Emigration from Germany – Part 2

Continuation…….To realize that trade in all American goods depended on balancing the ships bringing cargo from US with ships returning filled with emigrants the ports took active promotion. Emigration agents were sent into greater Germany to promote business and take initiatives to deal with any problems emigrants had with exploitation by ship personnel and ship agents. In 1832 Bremen passed a number of regulatory laws to deal with emigration trade, lodging houses were inspected, ships monitored for their seaworthiness and the captains required to carry enough food for a ninety day trip as well as carry insurance for the passengers. This concern of the city increased its share of the trade in German emigrants. In 1851 the city established bureaus for emigrants at railroad stations, river landings and in the city center. In 1852 the city erected an Emigrant House that provided lodging for 2,000 people, with eating facilities, chapel, information bureau and an infirmary. Emigrants paid 66 pfennigs per person per day.

During the time when sailing was the primary mode of getting to America, ships that most emigrants might board ranged from about 90 feet to 200 feet or more in length, with displacements from 250 tons to over 1,700 tons. Most were three-masked wooden ships with square rigging. Most ships carrying passengers to the U.S. after 1825 had to be at least 115 feet in length according to US law. As immigration increased in the 1830’s and 1840’s to America ships became larger and capable of carrying more than a thousand passengers. Emigrant ships were known as “packets”, a term denoting passenger ships that sailed on a regular schedule between two ports. Ships would carry freight/goods to Europe and return to America with emigrants.

Many emigrants who did not have the money for cabin passage (could be as much as $100), said in what is called tween-decks or the space between upper deck and cargo hold, with clearance that ranged five to eight feet. Beneath steerage on some large ships was another deck that was cramped or crowded but used for additional sleep space. The nature of cargo of some ships would affect the conditions for passengers traveling westbound or to America. On larger ships, eating tables would be placed in central aisles. Bunks for sleeping were mounted on stanchions which were two high. For cooking an iron gate was placed above a fire made on a bed of stones. Toilet facilities were primitive and no provision for bathing. Water was mostly used for cooking, about 2 gallons a day per person. Ventilation was inadequate with open hatches to upper deck as the main source of air. If a storm happened for a couple days the hatches would be closed with little or no ventilation. So odors were present in the steerage area.

It is hard to imagine what it must have felt like when an emigrant family departed on their ship and saw the docks slowly disappear in the distance. Such a departure would have provided a strong emotional response in seeing possibly friends and relatives waving farewell from the dock. For sure it would have been the last view of the old country and the fear or excitement of finally going to a new land they had only heard about. Two great fears faced all passengers, life-threatening illness and shipwreck on stormy seas. Close quarters, crowded conditions and unsanitary environment in the steerage were areas for disease, such as cholera.

Favorable winds from Europe going westbound to America were not available due to the prevailing winds of the North Atlantic coming from the west. Sailing vessels consumed a lot of time tacking against the wind, which greatly added time and distance of travel to America. From the port of Liverpool to New York might take a distance of 3,500 miles, though the approximate distance is 3,000 miles. East bound ships could sail quickly and directly “with’ the prevailing winds. The Gulf Stream was an advantage for eastbound because it warmed the ship and carried the ship in a more direct route. Westbound had to steer away from the Gulf Stream current. This meant that the average emigrant might be at sea for four to six weeks or even longer, twelve. On average going eastbound was three weeks. Well-rigged ships and able crews thus were an important factor in the journey.

Most of the migration through Canada came up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City. Quebec was simply a stop on the way into the interior. A boat trip through the Great Lakes could bring immigrants to other points of settlement and their final destination the growing area of the American Midwest. The Ernie Canal opened travel into the Great Lakes.

Emigration from Germany – Part 2

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