What was the journey from Paul Jünger’s home village in Europe to Philadelphia Like?
Much has been written and published about the challenges faced generally by German speaking emigrants who left their homelands in southwest Germany, Alsace and parts of Switzerland to venture to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Perhaps the most colorful and often quoted account was written by one of those emigrants named Gottlieb Mittelberger. His very detailed account of his personal experiences was published in English in 1960 by the Harvard University Press. It was translated and edited by Oscar Handlin and John Clive. It is titled Gottlieb Mittelberger’s Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the Year 1754.
Paul Jünger, the main character of this web site, came to Philadelphia in 1748, just two years prior to the arrival of Gottlieb Mittelberger in 1750. Perhaps if Paul had waited to leave his homeland several more years and known of some of the hardships Gottlieb witnessed and later reported in writing to his countrymen back in Germany, he might have decided not to come to America.
In fact, Gottlieb wrote his account of the journey in an attempt to discourage his countrymen in the Rhineland from taking the significant, costly and potentially deadly risks of the voyage from their villages, down the Rhine, across the English Channel and finally over the Atlantic Ocean. He drew upon his own experiences as well as what he “heard from trustworthy people who were familiar with the circumstances.” He further emphasized another reason he was compelled to reduce his experiences to writing:
“But the most important occasion for publishing this little book was the wretched and grievous condition of those who travel from Germany to this new land, and the outrageous and merciless proceeding of the Dutch man-dealers and their man-stealing emissaries; I mean the so-called newlanders, for they steal, as it were, German people under all manner of false pretenses, and deliver them into the hands of the great Dutch traffickers in human souls. These derive a large, and the newlanders a smaller profit from this traffic. This, I say, is the main cause why I publish this book.”
Certainly, not all emigrants choosing to venture to America met with the level of hardships that Gottlieb witnessed and documented. Probably his experience was worse than average. However, it is illuminating and sobering for us to consider some of the important eye witness observations he makes in his account. In an attempt to give a general overview of the details of a journey from the Rhineland to Philadelphia in the mid-1700’s some of the eye witness observations of Gottlieb Mittelberger are offered here before specific details of Paul’s journey in 1748 are presented.
Gottlieb began his journey in May 1750 from his home village of Enzweihingen which is on the Enz River, a tributary of the Neckar River which is a tributary of the Rhein. He was an educated and talented man. He was a schoolmaster (teacher) and musician (organist). In fact he transported an organ with him all the way from Heilbronn on the Neckar River to Philadelphia.
At the end of his journey in 1750 he became the schoolmaster and organist in New-Providence township of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania at the German ST. Augustine’s Church for almost four years before returning to his home village which is near Stuttgart, Germany. In effect he was on an extended business trip unlike the vast majority of his fellow passengers who were down-trodden peasants seeking a better life in Pennsylvania.
According to Rupp’s publication of ship lists previously cited, Gottlieb Mittelberger arrived in Philadelphia on the ship “Osgood” captained by William Wilkie on September 29, 1750. In his account Mittelberger states that the total elapsed time from beginning to end for his trip was 22 weeks. This included 7 weeks from his home to Rotterdam and 15 weeks from Rotterdam to Philadelphia. Following are excerpts from his book which, in its published translated English version, is over 100 pages in length:
“…the Rhine-boats from Heilbronn to Holland have to pass by 36 custom-houses, at all of which the ships are examined, which is done when it suits the convenience of the custom-house officials. In the meantime the ships with the people are detained long, so that the passengers have to spend much money. The trip down the Rhine alone lasts therefore 4, 5 and even 6 weeks.”
“When the ships with the people come to Holland, they are detained there likewise for 6 weeks. Because things are very dear (expensive) there, the poor people have to spend nearly all they have during that time. Not to mention many sad accidents which occur here; having seen with my own eyes how a man, as he was about to board the ship near Rotterdam, lost two children at once by drowning.”
“Both in Rotterdam and in Amsterdam the people are packed densely, like herrings so to say, in the large sea-vessels. One person receives a place of scarcely 2 feet width and 6 feet length in the bedstead, while many a ship carries four to six hundred souls; not to mention the innumerable implements, tools, provisions, water barrels and other things which like wise occupy much space.”
