Emigrant stories

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Emigrant Ship Conditions

SNIPPET: "I was called on deck to smell the land -- and truly the change was very sensible ... It was the breath of youth and hope and love." - Diary of Mary GAPPER.

Per an article in the August 1960 publication, "American Heritage" -- In 1819, the American Congress passed a law limiting the number of passengers in a ship to two to every five tons of the ship's weight. .... In the second decade of the 19th century, immigration began in real earnest. "They (immigrants) were commonly treated with the least possible attention, with the utmost disregard of decency and humanity," wrote Friedrich KAPP, a New York gentleman who several decades later served on a board set up for the aid and assistance of hapless immigrants. "With rare exceptions they were robbed and plundered from the day of their departure to the moment of their arrival at their new homes by almost everyone with whom they came in contact .... There seemed to be a secret league, a tacit conspiracy on the part of all parties dealing with immigrants to fleece and pluck them without mercy, and hand them from hand to hand as long as anything could be made of them ... If crosses and tombstones could be erected on the water ... the route of the emigrant vessels from Europe to America would long since have assumed the appearance of crowded cemeteries." Yet still they came.

Skilled craftsmen who brought tools with them had the best chance of making good; sturdy peasants could find work in factories, on farms, or as laborers building canals or railways, but the language barrier and the risks of being cheated were often too much for them. And of artists, scholars, and students, a great percentage ended tragically in hospitals and almshouses. Some immigrants were men of means, who could see no way to use these means to advantage in the "old country." One survey in 1856 in New York is said to have disclosed that the average immigrant possessed about $70, or more money than the average American. One German farmer admitted to possessing $25, but when assured that his money would not be taxed or taken away from him, he produced evidence of a bank account of $2,700. In addition to cash, many Germans took tools, jewelry, and other valuables with them.

For those who could afford to travel first class, an emigrant ship was not unpleasant.. One first-class passenger in the 1830's reported that the day was filled with "the noise of calling the stewards and drawing the corks," and he wondered at the excessive amount of food and liquior which "some individuals stowed under their belts." While subsequent first-class passengers might experience a comfortable crossing with plentiful food, in contrast, steerage passengers were crammed into rows of double-decker bunks and food was poor. Second-class passengers fared somewhat better.

The American ship 'Victoria,' making her maiden voyage in 1843, was described as having her chief cabin "lined with satin wood, in panels, banded with rose and zebra woods and American bird's-eye maple, and the ceiling white and gold. There is a centre table of choice white marble. The apartment is lit through ground glass; and one of the large panes bears a picturesque view of Windsor Castle, and at the opposite end is Buckingham Palace, surrounded by the rose, shamrock, and thistle. The decorator has not, however, lavished all his taste upon his apartment, for the berths are fitted en suite; the ceiling is in white and gold and the handles of the doors are of glass."

Ships with first-class accommodations carried cows, pigs, and chickens to provide milk, eggs, and fresh meat. The menu aboard the 'Victoria' included: Breakfast - black tea, green tea, coffee, biscuit, bread, hot rolls, cold mutton, ham, eggs, chocolate; Lunch - bread, cheese, cold tongue, port wine, liqueurs; Dinner - soup, fresh milk, beef, pork, veal, fowl, plum pudding, oranges, preserves, raisins, almonds, Spanish nuts, figs, prunes. There were wines and every other day, champagne. The 'Victoria' also carried a ship's orchestra for dancing and concerts. Ten or twelve was usually the maximum number of first-class passengers.

