My Mom always used to say that “good things come to those who wait.” That always irritated me, because waiting was something I did, and still do, very poorly.
These past few months, I’ve gotten a lot of practice in waiting, but my friend who was visiting Salt Lake City for a conference did me a HUGE favor and put me out of my wait-induced misery by retrieving an obscure German journal article for me, solving the a huge mystery in the life of Johann Adam Ruhle (Reuhl). Literally, a life and death matter – did he live or did he die.
This is my friend Jen, at the Family History Library – smiling in spite of being incredibly sleep deprived, in class all day and in the library in the evening. What a good sport. I can’t thank you enough, Jen!!!
This is some story – one WHALE of a story, pardon the pun. And no, his name was not Jonas.
Life Begins in Schnait and Beutelsbach
We all start out in life the same way, wet, cold and complaining loudly about that combination of factors.
Johann Adam Ruhle was born January 30, 1764 in the village of Schnait in Wurttemberg, Germany to Michael Ruhle and Barbara Lenz.
Schnait is an ancient village, first mentioned in 1238 as Snait. Today, there is a museum in Schnait with some photos of the beautiful vineyard region.
Schnait is just down the road, literally, a mile or so from Beutelsbach where the Lentz (Lenz) family lived, or at least part of the Lenz family lived. After all, Johann Adam’s mother was a Lenz (which is also alternatively spelled Lentz) and she was living in Schnait, so perhaps the Lenz family lived all along the ancient road between the two villages.
The village of Schnait today is still relatively small, but has expanded some from the old center along the road. It’s surrounded by the beautifully symmetrical wine fields, where the men of both Beutelsbach and Schnait worked, for generations.
The church records for Schnait still exist, according to the FamilySearch site, although they apparently have not been translated and indexed at Ancestry or at FamilySearch. Baptisms begin in 1562, marriages in 1574 and death records in 1616. Once these records become available online, the possibility of reaching back another 200 years, or more, is dangling like a ripe fruit. Darn, another episode of waiting without an end in sight!!!
Fortunately, Beutelsbach, where Johann Adam Reuhl had the foresight to marry and live is a bit different.
The local Beutelsbach heritage book has a wonderful web page that provides information about family members.
The heritage book page tells us, among other things (using an automated German to English translator) that Johann Adam Reuhle:
Has been trained to Schnait and has been drawn up. If 4 years have served in Schnait. Occupation: Vinedresser
Johann Adam Reuhle was a vinedresser, or one who tends the vines in the vineyards. Many if not most of the men in Schnait and Beutelsbach worked in the beautiful vineyards that surrounded both villages, located just a couple miles apart. I think these fields would make a beautiful quilt!
It’s likely that these families had tended these same vineyards, father’s teaching sons the vinedresser craft, for more generations than anyone could remember – and far more than are recorded in the oldest church books.
This satellite closeup shows the fields, just outside the village, which are probably some of the exact same vineyards, and perhaps even the same vines, that Johann Adam, who we’ll call Adam, his middle name, as his family would have done, tended.
Marriage and Instant Parenthood
Johann Adam Reuhle married Dorothea Katharina Wolflin on June 5, 1787 in the Lutheran Church in Beutelsbach. Dorothea Katharina was born on August 10, 1755 in Beutelsbach to Johann Ludwig Wolflin and Dorothea Heubach.
This marriage was a bit unusual, in that Adam was of typical marriage age, 23, but Katharina was almost 9 years older than Adam, aged 32 when they married.
Katharina was a widow whose first husband had died on October 31, 1786. She had two living children when he died, the baby having her first birthday just 6 days after her father died. Widows didn’t wait long to remarry, because their very survival depended on forging an alliance and a new family unit. Adam and Katharina didn’t “court” long, because they married less than 9 months after her previous husband died. Nine months was probably plenty long enough. After all, Beutelsbach was a small village and everyone knew everyone else, so they had probably known each other since they were children.
However, when Adam married Katharina, he instantly became a parent. Her children, aged 4 and 1 when they married, were young enough that they would never have known any other father.
The next several years were normal for this family. They began the rhythmic ebb and flow of childbirth, springtimes sewing crops and preparing vines, summer tending fields, fall harvests with winemaking and food preservation, and then winter survival.
- Their first child, Fridrica Ruhle, arrived and was baptized on March 14, 1788, literally 9 months and 9 days after their wedding. The young couple must have been joyful.
Fredericka was my ancestor, so obviously their firstborn child survived.
- On January 5, 1790, Katharina’s daughter from her first marriage died and was buried. Katharina would have been 3 or 4 months pregnant at the time. The visage of the pregnant mother burying her child in the dead of winter is heartbreaking.
- In 1790, a son, Johann Ludwig Ruhle, was born on June 3rd. He too survived, married and spent his life working the vineyards as a vinedresser in Beutelsbach. He died of a stroke in 1847 when he was 57 years old. Johann Ludwig had one son, Johann Ludwig Ruhle that was born in 1846 in Beutelsbach and died in 1893 in Stuttgart.
- On March 5, 1793, Johanna Dorothea Ruhle was born, but she died just 3 days later and was probably buried in the churchyard. She was named after Katharina’s daughter who had died in 1790.
- On April 25, 1794, Johann Georg Ruhle joined the family. He too lived, at least long enough to leave Germany.
