Our Iowa Heritage: Josias & Christiana Ritter – Iowa City Church Planters.

Of all the Our Iowa Heritage stories we’ve worked on, quite possibly, this peaks my interest the most. As a church planter (I’ve been deeply involved with several church plants during my 30+ years of pastoring), I’m intrigued at the story of Pastor Josias Ritter, his wife, Christiana, and their church-planting work here in Iowa City in 1856-1858.

Josias Ritter – Founding Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church – Iowa City.

But, before I get ahead of myself, allow me to, first, present the postal cover that started my journey into the life and ministry of Josias & Christiana Ritter.

(C-0240) 1857 Stamp-less Cover from Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, Germany and written in Kurrentschrift/German. The letter is addressed to Rev. Josias Ritter, Iowa City, Johnson Co, Iowa, N Amerika, is dated December 20th 1857, and is from Marie Strübel to her friend Nannie (a short version for Christiana), the wife of Josias Ritter. CLICK HERE to read the translation & full contents of Marie’s letter to Nannie.
Winnenden is a small town in the Rems-Murr district of the Stuttgart Region in Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. It lies in a wine-growing area approx. 12 miles northeast of Stuttgart, and only 10 miles from Josias’ hometown of Strümpfelbach. The letter (see below) is written on embossed stationary with the imprint “Bath” (Biden) located next to the letter writer’s closing signature…Marie Strübel.
Below, you find the entire contents of our letter. The letter’s author, Marie Strübel obviously used every inch of space on the 11″ x 8.75″ page – front and back. This hand-written letter has amazing penmanship and the size of the writing is super small. The language is an old form of German called Kurrentschrift, used primarily in the 1860’s.
Here is a sample of how small the handwriting is compared to a daily newspaper of today!

CLICK HERE to read the translation & full contents of Marie’s letter to Christiana Ritter…

Strümpfelbach, Germany: The Ritter/Boller Connection.

Josias Ritter was born March 8, 1823 in the same region of Germany where historians place the beginnings of the Boller family. Josias hailed from Strümpfelbach, located 26 miles to the northeast of Bad Boll, the little community that birthed the Bollers. Both communities are located east of Stuttgart in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, less than 150 miles southeast of Mainz/Darmstadt, the area where my ggg grandfather, George F. Boller was born in 1794. Read more about my German Boller connection here.

Family records indicate that Josias was trained in ministry (1844) in Basel, Germany before coming to America in 1849, where he was assigned as pastor in Hollowayville, Illinois (Selby Township of Bureau County).

Lucas County, Ohio marriage record.

On November 12, 1851, Josias married Christiana (Nannie) Doretha Swartz in Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio. Christiana (or Nane as she is called in our letter) is from Winnenden (Württemberg) Germany, and was born on November 3, 1829. According to her good friend, sibling, or cousin Marie Strübel, Christiana’s parents and family continued to live there.

CLICK HERE to read the translation & full contents of Marie’s letter to Nannie (Christiana Ritter).

Josias and Christiana had three children together: Emma (1854), Frederick (1859), and Adolph (1862); all born in Holloywayville, Illinois.

The Iowa City Connection.

Allow me here to tell you a bit about the German Lutheran community that came to Iowa City in the 1850’s, using several different versions of their documented history…

But sadly, like it is with so many church-settings, disagreements over church polity split the English-speaking and German-speaking communities, causing each group to form two separate congregations. It’s at this point in the story when Josias & Christiana Ritter enter the picture…

Pastor Josias Ritter, his wife Christiana, and the First German Lutheran Church in Iowa City.

Iowa City in the mid-1850’s.

Iowa City church records indicate that in 1856, the German Lutheran community in Johnson County desperately wanted a church in their new home, inviting Josias to come to Iowa City to lead them. Over the next two years, with Ritter overseeing the new congregation, a lot of good ministry certainly happened…

Apparently, in 1858, after two years of church planting, Josias stepped away from his leadership role with the Iowa City church. Records aren’t clear if he returned to pastoring immediately upon his return to central Illinois, but by 1865, he was leading a church once again, this time in Davenport (1865-1868).

Zion Lutheran Evangelical Church – Iowa City.

Back in Iowa City, the loss of Pastor Ritter did cause a temporary setback…

As the saying goes…”All’s well that ends well.” As one church historian wrote…

Under the leadership of Pastors Doescher and Wehrs, Zion Lutheran Evangelical Church built a church building (see arrow on this 1868 ‘Birds-Eye” map of Iowa City) at the corner of Bloomington and Johnson Streets.

Josias Ritter and his family – 1860’s and beyond.

As for Josias, 1862 was a disastrous year. Returning to Hollowayville in central Illinois after leaving Iowa City (1858), both his eight-year old daughter, Emma, and his wife, Christiana (Nannie), died, leaving Josias with one young son, Frederick (age 3) and a new-born (Adolph). Later that year (October 1862), Ritter married Charlotte Sophia Strangmann of Caledonia, Wisconsin, having three children; John (1863) Mary (1865), and William (1868), before eventually moving his family to Nebraska.

Josias took over the pastoral responsibilities of the German Lutheran Church in Davenport (1865-1868).

The Nebraska Years.

Living in various communities (Rock Creek, McWilliams, and Talmage) of Otoe County, Nebraska until his death (age 77) in March of 1900, Josias listed himself on U.S. Census reports as minister/farmer. Family records indicate that Josias and his second wife, Charlotte Sophia, in their final work in ministry, started Faith Lutheran Church in Talmage, Nebraska, a church that remains, like Zion Lutheran in Iowa City, to today. Both are buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Talmage.

Hats off to the trio of Ritter, Wehrs, and Doescher: three German-born pastors who all came to Iowa City for a short time, establishing in one decade (1856-1866) the solid foundation of Zion’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church, which later became Zion Lutheran in Iowa City.
Click here to read more about Johann Friederich Doescher
Click here to read more about Heinrich W. Wehrs

Godspeed, Pastor/church planter Josias Ritter and your family. Godspeed.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Josiah Ritter 8 March 1823 – 10 March 1900, FamilySearch.com

Josias Ritter, Local family book Strümpfelbach family report, Geneology.net

Year Book and Reference Manual of Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1907-1908, Chapter 1: Origin 1856-1859, pp. 95, 97

Zion Lutheran-Iowa City: Chapter 1: Origin – Early Times and Faces 1837-1860, pp. 1-3, 7-10

Zion Lutheran Church – Iowa City: Our History

Leading Events in Johnson County History, Charles Ray Aurner, Western Historical Press, 1912, pp 349-350

The First German Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church – Chapter XX-Churches & Parishes, History of Scott County, p 616

Josias Ritter, Find-A-Grave

Christiana Doretha Swartz – 3 November 1829, FamilySearch.com

Josiah Ritter & Nannie Swatrz, Lucas County – Ohio County Marriages 1835-1858 vol 1, FamilySearch.com

Charlotte Sophia Ritter, Find-A-Grave

Weinstadt, Wikipedia

Waiblingen, Germany, Wikipedia

Strümpfelbach (Weinstadt), Baden-Württemberg, Germany, TripMondo.com

Baden-Württemberg, (Alemania) Germany, Wikipedia

Baden, Germany, Wikipedia

Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Wikipedia

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