Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755-?), Despair in the Abyss of the High Sea – 52 Ancestors #215

In 1816, most German women who were 61 years old would have been playing with grandchildren in the sunshine. Not Dorothea.

Of course, nothing had ever been “normal” in Dorothea’s life, not the entire time she had lived in Beutelsbach, on the banks of the Rems river, in the vineyard region of Wuerttemberg, Germany.

As a child, her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin had been “taken away” for 15 years to serve in the military. Her mother, Dorothea Heubach, worked in the vineyards to support Dorothea while waiting those long years for her father’s return. They married the year he returned and Dorothea’s only sibling was born two years later, in 1772, dying the next year.

Dorothea married Johann Friedrich Breuning in 1780 and after they had three children, he died in 1786, the youngest of their 3 children being just 5 days shy of her first birthday. That baby would perish in 1790, just a few months before Dorothea’s mother’s death. Another of Dorothea’s 3 children had died in 1783.

In 1787, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, the man she would spend the rest of her life with, at least as far as we know.

It seemed like Dorothea’s life calmed down and was settling into the familiar rhythmic pattern of village life after her marriage to Adam, and for a while, it did.

Between 1788 and 1800, Dorothea and Adam had 6 children. Three lived past childhood, 3 did not. As sad as that is, it was also normal in that time and place.

Although Dorothea’s father had been absent during her entire childhood, not of his own choosing, mind you, he also lived 15 years longer than Dorothea’s mother. Not that those early years could ever be replaced, but one had to make the best of things and it was surely a comfort to Dorothy having her father’s presence in her life as she, and he, aged.

Dorothea would celebrate her 60th birthday 10 days after her father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin passed away on July 31st, 1805. Probably not a terribly joyful birthday.

It was very unusual for someone to have no siblings in a German village, but that was Dorothea’s situation. With no siblings and no parents, Dorothea might have felt a bit like she didn’t fit in.

Dorothea was different, and perhaps it was because of that very fact that in another 11 years, in 1816, Dorothea was willing to take the risk of her life.

Dorothea wasn’t afraid of challenges, that’s for sure.


The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia would render devastating consequences around the world in 1816 as the smoke and ash blocked the warming rays of the sun. However, at that time, no one in Germany knew about a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have associated cause and effect.

By 1816, known as “the year without a summer,” Dorothea was 61 years old. Her daughter, Fredericka had married Jakob Lenz in 1808 and had blessed Dorothea with 5 grandchildren, of which one had died in 1814.

The rest of Dorothea Catharina’s children lived with her and husband, Johann Adam Ruhle, a vinedresser. 1816 was brutal – and the 4th year in a row that the vineyards hadn’t produced. But 1816 was the worst by far. The grapes didn’t ripen and neither did the rest of the crops. Food was in short supply and rioting broke out in many parts of Germany for basic foods, such as wheat and flour.

No one was interested in waiting for a repeat performance in 1817, so many families prepared to leave over the winter months.

In February, Dorothea Catharina’s husband, Adam, and her son-in-law, Jacob Lenz petitioned for permission to emigrate.

If someone wanted to emigrate, they needed official permission from the Kingdom of Württemberg, insuring that all debts had been paid to creditors. Therefore, the applicant either had to wait a certain amount of time so debtors could report a bill, or the applicant had to find a guarantor.

Permission to emigrate was published in the years 1816 to 1820 in the “Royal Württemberg State and Government Gazette.” If the person wishing to emigrate could not provide a guarantor, the “Government Gazette” contained up to three calls to potential creditors to file their claims. Otherwise, the creditor could turn to the guarantor.

Permission was obtained for Johann Adam Ruhle to immigrate and in February, the family sold their possessions, paid off any outstanding debt, and departed.

Only one of Dorothea’s children remained behind – Johann Ludwig Ruhle. A single man, for whatever reason, he chose to stay in Beutelsbach. He would have waved goodbye to his entire family; parents, three siblings and four nieces and nephews as the wagon pulled away from the vineyards. Why he stayed and where he lived between then and his marriage in 1830 is unknown.

Immigration – Why and Why Now?

German’s were emigrating by the thousands, and not just to the United States.

A man named Friedrich List was commissioned by the Württemberg government to ask citizens on the docks in Heilbronn about the reasons for their emigration. He recorded his interview with Johann Adam Rühle on April 30, 1817.

