On March 1, 1738, all five brothers of the Crist family, boarded a ship in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and set sail for America.
We can’t know for sure why they left Germany although we do know that in the 1700’s thousands of Germans traveled to America for both economic and religious reasons. In addition, there was a fair amount of real commercial wheeling and dealing going on.
Earlier settlers were traveling back to Europe to purchase supplies and goods for resale in America. Ship owners and captains, anxious to keep their ships full and in constant use, would promise these merchants (who became known as “newlanders”) free passage and/or shipping if they recruited passengers for the trip back across the Atlantic. From 1735 to 1737 the numbers of Germans traveling to America increased from 268 to over 1500. Business was booming and in 1738 the numbers continued to grow.
The Crist brothers, John Jacob (24), Nicolaus Heinrich (22), Peter Ludwick (20), Philip Henrie (18), and Michael Jorge (17) may have set off for America for the adventure of it or they may have gone for riches and glory. The reasons for emigration in those days were as varied as the number of emigrants.
We’re lucky, though, that the Crist family had a real sense of the magnitude of their decision and journey. Before they left their home in Germany, their father Jorge Nichlaus Crist gave them each an account book, and son Nicolaus kept a detailed account of their days at sea. In fact, he kept his account book all his life turning it over to his son in later years, and while the Crist family are not direct descendents of my family, they are related by marriage. This account book has given my family some insight into our history while recording some very historic times and events.
On March 2, 1738, Nichlaus wrote of their second day at sea: “It was cold and dark last night – so many became ill – it was stormy – high winds and heavy rains. The vessel was rocky.”
The routes the ships took to America were varied. Many of the Germans left from Rotterdam, Amsterdam and stopped off at some port in England to further provision and pick up any other travelers before setting off across the open ocean.
On May 10, 1738, the journal reads: “The vessel smells of stench. We are stopping for supplies tomorrow. I hope they will stop long enough to clean and air the vessel.”
Two months on the ship and they had not even really started across the Atlantic. Do you begin to get a picture of what travelers to America endured? Well, read on…
May 14, 1738: “I am going to write in my account book about me so if we die they will know who we are. There’s fifteen of us that knows each other we have labored – fought and laughed together all our lives. Now it looks like we will cry and likely die together.”
He lists his brothers and eight of the others who are traveling with them, then says of his parents, Jorge Nichlaus and Anna Crist, “…I wish they was here, they would know what to do and it would be better.”
On the 14th of May, the ship set out to cross the Atlantic.
August 12, 1738: “I wish I was home. Peter and Philip and Michael does too but John Jacob thinks because he is oldest that he can not show his real feelings. We are all sick, Michael is real sick but we can not do anything to help him.”
August 28, 1738: “It is so hot during the day and the smell is terrible. Every body has dysentery. We have lost many lives. I wonder if we will make it to America.”
September 15, 1738: “We landed in America yesterday. It felt so good to set, walk and lay on the dirt in the land that we had all dreamed of being able to live to see. Our prayers was answered. I cried myself to sleep as did many others. The air smelled and tasted so good. I only know one thing that I do not ever want to get on another ship for the rest of my life.”
Their journey took five and a half months. The journal gives us just the barest idea of what these young men endured to come here. Estimates of the deaths that occurred during the wave of emigrants traveling in 1738 range from 1,800 to 2,000 souls, victims to various diseases, such as typhus, or starvation, or shipwreck.
I have more of this journal and as I said earlier, it plays some part in the history of my family, so you can expect to meet up with some other members of the Crist family in future posts.