- On March 20, 1797, Catharine Margaretha Ruhle was born, but she too joined her sister in the cemetery on October 23, 1797, just 3 days beyond her 7 month birthday. There is no cause of death given, but I always wonder when I see these infant deaths.
- The last child in the family, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, named after the sister that died in 1797 was born on January 20, 1800.
There were no further deaths in the family, at least not among their children.
However, the climate was not cooperating. The world was undergoing what came to be known as a mini ice age. The problem is, of course, that once the grape vines are damaged or die, there is no quick recovery. If the vines fail to produce, an entire year is lost – both economically and in terms of food production as well. In 1816, crops failed in the fields.
After massive crop failures followed by riots for food, many people didn’t want to wait for a repeat performance the following year and applied to leave Germany.
Permission to Leave
Johann Adam Ruhle and his family arranged to immigrate to America, settling their debts and selling everything they had to pay for passage.
I don’t know if they were thrilled or terrified. Maybe they weren’t either, but just felt it was something they had little choice to do if they wanted to survive.
Leaving Germany wasn’t just a matter of packing up. Germans are extremely orderly people. There was a process that had to be followed to insure, among other things, that those who were leaving did not leave unpaid debts or unfinished business, had permission to leave, and understood there was no coming back.
By this time, Adam’s oldest daughter, Fredericka, had married to Jacob Lenz, also spelled Lentz. You can read about Jacob here and here. Jacob could have been related to Fredericka’s Lenz grandmother, and most likely was, but we don’t know if or how – and won’t until those Schnait records become available.
We find the legal notifications for emigration for Jacob Lentz and Johann Adam Reuhle side by side.
This book, “Königlich-Württembergisches Staats- und Regierungsblatt: vom Jahr … 1817,” in English, the “Royal Württemberg State and Official Gazette: by the year… 1817,” copied at Google, contains the actual German records of who was authorized to leave.
The following named persons have received the gracious permission to emigrate to America, namely:…….followed by the names.
Listed beside Jacob Lenz we find Johann Adam Ruhle, his father-in-law.
It also states:
- Jung Jakob Lenz unter Vertretung des Alt Jakob Lenz.
- Johann Adam Ruhle unter Vertretung des schumachers, Wilhelm Schweizer.
- Young Jakob Lenz under representation of the old Jakob Lenz.
- Johann Adam Rühle under representation of the shoemakers, Wilhelm Swiss.
Typically only the male head of household was recorded, with the assumption that his wife and children, if any, would be traveling with him.
The emigrants would make their way to the sea, typically down the Rhine River to the port of Rotterdam where they would arrange for their passage, pay their way, and board the ship for America. Transatlantic crossings during that time generally took 6-8 weeks, depending on the winds and weather. Some took as few as 3, and some took considerably longer, especially if the ship encountered trouble of some sort. All were risky.
And of course, some, a few, never made it at all.
This decision to leave could not have been easy for Johann Adam Reuhle to make, especially not at age 53 years of age with his wife being 62. The rule of thumb was that you would lose one child per family in a crossing. Sanitation was poor, at best and often the food was rotten. Disease was rampant.
The local pastor in Beutelsbach took special care to record who immigrated, including the date and year in many cases. I am so grateful to that unknown man.
Based on the church records, we know that the following family members left together. Conversely, perhaps the saddest part was that of Adam’s children, a son, and only one son, did not join the rest of the family. That must have been one sad farewell.
From the church records:
- Johann Adam Reuhle and wife Dorothea Katharina Wolfin went to America.
- Johann Georg Ruhle born April 25, 1794 in Beutelsbach and went to America with his parents.
- Johanna Margaretha Ruhle born January 20, 1800 in Beutelsbach and went to America with her parents.
- Jacob Christian Breuming (Dorothea Katharina’s child from her first marriage) born June 8, 1783 in Beutelsbach, went to America on Feb. 12, 1817.
- Johanna Fredericka Reuhle born March 14, 1788 in Beutelsbach, married Jakob Lenz May 25, 1808, went to America.
- Jacob Lenz, born March 15, 1783 in Beutelsbach, went to America.
- Jacob Frederick (Ruhle) Lenz, son of Fredericka and Jacob, born November 28, 1806 in Beutelsbach, went to America.
- Fredericka Lenz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born July 13, 1809 Beutelsback, went to America.
- Elizabeth Katharina Lentz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born March 28, 1814 in Beutelsbach, went to America (reportedly died during the voyage.)
- Maria Barbara Lenz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born August 22, 1816 in Beutelsbach, went to America.
Thanks to the minister, we have the actual date they left Beutelsbach, February 12th, 1817. The weather would have been cold, hovering around freezing or below – perhaps significantly below. There was probably snow in the vineyards, blanketing the vines as they slept. Adam wouldn’t be there to welcome them after their slumber in the spring, for the first time in his life. The family probably huddled on the horse-drawn wagon for warmth as they passed the vineyards for the last time. The boat on the Rems River that would connect with the Neckar that would converge with the Rhine which would take them to the seaport of Rotterdam awaited. A long, permanent journey began. Did they look back?
If everything went according to plan, the family group should step off the ship in America in June or later that same summer. But that’s not at all what happened.
In total, 11 people from 3 generations left for America. Not everyone would arrive, and not one of them arrived quite in the way they expected. In fact, I’d wager that every single one of them regretted their choice. But by the time regret set in, it was much, MUCH too late.