Adam provided the following commentary about the reason for his decision: “Just look at the tax papers and you will find our own complaints.”

Other men from Beutelsbach who were also interviewed mentioned governmental corruption and deprivation as motivations as well.

Other reasons for immigration are set forth in a letter from Frederick Rapp (who had immigrated to the US and set up a German colony of religious Rappites) to Joseph Leobold explaining why a German might want to immigrate. Frederick said, “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.” This would have rung true for Dorothea whose own father was forcibly absent for the first 15 years of her life – and she had sons.

Furthermore, the ban on immigration that had been in effect in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg since 1807 was lifted in 1816.

It appears that a combination of crop failure and high taxes combined with the allure of available land in America and opportunity for all was the shiny object that lured the Lenz (Lentz) and Ruhle (Reuhl) family down the rivers through Germany to Amsterdam, and onto a ship sailing for the promised land.

Except, that wasn’t what actually happened at all.

The Rhine to Amsterdam

In an obscure article by Dr. W. Weintraud titled “Schicksale wurttembergischer Auswanderer im Jahre 1817″ (“Fates of Wurttemberg Emigrants in 1817”) about the Zee Ploeg shipwreck survivors, he tells us on page 16 that:

The emigrants from Wurttemberg boarded rafts in the town of Heilbronn in Germany and traveled on those on the rivers Neckar and Rhine to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, they spent weeks to find a shipping company willing to take them onboard to the United States.

Heilbronn isn’t far from Beutelsbach, but I wonder why they didn’t board boats or barges on the Neckar at either Remseck or Bad Cannstatt, both of which were closer.

The family group traveled up the rivers to intersect with the Rhine at Mannheim and down the Rhine to Rotterdam, through bucolic castle country of the middle Rhine Valley.

By Alice F.A. Mutton Karl A. Sinnhuber (Enc. Britannica) – Rhine River History and Maps Rhine river, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The immigrants must have enjoyed the beautiful German countryside, places they had never seen before and would never see again. They were sailing in May, and spring would have been unfurling green leaves like tendrilled fingers and colorful spring flowers.

For the Germans, the Rhine was a one way ticket out.

The trip would have been chilly in the spring time, but beautiful nonetheless and their hearts would have been joyful and filled with hope.

The Middle Rhine is chocked full of castles on vistas overlooking the river and vineyards perched on hillsides which would have made them feel right at home.

They were leaving Germany, so this float trip through some of the most beautiful country in the world was somehow a fitting goodbye that would leave them with memories of the best that Germany had to offer.

In 2017, I traced the route that Dorothea and family would have taken. I wondered what they thought as they passed the castles representing thousands of years of German history. Had they even heard of these locations and did they have an appreciation for the beauty, or were their sights so firmly planted on their distant destination that they didn’t notice their surroundings as they floated towards the ocean?

By Alexander Hoernigk – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

As the group of immigrants floated closer to the sea, the land flattened out and became low and floodprone.

The Rhine intersected the Ijssel where the barge would turn towards Amsterdam. On the horizon, windmills became visible to manage waterflow and drainage canals appeared in the distance.

As they sailed further into the spring time, tulips and daffodils began to bloom in the flat Dutch countryside, beside the canals. This land was dramatically different from Germany and would have looked like an entirely different world. Vistas of beauty opened before their eyes on every horizon.

On they traveled.

As spring burst into full bloom in April and May, it must have seemed like Mother Nature herself was blessing their journey.

After arriving on the coast of the Netherlands, probably in May, the trip was delayed week to week and then month to month, until at last, in July, the group found a ship in Amsterdam on which to book their passage and prepared to leave port.


Amsterdam was a hub of maritime activity, even though sailing from Amsterdam meant sailing around barrier islands in the sea. Why didn’t they sail out of Rotterdam, a closer and more accessible port? That answer is forever lost to time.

Today, Amsterdam houses the museum of the East India Trading Company with a reconstructed ship that would have been similar to the ship that Dorothea Catharina and her family boarded to set sail for Philadelphia.