American ships, being lighter than most European ships, were at a disadvantage under the old 1819 law that allowed two passengers to every five tons of a ship's weight, and in 1847 Congress passed a law stipulating that each immigrant must have 14 sq. ft. of horizontal space; a law passed the following year decreed that if the ceiling was less than 6 ft. high, then there must be 16 sq. ft., and if less than 5 ft. high, 22 sq. ft. Each berth had to be six feet long and 18 inches wide, and lower berths had to be six inches off the floor. Families must be separated by latticed partitions that could be opened and closed. Under the passenger-tonnage ratio, passengers had had more space than this; and now shipowners everywhere hastened to downgrade their facilities. The Bremen ship 'Gallia,' for example, which under the passenger-tonnage ratio had carried 476 passengers, now was altered to carry 812: 18 in first class, 44 in second, and 750 in steerage. A child under eight was counted as half an adult (with half rations). Infants were not counted at all. Often the ship would be so crowded that the people, who had to provide their own mattresses and bedding, were obliged to sleep in the gangways. When even this space was filled, wooden shacks were thrown up on the top deck. Here the wind howled through the walls, rain and sea water leaked in, and sometimes the whole flimsy construction was broken to pieces by waves and swept overboard.

"Damned plague ships and swimming coffins," cried the New York "Journal of Commerce" in December, 1853, succinctly expressing general opinion. A Bremen sailing ship, the 'Anna,' had just arrived in Baltimore with an epidemic of cholera on board, 12 passengers having died at sea. Checked at quarantine, the 'Anna' was found to be carrying 40 passengers too many. There were other stories of sickness, food shortages and spoilage of provisions that had to be thrown overboard after two weeks, passengers living on "hard branny bread, prunes and watery soup." Fortunately, for the future reputation of Bremen as a good port from which to emigrate the ships of France and England were much worse. A German clergyman who booked second-class passage on the English ship, 'Indiana,' found that although he had been told by the agents in his native Baden-Wurtemberg that he would have an iron bed with comfortable bedding, fresh bread and meat daily, and a ration of wine, he found that he and his traveling companion were expected to share a wooden plank, a straw mattress, and one horse blanket. On the first day out there was fresh bread and meat; for the rest of the voyage there was herring and potatoes, weak coffee, and brackish water. The stairs were not lit, the sleeping quarters were filthy; there was space enough for only a quarter of the steerage passengers to eat at table, and the rest had to eat on deck - or, in bad weather, crouched in the gangways. There were 64 Germans aboard, and all agreed that they were treated like second-class citizens and that in the case of emergency it would be British first.

The English ships carrying Irish immigrants were probably most consistently horrifying. A Quebec newspaper report of 1847 said: "The 'Larch,' reported this morning from Sligo, sailed with 440 passengers, of whom 108 died on the passage and 150 were sick. The 'Virginius' sailed with 496; 158 died on the passage, 187 were sick and the remainder landed feeble and tottering; the captain, mates and crew were all sick. The Black Hole of Calcutta was a mercy, compared to the holds of these vessels. Yet simultaneously, as if in reproof of those on whom the blame of all this wretchednes must fall, Germans from Hamburg and Bremen are daily arriving, all healthful, robust and cheerful."

(Note here is made that the Quebec newspaper may have been referring to the London "Times" for 17 Sept 1847, which apparently gave the number of passengers of the "Virginius as 596. The sentence "Germans from Hamburg and Bremen are daily arriving ..." refers to their arrival in America, per Thomas Gallagher in his book "Paddy's Lament.")

("... It may be thought that the immolation of so many wretched starvelings was rather a benefit than a loss to the world. It may be so. Yet - untutored, degraded, famished and plague-stricken as they were; I assert that there was more true heroism, more faith, more forgiveness to their enemies, and submission to the Divine Will, exemplified in these victims, than could be found in ten times the number of their oppressors" -- Robert WHYTE, "The Ocean Plague, or, A Voyage to Quebec in an Irish Emigrant Vessel, Embracing a Quarantine at Grosse Isle in 1847, with notes Illustrative of the Ship Pestilence of that Fatal Year," Boston, 1848, copy in Library of Congress.)

