|"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.
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,
10 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
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. 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 half-way 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 21 years old.
When one has served his or her term, he or she is entitled to a new suit of clothes at parting; and if it
has been so stipulated, a man gets in addition a horse, a woman, a cow.
When a serf has an opportunity to marry in this country, he or she must pay for each year which he
or she would have yet to serve, 5 to 6 pounds. But many a one who has thus purchased and paid for
his bride, has subsequently repented his bargain, so that he would gladly have returned his
exorbitantly dear ware, and lost the money besides. If some one in this country runs away from his
master, who has treated him harshly, he cannot get far. Good provision has been made for such
cases, so that a runaway is soon recovered. He who detains or returns a deserter receives a good
reward. If such a runaway has been away from his master one day, he must serve for it as a
punishment a week, for a week a month, and for a month half a year."
|Gottlieb Mittelberger, On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants:
|One type of indentured servitude has a lengthy history beginning with the early Germanic tribes.
Although slavery was not a natural institution, it did occur. However, even slavery was usually
turned into serfdom. Unlike the Romans, the slaves of ancient Germans had separate households and
paid their masters with corn, cattle or clothes. This system evolved into one with numerous classes
of serfs. Under Bavarian law of the 7th century, serfs settled on the church estates had to work three
days in the week for their masters and were subject to varying rents and payments. Serfdom in
German lands was not unlike that in the rest of Europe in medieval times. The evolution of serfdom
in Germany was also effected by external factors.
As colonization accelerated in the eastern provinces, defensive struggles against the marauding Slavs
ensured a stronger more powerful concentration of aristocrats and demanded more rigorous
treatment of serfs. In complete serfdom, one's very body belonged to his lord (Leibeigenschaft) while
other serfs were only bound to perform certain duties and were not further oppressed by the
landowners on whose soil they were settled. Social evolution brought about emancipation, chiefly by
governmental measures, for example through reforms in Prussia. Personal serfdom (Leibeigenschaft)
was abolished first, hereditary subjection (Erbunterthanigkeit) followed next.
In the 18th century Leibeigenschaft, or personal servitude, took on a slightly different meaning, but
was still the legal status of up to 10 percent of the population in southwestern Germany. Although
not a slave and able to work his own land, the subject still had financial obligations, usually in the
form of an annual recognition fee. In this system, the restrictions of marriage stirred up the most
displeasure and were an important cause for the farmer wars. Few Leibeigene had enough money to
buy their freedom, and in order to relocate, one had to purchase the right.
Under the Leibeigenschaft, which was inherited only through the mother, women paid more than
men for their freedom. Anyone wishing to emigrate would have to not only pay a fee called a
manumission and a percentage of the value of their property for their Ledigzehlung, or release from
servitude, they had to also fork out a local emigration tax, all of which could end up consuming half
of an emigrant's assets. Therefore, many saved themselves the money and left secretly.
|John Peter Zenger was only thirteen when his family made the harsh journey to America in 1710.
His father died enroute and John was signed as an indentured apprentice to New York's only printer,
William Bradford, with whom he entered into a partnership with in 1725. Zenger, a modest printer of
mainly religious tracts, was approached by lawyer Andrew Hamilton and Bradford to start a weekly
newspaper to be called the New York Weekly Journal with the intent to expose New York Governor
William Cosby as an incompetent and corrupt fraud.
After the Journal editorialized about the Governor's unpopular activities, Cosby decided to have the
paper silenced by charging seditious libel and libel. He ordered Zenger's paper burned, and his
Justices issued a bench warrant for Zenger's arrest. On November 17, 1734, Zenger was arrested and
jailed under brutal conditions for eight months.
The unreasonably huge bail set for Zenger combined with his many "letters" from prison resulted in
an outpouring of public sympathy for his cause. Added this to the fact, while her husband was in jail,
Zenger's wife Anna, although busy with their six young children, managed to keep the New York
Weekly Journal publishing, missing only one issue, building broad public support for Zenger's cause.
On August 5, 1735, Andrew Hamilton had to convince twelve New York jurors to ignore the
instructions of Governor Cosby's hand-picked judges and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty" on the
charge of publishing "seditious libels." Cosby further tried tampering with the jury but failed.
Hamilton argued the defense brilliantly and the jury deliberated just a short time before returning with
a "not guilty" verdict . Shouts of joy rang from the crowd of spectators.Although the Zenger trial did
not establish new law with respect to seditious libel, it gave birth to a free and open press in America
and within a half-century members of the First Congress debated the proposed Bill of Rights. Not all
indentured servants had so glorious a life as Zenger, however.
The Dutch Ship owners, growing wealthy from this large emigration, did all they could to keep it up.
They sent "Newlanders", people who had been in the "New Land", to travel through the Palatinate
luring the people under all kinds of false pretenses to leave their homes. They promised free
transportation, money and clothing for the journey. The profit was greatest with the poor, for by not
paying in advance for their transportation, they were charged so much in America after landing that
they were compelled to work it off.
After the contract was signed, the victims were brought on the ship and stowed away in crowded,
miserable steerage. Eventually, many letters of emigrants and pamphlets came to Germany
describing the suffering both during their journeys and after arrival in the New World. Gottlieb
Mittelberger, a teacher, published a report of his experiences. Mittelberger came to Pennsylvania
from Germany in 1750. He served as a schoolmaster and organist in Philadelphia for three years and
returned to Germany in 1754.