The following blog entry is written by 7th grade students at Lakeview as a product of their inquiry-based project on immigration. After conducting and organizing their research, they chose to write a first-person narrative in the form of a blog. Below are their entries.
Why Did German Immigrants Risk Their and Their Families’ Lives to Come to America?
By: Audrey and Maya
Mr. Little’s 7th Period Social Studies Class
Thomas Abel, a poor German farmer, tells the story of his life and family through journal entries.
September 14, 1796
I had a hard day working in the fields. Crops are failing, I barely have any food to harvest, and my wife is going to give birth in a month. I am worried. What if we do not have enough to keep the baby alive? Even if the baby does survive, he or she will have a miserable life. Constant work, not enough food, struggling to survive. Life is getting harder and harder by the day.
September 17, 1796
I got a break from working in the fields today when I went to the market to sell my crops. However, I made only a little money from the small amount of crops I sold. I made enough money to support my family for maybe a week, if food remains inexpensive. I have the feeling that it won’t.
September 24, 1796
I went to the market again today. Unfortunately, all of the money I have made from selling crops has been spent on food for my family. During this past week, I have also been storing up food for the winter. I have harvested almost all of my crops, and I still don’t think that I will
have enough food for my wife and I to survive the winter, let alone the newborn baby. Speaking of the baby, he or she is due in roughly 20 days. Anxiety has been building in my home.
September 31, 1796
Besides food issues, another problem has been steadily growing in my life. The government of the area I live in has been enforcing the official religion. I do not follow this religion, and I am told that I will be punished lest I convert. However, I have no intention of doing so – not even in the face of death. Also, the government allows nearly no one to emigrate, so I couldn’t leave the country even if I wanted to.
October 5, 1796
A ray of hope has been shined into my life. My neighbor came to my home today. He told my family and I about the foreign land of America. I had heard about America before this, but I didn’t know much about it. My neighbor told me about a colony that was in this new land – a colony that, he promised, would have religious freedom for anyone, no matter what they believed. This sounds like a very nice land, but I would rather not leave my home country of Germany unless I desperately need to, and, of course, we are not allowed to leave..
October 10, 1796
My baby will be born any day now. Instead of this situation bringing me joy, as it should, it only brings me more anxiety. I don’t think my baby will live very long.
October 13, 1796
I briefly visited the market today, in between caring for my wife. I sold all of my crops today. I have made little money from the sale. There is no way that we will survive the winter. We have enough money to eat for a few weeks, at most. Also, a man down the street was arrested for not following the official religion. I am terrified, and I don’t know what I should do.
October 15, 1796
My baby boy was born yesterday. We named him Christian. He is thin and unhealthy. Today, I talked to my wife about the food problem. She is dead-set on traveling to America. She says that there, we will have enough food, enough money, and not be arrested for our religion. However, I do not wish to leave for America, because the chances of Christian surviving are nearly impossible. But, as my wife argues, he will die here anyways, and so will we, so we might as well take the chance to go to America. If we are going to leave, though, we need to do it soon. We cannot wait till the baby gets older, because winter is coming, and few ships will be sailing then. We cannot wait until after winter because there is no way Christian will survive the cold, hard weather. Oh, what am I to do?
October 20, 1796
Germany has eased restrictions on emigration! Our neighbors just left for America. My family and I want to come to America, but we do not have enough money. I do not want to give up, but I also do not have much hope or strength left. I think it may soon be the end for me.
October 21, 1796
Today my hope is renewed! In the market, I heard talk of the redemption system. It is a form of indentured labor. My wife and I decide to work for a man in Pennsylvania, a colony in America, for 7 years in exchange for the trip to America along with shelter, food, and warmth once we arrive there. I am overjoyed! I meet with this man tomorrow. I hope he agrees to help my family and I!
October 22, 1796
The man agreed to help my wife, baby Christian, and myself! I am so relieved. We leave for America nine days from today. I am a bit nervous about the journey. I have heard stories of shark attacks, storms, sickness, and death. I must trust that we will be alright. After all, the man helping us is a good omen. The man told me that Americans believe in “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” My family and I believe the same thing. There is hope for us after all!
In these nine days, Tomas Abel did not write. He was busy making the trip with his family from Germany to Holland, where he boarded the ship to America.
An picture of what the port looked like where most Germans left Holland from:
October 31, 1796
We are on the ship. It lurches left and right in a most unpleasant way. My wife can not stop being sick. The sea spray goes up my nose and mouth. Christian constantly wails. The other passengers are not doing much better. Already the journey to America is hard.
November 1, 1796
I wake up to see a red sky. The captain says this is not good. But red has always been my favorite color. Even though yesterday was not the best start to our journey, I cannot help but feel optimistic about today.
November 2, 1796
Red skies are bad, especially in the morning. The waves crash against the boat, thunder booms, lightning flashes, and rain pours down. Christian is not doing well. He gets smaller each day, it seems. My wife is not much better. She spends most of her time inside our tiny cabin, on our little wooden bed. I try to stay strong, because it is only our third day. I must survive. I must make it to the land of the free.
November 10, 1796
Yesterday a passenger fell overboard. He was not seen again. It was frightening. On the bright side, my wife is getting better. She has not been sick for hours. Christian is still sickly and small. He does not wail as much, though, but I would rather hear him cry then hear nothing at all.
November 15, 1796
The captain says we should be at America in 1 day. I hope he is correct. My stomach growls. My clothes are dirty. My beard has grown rough and scraggly. Christian is close to death, I can feel it. We keep him warm, and in our arms, but we are in such close proximity to all the other passengers, including the sick ones. I don’t want to lose my son. I want this journey to be over. I want to get to America.
November 17, 1796
I will be glad to work for 7 years after this journey, because anything will be better than it. The captain was wrong. We are not at America, and it has been over a day. I am worried. What if we are stuck on this sea until we die?
November 18, 1796
Today, a golden sliver of land peeked over the horizon. As soon as the crew cried, “Land ho!” there were shouts and dancing throughout the ship. We will dock at sunset. My whole family is healthy, alive, and grateful.
November 20, 1796
We are staying in a small town near the city where we dock. My wife and I start work tomorrow, and Christian is getting better each hour! We plan to move inland and start a farm after seven years of labor. America has been amazing so far, I and hope it continues to be that way.
“A New Surge of Growth.” Library of Congress. Accessed October 1st, 2018. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/german4.html
“The Call of Tolerance.” Library of Congress. Accessed October 3rd, 2018.
“Irish and German Immigration.” Ushistory.org. Accessed October 4, 2018.
Alchin, Linda. “German Immigration to America.” Emmigration.info. January 1, 2018. Accessed October 4th, 2018.
“German Immigration.” Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Accessed October 11, 2018.