I visited Amsterdam, knowing that my ancestor Govert Van Oy (Vannoy) along with his wife and children set sail from here in 1664 for New Netherlands. However in the summer of 2017, I didn’t yet know that Dorothea Catharina’s family, consisting of 4 of my ancestors set sail from this very same location exactly 200 years ago. In fact, they were in Amsterdam, probably on this very quay, waiting to sail 200 years and 2 days before I stood there, in complete ignorance, in 2017.

Sometimes synchronicity is simply amazing. I like to think Dorothea might have had a hand in this!

The Zee Ploeg

The ship on which they booked passage was named the Zee Ploeg, also spelled Zee Ploug and was 136 feet long, 32 feet wide and 16 feet high. Of course, that 16 feet was without masts. The masts were a LOT taller.

This drawing is of a similar ship. No actual drawing of the Zee Ploeg exists today.

Touring the reproduction ship at the Amsterdam West India Company Headquarters Museum was quite interesting.

I looked up!

Nope, I could never be a sailor.

This reproduction ship was 157 feet long, so 21 feet longer than the Zee Ploeg, and those masts are 183 feet tall. Reaching the crow’s nest was accomplished by climbing the rope ladders. Nope. Just no.

Let’s go inside.

I had never really thought about bathroom facilities. This lid opens directly over the ocean. There was one “toilet” per side of the ship. The captain and officers had their own.

Crates and barrels with food and water were stored below deck, along with the passengers.

Wealthy passengers had boxes that resembled small bunk beds, but our family, according to Jacob Lentz’s later letter, in essence had the cheap seats. Cheap seats weren’t beds at all, but hammocks where you simply pulled the side fabric over you for a blanket. I wonder how many people slept in each hammock.

Here, my friend Yvette Hoitink, Dutch genealogist extraordinaire, and I are practicing. Getting in and out of the hammock required far more grace than I possess. All I can say is that it’s a good thing there isn’t movie evidence, because it would be a comedy, trust me!

Setting Sail

On July the 7th, 1817, finally, the Zee Ploeg set sail from Amsterdam.

Four days later, they were skirting the island of Texel, where the ship had to pass in a channel between Texel and either the island to the south or Vlieland to the north in order to enter the Atlantic ocean.

From Amsterdam to the southern point of Texel is about 65 miles, but the nautical route wasn’t as direct. In this wonderful article, the author visited the Jutters Museum and provides photos of dioramas as well as several old maps that show the location of the West India docks in Amsterdam and the water “roadway,” as they were called at the time, to Texel where the ships would resupply, taking on their last fresh water for the voyage.


When the emigrants arrived in Texel, foul weather ensued and continued until August 5th, nearly a month. They spent the month riding out the bad weather on the ship at Texel, waiting for the storms and wind to abate.

You can see Amsterdam in orange and the island of Texel near the top on the old maritime map below. This map was actually created with north to right, but I’ve rotated it to reflect the actual geography.

In this contemporary satellite view, you can see the treacherous waterways between the island and the mainland (in green) that require a highly qualified pilot or Captain, in the terms of 1817, to navigate.

All of the green area between the island and the mainland are shallows that used to be land not long ago.

I stood on the island of Vlieland looking at Texel to the south, exactly 200 years later, to the day, that they were anchored in this very location. Of course, I had no idea the significance at the time. What I did know is that another ancestor of mine, Govert Van Oy had died en route to New Netherlands in 1664 at age 39 and was buried on the island of Texel.

Texel is the island in the distance. The weather was much better the day I stood on these sands staring across the channel.

However, the grim reaper reached out for me there too. I was felled by a cobblestone, broke my femur, messed up my knee in such a way that I have a permanent souvenir, and suffered from blood clots in my leg. I think those islands have it in for my family – although the Island of Vlieland possesses a sorceresses’ hypnotic, alluring charm – beckoning one to return.

Ironically, the letters in the sand created by specially cast tires for the tour bus are poetry that translates roughly as:

What makes the deepest impression
Will be touched by the water
Let no man disturb
The sea will have the last word

Each year a tire poetry contest is held, but the 2017 winning poem seemed particularly prescient for Dorothea 200 years earlier.

The Most Difficult Ancestor

This is the point where I have to tell you how difficult this article was to write. Where I get to explain that I have nightmares about what Dorothea endured. Where I confess that I almost couldn’t write this one. That I feel compelled to provide you with a PTSD trigger warning. No movie could be more dramatic. You may forget to breathe. You may wish you hadn’t read this when you’re done.