A New York doctor, inspecting a ship from Liverpool at about the same time period, reported: "We passed through the steerage, making a more or less minute examination of the place and its inhabitants; but the indescribable filth, the emaciated, half-nude figures, many with the petechial erupture disfiguring their faces, crouching in the bunks or strewed over the decks, and cumbering the gangways; broken utensils and debris of food spread recklessly about, presented a picture of which neither pen nor pencil can convey a full idea. Some were just rising from their berths for the first time since leaving Liverpool, having been suffered to lie there all the voyage, wallowing in their own filth."

It was said that in every port that one could always tell an immigrant ship without inquiring what it carried: by its stink. Yet, even though by 1854 one out of every six passengers died or became dangerously ill at sea, there were still those who saw no reason for concern. An attorney general of Nova Scotia, opposing contemplated reforms, wrote: "The Irish emigrant, before he comes out, knows not what it is to lie on a bed; he has not been accustomed to a bed; if you put him in a bed and give him pork and flour, you make the man sick; but when a man gets no more than his breadth and length upon the deck of a ship, and he has no provisions but a few herrings, he comes out a hearty man; and he has no doctor."

In 1854, Congress ordered an inquiry into the "Sickness and Mortality on Board Emigrant Ships." The investigating committee, which was head by Hamilton FISH, reported that Bremen had the lowest percentage of ships arriving in North America with cases of cholera on board. The figures were: Bremen, 6 per cent; Le Havre, 12 per cent; Liverpool, 21 1/2 per cent; London, 25 per cent. One of the committee's recommendations was that food should be furnished and cooked by shipowners and not by the passengers, as was the case on board most English and French ships .... The Bremen ships, so celebrated for the general good condition of their passengers, adopt this course and find it to work admirably." The committee also investigated "shocking immoralities said to be paracticed on board of passenger ships," and they recommended that ships in the future be built with two hatchways, so that quarters for males and for females could be kept separate and still be properly ventilated. The committee recommended also that passenger compartments be well ventilated and regularly aired; that there be a law prohibiting the use of the orlop (lowest deck) for sleeping, since it could not be washed for fear of damaging the cargo stowed beneath, and since rats often swarmed up to this deck out of the hold. One privy for every 100 passengers was deemed inadquate; and separate privies for females were prescribed. "Shipowners should be made responsible to the extent of the passage money in the event of death during the passage."

(Per testimony of Mr. Delany FINCH, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on Emigrant Ships, 1854: "You have stated that, after getting to sea, the two privies on deck were destroyed?" "Yes.... they were only put up temporarily ... the day before she sailed ...." "And that there were none below?" "Yes. None below." "What was the remedy?" "There was no remedy...." "In consequence of that there was a very bad smell below?" "You could not stand below.")

The arrival of insane, helpless, or criminal immigrants was a great problem in American ports. In 1847, one town in Hessen-Darmstadt had even hit upon the scheme of emptying its prison and almshouse by paying the passage of every occupant to New York. In spite of the help of the New York German Society and other charitable organizations, most of these people spent the rest of their lives in New York workhouses. Finally, in 1854, the Bremen Senate passed a law barring such persons from emigrant shipa leaving its shores, and in 1882 the United States Congress passed another prohibiting undesirable immigrants from being received.

(Per author Thomas GALLAGHER, in his book "Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-47, Prelude to Hatred," (1982) - "Thousands (Irish in America ) with their achievements in every field, would finally put Paddy to rest as a British creation - the scapegoat upon whose head the blame for centuries of misgovernment was placed. Fashioned in 'Punch' and the London 'Times' as the ragamuffin who could not be trusted, ridiculed in the streets of Dublin, Liverpool, and London, and made the butt throughout England of music-hall jokes, he might be called the funny bone in the structure of this now waning British Empire. But whatever name he goes by now - Al Smith or John F. Kennedy- he will forever, with his battered high hat, ragged swallow-tailed coat, dangling knee breeches and bare feet, haunt not only Irish memory but also the halls and chambers of Westminster Palace, where Parliament tried for so long, without success, to do him in."


