1750 Account by Gottlieb Mittelberger,
from the book "Pennsylvania German Pioneers" by Strassburger-Hinke.
Comments by Jim Hartsell are in italics.
The journey to America fell into three parts. The first part, and by no means the easiest, was the journey down the Rhine to Rotterdam or some other port. Gottlieb Mittelberger in his "Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750", writes:
This journey lasts from the beginning of May to the end of October, fully half a year, amid such hardships as no one is able to describe adequately with their misery. The cause is because the Rhine boats from Heilbronn to Holland have to pass by 26 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 lasts therefore four, five and even six weeks. When the ships come to Holland, they are detained there likewise five to six weeks. Because things are very dear there, the poor people have to spend nearly all they have during that time".
The second stage of the journey was from Rotterdam to one of the English ports. Most of the ships called at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight (remember these are the old sailing ships). Here there was another delay of one to two weeks, when the ships were waiting either to be passed through the custom house or waiting for favorable winds. When the ships had for the last time weighed their anchors at Cowes or some other port in England, then, writes Mittelberger: "The real misery begain with the long voyage. For from there the ships, unless they have good wind, must often sail eight, nine, ten to twelve weeks before they reach Philadelphia. But even with the best wind the voyage lasts seven weeks".
The third stage of the journey, or the ocean voyage proper, was marked by much suffering and hardship. The passengers being packed densely, like herrings, as Mittelberger describes it, without proper food and water, were soon subject to all sorts of diseases, such as dysentery, scurvy, typhoid and smallpox. Children were the first to be attacked and died in large numbers. Mittelberger reports the deaths of thirty-two children on his ship alone. Of the heartless cruelty practiced he gives the following example: "One day, just as we had a heavy gale, a woman in our ship, who was to give birth and could not under the circumstances of the storm, was pushed through the porthole and dropped into the sea, because she was far in the rear of the ship and could not be brought forward".
The terrors of disease, brought about to a large extent by poor food and lack of good drinking water, were much aggravated by frequent storms through which ships and passengers had to pass. "The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for two or three 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 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".
When at last the Delaware river was reached and the city of brotherly love hove in sight, where all their miseries were to end, another delay occurred. A health officer visited the ship and, if any persons with infectious diseases were discovered on the ship, it was ordered to remove one mile from the city.
A vivid account of the arrival of these passenger ships in the harbor of Philadelphia, is given by the Rev. Henry M. Muehlenberg, in a report, which he prepared in 1769. He writes:
"After much delay, one ship after another arrives in the harbor of Philadelphia, when the rough and severe winter is before the door. One or more merchants receive the lists of the freights and the agreement which the emigrants have signed with their own hand in Holland, together with the bills for their travel down the Rhine and the advances of the 'newlanders' for provisions, which they received on the ships on account. Formerly the freight for a single person was $27.00 to $45.00, but now it amounts to $65.00 to $75.00 (remember purchasing power was much greater at that time). Before the ship is allowed to cast anchor at the harbor front, the passengers are all examined, according to the law in force, by a physician, as to whether any contagious disease exists among them. Then the new arrivals are led in procession to the city hall and there they must render the Oath of Allegiance to the King of Great Britian. After that they are brought back to the ship. Then the announcements are printed in the newspapers, stating how many of the new arrivals are to be sold. Those who have money (to pay for the trip) are released. Whoever has well-to-do friends seeks a loan from them to pay the passage, but there are only a few who succeed. The ship becomes the market-place. The buyers make their choice among the arrivals and bargain with them for a certain number of years and days (they become indentured servants for a period of time). They then take them to the merchant, pay their passage and their other debts and receive from the government authorities a written document, which makes the newcomers their property for a definite period."
But, in spite of all difficulties and hardships, new settlers continued to come. The wonder is not that so many succumbed, but that so many faced all hardships uncomplainingly and after a few years of service emerged from all difficulties as successful farmers.