You’ve been warned.

I also get to reveal that I think Dorothea survived, but I’m not positive. What I am positive of is that not everyone in the family did.

This is the wrench-your-heart-right-out-of-your-chest-through-your-throat ancestor story. A Halloween nightmare come true.

As if Dorothea’s life hadn’t already been difficult enough before leaving Beutelsbach; the worst, by an immeasurable degree was yet to come. The indescribable terror of what lay ahead made Beutelsbach with all the death, burials and challenges look like an ice cream social on a balmy sun-kissed Sunday afternoon.

The storm clouds were gathering, figuratively and literally, and they would unleash in an unimaginable, eternal, hell-fire torrent of terror.

But first, let’s take a look at what we know already.

Jacob’s Letter

Dorothea’s daughter, Frederika Ruhle/Reuhl had married Jacob Lenz (spelled Lentz in America.) They, of course, were passengers on this ship as well. Jacob Lentz and Frederika’s grandchildren documented the story that Jacob told them about the journey.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz, born in 1867 in Indiana recorded what his father, Johann Adam Lentz, reportedly born in 1819 in Shippensburg, PA, told him about his parent’s trip.

George William reportedly wrote the story for his son, Roscoe, born in 1891. By process of elimination, we know that this story, styled as a tribute to Jacob Lentz, was recorded for posterity sometime between 1891 and 1946 when George William died. Thank goodness it was! There was also a slightly different second documented story. Each story provided a few details that the other didn’t.

In essence, Jacob said that he along with his wife, Frederica, 3 or 4 children (depending on which letter) and his wife’s sister immigrated.

One of Jacob and Fredericka’s daughters, Elizabeth Lentz, died during the passage. We know she left with the family, because the children’s citizenship rights were preserved in the immigration document where they were specifically named.

According to William George’s letter, the entire family became shipwrecked on the western coast of Norway where they were “brought to a disappointment in life that they were never able to find words to express. Six months later, they found a captain that would transport them to America, stipulating that they would sell themselves as indentured servants upon their arrival to pay for their passage.” The only caveat was that the family would not be separated.

The rest of the tribute letter deals with Jacob’s later life after arrival.

Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was clearly recording what his father had told him. Johann Adam Lentz, named after his grandfather Johann Adam Ruhle, was born seven months after Jacob and Frederica arrived, apparently while they were indentured, and died in 1906. Finding Johann Adam Lentz’s baptism record would shed light on a more precise location where they were indentured.

In 1867, when Jacob’s grandson, George William Lentz was born in New Paris, Indiana, Frederica Ruhle Lentz had already passed away and Jacob Lentz was an old man of 84 years, living peacefully in Montgomery County, Ohio, on a farm a few miles outside of Dayton. Jacob died in 1870, three years later.

I expect that Jacob never met grandson, George William, and if he did, George William would never have remembered, because he was 3 years old when Jacob died in another state 190 miles distant over dirt roads that would have been traversed in a wagon, if at all. That’s a nontrivial trip of between 9 and 20 days, depending on how difficult the travel. In other words, George William certainly didn’t personally remember Jacob telling stories about his journey to America.

What George William wrote is what Jacob Lentz had told William George’s father Adam, and what Adam conveyed to him.

Given what I’ve recently discovered, it’s entirely possible that Jacob Lentz couldn’t bring himself to even think about 1817 and 1818, let alone talk about those events.

However, there was one piece of information not recorded in the tribute document that surfaced from another cousin, descended from another child of Jacob Lentz, and that was the place name of Bergen. Bergen is a city in Norway, on the coast, but far north of where they were supposed to be. Bergen is just about the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska. What would the Zee Ploeg have been doing up there?

But more important, who could make up something that specific? An out-of-the-way off-the-beaten-path place name that I’d never heard of before, tucked in a Norwegian fjord? Was there perhaps some grain of truth in the shipwreck story after all?

Nah, couldn’t be.


My friend and cousin, Tom made the discovery that broke through this brick wall. Not only did he discover that Fredericka’s surname was Ruhle, he then used that information to unravel the location where they lived in Germany. Then, as the icing on the cake, he found documentation of their shipwreck in, you guessed it, Bergen, Norway.

It was Tom that found the ship’s name, the Zee Ploeg, translated as the Sea Plow.