Diary of Brigade-General John GREEN

written by his great-great-nephew David MILLER

On November, 20, 1825, John GREEN at the age of six, along with his mother and father, three brothers, and one sister (my gr. Gr. grandmother) arrived in America aboard the 281 ton Brig “Alice” from Germany. In the rural community of Crawford County, Ohio, where the family made their new home, John spent his winters in the primitive school of that area and locally, giving his summers to work on his fathers farm. When he was 14 years old, it was decided that he should prepare himself for the independent activities of mature life. The occupation of carpenter was selected for him by his elders and it was soon evident that this wasn’t his life-work. After one month of his apprenticeship, he braved the jeers of his friends and returned to the paternal roof. Another two years passed, and he was sent to Columbus, Ohio to attempt the vocation of cabinet maker. Two weeks later he returned to his brother which was living in Columbus. The latter, exasperated at this apparent failure, told John he was a “good-for-nothing”, and that he expect no more help from him. Being on his own, John secured a job working in a store and worked there for four years.

In the winter of 1845-46 Congress had created a new regiment to be known as the Mounted Rifles and to proceed to the newly opened country in Oregon, where they were to engage in frontier work. It was on the first day of July in 1846 that a friend of John’s and John joined up. They spent a month in Columbus and then they were taken to Newport where they joined the waiting Major of the outfit. John was appointed Sergeant of the outfit dating back to his enlistment date. The new regiment was now diverted from the original plan because the Mexican War had broke out. From Newport, they went to Jefferson Barracks, MO and made ready to head for the Mexican Border. When General Scott and his staff had come aboard at New Orleans, they headed by river boat for Mexico. First to Brazos, Santiago, and then to Vera Cruz. They went with Gen. Scott to the city and Sergeant GREEN participated in the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras, Cherubusco and Chapultepec and at the siege of Mexico. John was made Sergeant Major of his regiment for recognition of bravery.. After the war, John was released from active duty in New Orleans and he returned to Columbus where he married his first wife. He must have not liked the calm life because about 4 years later he enlisted with the same outfit for five years, in San Antonio, Texas on the eighteenth day of September, 1852 as an Indian scout .At Ft. Ewell he was awarded Second Lieutenant in the Second Dragoons for attacking and re-capturing supplies and mules and horses at Eagle pass. In 1855 John went with his unit to Kansas where he remained until 1857 keeping the peace in that area. From there he marched in 1859 across the plains to Utah with the Sidney Johnson expedition. After some degree of success in suppressing the activities of Brigham Young, the lieutenant marched back to Ft. Laramie. He was then promoted to First Lieutenant of Company F of his regiment. From Ft. Laramie, Lieutenant GREEN was ordered in the autumn of 1861 to join the Army of the Potomac. On the way he was honored with the appointment of Captain of his Company. That was a long march, seven hundred miles in extent, which Companies “D” and “F” began in a snow storm, from Ft. Laramie and ending at Leavenworth. There they set sail under way to join the remainder of the regiment in Washington. Captain GREEN’s Company and the others of their regiment were then put on duty with the troops in command of the provost marshal general of the Army of the Potomac, being, therefore, close to headquarters through all the battles and retreats of the peninsular campaign. They returned with McClellan to Alexandria, after which Captain GREEN was ordered with his Squadron to join Franklin’s corps and to march to the field of the second battle of Bull Run. But Franklin did not reach the field. GREEN, with his squadron, then rejoined the remainder of their regiment and participated in the battle of South Mountain. Then they again joined McClellan, with whom they were engaged through the terrific fighting at Antietam. When Burnside took command, Captain GREEN’s Regiment was continued with the force of the provost marshal General and he was with that commander on the disastrous field of Fredericksburg. When Hooker took command, Captain GREEN was relieved of headquarter duty. Joining the regular brigade of cavalry under Stoneman. His next experience was that of the famous “Raid through Virginia”. When Meade assumed command, General Pleasanton took the place of Stoneman and Captain GREEN was appointed to his