Monday, October 14, 2019

18th century immigrant ships - provisions, hardships, indentured servant process

In October, 1750 Gottlieb Mittelberger arrived at Philadelphia (1st image 1761) after a grueling 5 month voyage which involved drinking black water full of worms and ship's biscuits "full of red worms and spiders' nests."  The harsh conditions on the overcrowded ships resulted in illness, death and for many families, being sold separately as indentured servants, possibly never to see each other again.

Mittelberger (1714-1758) wrote a rare first hand account - over 30 pages - detailing the immigration of German/Swiss in the 1700s.  He traveled onboard the sailing ship 'Osgood' with an new organ to be the “organist and schoolmaster with the German St. Augustine's Church in New Providence," Philadelphia. He had lost his job in the Duchy of Wurttemberg in the Holy Roman Empire (now Germany) and would live in colonial America for four years. Upon his return, he wrote a book, with the purpose to warn Germans of the hardships of emigration.

The typical itinerary for German and Swiss emigres during the 1700s was Rotterdam (now in Holland) to Cowes (England) to Philadelphia. It took up to 6 weeks from lower Germany to travel on the Rhine River to Rotterdam because the ships were stopped at 36 custom houses.  The passengers also had to wait around in Rotterdam and Cowes, thus using up money and supplies desperately needed for their ocean voyage.

The "people are packed densely, like herrings so to say" with some large ships holding "four to six hundred souls; not to mention the innumerable implements, tools, provisions, water-barrels..." 

Philadelphia 1761

Water, stored in wooden casks, was "very bad and foul" ... "often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst...Great hunger and thirst force us to eat and drink everything; but many a one does so at the risk of his life. The sea-water cannot be drunk, because it is salt and bitter as gall."

Rations were "very poor and very little."  The passengers were given warm food only three times a week (except during storms) and it was "so unclean."  They ate "old and sharply salted food and meat."

Ship's biscuits (hardtack), near the end of the voyage, were eaten 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."

Poultry, pigs, sheep and fish were described in his return voyage.  After a severe storm the "poultry on board the ship was mostly found dead, the pigs and sheep were sick…"

To sail from Cowes (southern England) to Philadelphia it could take 7 to 12 weeks, and Mittelberger listed some of the horrific conditions and illnesses: "terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and the like..."

Many died, although the official tally upon arrival stated only the number of men over sixteen who died, women (particularly late pregnancies) and children also died.  "Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage… no less than 32 children [died] in our ship."  After a four month voyage ending in Oct, 1727 seven men out of forty two (14%) died and ten were very sick on the 'Friendship,' the ship with my Swiss ancestor Peter Bicksler (Bixler).

"Sale of human beings" (indentured servants). The sea travel from Rotterdam to Philadelphia cost 10 pounds or 60 florins in 1750.  Children 5 to 10 were half price and under 5 were free.  If a spouse died more than half way through, the other would have to serve both terms (ie each 3-6 years).  Families were usually separated, with children under 5 given away to work until they turned 21.  Children over 5 were bought to pay their passage, and they too worked until they were 21. Since the indentured servants didn't know the various new owners who could live 40 hours away, the family may never have been reunited.

Rotterdam

Excerpts for the book - entire book HERE

Travel to Rotterdam
"From home to Rotterdam, including my sojourn there, I spent 7 weeks, caused by the many stoppages down the Rhine and in Holland...The cause is because 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 5 or 6 weeks. Because things are very dear there, the poor people ... 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.

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 likewise occupy much space. 

Onboard ship
"For from there [Cowes, England] 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.

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.

O surely, one would often give much money at sea for a piece of good bread, or a drink of good water, not to say a drink of good wine, if it were only to be had. I myself experienced that sufficiently, I am sorry to say. 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. Great hunger and thirst force us to eat and drink everything; but many a one does so at the risk of his life. The sea-water cannot be drunk, because it is salt and bitter as gall.

Hardships
Add to this want of provisions, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, anxiety, want, afflictions and lamentations, together with other trouble, as c. v. 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.

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…Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage… no less than 32 children [died] in our ship.

Costs
A person over 10 years pays for the passage from Rotterdam to Philadelphia 10 pounds, or 60 florins. Children from 5 to 10 years pay half price, 5 pounds or 30 florins. All children under 5 years are free. For these prices the passengers are conveyed to Philadelphia, and, as long as they are at sea, provided with food, though with very poor, as has been shown above. But this is only the sea-passage; the other costs on land, from home to Rotterdam, including the passage on the Rhine, are at least 40 florins, no matter how economically one may live…many passengers have spent 200 florins from home to Philadelphia. 

Philadelphia 1768

Signing the Oath
As soon as the ships that bring passengers from Europe have cast their anchors in the port of Philadelphia, all male persons of 15 [16] years and upward are placed on the following morning into a boat and led two by two to the court-house or town-hall of the city. There they must take the oath of allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain. This being done, they are taken in the same manner back to the ships. Then the traffic in human souls begins…

Buying humans - indentured servitude
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. 

When people arrive who cannot make themselves free, but have children under 5 years, the parents can not free themselves by them; for such children [under 5] must be given to somebody without compensation to be brought up, and they must serve for their bringing up till they are 21 years old. Children from 5 to 10 years, who pay half price for their passage, viz. 30 florins, must likewise serve for it till they are 21 years of age; they cannot, therefore, redeem their parents by taking the debt of the latter upon themselves. But children above 10 years can take part of their parents’ debt upon themselves.  

 … When a husband or wife has died at sea, when the ship has made more than half of her trip, the survivor must pay or serve not only for himself or herself, but also for the deceased. When both parents have died over halfway at sea, their children, especially when they are young and have nothing to pawn or to pay, must stand for their own and their parents' passage, and serve till they are twenty-one years old.

Limit bad news about voyages
Such cases of entirely lost and shipwrecked vessels are not reported to Germany, for fear that it might deter the people from emigrating and induce them to stay at home.

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.

Return trip
on my way home, when the sea was calm and there was no wind, I saw fish without number and of various kinds and sizes. Among these are especially to be noted the large schorks (sharks) or maneaters, of which often whole hosts were floating on the surface of the sea. …In 1750, while I was on my way to America, a large shark was caught and taken on board another ship by means of a hook, to which a piece of meat had been attached

The fish which we caught were always fresh and welcome food for us at sea; they were of diverse beautiful colors, some sky-blue with yellow stars, some gold color with red stars, and others white with blue stars. These fish were usually 4, 5, and even 6 feet long.

the ship rocked and rolled so violently that it was impossible to cook a meal or to take any comfort. The poultry on board the ship was mostly found dead, the pigs and sheep were sick…
 
Gottlieb Mittelberger's journey to Pennsylvania in the year 1750 and return to Germany in the year 1754, containing not only a description of the country according to its present condition, but also a detailed account of the sad and unfortunate circumstances of most of the Germans that have emigrated, or are emigrating to that country 1756 Phila:1898 HERE

Images 
Rotterdam in the Netherlands by Joan Blaeu, 1649
The East Prospect of the City of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pennsylvania from London Magazine, 1761
An east prospect of the city of Philadelphia; taken by George Heap 1768  LC 

©2019 Patricia Bixler Reber
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