This experience as it was unfolding was intensely surreal. Bergen, Norway, a shipwreck, a list of survivors and deaths of people in a hospital. Was this Jacob’s ship? Was he really shipwrecked? Was that story actually true?

The Lawsuit

The dates fit and we found mention of a Jacob Lentz filing a lawsuit in Bergen against the captain. Jacob and another passenger filed to request that the Captain, who was accused of negligence and attempted murder refund the price of their passage to the immigrants so that they could purchase tickets on to America.

Apparently, there was indeed a lawsuit, 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

From a publication by Dr. Karl J. R. Arndt titled “George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of Norwegian Migration to America,” we discover a letter from one passenger to his brother describing the shipwreck.

“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 bought about great sickness so that over 200 souls died.”

In other words, the Captain intentionally starved his passengers…slowly…to death.

After reading that, my stomached tightened into a knot and I had to take a walk to deal with the intense overwashing emotions as the horrific ugly truth sunk in.




My ancestors.

No Justice

The suit filed in Bergen asked that the Captain be required to refund the immigrants’ money so that they could book other passage, but Captain Manzelman maintained that refunds were the responsibility of the shipping company. Under cover of darkness, he stowed away on a ship and left Norway for the Netherlands to escape being held accountable for his actions.

Jacob Lentz’s story indicates that the Captain was put to death, but that didn’t happen. Perhaps that’s what Manzelman deserved and what Jacob wanted. After all, Jacob’s own daughter, Elizabeth, was one of those that died. Elizabeth was Dorothea Catharina’s granddaughter. The entire family, along with the other passengers, probably despised the Captain. He was lucky that they didn’t simply take matters into their own hands and dispense their own brand of high seas justice. Who could have blamed them!

We already knew that Jacob and Fredericka’s daughter, Elizabeth, had died, but the fact that the rest of the family had survived belied the severity and terror of what actually happened.

Furthermore, from Jacob’s letter, we didn’t know how many family members were included in that journey. There were several more than were initially recorded.

Why did Jacob say nothing about them?

Who Was Traveling?

In the Ruhle/Lenz family group from Beutelsbach, we have the following documented immediate family members.

Name Birth Death Comment
Johann Adam Ruhle – Fredericka’s father January 30, 1764, Schnait After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Dorothea Katharina Wolflin (Ruhle) – Fredericka’s mother August 10, 1755, Beutelsbach Either January 14, 1818 or after October 7, 1818 Survived to Bergen, not in Bergen church death records, may have drown on January 14th or may have left Bergen in October 1818
Jacob Christian Breuning – Fredericka’s half-brother June 8,1783, Beutelsbach After August 1818 Left Bergen August 1818
Johann Georg Ruhle – Fredericka’s full brother April 25, 1794, Beutelsbach After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Katharina Koch – Johann Georg Ruhle’s fiancé/wife February 27, 1793 After October 7, 1818 Survived the voyage to Bergen, in Bergen records after Noah’s Ark tragedy, not in Bergen church death records
Friederika Ruhle (Lenz/Lentz) – Dorothea and Adam’s daughter March 3, 1788, Beutelsbach March 22, 1863, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Lenz (Lentz) – Fredericka’s husband May 15, 1783, Beutelsbach April 10, 1870, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America
Jacob Franklin Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s son November 28, 1806, Beutelsbach March 23, 1887, Dayton, Ohio Survived to America, married Sophia Schweitzer
Fredericka “Fanny” Lentz (Brusman) – Fredericka and Jacob’s daugther July 3, 1809, Beutelsbach October 9, 1897, Montgomery Co., Ohio Survived to America, married Daniel Brusman
Elizabeth Katharina Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter March 28, 1813, Beutelsbach Between September 5 and October 17, 1817 Died at sea on way to Bergen
Maria Barbara Lentz – Fredericka and Jacob’s daughter August 22, 1816, Beutelsbach November 9, 1899, Elkhart Co., Indiana Survived to America, married Henry Yost

The Zee Ploeg

This beautiful model of the Zee Ploeg was lovingly crafted by model builder Knut Hanselmann. The model can be admired in the church at Herdla. Photo by Håkon Andersen / Askøy Church Joint Council. My gratitude to both men as well as the church and Christian Rieber who commissioned the model. You can read more here.

