Voyage to America 1766 - Book Sample
From the beginning of time the land welcomed each and every one. Settlers came from the four corners of the known world seeking a better place to exist, finding it in this land that would have many names. Through the passing of centuries, both the land and the people became known for their developed areas, and eventually part of a larger area they called Deutschland.
Now the people began to leave. Reminiscent of their forefathers before them, there was a new land offering opportunity, abundance and freedom not known before. Selling all worldly possessions, the people left their beloved Deutschland, their Mutter land, with nothing but hope and optimism. They left for America--Sie haben für Amerika verlassen.
1766 - Hesse Valley, Germanic Landgraves
Large wet snow flakes descended from invisible clouds in the gloomy gray night. October was supposed to be harvest time, yet it was snowing. Yesterday it rained. The day before yesterday was filled with rain and snow. Before these past few days, nothing better or less, just more of the same.
Johannes Wilhelm Herrmann lowered his head as he sloshed onward up the narrow muddy road leading to his home. The gooey swill of ice and mud clung to his leather shoes and leg wraps like candle tallow. He no longer loved this motherland. It was no good. All of the fertile top soil had washed away to the basins that drain to the Rhine, Main and Fulda rivers. There was so much mud his pigs no longer liked it. Perhaps Catherine, his wife, would understand there is more to life than mud and misery. An option for betterment or death had been decided earlier this same night; either one of the two would be an improvement over this devastation which was taking away his farm land. He would find out Catherine’s reaction to his choice momentarily since the faint firelight flickering from the front window of his home lay straight ahead.
Johannes Wilhelm Herrmann was not normally a risk taker. Every decision he made was calculated carefully, even to the very last insignificant detail. During the twenty-nine years since he arrived on this earth in the year 1736, he not only endured through hardships and setbacks, but celebrated success as well. This was the existence of a Deutscher Landwirt, and he acknowledged and accepted the certainty of his life and environment. Physically Herrmann was of average height, about 5’ 9” tall with a muscular build, and he appeared similar to most any other Hessian male. Working his fields of grain, potatoes, turnips and cabbage; keeping farm animals fed; cutting timber and tending his grape vines, amounted to more than hard work, it gave him gratification. Activity in the German Reformed Church--Deutsch Hat Kirche Reformiert--supplied his weekly entertainment. The one day of worship each week provided a time for learning and strengthening his faith while socializing with his large family and circle of friends. He treasured his farm, wife Catherine and his two young sons Wilhelm Jr. and George. His land was the motherland, the giver of life and hope, or had been until this year. Now she was a thief without remorse, taking all that he had worked to accomplish for self and family; all taken away in a year of incessant floods from excessive rain and snow. The land would never be productive again.
Patiently waiting for her husband to remove his thick lamb’s wool cloak as he entered the stone and wooden house, Maria Catherine Motz Herrmann gently took hold of his hand and led him toward the warmth near the rock fireplace.
“Johannes, come by the fire. You must be frozen,” she softly said.
“Catherine, I...Catherine I told them tonight...,” pausing as he spoke. With a stern look projecting from his brow, along with a tone in his voice that had grown more serious the past six months, Johannes Wilhelm Herrmann continued deliberately. “There is no turning back. You, Wilhelm Jr., George and I will go to America in the spring next year.”
“Perhaps we need to discuss this more,” she answered forcefully. “The children Johannes, possibly we should consider they are too young for such a long journey. I would prefer to wait until they are older.”
“They are strong children Catherine. They, like you and I, are Hessians. Besides, many of our people before us, even before we were born almost thirty years ago, have made the long trip. Now it is our time Catherine, we will leave in the spring; America will be under our feet before the next winter.” Removing his remaining thick wet garments, he turned and looked deeply into her concerned dark blue eyes. “Your brother and his wife are coming with us, as well as my two cousins. You will have plenty of help with our two boys and have companionship on the long trip as well.”
“We will eat now Johannes, save the talk,” Catherine replied. Neglecting to make further eye contact with him, she dipped heaping servings of thick turnip soup onto two large pewter plates using a large wooden ladle. Returning the iron pot which swung freely on a metal bar over the dancing flames in the open hearth rock fireplace, she sat down across from her husband at the heavy, hand hewn wooden table.
Maria Catherine Motz Herrmann resembled a typical Hessian female. Strong willed in personality matched her physical stature to a tee. Two years older than her husband, the past five years, at her current age of thirty-one, had been more rewarding than she could have ever envisioned. Johannes, who was called Wilhelm by everyone except her, was a perfect mate and father. He provided not only an abundance of food and income for his family, but for friends and relatives as well. She contributed extra income from weaving which her family line, Motz, was known for. Everyone knew, including Catherine, their family way of life during these first five years of marriage had been above average.