“On account of contrary winds it takes the ships sometimes 2, 3 and 4 weeks to make the trip from Holland to … England. But when the wind is good, they get there in 8 days or even sooner. Everything is examined there and the custom-duties paid, whence it comes that the ships ride there 8 to 14 days and even longer at anchor, till they have taken in their full cargoes. During that time every one is compelled to spend his last remaining money and to consume his little stock of provisions which had been reserved for the sea; so that most passengers, finding themselves on the ocean where they would be in greater need of them, must greatly suffer from hunger and want. Many suffer want already on the water between Holland and Old England.”
“When the ships have for the last time weighed their anchors near the city of Kaupp [Cowes] in Old England, the real misery begins with the long voyage. For from there the ships, unless they have good wind, must often sail 8, 9, 10 to 12 weeks before they reach Philadelphia. But even with the best wind the voyage lasts 7 weeks.”
“But during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably.”
“Add to this want of provisions, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, anxiety, want, afflictions and lamentations, together with other trouble, as . . . the lice abound so frightfully, especially on sick people, that they can be scraped off the body. The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for 2 or 3 nights and days, so that every one believes that the ship will go to the bottom with all human beings on board. In such a visitation the people cry and pray most piteously.”
“When in such a gale the sea rages and surges, so that the waves rise often like high mountains one above the other, and often tumble over the ship, so that one fears to go down with the ship; when the ship is constantly tossed from side to side by the storm and waves, so that no one can either walk, or sit, or lie, and the closely packed people in the berths are thereby tumbled over each other, both the sick and the well - it will be readily understood that many of these people, none of whom had been prepared for hardships, suffer so terribly from them that they do not survive it.”
“I myself had to pass through a severe illness at sea, and I best know how I felt at the time. These poor people often long for consolation, and I often entertained and comforted them with singing, praying and exhorting; and whenever it was possible and the winds and waves permitted it, I kept daily prayer-meetings with them on deck. Besides, I baptized five children in distress, because we had no ordained minister on board. I also held divine service every Sunday by reading sermons to the people; and when the dead were sunk in the water, I commended them and our souls to the mercy of God.”
“Among the healthy, impatience sometimes grows so great and cruel that one curses the other, or himself and the day of his birth, and sometimes come near killing each other. Misery and malice join each other, so that they cheat and rob one another. One always reproaches the other with having persuaded him to undertake the journey. Frequently children cry out against their parents, husbands against their wives and wives against their husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances against each other. But most against the soul-traffickers.”
“Many sigh and cry: "Oh, that I were at home again, and if I had to lie in my pig-sty!" Or they say: "O God, if I only had a piece of good bread, or a good fresh drop of water." Many people whimper, sigh and cry piteously for their homes; most of them get home-sick. Many hundred people necessarily die and perish in such misery, and must be cast into the sea, which drives their relatives, or those who persuaded them to undertake the journey, to such despair that it is almost impossible to pacify and console them.”
“No one can have an idea of the sufferings which women in confinement have to bear with their innocent children on board these ships. Few of this class escape with their lives; many a mother is cast into the water with her child as soon as she is dead. One day, just as we had a heavy gale, a woman in our ship, who was to give birth and could not give birth under the circumstances, was pushed through a loop-hole [port-hole] in the ship and dropped into the sea, because she was far in the rear of the ship and could not be brought forward.”
“Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage. I witnessed misery in no less than 32 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.”
“That most of the people get sick is not surprising, because, in addition to all other trials and hardships, warm food is served only three times a week, the rations being very poor and very little. Such meals can hardly be eaten, on account of being so unclean. The water which is served out on the ships is often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst. Toward the end we were compelled to eat the ship's biscuit which had been spoiled long ago; though in a whole biscuit there was scarcely a piece the size of a dollar that had not been full of red worms and spiders nests.”
“At length, when, after a long and tedious voyage, the ships come in sight of land, so that the promontories can be seen, which the people were so eager and anxious to see, all creep from below on deck to see the land from afar, and they weep for joy, and pray and sing, thanking and praising God. The sight of the land makes the people on board the ship, especially the sick and the half dead, alive again, so that their hearts leap within them; they shout and rejoice, and are content to bear their misery in patience, in the hope that they may soon reach the land in safety. But alas!”