The family information handed down in the Jacob Lentz family tells us that, “Elizabeth died on the ocean, and Barbery was a baby when they left.”
I managed to track Jacob Lentz and Fredericka’s children, except for Elizabeth, so it must be presumed that the oral history was accurate, because everyone else was accounted for. Elizabeth was buried at sea.
The oral history also tells us that Fredericka’s sister came along on the voyage from Germany. It doesn’t mention that Fredericka’s entire family immigrated, with the exception of one brother who stayed behind. Perhaps that was because Fredericka’s family didn’t survive?
Did they survive?
From this point forward, this story becomes a bit surreal. If it’s surreal from the distance of 300 years, exactly, this month, as I sit here safely and write, it must have seemed like they were living in an incomprehensible nightmare at the time. The fact that at least some of them escaped alive is nothing short of a miracle.
Thankfully, Jacob Lentz’s family members recorded some of the history as reported by Jacob. His story was recorded separately by two different lines and partially by a third. Some of the information, in Ohio, was accurate, and some was not.
The early history in one version stated that Jacob had been shipwrecked on the way to the US and another family line stated that they were in a hospital in Bergen, Norway and spent nearly a year there. Neither of these seems plausible.
You might note that ships typically departed from Holland, sailed south catching the Atlantic gulf stream, an ocean current that took them past the Caribbean islands where the ships would stop for fresh water and supplies. Then they would carry on north with the trade winds along the Atlantic seaboard. Norway is notably north of Holland and no place on this projected path.
That story seemed far too fanciful to be true. It sounded more like a tall tale that grandpa might tell his awestruck grandchildren sitting at his feet.
Truthfully, I figured that since some of the later information from the 1860s and 1870s was incorrect, that this early information in the 18-teens was likely incorrect as well. Besides that, Norway was just so unlikely – so I initially discounted this part of the story.
As it turns out, the story was true, and what a story it was.
This “Tribute to Jacob Lentz” was written by his grandson as told to him by Jacob. I try to hear Jacob’s voice, as he would have told this story to his grandchildren by the fireplace on cold winter evenings, to be recalled and preserved for posterity decades later. I have combined the nearly identical first two versions, with differences in parenthesis.
Finally all arrangements were completed and bidding farewell to all their relations he and his family with his wife’s sister began their journey in 1817 (the words “in 1817” are omitted in the second version) to the land of his dreams. Thus they left Wuertemburg, Germany to return no more.
Ships were very different then than what they are now, and as their finances were limited. They did not have the best accommodations that were furnished to the more favored, even in that early day. But they were willing to endure the hardships of an ocean voyage that they might come to the land about which they had heard so much. Strange as it may seem to us now, they were to spend about 3 months on the ocean before landing on American soil (the words “on American soil” are omitted from the second version). But now comes a very strange and trying part of their experience.
They experienced much of the ocean storm and the time seemed long. As the time came that they could reasonably expect to end their journey and set foot on the new world, everyone was making preparation to quit their ocean home.
But many days passed by and no land came in sight. Everyone became restless and there were many misgivings. They sought explanations from the captain of the ship but his explanations were not satisfactory. One part of their diet was a large kettle of soup or hash of which they all partook. Some actions on the part of the captain as he was about where this food was being prepared at a certain time aroused suspicions of those in charge of preparing the food and instead of serving this food it caused the arrest of the captain of the ship.
A sample of the food was preserved and found to contain poison enough to kill many more than were on board this vessel. The captain’s purpose was to poison the crew and turn the ship over to pirates. He was later executed for this.
The ship without a captain wandered around in the northern waters for some time and finally landed (shipwrecked) way up on (the western coast of) Norway where they have six months of day and six months of night; thus were your (my) early ancestors brought to a disappointment in life that they were never able to find words to express. Landing in Norway where conditions were very unfavorable and where but few people live, instead of in America. Their money all gone, strangers in a strange land, unable to speak the language, without (a) home (and) friends or prospects (“or prospects” omitted from second copy), a sad condition.
Fishing and weaving were the only things in sight and this they did, thus managing to get along for a few months. It was not possible for them to save anything out of the meager rewards for their work, but they still kept their steadfast purpose, to finally in some way reach America. (Second copy says, “It was not possible for them to kept their steadfast purpose, to finally in some way, reach America.”)
After 6 months of weary waiting in that northern climate, an opportunity came their way. A certain ship was to leave their port for the new world and proposed to enter (so they entered) into a contract, stipulating that they should be bound out to services to anyone that would pay their passage and food expense. The time of service was to be determined by the bidding of interested employers after landing in America. They would be indentured servants. (Previous sentence not in second copy.) It was stipulated that the family was not to be separated.
With this contract they set sail the second time for the land beyond the sea, not knowing what would befall them or how they would be dealt with in the future (rest of sentence not in second copy) that was veiled with clouds that seemed to be very dark. All they knew was to commit their all into the hands of the overruling Providence “That doeth all things well, patiently labor, and wait for the future to unroll whatever was in store for them.”
(The passage was $30 each for mother and father and $15 each for Jacob and Fredericka. Elizabeth died on the ocean and Barberry was a baby.)
They landed in New York on the 1st day of January 1819 (rest of sentence omitted in second copy) some 18 months or more after leaving Germany.
Separately, another family line said that Jacob and family wound up in Bergen, Norway and that they were in the hospital there for several weeks.
