Immigrant's Voyage

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IMMIGRANT'S VOYAGE, GERMANY TO ILLINOIS, 1851

 

Thousands of Irish and German immigrants entered Illinois every year in the late 1840s and the early 1850s repelled by economic and political conditions in their homelands and attracted by the promise of America.

The trip itself was difficult - by sail across the Atlantic to New Orleans and by steamer up the Mississippi to St. Louis. The following account from a letter of Harbert J. Keiser to a friend in Germany is dated March 6, 1852, from Red Prairie and describes a transatlantic voyage of 52 days and a 16-day trip from New Orleans to his ultimate destination.

"We thank God, and we are glad that we are here, here in the country of love and of peace, of freedom and abundance. We wish this high happiness to all our brothers longing in body and spirit in East-Freiseland, who are alarmed about their livelihood in the future.

"Our ship was riding at anchor at the river Weser, perhaps half an hour distant from Bremerhaven, until Sept. 8, 1851, in the forenoon at 10:30. Then it sailed in a strong and not very favorable wind into the ocean. Almost everybody was immediately seasick, and vomiting, similar to drunkenness. They usually laugh, however, because they know that it doesn't mean very much and will soon be over.

"In the evening the helmsman announced that the ship was leaking and had 8 feet of water in the hull. This was an inexplicable matter in the case of a new ship. All able men were called on deck, and ten men had alternately and unceasingly to pump water with four pumps. Six feet of water remained in the ship. At daybreak, a leak was found in the oblique lead tubes of the toilets into which the stupid new cooks had thrown bones, and since they had been blocked, pounded them with large iron bars and so caused the leak. The leak was immediately repaired, the ship was pumped out, and seasickness faded away.

"The ship sailed as quickly as an arrow through the channel and so near passed England's coast that we could clearly see the houses in the streets illuminated with gas light. Everybody was in good health again and gay and cheerful. On the 13th we saw still to the right the chalky hills of England and to the left the city of Calais in France.

"Always quickly forward. On the 15th we passed a passenger ship which had left the harbor eight days ahead of us: From the 15th to the 19th there was a very strong wind in the Spanish sea so that we all, except my wife, again took seasick for a day. A bride from the village Giften near Hildesheim gave birth to a son on the 19th.

"We sailed quickly forward, so that we, on the 22nd, had already covered half of our trip. Our captain avoided the trade wind, and he hoped to complete the whole trip in about 30 days. But it did not go that way. On the first of October there came a calm which lasted for nine days, so that we did not sail forward but came backward daily about two English miles. The whole surface of the ocean looked like a sheet of glass, so quiet and still. We now had beautiful, very hot weather so that everybody went barefoot and sweated day and night, dressed only in a shirt.

"On the 10th the wind increased, and we encountered a ship with the name of ‘Phoenix’ from Bremen which wanted to sail from Peru to Baltimore. It hoisted the emergency flag, whereupon we put alongside. It had been on the way for 160 days and the food was gone. Our ship provided it to them gratuitously. On the 11th one child died, 24 weeks old, born in Stuttgart, in Wuerttemberg. Later, on the 17th, another died, 17 weeks old, born in Hessencassel. Upon request of our captain, I delivered the funeral oration while the corpses were being dropped into the ocean.

"On the 14th of October we saw the island of Puerto Rico through the telescope, far away. On the 16th we saw to the left the island of Santo Domingo with its high mountains which towered over the clouds and on the 17th to our right the island of Cuba.

"We sailed from Cuba's eastern tip, passed by Cuba and through the Gulf of Mexico ten days until the evening of the 26th, when we arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi. Here, a thunderstorm moved up from the west. The captain, who hoped to be able to stay near the coast during the storm, let the ship sail at night very quickly under full sails 30 German miles back again into the gulf, and we had to sail until the morning of the 28th before we again reached the mouth of the Mississippi.

"Now we saw the continent of North America, far in front of us, and we all were very glad that we had made the trip without real discomfort. A steamer came immediately and towed us over the breakers into the river, where we lay at the banks the whole day because the steamer towed three other ships. In the evening, the steamer towed four large three-masters and sailed with them to New Orleans where we arrived on the evening of the 29th at four o'clock under great jubilation and set foot on the long-yearned-for land with profound feelings of thanks and praise.

". . . On the evening of November 1st we sailed with the steamer Glenco and captain Lee to St. Louis where we arrived on Sunday morning, the 9th of November. The farther to the North we came, the colder and colder it became, so that we really suffered from it. In St. Louis the ground was already covered with snow. The quick change of the weather, the drinking of the Mississippi water, and the poor room which we had on the steamer, beginning from New Orleans, had affected our health very disadvantageously, so that we all arrived unwell. On Thursday, the 14th, to our great joy, your father and your brother Harbert came with two wagons and took us to Red Prairie where we found the friendliest reception. . . "

 

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