Mathias Löhr, my husband’s great-grandfather and immigrant ancestor, has been the focus of intense research for some time. We know about his life in the United States, based on documents, records, stories and lore passed down through a few generations. But the problem was that “family stories” may not be entirely factual.
The story is that Mathias, to avoid serving in the military, left Germany as a young man. To make his journey he supposedly swam the Rhine River, holding his clothes above his head. This last “fact” always seemed to be more legend than truth.
Some recent things have surfaced lately that tell us a bit more about his life in 1867, the year he entered the USA at Castle Garden on the ship Chatsworth on June 27.
No records have been found in Germany that he sought permission to emigrate. He is not listed on any list of “Auswanderers.” The Chatworth sailed from Antwerp, Belgium and therein lies the clue. Klaus Erdmann, Petra Schmitz, and other researchers in Rommerskirchen tell me some of the men, wanting to avoid military duty, would quietly make their way to Cologne. Once there, with help from a secretive network, they were able to leave Germany in about three or four hours … and once beyond the borders, were free of the German authorities. No factual accounts exist how Mathias Löhr left Nettesheim-Butzhein, but the passenger lists, compiled at the point of departure, show he left from Antwerp.
On the Chatworth manifest are the names of three other young males, all aged 22 to 30, who were born in Germany and listed Illinois as their destination: Mathias Karls, Joseph Teystgge, and Johann Wissmann. Were they traveling with Mathias Löhr? The 1870 U.S census lists Mathias Karls living in Jefferson, Wisconsin, about 65 miles from Mathias Lohr in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
It’s also unclear why Mathias Löhr listed Illinois for his destination on the ship records. A previous owner (surname, Bongartz) of the Nettesheim house where the Löhrs lived did emigrate to Sterling, Illinois. Maybe there was a connection … but that is only speculation.
And why did Mathias Löhr settle first in Taycheedah , Wisconsin? There is no evidence he was related to any of the various Löhr families in that area. Best guess: there was work available and the area had a large native-German population.
So, I still am skeptical if Mathias swam the Rhine River, although it is possible. Some parts of our family history will likely always be unknown or make their way into the family “lore.” Or is that “family Lohr?”