|Souls for Sale, Nonfiction book|
Souls for Sale: Two German Redemptioners Come to Revolutionary America—The Life Stories of John Frederick Whitehead and Johann Carl Büttner, Edited by Susan E. Klepp, Farley Grubb, and Anne Pfaelzer de Ortiz, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.
Book Description (from Amazon): In 1773, John Frederick Whitehead and Johann Carl Büttner, two adolescent Germans, were placed on board the same ship headed to colonial America. With few options in Germany, each had been recruited by the labor contractors known popularly as soulsellers—men who traded in human cargo. On arrival in America they were sold to different masters, and, years later, each wrote a memoir of his experiences. These two autobiographies are valuable historical records of immigrant attitudes, perceptions, and goals. Despite their shared voyage to America and similar condition as servants, their backgrounds and personalities differed. Their divergent interpretations of their experiences provide rich firsthand insights into the transatlantic migration process, work and opportunity in colonial America, and the fates of former bound servants.
Souls for Sale presents these parallel accounts—Whitehead's published for the first time—to illustrate the condition of German redemptioners and to examine the religious, economic, familial, and literary contexts that shaped their memoirs. The editors provide helpful introductions to the works as well as notes to guide the reader.
Comments and Review by Carrie Fancett Pagels
In the coming months, I will be contributing several posts on Palatinaters—German immigrants from the Palatinate duchies during the 18th century. I’d been investigating some genealogical links to the Palatinate and found this book. My ancestor John Adam Rousch (Johannes Rausch), hailed from the Palatinate, as did a great many immigrants who crossed the ocean to Pennsylvania in the mid 18th century. From all appearances, Johannes’ family purchased their fares and I’ve found nothing showing he was forced into servitude to pay for his transport. His experiences inspired me to write a fiction (totally fiction other than a few similarities!) I initially entitled Souls' Journey: Escape from Versailles. I found that ironic when I located this nonfiction book, afterwards, with similar way of looking at the whole business of indentured servitude.
In the nonfiction book Souls for Sale, one of the men is from a wealthier background. Each account of Büttner and Whitehead is a separate narrative about experience as a redemptioner, or an indentured servant whose passage was paid to America in return for years spent paying off the debt. The Penn State book is the first to combine both accounts, which makes for fascinating comparative reading. While there are some commonalities, it is the differences in their experiences that I found especially intriguing and which would be helpful to those either writing about 18th century German immigrants or male indentured servants in general during that time. These two men came to America several decades after the hero in my upcoming novel but much of the information appeared relevant.
One of the things I enjoyed about reading the men's accounts was their lyrical language. Whitehead in particular has a poetic voice. Sadly, today, we don't write with the same level of vocabulary as in previous centuries or even at the same level as we did in the United State even one century ago. The word choices, although some arcane, are not difficult to decipher, also.
Available on Barnes and Noble’s and Amazon’s websites (note although over $30 in paperback it is well worth it if you are researching and writing about this era and topic)
Question: Do you have an 18th century immigrant ancestor from the German duchies? What do you know about him or her?
Carrie Fancett Pagels is the founder of Colonial American Christian Writers Group and blog administrator of Colonial Quills. Her European and colonial novel, Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter, will be published by the White Rose imprint of Pelican Book Group in 2015. The hero is from the Palatinate duchy and departs to Pennsylvania in the mid 1740’s, as a redemptioner.