Truthfully, I discounted the hospital part, figuring there were no such things at that time, and I questioned the Bergen information. However, who would just pull the town of Bergen, Norway out of their hat? That was so specific that it seemed there might be grains of truth hidden there.
The Story Was True
My cousin and friend, Tom, a retired German genealogist, was enthralled by this story too, and kicked into overdrive. Thankfully, he had a few tricks up his sleeve, and he was able to confirm that the shipwreck had actually happened by googling in German and found documents in the Norwegian archives.
He found a list of burials for the Germans from the ship Zee Ploeg that died during or after arrival in Bergen and were buried in the churchyard. That list included 3 people from Beutelsback and 4 from Schnait, but none of our names were among those listed.
Then, googling in both German and Norwegian, Thomas found the Norwegian Wikipedia page about the Zee Ploeg.
The Zee Ploeg
According to Wikipedia: The Zee Ploeg (Sea Plow) was a Dutch emigrant ship which sank off Bergen in the autumn of 1817 on its way from Amsterdam to Philadelphia with around 560 emigrants from Württemberg onboard. The passengers were farmers and craftsmen who were members of a religious movement (separatists) inspired by Württembergeren Johann George Rapp (1757-1847). He had established the society “Harmony” in Pennsylvania in 1805.
Even though the Wikipedia page says that the ship sank, it didn’t, but was disabled when its masts broke.
The year 1816 had been difficult, with poor harvests and a very cold winter. At this time over seventeen thousand emigrated from Wurttemberg.
The Zee Ploeg was 136 feet long, 32 feet wide and almost 16 feet tall, with 3 masts. A trial voyage was conducted In September 1815 to Suriname with Jan Poul Manzelmann as captain and they returned on July 4, 1816.
On behalf of the Handelshuis Zwichler & Company, the ship was authorized to leave with 560 emigrants to the United States.
Boarding was scheduled for March, 30 1817, but was first carried out a month later, but didn’t sail until late in August from Amsterdam with Hendrich Christopher Manzelmann from Lübeck as Captain with his 21-man crew. The ship had to return after 11 to 12 days due to the storm in the English Channel, and a minor casualty. At the next attempt the Captain went up North to High North Scotland, but fell again in a storm. This time the masts broke and the ship ended after a time by Skjellanger, northwest of Bergen, on September 25. The ship was towed to the port of Bergen on September 29, and was anchored.
Before the accident 100 passengers died of famine and disease, including all of the thirty who were born aboard. The passengers were not allowed to disembark due to concerns about contagious disease, and while the ship lay at anchor at Sandvik Flaket, a marine channel in the far north of Norway, an additional sixteen died.
How did they ever fit 560 people on a ship 136 by 32? I’m sure there was an area below deck, but still, that wouldn’t have doubled the space.
The ship was then towed to Elsesro, near Bergen, shown below in a painting about 1807, and a few days later, towed on to Bergen where the passengers were finally allowed to disembark. Truthfully, I’m amazed that any of them ever set foot on a ship again.
Documentation sometimes comes from the strangest places.
Bishop Claus Pavels (1769-1822) expressed concern about how the penniless town of Bergen would be able to accept these refugees. Many of the sick were eventually lodged in a farm in Kong Oscars gate 22 (St. Jorgen’s Hospital, now the Leprosy Museum, shown below), which was at that time a military hospital.
Another 40 passengers died, bringing the total to 156 deaths of 560 who began the journey – 28% had died, if you don’t count all the children who were born and died. If you do, the death rate is approaching one third of the passengers.
Who, among our family members died?
In October 1817, the Norwegian government compiled one of two lists of the names of the surviving passengers. This list was published in an article by Dr. W. Weintraud.
It was this article by Weintraud that I spent so many months attempting to obtain. I tried the Norwegian archives. I tried Germany. I tried locations in the US that claimed to have copies of the journal, all to no avail, until Jennifer found it for me in Salt Lake City.
All I can say is bless Jennifer for finding this book, because our answers are buried here.
In the Jacob Lentz Tribute, Jacob stated that his daughter Elizabeth died at sea. But did she die at sea during the shipwreck, or perhaps on the next part of their journey – because yes, they eventually set out once again for America.
These people were determined, with an unflappable iron will.
This page shows the portion of the list of survivors from the Zee Ploeg that includes L and R.
- Lintz, Jacob, vintner, wife, 3 children.
- Rijle (Ruhle), Adam, vintner, wife, 3 children.
On the previous page, I found:
- Christian Breming, baker, (2)
Jacob Lentz is listed with his wife, Fredericka Reuhle. We already know they both survived along with three of their children. They had left with four children, so indeed, little Elizabeth just 2 years old, was one of the deaths who would have been buried at sea before arriving in Bergen. I can’t even bear to think of the sorrow her death would have entailed as the crew threw the newly dead for that day overboard, as her grief-stricken and probably terribly ill parents, grandparents and siblings looked on.
Did Elizabeth die of starvation?
Adam Ruhle and his wife, Katharine, both survived, along with the 3 children in their care. They left Germany with Johann George Reuhl, born in 1794 and Margaretha Reuhl born in 1800, along with Katharina’s son from her first marriage, Christian Breuning, born in 1783. There is no record in Beutelsbach that Christian Breuning had married, although he was 33 and should probably have been married by that time. It’s likely that he is the third person listed as a child because he is unmarried with his parents.
