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Tea Party Winners: Carla Gade's winner is Becky Dempsey, Andrea Boeshaar's winner Caryl Kane, Gina Welborn's winner Jasmine A., Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners book copy -- Lynda Edwards, teacup and saucer -- Wendy Shoults

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Coming to America

Detail of John Michael Groves's Gale Coming On
In researching my latest release, Northkill, the story of my Amish ancestors who came to this country in 1738, I ran across several descriptions of what immigrants in the 18th century endured just to get to America. Many Anabaptists made that journey because of the persecution they were subjected to in Europe, but it was not for the fainthearted. Below are three accounts of the 3,000 mile sea voyage, condensed from articles in the April 2004 issue of the Mennonite Historical Bulletin. The first is quite positive though it took place at a dangerous time during the War of the Spanish Succession.

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
“The 28th of June while in Rotterdam getting ready to start my Zernbli died and was buried in Rotterdam. The 29th we got under sail and enjoyed one and a half days of favorable wind. The 7th of July, early in the morning, Hans Zimmerman’s son-in- law died.

“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?

11 comments:

  1. I'm always in awe at the stories of what people endured to get here. And to lose so many of your children in the process ... we so take life for granted in modern times, with technology and medical care and sanitation!

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    1. Oh, Shannon, you're so right! We have no idea today what people endured in earlier times. All those children lost. I can't imagine what the parents went through....

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    2. We lost one ... just one! ... of our nine, fifteen years ago. I had just a taste of what must have been like, but I had five little ones already who kept me going. Later when reading through my husband's family geneaology book, I was struck breathless to read of a couple way back in his line who lost their *first three* as newborns or small babies. They went on to have a dozen or so who survived to adulthood. That, I--cannot--imagine.

      I think we talk about wanting that kind of courage, but we sure don't want to go through what they did to get it!

      Anyway, thank you again for sharing!

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  2. Great article.
    It is hard to read about all those children and adults dieing while crossing the great sea to a better land; but cannot imagine what they actually suffered during their travels at sea.

    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Tina, many accounts indicate that it was pretty brutal aboard the ships of the time. They really were astonishingly small by today's standards and accommodated crew, passengers, animals, and cargo. Food became scarce, and diseases and seasickness were rampant. Then add in storms and/or encounters with hostile ships. You had to be pretty hardy and fortunate to survive for sure. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Joan.. fascinating information... but reading about all the children's deaths made me really sad. I cannot imagine being one of those parents. I'm not sure I'd even care if I made it to the new land if I lost my children... It is truly amazing how much our forefathers suffered for freedom and today we take it for granted.

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    1. That's so true, MaryLu! How many of us today have the fortitude they obviously had. I did really like the detail in the one account about the travelers being able to smell the aroma of America long before they reached shore. It's kind of an image for the hopes and dreams this country has fostered.

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  4. Such a heartbreaking account of so many deaths onboard! It must have been overwhelming to see so many in their families die while pursuing freedom for their faith. Thank you for these first-person accounts—truly the best way to learn history!

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    1. Elaine, I know both of us just love it when we dig up personal accounts like this in the course of our research! They just open up a window in time that you can't get any other way.

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  5. Joan, this was so sad, to know what hard trials those people suffered to get to America for freedom, and now so many won't even fight for the Freedoms we are losing. It is so sad to think of so many deaths and not even being able to bury them in a grave. So much heartache. I was wondering why so many died. Never thought of them starving. Guess I just assumed they would carry enough food. I love to learn about our ancestors but never thinking of something like this. Sad! Wish I could find out how mine got here. Thanks, Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Maxie, they starved and died of disease and accidents aboard--all kinds of things. For many of the children I suspect the stress of the long journey was just too much for their small bodies to handle. So sad indeed. I totally agree with you about us losing our freedoms. So many in this country don't even recognize what's happening or make any effort to preserve our liberties when others sacrificed so much. That's the saddest of all.

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