Bergen City Archives

The Bergen City archives tells us that the ship, Zee Ploeg, carried approximately 560 German immigrants who were sailing for Philadelphia when they became stranded in Norway after their ship lost a mast and floundered in the North Sea.

How, in Heaven’s name, did they ever fit 560 people in a ship that was 126 feet long by 32 feet wide at the widest point – in addition to supplies, food and their possessions? How did the passengers even lay down, at all?

In Bergen, a committee consisting of the magistrate’s president, a councilor, the police chief, the city physicist and three citizen representatives was appointed to carry out the onerous task of looking after the refugees. Most were housed on the ship Noah Ark which was tethered to the Zee Ploeg in a harbor north of Bergen as they waited. There was no housing to accommodate that many people. The committee received supplies, housing and medical assistance from local people as well as from the Norwegian royalty. Keep in mind that Norway too had suffered from the crop failures associated with 1816, plus a recent war in which they were defeated and given to Sweden, as a spoil of war.

In the summer of 1818, about 80 stranded Germans who could obtain or had funds remaining departed, but the remainder of the 250-270 poor people were sent to America on the ship, Prima, departing on October 7th.

The Bergen City Archives possesses the negotiation protocol that the committee utilized in an unbound booklet of 107 pages. It contains a summary of the committee’s many meetings and discussions. There are also two lists of emigrants, namely those who went on with “Captain Fischer’s Ship” (probably Susanna Catharina) and secondly the Prima on October 7, 1818. It is possible that this protocol has not yet been used in the research around this event, as Professor Semmingen never mentions this document.

I am not yet in receipt of a translated (or untranslated) copy of this second list from the October sailing. That list will, I hope, resolve the question of whether Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Reuhle survived.

The Letter

I have been extremely fortunate to have the assistance of my German friend, Chris, who has been able to unearth several research sources due to the fact that German is his Native language and he has at least a rudimentary understanding of Norwegian.

I am ever so grateful.

Chris found a letter, written by a German survivor in Bergen to his family back home.

The next part of this story about the actual voyage itself is best told in the author’s own words, translated from German which I’ve included as a footnote for reference.

Chris was unsure of some words (in italics) in modern language. Chris’s comments to the original in [italics].

English Letter Translation

Unfortunate ride of the Dutch frigate d`Zeeploeg

Bergen in Norway, February 23, 1818.

I made a promise to you in Amsterdam last year to give you some report from North America both on the country’s customs, as well as on the life and destinies of the German expatriates, and about my sea voyage. But I cannot fulfill this promise, because the Lord has decided to cross my plans to come to America. I want to describe to you as much as possible our misfortune, but I do not know exactly where to start, and from where to take the colors to faithfully design our misfortune and the misery of the passengers. For the unfortunate accident which came over us on this journey by the loss of our masts was terrible in every case. For 28 days we were in mortal fear, no rescue seemed possible, death and destruction threatened us on all sides, and despair had almost seized the emigrants on the high seas, if religion and hope had not been the support, on which our self-preservation would have been founded.

After 2 months of rest, I left the port of Amsterdam on the evening of July 7, 1817 at 7 o’clock with several families from Wurttemberg, Mr Heinrich Diezel, merchant from Lahr in the Breisgau, and equipped with the best recommendation letters from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, with the plan to board the frigate d’Zeeploeg in Texel, and to start the voyage to America. However, the tide prevented us from leaving the road, and so it took until 12 o`clock until we were able to make our way. On July 11 in the evening at half past ten we happily arrived there. I was greeted by the ship`s captain H. E. Manzelmann with all humanity and hospitality.

Our ship personnel consisted of the captain, the main steersman, the subordinate steersman, the ship surgeon, 3 passengers in the cabin, 30 seamen, and many passengers, men and women, all from the state of Wurttemberg.

The wind was always unfavorable to us, although the anchors were hoisted several times. But as soon as the sails unfolded, storms and adverse winds overtook us and the anchors had to fall again. The sky always seemed unfavorable to us, and so it lasted until the 5th August, when we left the dockyard in Texel in the afternoon at 4 o’clock, with the favor of a good wind from North-East. We arrived at the water mouth at 5 o’clock, when our ship was brought in instant danger through a crooked direction. The residents of Den Helder already started to bring their small boats from the shore to the water to help us, when we were suddenly rescued and brought to anchor by a clever turn of our ship. But we did not stay long in this embarrassing situation, for at six o’clock we happily sailed around the dangerous places, which filled us with horror, and with full sails we passed through the night, happily facing our destinies.