“When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased, and are released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst, for the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first; and so the sick and wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive.”
“The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance, say 20, 30, or 40 hours away, and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.”
“Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; for if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that such parents and children, after leaving the ship, do not see each other again for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives.”
“It often happens that whole families, husband, wife, and children, are separated by being sold to different purchasers, especially when they have not paid any part of their passage money.”
Gottlieb Mittelberger’s account of his experiences certainly paints a bleak picture of the worst case scenario that a mid-18th century trip from the Rhineland to Philadelphia might entail. However, was this the type of experience which Johann Paul Jünger encountered on his journey on the ship “Two Brothers” which arrived safely in Philadelphia on September 15, 1748?
Paul Jünger and his fellow ship mates may have had a much less stressful voyage than the ordeal described by Mittelberger. Christopher Saur was the publisher of the “Pensylvanische Berichte” which he began in 1738 as the first successful German language newspaper in America originally under the title “Der Hoch-Deutsche Pensylvanische Geshicht-Schreiber.” Saur came to Germantown, near Philadelphia from Germany in 1724. The following short article appeared in the September 16, 1748 issue of Saur’s German newspaper (in the original German language, followed by my translation into English):
“Sieben Schiffe sind zu Rotterdam mit Deutschen Neukommern abgefahren, 3 sind davon in Philadelphia ankommen; das letzte kam zu erst, in 31 Tagen von Land zu Land; alle frisch und gesund, so viel man weiss. Sie sind auch menschlich gehalten worden. Die übrigen 4 Schiffe werden taglich erwartet.”
“Seven ships departed from Rotterdam with German newcomers, three of them have arrived in Philadelphia; the last came in first, in 31 days from shore to shore; everyone is fresh and healthy, as far as one knows. There are also people being held (for health, legal and financial clearance presumably). The remaining four ships are expected daily.”
Based on the published record of German immigrant ship arrivals in 1748 into Philadelphia the ships alluded to in this contemporary newspaper account are as follows:
Arrival Date Ship Name
September 5, 1748 Edinburgh
September 7, 1748 Hampshire
September 7, 1748 Mary
September 15, 1748 Two Brothers
September 15, 1748 Judith
September 16, 1748 Patience
October 25, 1748 Patience and Margaret
Since three ships arrived in the week prior to Paul Jünger’s arrival on the “Two Brothers”, these are the ships mentioned in Saur’s newspaper article as having already arrived. Three of the four remaining ships including Paul’s ship came into Philadelphia the next week at about the time Saur’s newspaper hit the streets on September 16, 1748.
Saur’s report probably was based on information provided by the captain or other officials on the first three ships that had already arrived. Perhaps he visited the ships himself as a reporter and spoke with some of the German passengers. At any rate, the 31 day period of travel time from England to Philadelphia is significantly shorter than the 7 to 12 week range Mittelberger suggests in his account cited above.
Furthermore, William Penn himself made the following statement about the time it would take to sail from England to his Province of Pennsylvania in his prospectus literature he distributed throughout Europe in the 1680s:
“The Passage is not to be set by any man; for Ships will be quicker and slower, some have been four months, and some but one and as often. Generally between six and nine weeks. One Year, of four and twenty Sayl, I think, there was not three above nine, and there was one or two under six weeks in the passage.
Based on Penn’s prospectus, it was indeed possible for a ship to sail from England to Philadelphia in only one month although this was the very least amount of time required based on his observation.
With all of these factors considered it seems fair to conclude that August to September of 1748 was a very favorable time for ships to sail across the Atlantic from England to Philadelphia. Perhaps this was because of favorable winds or currents. Maybe serious storms were absent during this period in the Atlantic Ocean. At any rate the potential hardships of such a long trip were proportionately reduced when the journey was relatively shorter in duration. In summary, Paul Jünger probably experienced a much less traumatic passage than many of his contemporary Germanic immigrants in the 18th century who came to Philadelphia from ports in England.
Copyright © 2009-2011 Samuel E. Yinger. All rights reserved.