Rev. Johann Pallmer by George Nielsen

This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the Newsletter of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society.

Johann Pallmer’s path into the ministry was uncertain and indirect. Johann Kilian’s, on the other hand, had been a smooth one. Kilian progressed directly from the elementary grades on to secondary school (Gymnasium), and through the university. Although an orphan, Kilian inherited the small property and used it to finance his education. Pallmer lacked the funds that could have provided him with the requisite education. Kilian became the pastor of his first church at the age of twenty-six while Pallmer became a pastor at the age of thirty-eight.

When Pallmer arrived at Serbin in 1870 Kilian was sixty-one years old and a veteran of a storied ministry. Pallmer was almost forty and could claim only one year of experience as pastor. Instead, his adult years had been spent working in a number of different occupations.

Pallmer was born on April 4, 1831, at Bederwitz, near Bautzen, into the family of Michael Pallmer, a Gartennahrungsbesitzer. That term indicates that the family owned a house and enough land to feed the family, but not enough for being a farmer. Another source of income was necessary. Very little documentation is available about Johann’s early life and schooling, but the records that remain indicate that he satisfied his military obligations and was released from further service in 1851. In 1848 he also began a three-year program of learning the carpentry trade and in 1851 he was declared a journeyman carpenter.

The remainder of Pallmer’s life is remarkable in that it shows upward social mobility. He progressed from one position to another and the gardener’s son eventually became a teacher. His intellect, disposition, and dedication made it possible. The appraisals of his supervisors were always favorable. Words that often appeared in his evaluations were “dedicated,” “dependable,” “pious disposition,” “blameless life,” and “faultless.” The only inconsistency in his work documents was in his military report and his journeyman’s passport. He was released from the military due to “lack of fitness” yet his passport described him as “big and strong.”

He worked as a carpenter for a year in Bautzen and then on April 29, 1852, he obtained his Wanderbuch (journey book) and a recommendation from August Wildenhahn, pastor of Petrikirche in Bautzen. The physical characteristics in the Wanderbuch describe him as blond with blue-grey eyes. The book spells out all the rules a journeyman was required to follow, including a police stamp in his book whenever he traveled to a new locality. He was first released to Dresden and then traveled from 1852 to 1855 working in localities such as Magdeburg, Bautzen, Hamburg and finally Herrnhut. With the exception of Hamburg, where he spent much of his time, most places were short stays. (To see the translation of the journeyman’s book go to, click on Forum, and then Rev. Johann Pallmer or click on the underlined link. 

In February 1855 he obtained a position as overseer at the Royal Institute of Gross Hennersdorf (now incorporated into Herrnhut) and remained there for eight years until March 1, 1863. In this position he not only supervised and taught, but he utilized his carpentry skills and worked in the garden and orchard.

He was then transferred to the Institute at Braunsdorf to serve as director of the Family Group where he served for about a year. From Braunsdorf he moved to Dresden to attend Friedrichstaat Seminary for teachers from July 1, 1864, to Easter 1865. He scored well on his exams—although his scores in singing and violin were somewhat lower. He took a second exam on March 5,1867, and again received good marks. 

Beginning at Easter, 1865 he served at an orphanage at Pirna. His review on April 20, 1867 was also a positive one. His final occupation in Europe was in 1868 as a teacher in Bautzen.

In spite of his achievements, the holy ministry was beyond his reach because he did not have the necessary academic credentials. He therefore became geographically mobile, and in 1868 migrated to the United States on the steamship Holsatia. The large German-speaking population in the United States needed pastors so he enrolled in the practical seminary in St. Louis, an institution that taught the essentials of ministry. The next year, 1869, Pallmer graduated and accepted a call to serve the newly created Ebenezer congregation in Baden, now in St. Louis, Missouri.

On June 24, 1870, St. Peter’s congregation in Serbin sent a call to Pallmer even before the formal separation of the congregations had taken place. The call specifically asked him to work with Wendish. In his acceptance letter (12 Aug 1870) Pallmer cautioned the congregation not to expect too much from his Wendish skills. He had been born a Wend, but since the age of eighteen his exposure to Wendish had been limited. He felt comfortable with his colloquial skill, but he had not read a Wendish book during that time and he had never attempted to teach or preach in Wendish. With God’s help, however, he fully expected to regain his skills in due time.  