We were already in view of the English coast on 9 August, and no obstacle seemed to be in our way anymore to reach the channel. But the wind from South-West, which soon became stormy, forced us to retreat on the 10th at 1 o’clock in the morning. And so we maneuvered through the Northern Sea to the left and to the right, fighting with the elements. The result of our 17-day voyage was, therefore, that we had to anchor on the evening of the 16th in the North Sea, at the mouth of the Texel and on the 17th at 6 o’clock in the morning we anchored at the dockyard in Texel, and did not know, when we would be able to leave the dock again, since we first had to fill our food supplies. However, on 24 August, at 3 o’clock in the morning, the anchors were again hoisted to leave the dock, after we were provided with provisions at 9 o’clock in the evening of the 23rd by two ships. A favorable north-east wind filled our sails, and at 6:30 we had already passed the most dangerous places of the estuary. A heavenly sky had a beneficial effect on the minds of the emigrants, everyone was in a happy mood and seemed revived, and with a calm heart we confidently faced towards a better future. But alas, only too soon we were interrupted again in our course, because on the morning of the 26th at 11 o’clock the wind turned south again, so that we could not enter the canal, but rather had to sail around the whole of England. On the morning of the 27th at 8 o`clock we saw the coast of Norway, and on the 29th the coast of Scotland. The Arcadian Islands offered us a beautiful sight. Until then we still had good weather.

On 31 August we sailed with a favorable wind into the ocean, but it lasted scarcely 24 hours, when we were attacked by contrary winds and heavy storms, continuously raging until 4 September, when the storm turned into a terrible hurricane. It is impossible to describe how our heavy ship was thrown high into the air by the waves, and thrown back into the abyss of the sea. People fell overboard from the all-too-strong movement, and drowned. But the horror was still ahead of us: On the evening of 5 September at 5:30 pm the “Kleverbaum” mast broke. With great difficulty the sailors barely had it fixed again when, at 6 o’clock, the great mast with the pram masts went overboard. Caused by strong winds and the high sea flooding the ship. We all tried as hard as we could to cut the ropes to get rid of the broken ship masts. Now we were glad to have kept at least one mast, but at 6:30 pm the foremast broke and at 7 o’clock the bowsprit. So we found ourselves in the absence of anything that otherwise would have provided the ship with its stability. The sea broke the cabin windows from the back, so that the water came streaming in, but the damage was soon repaired.

Now we drifted without masts in the high sea, on all sides over 300 miles from the firm land. At 2 o’clock in the night, boats and sloops (which were mounted on the roof) broke loose and we were forced to throw them overboard, along with the barrels of water, bacon and meat. The cannons, having been loosened by the vigorous movements of the ship, also rolled across the deck and destroyed the hatchways, so that now the water also flew down to the passengers. The water stood three to four feet high in the emigrants` beds. We all believed that this would be our last night, and it was a misery to watch one sailor carried the other on his back into the cabin to lay him down and then go back to work, because almost all the sailors were blessed. One had broken his arm, the other one a leg, and the third one had crushed his feet by a water barrel rolling over it. Only five sailors remained able to work, which is why we had to jump in to work as well. I was just on the deck, when the high sea struck the ship, and we all lay in the water. I am only still alive today, because I was holding fast to a rope, otherwise the sea would have washed me away. Two sailors and six passengers lost their lives, so we always had death occurring in front of our eyes. The captain and the helmsmen, who were also blessing, and the sailors all gave up their hope. On the 10th we put up a piece of wood, which had to serve us as a mast to at least have a sail and to steer with it, God willing, to the solid land.

