The emigration of George Sham

by Kimp 6. December 2014 12:49

This is the story of the emigration of George Sham, my Great-Great Grandfather on my mother’s side, who emigrated from Bavaria (present day Germany) to the United States in 1850.

Background behind German emigration in the 1850’s

In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire consisted of what is known today as Germany, Belgium, Luxumbourg, Austria, a small part of the Netherlands and a very small part of France. In that same year, Napoleon defeated the Holly Roman Empire and it was dissolved

In 1812 Russia defeated Napoleon, restoring Austria and Prussia (which was not part of the Holy Roman Empire) as the most powerful countries in Europe.  In 1815 the Congress of Vienna (Austria) reunited all of the Holy Roman Empire as the Confederation of Germany.  A loose confederation of 39 separate German speaking states. In reality this was an effort by Austria to create a buffer zone between the two world powers of Austria and Prussia

Over time this confederation failed due to two factors:

It was weak and lobbying between confederation states lacked the ability to effectively compromise. Therefor no common ground was ever found.

The German speaking population longed for one country, consolidating all 39 states of the Confederation with Austria and Prussia.

The 1830’s and 40’s saw a transition period in Europe. From agriculture to an industrialized mindset  tha moved towards a market based Economy. A change that brought error prone and debit expensive problems which were difficult to solve. Government tried to help, but had to levy heavy taxes to do so.

The years of 1845 and 1846 were very poor harvest years, stemming from all of the changes, combined with a potato blight in 1845 and a hot and dry summer in 1846.

Areas of Europe were under famine conditions, causing food prices to rise drastically. German’s had lost all of their cheap staple foods and were struggling to feed their families. These problems set of a recession. Tensions rose and food riots broke out, as people demanded that food items be sold under market value.

By 1848 the food problems were starting to work themselves out, however by this time, financial institutions were in serious trouble. In February of 1848, people in Paris started to revolt demanding a government that could straighten out the financial problems. This alerted the rest of Europe that the financing industry was in serious trouble, which started a run on the bank in Germany.

In March of 1848, universities throughout Germany and Austria followed suit with Paris and started demonstrating, demanding drastic changes in government as well.

Contrast that with America during the 1840’s.  Harvests were great. American’s were eating three hearty meals each day, with surpluses in grain and other food staples that were exported to Europe at a big profit. California and Texas were added as states while America expanded westward.  Land was plentiful and cheap.  Humanitarian efforts had started to take hold as Americans were debating abolition of slavery and equal rights for women. Gold was discovered in California. Many Europeans, started looking towards America as a way out of their troubles.

During the mid-1800’s, the dream of many German’s, was to own good farmland, which could be used to provide for themselves, eliminating dependency on anyone else. They thought that, by caring for and maintaining their land, they were in effect, protecting their family. The apex of that dream, was to pass it down, thereby protecting all future families who resided there as well. 

They would never find that in Germany. It was heavily populated, farm land in many areas was scarce, and land was very expensive.

America provided a means for chasing the German dream.

George Sham’s emigration story (restructured, rephrased and slightly enhanced, but based on a letter George sent back to his German brother-in-law in 1850, after he emigrated)

A few years ago, I had sent my son George and daughter Elizabeth to Dover Ohio in America to live with relatives, in the hope that they would have a better quality of life then we were seeing in current day Bavaria.

Dover is in Tuscarawas County, which is mostly home to ethnic German’s. The first non natives in Tuscarawas County were German Moravian missionaries whose mission was to Christianize the local native population.  Tuscarawas County has good fertile farmland, prompting German American’s in the early 1800’s, to start migrating there, in large numbers, from Pennsylvania. These factors would eventually attract future German immigrants as well.

In 1825 when the Tuscarawas River was incorporated with the Ohio Canal system (connecting the Ohio River with Lake Erie and the Erie canal),  a tolling station was set up in Dover.  Thus all boats were required to stop in Dover, making it an important port.

I had decided it was time for the rest of my family to pull up roots and reunite with our children in America. Early in 1850, I started to sell all of my worldly possessions and commenced planning for the transition.  With everything sold, in April of 1850, I purchased enough food to sustain us for our expected 45 day journey, consisting of  bags of dried peas, dried meat, white flour, lentils (beans) and groats (whole grains with bran included). I paid the Germany Departure Tax in full, which was 15% of my current net worth, and we departed.