A Christian Breming, baker, is listed with no wife and 2 individuals. Given the 3 children noted with Adam, I suspect this is someone else, but we’ll likely never know for sure. If this Christian the baker is Katharina’s son, it’s likely that his wife perished as well. It would be highly unusual for a man to leave for a foreign country with 2 small children without a wife.
It seems a miracle that on a ship where nearly one third of the people died, 10 of 11 of our family members survived.
What Happened in Norway?
In Norway Jacob and Fredericka Lentz, according to the letter, worked, fishing and weaving fishing nets, until they could arrange passage again, except the second time, they had no funds and had to agree to become indentured servants upon arrival to pay for their passage.
We don’t know what happened to the Reuhl/Ruhle family, but there is no reason to believe that they didn’t accompany Jacob and Fredericka Lentz on to America. Even though they were in their 50s and 60s, they too would have been indentured to pay their passage. They may not have lived long enough to work off that amount of money.
During this time, while the German families were stranded in Bergen, some Norwegian families of a similar religious persuasion (Rappites) began to consider emigration as well, and were soundly discouraged from that line of thinking. A Norwegian government official said about a visit when he went to speak with Norwegians considering the possibility: “I advised them against the thought. I recounted the misfortunes the Germany emigrants had been exposed to and explained that the easy and inactive life the emigrants were leading at the moment – it was perhaps this which had misled these peasants – would come to an end as soon as the season allowed us to send them back to their homeland.” The Norwegians did immigrate beginning in the 1820s, despite being soundly discouraged from doing so.
As badly as the Norwegians wanted to the Germans to depart, and as badly as the Germans wanted the same, there were several barriers.
The Germans from Wurttemberg could not go back. That was one of the stipulations of leaving Germany. The Duke of Wurttemberg had officially warned his subjects before departing that the door operated only in one direction. Other parts of Germany did allow a return, but only after posting a bond, something few of these people could do. Ultimately, around 100 Germans returned to Germany.
The stranded Germans also couldn’t stay in Bergen where they were unable to support themselves and unwelcome, so finding a way to America was their only option. Life must have seemed very bleak at that time for Jacob and Fredericka, with no good options. And bleaker yet for Fredericka’ parents, who were aging. I wonder if they second-guessed their decision to leave.
After a few months many of the passengers departed for Philadelphia. Around 80 of the people who still had money rented the ship “Susanne Cathrine” which sailed August 13, 1818. Clearly Jacob the Lentz/Ruhle family didn’t have money, because they weren’t on that ship.
The rest, 273 Germans, departed on the ship “Prima” of Larvik, owned by H. Falkenberg and Captained by Jacob Woxvold. Prima was hired by the Norwegian government, and arrived after a redirect to Baltimore in January 1819. Some of the passengers filed lawsuit afterwards against Captain Mantzelmann of the Zee Ploeg to recover freight and other costs.
I would surely love to know the outcome of those lawsuits, and if the Lentz (Lenz), Reuhl or Breuming families were involved.
Who Was Johann George Rapp?
Have we perhaps discovered the reason behind the Reuhle and Lentz family emigration? Was religion behind this exodus, rather than weather or economic conditions?
In the article titled, “George Rapp’s Harmonists and the beginnings of Norwegian Migration to America,” Karl Arndt tells us more about George Rapp, his son Frederick and his religious sect called the Harmonists and also known as Rappites. At the time of the sailing, George and Frederick Rapp had established the town of New Harmony, Indiana, land on the frontier of a newly formed state. The Rapps recruited heavily in Wurttemberg, holding out the lure of free land from the government and paid passage for those who would come and settle.
For Germans who spent their entire lives, for generations, tending vines on someone else’s lands, the allure of owning their own land was irresistible. In addition, the Rapps ordered a large selection of grape vines and fruit trees. The families who came along knew just how to tend those vines. In one of the letters to Germany, the Rapps stated:
There are no poor people here who must suffer need or who could not feed themselves. Much less would they have to worry that their sons would be taken away as soldiers, the laws of the land here are exactly the opposite of a monarchy. Everyone has the freedom to express himself freely. Also complete freedom of conscience is introduced in all America so that every person according to the conviction of his own conscience can perform unhindered his Divine service.
Those are powerful words to families who have just suffered famine in Germany in 1816.
In order to encourage immigration and migration to New Harmony, Indiana, the Harmonites invested in money to pay passage for many Germans, several of whom disappeared after they disembarked here in the US after their passage was paid. The Harmonites continued to try. Initially, about 150 people of the nearly 600 who embarked on the Sea Plow were believed to be Harmonites. About 60 wanted to take them up on their offer of paid passage from Norway after the shipwreck. In the end, about 15 wound up in New Harmony, Indiana. Not a very good investment for the Harmonites. The supreme irony is that the Harmonites eventually said of these Germans that, “they are too wild for our community.”
Of course, “wild” is very much a matter of perspective. I’m betting the Germans liked beer, wine and not celibacy. In fact, beer and wine and not conducive to celibacy.
There was one that detrimental factor that many people just couldn’t get past, relative to the Harmonites or Rappites as they were known. As Arndt stated, “George Rapp’s most effective substitute of self-disciplined celibacy lacked the essential mass appeal.” I do wonder, if George Rapp was celibate, how was his son Frederick Rapp was born. But, I digress.
