This weeks challenge that Amy Crow has issued on 52 Ancestors is “So Far Away”. The first thing that came to mind was the Movie “Far and Away”, so this story could be on either of my Irish Ancestors. The 2nd story that came to mind would deal with the furthest back in time that we have a known Ancestor. That would be Roger De’Puttenham  (tenant of Puttenham Manor, Buckinghamshire, England) who is listed in the Doomsday book (1086). The third story is for my husbands maternal line ancestor that traveled “so far away” from his home in 1767 Germany- to colonies on the Volga River area of Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great. I think it is time to tell the story of Johann Christoph Bender.

Johann Christoph Bender was born about 1748 in Germany. Johanns early years were probably harsh during this time period. The Seven year war from 1754-1763 devastated Europe and to pay for the war the peasants were repressed. Germany was not united until the mid 1800’s but divided into many Duchies. Prussia  and Austria the larger.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great

Catherine The Great came to power when her husband Peter III was assassinated in 1762. Soon after, she issued her Manifesto inviting foreigners to immigrate to Russia. Catherine employed recruiters throughout Europe. That was how Johann learned about the invitation and Czarina Catherine’s Manifesto. Once Johann had signed a immigration contract he would have been sent to an assembly point where temporary housing was provided. As soon as there was a large enough contingency he would have been transported to one of the Baltic ports where a ship would take them the 900 miles to the Russian port  of Kronstadt, a Russian naval port on an island in the Gulf of Finland, then on to Oranienbaum, known today as Lomonosov. Oranienbaum is just 40 kilometers west of St. Petersburg and the site of Catherine The Greats Summer Palace.

The Great Palace Catherine II Summer Palace
The Great Palace
Catherine II Summer Palace


The above print is a drawing of the Great Palace in Oranienbaun, Russia. Notice the ship tied up near the palace gates. (Click on images to enlarge.) This may be the landing for the Germans arriving in Russia. It is stated that over 20,000 colonist were recorded by the Titular Counselor, Ivan Kuhlberg in Oranienbaun.

The ocean trip from a German port could last from 9 days to several weeks or even months with an unscrupulous captain. History  states that the new arrivals were often lead in reciting the oath of allegiance to the Russian Crown by the German pastor of Oranienbaum’s Lutheran Church. In one historical account I read, it stated that not only did Catherine sometimes speak in German to welcome the colonist from her balcony at the Summer Palace but she and her officials had once walked in review and stopped to speak  or shake an individuals hand.

Once in Oranienbaum, Johann would have been given materials to build a hut for his own housing. His stay in Oranienbaum may have been from several weeks to months. The time spent near St. Petersburg would have given Johann an opportunity to see what it was like in Russia except he would not have been free to wander, and no matter where Johann might have hoped to establish himself he would be compelled by the Russian officials to locate along the lower Volga River near Saratov.

So finally the time to travel to Johann’s new home came. From Oranienbaum to Saratov was over 2,000 miles. The trek could have been made by boat down the various rivers or overland. The overland trek took months up to a year depending on when the group was finally allowed to leave. They traveled in groups with the women and children riding in carts and the men walking. In the dead of winter it was doubly grueling. over 26,000 started out and 12.5% died in route. Johann Chritoph Bender arrived in Kratzke on 8.5.1767. Is that August 5 or 8 May?

From the 1768 census for Kratzke, Saratov, Russia, Johann came to the Colony on 8.5.1767, from Wittenberg, Nauteis(?).  He was listed as a Lutheran. It was either expected that he would receive  or he had received 25 rbl. (rubbles) from Vormundschaftskontor (the government).  In 1768 he was just 20 years old and married to Katharina who was 18 years of age. The census indicates that Johann had 2 cows (2 Kühe) had plowed (4 des. = 4 desyatina (farmer)) approximately 14.4 acres and sowed approximately 3.5 bushels of rye (gepflügt: 4 Des., gesät: 5 Cetverik Roggen). Thanks to the internet for providing this non-linguist with a translation, even if it was one word at a time.

Kratzke Lutheran Church (1996) Photo source: Rodney Fink
Kratzke Lutheran Church (1996) Photo source: Rodney Fink

By the 1816 census for Kratzke, Saratov, Russia there is no Johann Christoph Bender, having died sometime between 1807 and the 1816 census.There is Johann Peter Bender (age: 25), Georg Jakob (age: 25), and Georg Philipp (age: 9), brothers. Listed separately a Johann Kaspar Bender (age: 36) family, a Johann Fredrich Bender (age: 30) family, and a Johann Philipp Bender (age: 43) family. The youngest son age 9 would have been born about 1807 when Johann Christoph was about 60. In the initial listing in 1768 for Kratzke there is only one Bender and by 1816 we have at least five Bender families. Having met my husbands grandparents I  picture how Johann Christoph Bender must have looked and try to imagine the adventure that he had taken on as a young man to make such a trek “so far away” from his birthplace.




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