere to be found.  I had no one to send or to help me.  Then we could not, as now, telephone everywhere and inquire.  I searched for my child as only a mother can search, until with anxiety and exhaustion I could go no further.  Scarcely was I yet able to reach our little home, when a high fever came upon me so that I no longer knew just where I was.  My six-year old William cared for the fourteen months old Edward; and so passed, hour by hour, that long day.  I knew no one but HIM who has said that all the hairs of our head are numbered and that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his will.  To HIM I turned in my need.  It was now toward evening and the fever moderated somewhat, so that I arose and seated myself by the window.  Then I heard childish voics [sic] without!  I looked thither - and there oh joy! came my Louis, led by to [sic] boys!  They had found him in the next city, Moline, three miles distant, and all that he had been able to tell them was that his father's name was Winter, and that he preached in a little church.  "Mama", said he, "I could not find the papa".  Yes, it was God's hand that was stretched out over my child.

It was, for us, a year of trial - sickness and privation of various kinds, but it was also a year of gracious help from the Lord.

The next field of work was better.  There was a nice little society, and the dear brethren were very good to us.  They did not belong to the rich ones of the world, but there was a little parsonage there - , that always makes a preacher's family feel at home - and our salary was four hundred dollars.  We now had four children, and house was kept closely and economically, but it was done without murmuring.  It was a quiet, peaceful year, but without much growth or many conversions.  This distressed me much and I prayed much and often, and often I cried before the Lord.  Then I happened upon the verse in the Bible where it says:  "If ye were still, then help should come to you"  I prayed God to give me a still resigned heart, and behold!, a quiet content entered in.  The second year was better.  The Lord was with us.

Yet twenty-four years we journeyed to and fro, and were I to relate all the mercies of God, write all his answerings of prayer, that would not be possible.

There came the hour when I, with all our children, nine in number stood at the grave of my husband.  He rests now for more than twenty years from his labors.  I am still here but it will not be long now, when I shall be permitted to put off my Pilgrim garment; for also for me there is an eternal rest provided.  For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and he will help me to his eternal kingdom.

Often I thank God that he drew me to him in early childhood.  I was thereby shielded from much, and the world with its pleasures and enjoyment had not such a hold on me as on a great many.

I believe in a growing in Grace - to be pure in heart - yes, in holiness.  Should I here say:  "At such a time and hour I was sanctified, or received the perfect love" - no the time I will not fix.  And yet I am able to say here:  "I love Christ above all" - and I believe surely and joyfully, that we shall grow and increase in all eternity.

For my children I have prayed to the Lord, and shall continue to do so; and I hope, through the Grace of Jesus Christ and the Mercy of God to see them all saved for the eternal life.

Thereto may the dear God help us all.

Source: Wilhelmine wrote this autobiographical statement in German about 1904-1905. A photocopy of the English translation presented here, produced in March 1906, was generously provided by Philip E. Winter, great-grandson of the author. Spelling and punctuation have not been corrected in the reproduction for this web site.


  1. Maria Wilhelmine Fiegenbaum was born at Lengerich, Kreis Tecklenburg, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia, the fifth child of Adolph Heinrich and Christine Elisabeth (Peterjohann) Fiegenbaum. She was about 1 year old, perhaps younger, when she emigrated from northwestern Germany with her father, Adolph (age about 40), her mother, Christine (age 37), and four brothers and sisters (ages 13 to about 4 years).

    According to his citzenship hearing in the St. Charles (Missouri) Circuit Court on 2 April 1838, Adolph declared that he and his family had emigrated from Ladbergen, Kingdom of Prussia and had landed in the United States at New Orleans, Louisiana in June 1834.

    In the autobiographical letter written for his children, Maria Wilhelmine's brother, Rev. Friedrich Wilhelm Fiegenbaum recorded that his family entered New Orleans at the end of June and reached St. Louis on 3 or 4 July 1834.

    Other sources, even autobiographical statements by family members, date the family's arrival in the USA to 1832 or 1834. A discussion of this matter is presented elsewhere on this web site.

    Return to Text

  2. Maria Wilhelmine would have celebrated her 71st birthday in on 27 July 1904. She therefore would have written this remembrance between that date and her next birthday in 1905.

    Return to Text

  3. Not only is the date of the family's arrival in the country a question, but exactly where the family lived upon reaching Missouri is also not clear.

    Heinrich Rudolph, Maria Wilhelmine's youngest sibling and the last of Adolph and Christine's children, was born in 1837. His baptism on 5 February 1837 was recorded in the register of the German evangelical church at Femme Osage, St. Charles County, Missouri. At the time, however, there were few German-speaking congregations in the area and this church also served immigrants who lived in neighboring Warren County, where the Fiegenbaum family may have resided for a short time (see the account about the family published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Sunday, 26 June 1898).