The Harmonites had trouble recruiting and keeping people. Few want to commit to a life of celibacy. Eventually they were so successful with that there was no one left in future generations to perpetuate their cause. Recruiting for a celibate religion is a difficult task indeed.
It’s very doubtful that Jacob Lenz and Fredericka were Harmonites. It’s very clear from looking at the births of their children that they were not celibate. They are also not noted by name, nor are her parents or siblings, in any Harmonite correspondence.
Fortunately, some of the Harmonite letters still exist and contain valuable information about what happened.
On February 24, 1818 Christian Friedrich Schnable wrote from Bergen stating that the emigrants had already sacrificed their worldly estate and they found themselves in a land where they could not remain. He states:
“On September 5th, we lost all masts, also we were very badly treated by our disloyal captain. He did not give us the food which he was obligated to give us according to contract. This brought about great sickness so that over 200 souls died.”
Based on this verbiage, we know that the time from mast break in the Atlantic after the Captain tried to poison the passengers to docking in Bergen was 24 days.
The reconstructed timeline looks like this:
- February 12, 1817 – leave Beutelsbach
- March 1817 – anticipate boarding ship
- Late April 1817 – board ship
- Late August – leave Amsterdam
- Return 10-11 days later after severe English Channel storm and a minor casualty
- Sail again, storm near Scotland, Captain tries to poison passengers
- September 5 – mast(s) breaks
- Flounder at sea after captain arrested
- September 25 – run around at Skjellanged
- September 29 – towed to Bergen where allowed to disembark
- October 1817 – list of living and dead compiled
We know that a total of 353 Germans sailed for America in 1818, and we know that between 560 and 600 people sailed initially in 1817 on the Sea Plow, so the difference would indeed be between 207 and 247 people. Starving and watching others die of starvation intentionally at the hands of the cruel captain must have been a horrific ordeal.
And then…the mast or all masts broke.
Ironically, while viewed initially as a tragedy, the broken mast was eventually what saved them – because the captain could no longer control the ship and they drifted into the Norwegian shore.
On To America
In the summer of 1818, 80 of the more well-to-do passengers chartered the ship Susannah Catharina and arrived in Philadelphia two months later, on October 23rd.
Arndt tells us that once in port, the Germans were not allowed to go ashore unless they could prove they would not be a public burden. “Since most of them could not show proof, they were sold or had to permit themselves to be sold at public auction.” The Harmonite offer of redemption was only valid of course for those who would follow their ways and join them in New Harmony. Even so, the Harmonites had problems converting “Indiana” money and debts into something a ship captain from Europe docked in Philadelphia would accept as payment to allow the passengers with unpaid passage to depart.
Arndt reported that Rapp had suggested that the passengers with unpaid passage be indentured with a special clause stating that the liberated person should be free again within 6 to 9 months in return for the repayment of the money for their passage. This would buy Rapp time to deal with his monetary conversion issues and not obligate the passengers after their debt was paid. Typical indentures lasted roughly 5-7 years. Jacob Lentz’s story indicates their indenture was for 3+ years.
Clearly Jacob and Fredericka were not on the ship Susanna Catharina, as they didn’t have any money and they report their arrival in January of 1819, but Rapp’s suggestion for the October passengers, still on board that ship in mid-November, may well have applied to the next group that arrived in January as well. It’s known that the ship Susanna Catharina was still anchored in the harbor well into the spring of 1819, likely with Germans still aboard who could not pay their passage and who were waiting for Rapp to redeem them.
Furthermore, the information above regarding a reduced period of indenture correlates with another part of the Jacob Lentz tribute story, as follows:
A certain ship was to leave their port for the new world and proposed to enter (so they entered) into a contract, stipulating that they should be bound out to services to anyone that would pay their passage and food expense. The time of service was to be determined by the bidding of interested employers after landing in America. They would be indentured servants. (Previous sentence not in second copy.) It was stipulated that the family was not to be separated.
With this contract they set sail the second time for the land beyond the sea, not knowing what would befall them or how they would be dealt with in the future (rest of sentence not in second copy) that was veiled with clouds that seemed to be very dark. All they knew was to commit their all into the hands of the overruling Providence “That doeth all things well, patiently labor, and wait for the future to unroll whatever was in store for them.”
(The passage was $30 each for mother and father and $15 each for Jacob and Fredericka. Elizabeth died on the ocean and Barbery was a baby.)
They landed in New York on the 1st day of January 1819 (rest of sentence omitted in second copy) some 18 months or more after leaving Germany. Very soon after landing advertisements were sent out giving contract notice, description of the family, amount of money to be paid and setting the date when they would be bound out to the one that would pay the money for the least period of service.
The momentous day soon came. They were placed on a platform before the crowd, the contract read, the amount of money to be paid was stated and the bidding began. Of course anyone had the privilege to talk with them beforehand. The bidding was in time of service. One bidder would offer to pay their fare for 10 years services, another for nine, another for 8, another for 7, and so the bidding continued until finally their service was declared to the successful bidder for 3 years and 6 months. They went with him to his home at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, wondering, wondering, wondering what it all meant to them.
They worked with a will and did their best to please their employer so he would have no just cause to hold them for service longer than the specified time.
