Strieter Autobiography: Emigration
July 29, 2015 Leave a comment
[If you have not yet read Part 1, click here.]
In 1837 my father formed his emigration ideas. The choice was between Russia and North America, the United States. It was said that the Russian tsar was very kind to German Lutherans and helped them to find a home. But my father still decided in favor of America, and he had in fact selected Ann Arbor, Michigan, as his destination. Pastor Götz sent for my father and urged him to stay. He showed him on the map a body of water that was called Lake Erie. He told him that we would have to cross it, and that it was a very turbulent body of water where a very large number of ships sank. My father related this to us, but cheered us up by saying, “Our dear Lord God is also on the water.”
We got ready for our departure. Another family and a few young men from Affalterbach and several families from the surrounding villages also got ready to go. My father hired a coachman with two big old horses and a large wagon covered with white fabric; that’s where everything was packed up. Mother and we small children were allowed to sit up top; the others had to walk. Now we were off to America. When we came to the Ochsen, the innkeeper ran to the wagon with a flask of wine, managed to grab hold of my father, wept and cried out, “Now our prayer-man is leaving us.”
We traveled to Bremen. It was a long, deplorable trip! The cover over us got cracks in it here and there, and the water would drip through them when it rained. The coachman was a drunken wretch. In every single inn, especially where he was lodged for the night, he drank, and no one could get him away from it. If the young men had not looked after his horses, the poor animals would have died.
Finally we arrived in Bremen. My father soon became acquainted with Christian brothers, especially a certain Kalbfleisch family. At a synod convention, I believe the location was called Collinsville,11 an old lady invited me over and told me that she had gotten acquainted with my father in Bremen. In Bremen they loaded us on a small vessel on a river12 and now we were headed to Bremerhaven. That’s also where we thought we were going to die; at one point our small vessel was sitting on the ground. After a while the water was coming toward us like a mountain, and we thought it was going to cover us.13 In the harbor two ships were ready – a beautiful new vessel with three masts, a speedy sailer called Louise, and an old vessel with two masts which was called Leondine. We really wanted to take the Louise, but there was no more room on it, and so we had to board the Leondine in disappointment.
We were off and so too began the seasickness. My poor mother almost never left her bed. We ate sailors’ fare – black, tough hardtack. On the upper deck there was a walled-in firestove on which a large kettle was stored. The cook handed it over for cooking every day. If the girls did not feel well, then the young men did the cooking. They had beans which were put in the water in the kettle, along with a nasty piece of salt pork. Then they were cooked. The beans on the bottom were burnt, and those above them were hard. And then there was the grease on top, as thick as a finger. When midday came, then the people came with bowls and took their portion. But we Swabians had never eaten such food. In Affalterbach, in the morning we had a bread soup with fried potatoes, at midday millet gruel [Hirsbrei], creamed corn [Welschkornbrei], potato wedges and spaetzle [Kartoffelschnitz und Knöpfle], fried spaetzle and salad, pancakes and salad, steam dumplings [Dampfnudeln, a kind of roll], yapper slappers (Maulschellen, filled rolls), meatballs or sausage balls, depending on the circumstances, and so on. We didn’t have a lot of meat, but we did have some, though we never had salt pork.
My sisters took our portion of pork raw, then they roasted it well and filled an entire metal tub [Blechstipig] with it and brought it over to us. They broke the hardtack into pieces with the hammer, put the fragments in a bowl and poured hot water over them and melted them, and thus made a good soup that we could eat.
We had a good trip. No one died, and a little girl was born, who was baptized Leondine. Only once were the hatches closed on account of a storm. There was one time during the night that something slid past against us and our ship tipped way over to one side. In the morning the captain – he was still rather young, a short and most delightful guy – told us: “Another ship was sailing toward us and would have just about drilled us into the ground.” From then on the young men had to blow a signal. They had a long brass reed available and they positioned themselves at the front and one of them blew until he was out of breath, then the second one blew, then the third and so forth, the whole night through, in order to warn the other ships to stay away from us.
On Sunday it was always quiet. My father would go onto the deck; everybody gathered around him. Even the sailors had to be quiet. The captain would lean against a mast. There a hymn would be sung, and my father would read a sermon from Ludwig Hofacker14 and would pray.
We were about halfways there when the captain showed us a ship over yonder and said, “That is the Louise.” We arrived happily in New York, and two days later the Louise did too – the beautiful, new speedy sailer.
11 In Illinois
12 The Weser River
13 Strieter is describing what it looked like to him when he approached the sea for the first time.
14 Ludwig Hofacker (1798-1828) was a pietistic Lutheran pastor in Stuttgart and Rielingshausen. He was renowned for his passionate Christ-centered preaching; his church would often already be crowded an hour before the service began.
[Read the next part here.]