by Carmen Doyle
Jesse Hoover was in Fort Wayne for only a few years, but he left a lasting legacy for Lutherans.
Jesse Hoover’s arrival in Fort Wayne was due to Henry Rudisill. When Rudisill arrived in Fort Wayne, his family was the only American-born German family as well as the only Lutheran family. Rudisill had come to Fort Wayne to help administer property for John Barr. When Rudisill tried to find help to clear land, he found that there wasn’t much local labor and what labor was available was expensive. Rudisill suggested that Barr recruit “some Germans from Germany and send them out to me… They are more industrious and temperate than our Americans.” Rudisill preferred families, as families usually meant that both husband and wife would work.
Soon Germans started arriving, and Rudisill realized that a German-speaking pastor would be needed. He placed an ad in a German newspaper back east. Jesse Hoover replied and came to Fort Wayne.
A quick visit to Fort Wayne in 1836 to visit and preach to Germans in Allen and Adams counties resulted in Hoover deciding to take the job. However, there was a problem. The counties did not have enough money to fully support Hoover and his family. Hoover was also not formally assigned to Indiana by his synod, so he could not receive a stipend from them. He was determined to become a missionary despite the obstacles. Hoover’s great amount of energy and amiable disposition had people convincing him to stay and settle.
One thing Hoover did to earn money was to teach school. Fort Wayne already had a school with two teachers. It was decided that three would open up a tuition academy with Hoover serving as principal. As there was no Lutheran church building at the time, school was held in the lower level of a partially completed Presbyterian church. The school was non-denominational, but some religious education in the form of students learning Bible verses, was included. The teachers had nothing but praise for Principal Hoover.
Another way Hoover was able to earn money was to preach at a local Presbyterian church while they were looking for a new pastor. None of the preachers who came to Fort Wayne measured up to the standard set by the previous pastor, who had died a few months before. Susan Man, one of the teachers, (and who later married Hugh McCulloch, who became Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury) wrote to friends in New York complaining about the quality of the visiting preachers, but noted that Hoover preached “excellent sermons, and we are therefore poorly prepared to listen to such poor ones”. Hoover spoke German as well as English and many Germans came long distances in order to listen to a sermon in their own language. The first year Hoover was in Fort Wayne, he preached to the Lutherans exclusively in German and the next year in English in order to help the foreign-born members become “American Lutherans”.
It took several months before Hoover’s German congregation had been developed enough that he was able to celebrate a First Communion in which 63 people participated. In the fall of 1837, Hoover formally organized the First German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Fort Wayne, which was later renamed St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In the spring of 1838, Jesse Hoover died unexpectedly at age 28. His energy and devotion helped shape the foundation of the Fort Wayne Lutheran community.
Information came from Frontier Faith by George R. Mather and Old Fort News 50:01, 1987.