They soon found that their employer and his wife were very good people asking reasonable work and supplying them with a comfortable home and an abundance of food. Contrasting this kindness with what they had to meet in the two preceding years, they were content and the future looked brighter to them, as they were now sure that in a few years of time they would be free to start life over again in this land where they had longed (long hoped) to be.
After they had worked about 8 months their employer invited them into his parlor one morning and kindly explained to them that according to customary wages, they had earned enough to pay their fare across the ocean and that was all he wanted, that he appreciated very much their faithful service. There were at the liberty to do for themselves and to work for who or where they would and their wages would be theirs to do with as they wished.
Freeing them of over two and a half years of service was so unthought-of on their part that they could never thank those people enough for their great kindness. So he often told it to his children and asked them to tell it to their children – that they might know and appreciate this kindness that was shown to them at the time it meant so much.
The great irony here is that there is no record of who this kind family was. Had Jacob mentioned the name of that family, I might be able to find their descendants, learn more about Jacob’s first decade in the US, and I just might be able to find Johann Adam Ruhle/Reuhl.
Was the Ruhle/ Reuhl family indentured as well?
The Ship Prima
The last ship to leave Norway with the shipwrecked Germans was the Prima. On May 4th, 1819, a few months after the Prima’s arrival earlier that year in January, another Harmonite letter tells of the near catastrophy. These ships carrying our family seem jinxed. I can only imagine their utter terror as they once again were endangered on the sea, seemingly sure to perish.
This letter reports that the group passed through a violent hurricane that threatened to capsize their ship.
We find additional information about this journey in a paper written by Ingrid Semmingsen titled “Haugeans, Rappites and the Immigration of 1825,” published in “Norwegian-American Studies, Volume 29” in 1983. This immigration is referring to the Norwegian immigration to the US.
Semmingsen states that aboard the Zee Ploeg were:
About 500 emigrants – all from Wurttemberg, petty farmers and craftsmen who had resolved after the unusually severe winter of 1816 to leave for America. 1816 was the year “when summer never came.” Some of the immigrants, probably about 150, called themselves separatists. They were religious dissenters and political malcontents who stoutly resisted any attempts by the Norwegian authorities to induce them to return to Germany. They maintained they would be subject to persecution there. They were followers of Johann George Rapp, gone to America in 1803.
Some of the Germans had paid all or part of the passage due the Dutch shipping company and they brought legal action against the skipper in an attempt to regain their money. Several of the emigrants still had some funds left, but most of them were poor. A certain percentage were “nonpaying passengers” who had entered into an agreement with the skipper that they would raise the necessary funds on arrival in America by enlisting as indentured servants or laborers.
The whole group of emigrants was in miserable condition after floundering in the North Sea storm for nearly 2 months, during which time a number of them had perished. As a result, there were orphans among them and some 40 of the passenger were so feeble that they were sent to a hospital.
Fortunately the Norwegian doctor who was put in charge of them found nothing contagious. Nevertheless some deaths did occur after arrival in Bergen.
As events would have it, the entire group had to spend the whole winter in Bergen. The sailing season was past and the city authorities in cooperation with the Norwegian government had to take measures to provide them with housing and other necessities. The years 1817-1818 were the worst Norway had to endure after gaining independence in 1814. Crown Prince Carl Johann who would become king in 1818 even gave assistance from his own private funds. Finances were desperate and political unrest was smoldering.
Even under more normal circumstances, it would have been a formidable task for a city with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants to improvise charitable organizations to assume responsibility for 500 practically helpless foreigners, many of them political refugees. In 1817 it must have seemed an event of catastrophic proportions. Not until the summer and fall of 1818 did the immigrants leave Bergen. The first group left in August and docked in Philadelphia in late October and the second on the vessel Prima did not arrive in Baltimore until shortly after New Year’s, 1819.
Semmingsen goes on to say a few pages later that:
The Norwegian government had advanced 1,300 pounds toward their transportation which it hoped would be refunded when the ship reached an American port. The full cost of transportation ran to 2,200 pounds and the difference was arranged for by a naturalized German in Kristiana named Grunning. More is known about this second crossing.
One of the crew of the Prima, presumably one of the officers if not the captain himself, wrote an account of the journey which was published in a Norwegian newspaper in 1826. He reported that there were two Catholic families among the passengers and the rest were Lutherans.
The people were described as religiously-minded, virtuous, and, considering their social class, well-bred. All of them had prayer books. Every morning and evening they prayed to God in a solemn and touching manner and sang hymns in clear, pure voices.
Before retiring they entertained themselves with song, dance, music, and games. On occasion they also passed the cup of friendship among themselves.
Skipper Woxland chose the southern route. This was undoubtedly wise considering the lateness of the season when he set sail. He took the Prima south to the coast of Portugal so as to utilize the trade winds, and it paid off “With the never-failing dominance of this wind” they reached the West Indies, but there they ran into trouble. They had to fight a raging storm, the shipowner reported to the government, and they had to dock in Baltimore instead of in Philadelphia, which was their real destination.
But according to the report the ship, crew, and passengers were well received. A committee was appointed by the citizens, which consisted partly of fellow-countrymen of the newcomers. They brought food aboard the ship and also raised money to help defray travel expenses.
Furthermore, arrangements were made to secure employment or land for the emigrants. Everything was managed “in the best of order” to everyone’s satisfaction.