We boarded a train for Bingen Germany, where I purchased a ticket for a boat ride up the Rhein river to the coastal town of Rotterdam, Netherlands.  That boat trip was an easy, one and a half day journey, in which our food was included.  I was thankful that God was making this an easy experience for all of us.

In Rotterdam, I purchased a ticket to the port of Le Harve, France where trans-Atlantic ships enter and depart. We departed Rotterdam very early in the morning, reaching the North Sea by mid day. In the North Sea we meet a storm that tossed and threw the ship about.  So much so, that everyone onboard was overcome with seasickness.

Two hours later, we had reached the English Channel, the storm had subsided and I was thanking the Lord for the kindness he was bestowing upon us, by letting the seas return to pleasant conditions. It had taken about a day for this leg of our journey and food rations were looking good, as nobody had consumed any, up to this point.

In Le Harve, I purchased tickets for the first sailing vessel that was headed to New York.  We staying in Le Harve and enjoyed the Spring, as the ship was not departing for 4 days time. After a pleasant 4 days in Le Harve, we boarded a well built sailing vessel that stood 6 meters (18 feet) above the water.  The ships manifest was showing 308 personnel in all. I was in great company, as 200 were from Bavaria like me, another 20 from Southern Germany, and most of the rest were from Baden (now South Western Germany).

The first day was clear sailing and I continued thanking the lord for his generosity in starting this long journey in such a pleasant manner.  Coffee was included in the fee for the tickets and always made for the entire ship.

Starting on the second day and for the remainder of the transatlantic trip we were in heavy seas that were similar to the North Sea with intermittent storms. Where ever a storm or disagreeable situation arose, everyone was wishing himself back in his old German home, and we would have been completely satisfied with that.  For the first 8 days we didn’t eat much at all. Seventeen days in, we hit a storm that lasted for 20 hours, but God was kind enough, to at least, keep us moving forward the whole time.

The day we were to arrive in New York, which was the 25th day of our transatlantic journey we hit a fierce 18 hour storm. The whole time, water was pouring in overboard and the ship was tossing so hard that we had to tie the chests fast to the ship, to keep them from being piled together.

Thoroughly exhausted, we reached New York harbor and dropped anchor outside of New York Harbor, as no sailing vessels are allowed inside of the Harbor. After which we waited for an American doctor to board the vessel and inspect everybody’s health. 

The doctor arrived the next day and I praised the lord that nobody was sick.  I didn’t even need to inventory the food rations, as we didn’t eat much meat on the whole trip and there were about 11 whole days during the journey that we didn’t eat much at all.

Two days later we transferred to a steamboat which took us to land in New York City within 30 minutes.

After going through customs I contracted for the remainder of my trip to Port Washington (near Dover), Ohio for $8.63 ($260 in 2014) apiece. The first leg was by steamboat, leaving New York City that evening and arriving in Albany, New York the next morning where we boarded a train to Buffalo, New York, arriving in Buffalo after two days on the train.  In Buffalo, we boarded another steam ship which took us across Lake Erie to Cleveland, Ohio.  In Cleveland we boarded a canal boat to get us to our final destination of Port Washington, Ohio.

Canal boats are very slow. They’re pulled by a man walking a mule, and often have to go through canal lock’s, which is time consuming.  I quickly discovered that I could walk from one canal stop to another faster than the boat could go.  This gave me plenty of time to observe the parts of Ohio that I was traversing.

Ohio is not attractive and one doesn’t see more California Gold here, then one see’s in Germany. As much as I’ve seen of the state of Ohio it is not wooded as in Germany. The trees are as high but not trimmed at all.  However, there are good springs everywhere. Their cattle always runs out (is always in a fenced in area next to the barn). Horses are always stored in the field. When anyone hitches up, he goes to the field to get the horses and when he unhitches, he returns them back to the field.

When we were about 11 miles from Dover Ohio, where my son George and Daughter Elizabeth are staying, I went ahead of the canal boat on foot, and had enough time to look up George.

George was very happy to see me. He and I and one of his friends named Ritz went to the canal dock to wait on the boat to arrive.