Following the ever present custom of praise to God before each mealtime, the steaming hot turnip soup and cold bread were slowly consumed. Eating hot foodstuff at the nightly mealtime was unusual. More often than not, following the tradition most Hessian families observe, Catherine usually prepared a hot meal at mid-day, with cold bread and cheese for the evening meal. Due to the bitterly cold snowy evening, she anticipated her husband would be chilled and hungry from the lengthy walk back from his meeting at the church more than a kilometer away, and would need hot food to shed the chill. Stealing a glance from across the heavy wooden table, she noticed that Johannes was staring intensely at the cracking, popping flames in the stone fireplace.
“Tell me about the gathering Johannes,” Catherine requested while removing the pewter plates and left over bread.
Johannes leaned back in his creaking wooden table chair while pulling on his suspenders with both hands as he began to slowly and methodically describe the events of the day.
“Fifteen people attended the meeting. All of them you know. It was settled that everyone would go to America, except your father and mother. They are just too old to make the trip safely.”
“Why must we go Johannes?” Catherine challenged. “We have a large farm. And our animals, we have our animals to care for. This large house is more than a building where we gather to eat and sleep, it is our home. Why do we have to go?”
It was unusual for Catherine to disagree or challenge her husband. Most always they agreed on decisions of importance, or had until now. Replying with more than a hint of sadness in his voice, Johannes Wilhelm Herrmann returned his chair to all four legs resting on the floor and leaned forward with his elbows on the table, hands gesturing and looked directly into her watering blue eyes.
“It is not only the land which is no good anymore. It is a great deal more. Frederick II is now in charge of our Deutschland and change will be coming quickly. He is of Catholic conviction and frowns upon our beliefs in the Reformed Church. It’s just a matter of time until we will have to pay to take delivery of salvation like the Catholics believe. Already he is making it compulsory for service in the military. Even at my current age of twenty-nine, I may have to go again. Our soldiers are being sold to other countries to battle as mercenaries in distant lands. I would fight and die for the motherland, but not as a slave. Furthermore,” he continued with a sincerity that penetrated the depths of Catherine’s heart, “we will starve should we stay with this washed out land.”
In a sincere heartfelt voice she brushed away tears from her round blue eyes and asked Johannes. “Why so far away? Is there not some good land closer by? We could move to Austria. I have relatives there.”
“I’m sorry Catherine, but it is not possible. Even the valley beyond the Rhine into Austria is washed out. There is nothing left here but hardship and sorrow. We have been told for years of the abundance of America, and they beg for us to come there. We will go Catherine. We will start a new generation in a new land.”
Johannes felt the need to give Catherine more information since he noticed her demeanor pleaded compassionately for more, but it would not change his decision.
“Our motherland during these past one hundred years has been akin to one of your patchwork quilts,” Johannes began. “All the territories within our much larger nation are connected, yet separate. In the north direction, stretching from east to west is the great region of the King of Prussia. The Austrian hereditary dominions occupy the southeastern corner of this motherland. The Platanines, on both sides of the Rhine below our beloved Hesse, inhabit the southwest. Further northwest are many more. All of these numerous territories are full of confusion since each contain electorates, duchies, bishoprics, dominions of margraves, landgraves, princes and free cities--all jumbled together. Travel anywhere, even within our own landgrave is impossible due to tariffs and fees. At the gathering tonight we counted over three hundred sovereignties in the entire motherland. Our own Hesse is the only territory where the Landstande has any semblance of order and influence.”
Pausing slightly to gather his thoughts so his explanation would be thorough, Catherine took advantage of the brief silence to speak.
“It is all so confusing,” she said. “It is difficult to understand why our people cannot learn to live together in harmony, especially since we are all the same people.”
Johannes did not respond, instead he continued as if Catherine had said nothing.
“As I pointed out earlier, Frederick II, our Landgrave ruler of Hesse-Kassel, is an idiot. He is a Catholic prince ruling a protestant country. His first wife was an English princess, a daughter of King George II, the Englishman. I’m sure you remember the tale about him; he married Frederick II’s cousin, Charlotte. Anyway, Frederick II’s wife left him from this Landgrave, our Hesse-Kassel, when he converted to Catholicism a few years back. She took their only son and moved to Hanau, located in the Palatnine, near the nation state of France. She left because he was leading a merry life in his Kassel Palace. He ignored her and openly took on a French cast off mistress of the Duc de Bouillon. Frederick has become ‘French’ everything. Rumors state he now has over one hundred children, mostly from the women brought in from the France Nation from across the Rhine. He has built a French theatre and opera house. French adventurers with good letters receive a welcome and are appointed responsible positions more than our own Hesse citizens. Now the courts are set up like the French and even use the language of those people. Once again he is requiring mandatory military service to build a mercenary militia to be sold to other countries—just to increase his personal wealth.”
Johannes drew a deep breath before concluding what he wanted Catherine to hear.
“All of this combined with the weather devastating our land, leaves us little or no choice. Catherine, I must have your support as we pull up and leave our homeland; otherwise I will succumb to nothing by either staying here or leaving for America without your support.”
Catherine walked around the wooden table with her open hands and outstretched arms, wrapping them around his stout muscular body, squeezing tightly. “We will go to America Johannes, and we will all go together to build a new wonderful life. We will go to America--Wir werden nach Amerika fahren.”
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