staff as acting Inspector General. He was with Pleasanton in his several cavalry battles immediately preceding Gettysburg. Thus Captain GREEN, in his carrying of orders and discharging of headquarter duty, was brought into the thickest of the fight. From Gettysburg he was ordered to rejoin his regiment: but his meeting General Stoneman on his first subsequent day in Washington resulted in him being ordered into the service of Inspector General of the dept. of Ohio, with orders to report to General Scofield in front of Atlanta. GREEN was in the siege of Atlanta and in the battles of Jonesboro and Lovejoy’s Station. A new Cavalry corps was at this time organized and named “The Cavalry Corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi”. Of this corps, GREEN was appointed Special Inspector. In that capacity GREEN participated in the battle of Nashville. On the completion of his duties in that engagement, a letter warmly commending Captain GREEN conduct and urging his promotion was written by General George H. Thomas. When GREEN left Nashville he also received special thanks from Lieutenant General Grant for his assistance in preparing the cavalry for that campaign. After the Modac War, General Grant sent Captain GREEN’s name to the Senate with the recommendation for promotion to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General; but the proposal for that well deserved honor was allowed to sleep in the committee-room. Upon the close of the War of the Rebellion, Captain GREEN, in 1865, joined his regiment at Ft. Ewell, Wyoming, after which he was for three years engaging in looking after the Indians of the plains. In 1868, he was made Major of the first Cavalry and proceeded to Arizona, where he whipped the White Mountain Apaches into good behavior. He remained in Arizona until the spring of 1872, during which time the reports of Generals Ort and Thomas, his superior officers, made frequent special mention and high commendation of the quality of his service. In the spring of 1872 Major GREEN and his regiment were ordered to Oregon and Washington Territory and was soon in the middle of the Modac War. He was first on the ground after the massacre of General Camby, finally capturing the Indians and securing peace. There are whole books on the Modac War with Major GREEN being the principal officer at the actual battles. He was to receive the Medal Of Honor later for this. He was stationed at different forts in Oregon, Washington and Boise,, Idaho. He took active part in the Nez Perces and the Bannock Indian Wars. It was on the first of July 1877 that Captain GREEN was first stationed at Boise Barracks. At that time he only stayed but 20 days, for he was called on to participate in the Bannock War. In November he returned to Boise, leaving in the spring to go to Walla Walla. Early in the year 1879 he commanded a camp in Washington territory, being located near Ellensburg. In November of that year he returned to Boise, but he left a second time in the following spring to take charge at Walla Walla. After another return and short stay at Boise he was for two years stationed at Jefferson Barracks, MO. November of 1882 saw Captain GREEN in Boise. In June 1884 he went with his Regiment to Ft. Maginnis, Montana and in December of 84 he was granted a leave of absence of 8 months, almost the first since his enlistment. The Captain spent his leave in the east and midwest and the following June he received the well -deserved promotion of an appointment to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Cavalry. He was ordered to join that body at Boise Barracks. He arrived on the 28th day of July, 1885, and this remained his permanent post .For the greater part of the time since 1877, Colonel GREEN has therefore been the commandant at Boise Barracks, where he has been a favorite alike with the soldier and citizen. In 1889, Lieutenant Colonel John GREEN of the 2nd United States Cavalry, having reached the age designated by law, passed from active service after having honored it for a period of Forty-five years. In response to orders he reported to Columbus, Ohio, his place of enlistment in 1846, and was mustered out of active service. He spent time with his family in Crawford and Williams Co. and spent a few years in Germany before returning to Boise. It was on the 22nd of November, in 1908 that his life came suddenly to an end. He had only been sick a few days. He was only 5 ft. 7 and ½ in. tall but to everybody in Boise he was a giant. Burial was on August 25, 1909 in the Morris Hill Cemetery in the family mausoleum. His 2nd wife, Mary died on June 8th, 1929 in Oakland, CA and is in the same tomb with John.

Article by David Miller. John was my great great Uncle.

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