Only the leave-taking with the skipper and the crew was a sad experience for the emigrants. Many of them had learned to speak Norwegian during the long stay in Bergen, and they promised that they would never forget dear Norway or “the kindly disposed citizens of Bergen.”
Not all the passengers were as favorably impressed by their reception in America as this report would imply — at least not four persons who were bound for Harmony and who, a few months later, sent a letter from Philadelphia to “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in God’s congregation in Bergen.”
To be sure, they praised the skipper and crew who, with God’s help, exerted themselves to the uttermost in order to save ship and passengers when a “terrible storm” almost caused the ship to capsize; but they were dissatisfied with Harmony, which had not “given orders to redeem us.” They also had encountered trouble with getting their passage paid for, and they were forced to seek release from paying the big bill “charged against us for the care we received in Bergen.” Clearly, the emigrants also had to work as indentured servants. “Then we were sold for the passage money: one down south, another up north; only four of us are here together, the others are scattered.”
However, they continue, “America is a good country. Poor people live better here than the wealthy ones in Bergen and Germany. Wages are good. While we are in service, we are given good food and clothing and we have many free periods. We hope that we will soon earn our freedom and then be gathered together as one congregation.
Apparently, there was indeed a lawsuit filed against the Zee Ploeg Captain in Norway, although the outcome is questionable. The Jacob Lentz tribute says that the Captain was hung.
According to this information from the Norwegian archives website, and auto-translated, it looks like the Captain may have been in jail and the suit may have been dismissed. However, look who filed the suit.
Carl O Gram Gjesdal mention proceedings against Zee Plogs captain in jail in the new year 1818. The occasion will, according to Gjesdal, have been that two passengers, Jacob Lentz and John Fiedler, had appealed to the authorities and received a licence to ‘ on ustemplet paper for the person in question under the law that let make the cases that they find themselves occasioned that grow toward the bemeldte captain, kapt. Poul Jan Manzelmann ‘. Do you know where this thing is located? It should have been accusations of drunkenness, poor seamanship, embezzlement, brutality, abuse, and murderer tampering attempts. He was also of some of the responsibility for that small children died during the crossing due to malnutrition. It was difficult with the evidence, and DOM’s formulation, according to have been Gjesdal,: ‘ the captain should replace them to citanterne for erholdt forlite provisions after unwilling men’s discretion … By the way he should as far as compensation is concerned, is considered to be free. Iøvrig rejected the case. ‘ Mvh Arnfrid
This lawsuit tells us a couple very interesting things. First, Jacob, according to the earlier discussion, would have been one of the passengers that originally paid his way and that of his family.
Second, this begs the question of why Jacob would have been the one to file the suit. Was it burning anger over his daughter’s death? Or had Jacob assumed something of a leadership position among the immigrants? Why Jacob?
Arrival and Indenture
In America, I lose the trail of the Reuhl/Ruhle family completely, but Jacob and Fredericka Lentz and their remaining three children were indentured to a family, supposedly in Shippensburg, PA, for 8 months. They reportedly stayed in Pennsylvania for the next decade or so, became Brethren at some point, and in 1828 or 1829 moved to Montgomery County, Ohio. I have not been able to confirm this. In fact, I can’t find Jacob and Fredericka until their daughter, Mary’s birth in Ohio in 1829. There is no sign of Adam Ruhle in Ohio, but by 1829, he would have been 65 years old, and his wife 74.
I have not had any success finding Johann Adam Ruhle or family members after arrival. He would have been 56 years old in 1820, the first possible census where he could have appeared, and his wife would have been 65. They could well have been indentured at that time. If they weren’t, who knows how their surname would have been recorded, or where.
Adam’s son, Johann George Ruhle/Reuhl, would have been 26 and would only have been individually recorded in the census if he were not indentured and were a head of household. The sister, Johanna Margaretha at age 20 could have already married, and if not, she would be listed with her parents or the people to whom she was indentured.
Did Adam and his wife survive the second crossing? Did they somehow stay in Norway? What happened to their son and daughter?
Ironically, the one person I might have found is Christian Brining who is recorded as dying in 1829 in Hagerstown, Maryland. However, he is also shown has having had a son in 1810 and one in 1811 in Wurttemberg, so this might not be our man. However, that does match the 2 individuals on the survivor list. This Christian was naturalized in Maryland and arrived between 1818 and 1821.
There is so much we just don’t know.
Without knowing what happened to Adam’s son, Johann George Reuhl, it’s almost impossible to discover the Reuhl Y DNA. The Reuhl son, Johann Ludwig, who stayed behind in Beutelsbach Germany appears to have had one son, also named Johann Ludwig, who died in Stuttgart in1893, and we lose that line there.
Checking the Germany DNA project at Family Tree DNA, there are no Reuhl males of any similar spelling.
In one last ditch effort, I checked my mother’s Family Finder matches to see if she has anyone with a Reuhl or similar surname. She didn’t.
I tried Ancestry. Nothing.
I even tried Genforum and the Rootweb lists and boards, hoping for Reuhl. Nada.
One problem of course, is knowing how the name might be spelled. It isn’t even spelled the consistently in German church records, so Heaven only knows how it was spelled in the US. Reuhl, Ruhle, Reuhle, Rule or maybe something else.
So, if you find a Johann Adam or Johann George of about the right age with a surname that sounds something like Reuhl, or if your ancestor married a Johanna Margaretha Reuhl or similar, please, PLEASE let me know.
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