Once he accepted the call, the first issue facing Pallmer was his installation. He handled it with tact by writing a letter to Kilian (31 Aug 1870) requesting Kilian to install him into the St. Peter ministry. It was customary for a neighboring pastor to install a new pastor and, in addition, a synodical official who also authorized Kilian to perform the rite, strengthened Pallmer’s request. In the same letter Pallmer expanded on the common goals he and Kilian shared. Pallmer’s gracious letter pleased Kilian and he consented—although Kilian informed Pallmer that Kilian’s congregation would not make the church available for the installation.

Pastor Pallmer and his bride of three months arrived in Serbin in October 1870. (Pallmer’s marriage to Anna Helena Herrmann had been officiated by the C. F. W. Walther, the noted synodical leader.) Gerhard Kilian, then a student in the Seminary, reported that Palmer was viewed as “a gentle, humble, and skilled person” and that Mrs. Pallmer was a nurse and considered to be a good wife.” A new church building for St. Peter’s had not been built, so between September 20, when the new group obtained ownership of the church building built by the first St. Peter, and the time of ordination, the little church was dismantled and the material was used to build a parsonage. So the installation was performed in the new parsonage on December 11, 1870.   

Following Pallmer’s installation there was little contact between the two pastors for a time. Both congregations were busy building churches. St. Peter needed a church as quickly as possible and built a wooden building that they dedicated in April 1871. Kilian did not attend the dedication because Pallmer’s invitation had not come soon enough to enable Kilian to make arrangements with his own congregation. The morning service was conducted in German and Pallmer preached a Wendish sermon in the afternoon service. St. Paul had already started constructing the stone church, but the project had languished during the controversy. In 1871 the efforts were redoubled and the stone church, still currently in use, was completed before Christmas that year.

The competition between the two congregations may have stimulated church construction, but it had a negative effect on the relations between the two pastors. There were occasional rubs, especially over the transfer of members and at times Pallmer wrote messages to Kilian that Kilian ignored. Kilian complained that he could see the St. Peter steeple from his house and that Pallmer had a “domineering” personality. So even though both pastors held identical views on theology, they kept a respectful distance.

That distance disappeared on July 4, 1873, when Helena Pallmer died from a stroke. Her death came eleven days after the giving birth to Martin Theodore Heinrich who was born and who died on the same day—June 23, 1873. Pallmer asked Kilian to conduct the burial. Kilian did so and from then on they became intimate friends and visits between Kilian and Pallmer were open and frequent.

Shortly after the death of Mrs. Pallmer, Pastor Pallmer experienced several attacks of yellow fever. He recovered and on August 20 visited Pastor Kilian and Mrs. Kilian served him a bowl of barley and hops soup. But the next day Pallmer’s fever returned and a week later Kilian also was stricken by a fever so severe that Kilian could not leave the house. Pallmer, in the meantime remained in the care of members of his parish until he succumbed on September 1, 1873, in the morning at eleven o’clock. Kilian, still confined to his home, could not even attend the funeral conducted by Pastor Proft of Fedor. Pastor Pallmer was buried next to his wife in the Serbin cemetery.

The Rest of the Story

The child associated with Mrs. Pallmer’s death was the Pallmer’s second child. Their first child, Johann Gerhard, had been born in Serbin on October 28, 1871. On his deathbed, Pastor Pallmer asked the teacher, Ernest Leubner, to look after two-year-old Gerhard. Leubner added Gerhard to his family and took Gerhard with him to Illinois when he became employed at the orphanage in Addison. While Leubner wrote that they adopted him, Martha Jahn, Gerhard’s daughter, said he was not adopted. Evidently Gerhard went as Gerhard Leubner until he began to study at the Teachers’ Seminary, when he changed the name to Pallmer.

Weldon Mersiovsky, our tenacious and tireless Wendish researcher, set his sights on learning what became of the only Pallmer child and eventually located Richard Jahn in Chattanooga, Tennessee—Pastor Pallmer’s great-great grandson. He initially provided Mersiovsky with digital copies of the Pallmer and Leubner documents. After Mersiovsky had them all translated Jahn sent the originals to Mersiovsky and the Wendish Museum in Serbin for safekeeping.

After graduating from the Teachers’ Seminary in Addison in 1892 Gerhard became a teacher in various Lutheran schools in the Midwest. His final parish was Ebenezer, the congregation his father initially served. Gerhard and his wife, Janna Meyer had five surviving children and one of the children, Martha, wrote the memoirs and mentioned the locations where he served. She married the Rev. Richard C. Jahn, and her memoirs, as well as other Pallmer and Leubner documents, were eventually entrusted to her grandson, Richard P. Jahn, Jr.

The descendants of Johann Pallmer are aware of their Wendish heritage and several have visited the Serbin cemetery and the Wendish museum.

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