    In early April 1838, an "Adolphus Fiegenbaum," age 44, declared in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County, Missouri, his intention to become an American citizen. One might expect a document of this sort to carry some weight in the matter of where the family was living, but genealogy is rarely that easy and straight-forward.

    The 1840 U.S. census introduces some new confusion. At than time, the census recorded the name of only the head of each household and then a count of the number of people of each sex in the household who fell within a range of ages. For example, the number of males less than 5 years of age; the number of males 5 years to less than 10 years of age; the number of males 10 years to less than 15 years of age; etc., etc.

    In the summer of 1840, the census enumerated eight people living in the "A. Frigenbottom" household in Femme Osage Township, St. Charles County, Missouri. The census also enumerated eight people living in the "Rudolph Feigenbaum" household in Charrette Township, Warren County, Missouri. In each enumeration, the total number of male and female members of the households was what would be expected based on information provided by other genealogical sources, but the distribution among age groups raises questions which have not yet been answered.

    This is not the only occasion of a family of Fiegenbaums being recorded twice in the same census. Another instance at a later date appears to catch a family in the midst of moving from one locale to another and the visits from the enumerators seem to have coincided with their occupation of their "old" and "new" homes. That the same thing happened in 1840 is sheer speculation on my part, influenced by the autobiographical letter Maria Wilhelmine's brother wrote to his children that mentions frequent moves during the early years in Missouri (he also mentions a log cabin, or "block house," as Maria Wilhelmine refers to it).

    A federal land patent was issued at St. Louis on 1 October 1840 to an "Adolphus Fiegenbaum of St. Charles County Missouri" for 40 acres of land in St. Charles County, east of the village of Femme Osage.

    In 1841, one of Adolph Heinrich Fiegenbaum's older brothers and 12 members of his family, nuclear and extended, emigrated from Ladbergen, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia and landed at Baltimore, Maryland. They made their way to Missouri and settled near Holstein, Missouri. The events of their lives are documented in the archives of the local church.

    There is some evidence that the Fiegenbaum-Peterjohann family may have moved to this same locale a few years later. A federal land patent was issued at St. Louis on 1 August 1844 to "Adolphus Fiegenbaum, of Warren County, Missouri" for 81.47 acres of land in Warren County, located between the communities of Holstein and Hopewell (or, Hopewell Academy).

    Maria Wilhelmine wrote that her earliest recollections take her back to the age of about six or seven years. The acquisition of land in St. Charles County in 1840 would have happened about the time she turned seven; she would have been about 11 years old when the family acquired the land in Warren County.

    Return to Text

  4. Maria Wilhelmine's sister, Christine Elisabeth Fiegenbaum, was born on 25 October 1827 at Lengerich, Kreis Tecklenburg, Province of Westphalia, Kingdom of Prussia.

    It is not easy to determine just how old Maria Wilhelmine was when she finally went to school, and her description of the distance travelled does not pinpoint where the family might have been living. It was about 2-3 miles as the crow flies from the family farm in St. Charles County to the German evangelical church at the village of Femme Osage, where educational opportunities existed. The land the family acquired in 1844 in Warren County would have been about 1.5 miles from the German evangelical church in Holstein, established in February 1839. And perhaps it was about the same distance from the village of Hopewell Academy, where instruction would also have been available.

    Return to Text

  5. Maria Wilhelmine's four brothers became pastors in the German Methodist Episcopal Church and she and her sister both married men who became pastors in the denomination.

    For more on the family's conversion to Methodism and their active life in the German Methodist Episcopal Church, see also the memoirs and biographical sketches of Friedrich Wilhelm Fiegenbaum, life stories of Heinrich Hermann Fiegenbaum, an essay written by Hermann Wilhelm Fiegenbaum, and an article about the Fiegenbaums published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in 1898.

    Johann Swahlen began his work in the Pinckney Mission (Warren County, Missouri) in 1841.

    Return to Text

  6. Maria Wilhelmine and Wilhelm Winter were married on 18 February 1850 at Warrenton, Warren County, Missouri. She was 16 years old, he was 24. Pastor Jacob Haus or Hass, of the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, officiated.

    A brief overview of Wilhelm's life was included in the beginning of a biography of one of their sons, Philip Ernst Winter.

    Return to Text

  7. Various members of the family settled near Wapella, in Louisa County, Iowa.

    Return to Text

Brief Genealogy

Maria Wilhelmine Fiegenbaum's family

Wilhelm Winter's family

Winter - Fiegenbaum family

More Resources