George said he was very content in Dover. He is living and apprenticing with a shoemaker. In two years time he will receive about $50 ($1500 in 2014). Shoemakers receive 50 cents ($15 in 2014) for a pair of shoes and from 75 cents to $2  ($22 to $60 in 2014) for a pair of boots depending on the quality.

I offered George the opportunity to stay with me and work on our farm once I got settled. But George said that he doesn’t want to farm, and he thinks that he can get along better choosing his own path.

When the canal boar arrived, we all boarded together, for the remainder of the journey to Port Washington.

We reached Port Washington on day break of the 45th day of our journey from Germany.  

George and Ritz went ahead to arrange conveyances while we unloaded all of our baggage onto the dock. A while later, Hans of Baumholder, George Miller of Marnbegel,  P. Goette, and H. Tschug came to the dock welcoming us joyfully.

I stayed with Hans for the next ten days while I looked for land to purchase.

In America the people live thus: morning, noon and evening; cheese, butter, white bread, fried  meat, cucumber salad, red beets, dried peaches (these are better than the plums in Germany), and still more!!! These are all served on the table together. They all live alike.

I found a good stretch of farm land for sale, containing 52 acres, about 2 miles from Port Washington. Forty acres of cleared land and the rest is forest. There are large horse runs (fenced in land for horses).

Oaks, Chestnuts and Sugar Maples as high as Oaks are in the forest. In a field which was cleared in 1849 to 1850, 200 oak trees are still standing, and so many are lying about that it will be difficult to get rid of them. I will not need to cut anymore wood for a long, long time.

It comes with crops, stock and equipment.

There are 16 acres of wheat, 8 acres of field corn (one of which is the kind grown in Germany but taller).  Also pumpkins, potatoes, and lots of beans.  

There is no meadow land, but a large place for a meadow where I will be able to make 10 to 12 wagon loads of hay in two years.

 A small brook which runs through all the year (always has flowing water), crosses the farm, and the land is moist.

There is a young orchard with 70 grafted apple trees, peach, plum and sour cherry as well. There will be apples in 3 to 4 years, but some already bear and I already have peaches, plums and cherries.

Two houses well built of hewn (felled and roughly shaped) logs.  The one that I will live in is 20 by 18 ft (7 by 6 m), one and one half stories high, well boarded below and above and well roofed.  The former father-in-law lived there and the son-in-law occupied the other. Stoves are not in use among the Americans and I have none. The fireplace is built of stone into the gable as is done in Germany, in a smithy (by a handyman). My house is surrounded by a yard, enclosed by a picket fence.

Near each house is a garden surrounded by a picket fence and planted with every kind of vegetable there is in Germany and a lot besides not familiar to me. The man selling the property was not able to name them to us (he only knows the English names.)

Furniture includes two bedsteads, one table, six chairs, one clock, one kettle, and fifteen casks for storage of meat and flour.

Also on the land is a good smoke house and 5 more buildings besides, which are of no use whatsoever at present.

Animals included are; three horses, two cows, two yearling calves, one spring calf, nine hogs, one year-old brood sow (female hog), eight good shoats (young weaned pig) and twenty-two chickens.

Equipment included are two big plows, two shovel plows, one manure fork, one shovel, two hay forks, three garden hoes, one grindstone, two scythes (for cutting wheat), one sickle, two iron wedges (for splitting wood), one chain, two drags for bringing the crops to the house, one churn, three augers (fence hole drill), two mattocks (used for digging and chopping), one wagon, and one wind mill.

All for the sum of $645 ($19,350 in 2014).

Deciding that this was the find of a lifetime, I rode with Han’s eldest son Fredrick, 16 miles to New Philadelphia, to examine the mortgage records. That cost 12 cents.

Satisfied with the records, on the next day, we rode with the seller, three miles to have the deed made at the Justice. His office covers the notary, justice of the peace, and burgomaster (mayor). The seller had to pay $1 to meet the cost of the deed transfer.

I am now quite content and God’s angel has clothed us hitherto just as he did the young Tobias on the journey, and God the Lord, has given his blessing, and I hope it will not be withdrawn.

However, I have before me, a great deal of work, and not much help. I will write my brother-in-law back in Bavaria of my good fortune, and offer if he wants to send his son, Peter, let him come to us. It is alright for young fellows to come to America, as there is lots of opportunity here.

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