|Detail of John Michael Groves's Gale Coming On|
Twenty-nine Mennonites from the Palatine boarded the ship Mary Hope in London, June 24, 1710, and landed in Philadelphia, September 23, 1710. Although they embarked on “a beautifully calm Sunday,” they quickly encountered a storm that made most of the passengers seasick, snapped off several masts, and sent their ship back to England for repairs. Finally back at sea, they joined a convoy of Russian battleships for protection. After the Russian ships left them, the passengers were frightened by the appearance of several French warships. Thankfully a heavy fog allowed the Mary Rose to creep safely away.
The voyage turned out to be very pleasant. “I think that I never was on a more healthy vessel,” a Quaker passenger named Chalkley recorded in his journal. He noted that fellow passengers were fascinated by seafowl, porpoises, flying fish, and whales, and that amid a great storm they watched mountainous waves rise above the ship’s deck with outward calm. Chalkley held Quaker meetings on the deck, and the Mennonites seemed to him “tender” and moved by his words. They “behaved soberly, and were well satisfied; and I can truly say, I was well satisfied also.”
The article also included a delightful description by a German schoolmaster, who recorded that two days before his ship sighted land, a sailor told the passengers that he could smell America. After a while the passengers “also felt a sweet, pleasant aroma, because a gentle wind came from there to us.” When they entered Delaware Bay, “we saw right and left the land that we had wished to see with such great desire for such a long time, although still in the distance, since the bay at its mouth is very wide; but the farther we went in, the closer the banks on both sides came toward us. We then ran from one side of the ship to the other, so as to overlook or miss nothing. . . . It is an indescribable joy when one has seen nothing in such a long time except sky and water and now all of a sudden sees the wonderful green of the forests, the mountains, the valleys and fields.”
A diary attributed to Hans Jacob Kauffman, written in the margins of an almanac, gives a very different and heartwrenching account of his 1737 voyage on the Charming Nancy (the same ship that brought my ancestors the following year) that illustrates the often horrendous conditions passengers in 18th century vessels endured.
|Port of Philadelphia in 18th century|
“We landed in England the 8th of July, remaining 9 days in port during which 5 children died. Went under sail the 17th of July. The 21 of July my own Lisbetli died. Several days before Michael’s Georgli had died.
“On the 29th of July three children died. On the first of August my Hansli died and the Tuesday previous, 5 children died. On the 3rd of August contrary winds beset the vessel and from the first to the 7th of the month 3 more children died. On the 8th of August, Shambien’s Lizzie died and on the 9th Hans Zimmerman’s Jacobli died. On the 19th, Christian Burgli’s Child died. Passed a ship on the 21st. A favorable wind sprang up. On the 28th Hans Gasi’s wife died. Passed a ship 13th of September. Landed in Philadelphia on the 18th and my wife and I left the ship on the 19th. A child was born to us on the 20th—died—wife recovered. A voyage of 83 days.”
Kauffman’s report is not unusual for sea voyages during this period. In 1750, Gottlieb Mittelberger vividly detailed the miserable conditions on crowded vessels.
“Children from one to seven years rarely survive the voyage; and many a time parents are compelled to see their children miserably suffer and die from hunger, thirst, and sickness, and then to see them cast into the water. I witnessed such misery in no less than thirty-two children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea. The parents grieve all the more since their children find no resting-place in the earth, but are devoured by the monsters of the sea. It is a notable fact that children, who have not yet had the measles or small-pocks [sic], generally get them on board the ship, and most die of them. Often a father is separated by death from his wife and children, or mothers from their little children, or even both parents from their children; and sometimes whole families die in quick succession; so that often many dead persons lie in the berths beside the living ones, especially when contagious diseases have broken out on board the ship.”
Clearly incredible determination and courage were required to make the voyage across the ocean in the 18th century. I’m inspired by these stories and that of my ancestors, portrayed in Northkill, to remain steadfast amid the trials I encounter today—none of which,I have to admit, are near as challenging as theirs were! In what ways do these stories speak to you?