Some 700 Saxon Lutherans settled, 1839, in Perry County and formed the parishes of Altenburg, Wittenberg, Dresden, Seelitz, Frohna, and one settlement, Johannisburg, in Cape Girardeau County. The community of Paltzdorf (Uniontown) was organized, 1840.
The Saxons came to Missouri mainly for the purpose of freeing themselves from the Saxon State Church. Under their pastor, Martin Stephan, they formed an emigration society (Auswanderungs-Gesellschaft) with an $88,000 communal fund. 665 members sailed from Bremen, 1838, in five chartered ships for St. Louis by way of New Orleans. One of the ships was lost at sea. Other members joined the group in Missouri and a number of them remained in St. Louis and founded a parish there.
The immigrants bought 4,475 acres of Perry County land with $9,234 from the communal fund. The colony survived the physical hardships of settlement and the spiritual blow of finding Martin Stephan their pastor, a false leader. After his exile from the colony, the group was led by the great pastor, C. F.W. Walther.
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Of the original settlements made by the Saxons in Perry County, Altenburg, Frohna, Wittenberg, and Uniontown survive. From the Saxon colonists, probably most distinct of German cultural groups to settle in the U.S., have come the Missouri Synod, one of the largest Lutheran bodies in the nation, and the outstanding Concordia Seminary.
The first Evangelical Lutheran seminary west of the Mississippi River, Concordia was founded, 1839, near Altenburg in the Dresden community. The school building, called the Log Cabin College, was moved to Altenburg across from the impressive Trinity Lutheran Church, 1912, and is kept as a memorial museum. The seminary was removed to St. Louis, 1849. A replica of the first building is on the campus there.
Some two miles below Wittenberg, early river landing of the colonists, is Grand Tower Island, a mass of limestone rising 85 feet out of the Mississippi River. The "Island" is also known as Cap St. Cosme and Rock of the Cross, for there, Dec. 12, 1698, Catholic missionary priests De Montigny, Davion, and St. Cosme planted a cross.