And Now Dear David, Live Well
The Wagner Family
The title of this exhibition is in reference to a letter sent between two brothers, Johnathan and David Wagner. Johnathan moved to Honfleur, France and eventually became America’s vice consul.
David eventually joined Dr. William Keil’s Colony and came to Aurora, Oregon with his family.
Their brother Jacob, shown here with his wife Christina Heydt, settled with other dissidents of the Harmonist Society at Phillipsburg, PA in 1832. Since 1892, Phillipsburg has been known as Monaca.
A Remarkable Collection
Dr. David Wagner, now in his early 80s, remembers that as a young boy he would look inside this letter box and examine the contents. Fortuitously, more than 40 family letters had survived within the drawers, and do so to this day.
The odds were decidedly stacked against this.
The vast majority of the letters had been received by members of the David Wagner Sr. family at Aurora between 1861 and 1882. By the end of 1923, all of these persons had died.
The Brotherly Tie
On October 17, 1861, Johnathan Wagner, American Vice Consul to France (and uncle to another Johnathan Wagner in Aurora), wrote a letter to his brother David Wagner, then living at Bethel, Missouri, as a member of Dr. William Keil’s Bethel Colony. This was their first contact since David wrote to him five and a half years earlier in February 1856. Johnathan’s outreach paid off, as the brothers began an extraordinary correspondence that lasted over ten years.
“It made me happy,” wrote Johnathan in one of his letters, “that the brotherly tie has been established between us again.”
Much against the wishes of his brothers and sister, David Wagner brought his family from Bethel, Missouri via the Isthmus of Panama, arriving at Aurora, Oregon in early November 1862. With this trip the family was reunited with their daughter Emma Wagner Giesy.
The family traveled with at least six chests. A chest on display has the name D Wagner, for David Wagner, and a number 6 stenciled on its end. Another family descendant is in possession of a similar trunk marked with the number 1. Perhaps someday we will locate chests 2 through 5.
In 1805, John George Wagner emigrated from Germany to join George Rapp’s Harmony Society in Pennylvania. Twenty-seven years later Wagner and four of his sons rejected Rapp and helped establish the non-communal village of Phillipsburg.
In 1845, John George’s son David, surprised the others when he brought his own family to Bethel, Missouri and joined Dr. William Keil’s new Colony whose members were committed to communal living as the Christian ideal.
This time Wagner, however, participated on his own terms.