On 13 September we made the first emergency shot, but no one on the high seas came to our aid; drearily we had to continue steering. By 11:15 pm we got to see the island of Ferro [Faroe Islands?]. We made several shots early in the morning, but in vain. With no pilots on board we were not allowed to sail ashore. We also could not row towards the shore, because we did not have any small boats left. We had lost everything, everything. Here we finally hoped to enter the harbor. No, no! A new storm from the southwest hurled us back into a cliff-top sea, and so we drifted along for another 14 days, until the 29th of September, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when we got to view the northernmost coast of Norway. The wind was favorable to us to sail along the coast. We kept firing our canons, but nobody came to help us. A cup of water was on sale on our ships for 4-5 Dutch Stbr. [some kind of currency], the emigrants received two pounds of bread for an entire week since we had lost the masts until, thank God, on 4 October, we were seen by a fisherman, who came towards us, and piloted us in between the Norwegian mountains. In the evening, at 9 o’clock, we came to anchor between mighty high mountains at Seillanger, 10 miles from Bergen in Norway. Here we had to hold quarantine for 8 days, because the Norwegian government was afraid we could bring an infectious disease into the country. But on the 8th day we were freed from quarantine and we headed towards the city, where we anchored on 13 October in the night at half past eleven, in Sandviken, fifteen minutes from Bergen. The ship’s staff was sick, both sailors and passengers. I had to endure a serious illness as well, and probably would have been robbed away by death, if not the upright German family of Captain Christian Petersen, native of Hamburg, had accepted and fed me. I had to stay in bed for two months, but now I am pretty well again. Truly, Germany has good people! I am staying happily with this family now. They offer with German cordiality everything they can contribute to make my stay pleasant.

Because I do not know how to describe our misfortune faithfully and dreadfully enough, I note only the following points, which were most terrible.

1) The unfortunate coincidence of our ship losing its masts was in any case terrible.

2) To hear the terrible shouting, while the poles were being cut off, in the cabin of the wounded sailors, on the roof of captain and helmsmen. Below the deck, screams of anguish of the poor passengers, to whom the water had already penetrated 3-4 feet high into the ship, and terrible was the whizzing of the high seas, which towered up high above us.

3) The starvation of the poor passengers, which killed many small children (because you were not able to get any food from the storage room because of the huge storm. For four to five days we received nothing to eat or drink.

4) Upon our arrival in Bergen, the passengers were transferred to another boat without masts, which was tied to the frigate Zeeploeg. A dreadful storm from the northwest raged on January 14, forcing the boat off the frigate, driving the unfortunate passengers towards the sea. I was just on the “Aark Noa” (the small boat) to visit the new rooms of the emigrants, when the boat started to drift away. Big boats and sloops were sent to us, but too late to save us all. The ship came to a cliff, whereupon it failed; I jumped for life or death 8-10 feet across towards a small boat approaching us, which was already half full of water, approaching us, and succeeded with this dreadful leap. Of the 200 passengers on board, 75 drowned. Eight days later, 20 more died of terror; the rest were all sick.

On the journey from Amsterdam to Bergen died: 150 passengers.

Washed away with the high seas aboard: 6 passengers and 2 sailors

Injured on the “Aark Noa” in Bergen: 95 passengers

                                                                  In total: 251 passengers

Just take a minute and breathe.

Zee Ploeg Timeline

I have constructed a timeline based on the above letter as well as other sources such as the Rappite letter.

  • February 12, 1817 – permission to emigrate granted
  • March 30, 1817 – scheduled boarding
  • April 30, 1817 – Heilbron, Germany, barge being loaded at the inn, the Krane
  • May 7, 1817 – approximate arrival in Amsterdam based on the letter referring to departing “after 2 months of rest”
  • May 25th – left Amsterdam (per the Rapp letter,) where Johannes Hasert died and was buried on the island of Holder (probably Den Helder, across the channel from Texel)

  • July 7th – left Amsterdam, per the above survivor letter
  • July 11th – Texel, boarded the Zee Ploeg, waited for good winds and no storms
  • August 5th – left Texel, nearly capsized
  • August 9th – saw the English coast
  • August 16th – back in Texel again due to storm
  • August 17th – at the docks in Texel to replenish food supplies
  • August 24th – food supplies replenished, left Texel again
  • August 26th – high winds forced ship to sail around England
  • August 27th – saw coast of Norway
  • August 29th – saw coast of Scotland, Orkadian Islands

  • August 31st – favorable winds for 24 hours
  • September 1-4 – heavy storms, continuously raging
  • September 4 – hurricane
  • September 5 – 5:30 PM – “Kleverbaum” mast broke

                        6 PM – great mast with pram masts went overboard

                        6:30 PM – foremast broke

                        7 PM – bowsprit broke, now adrift 300 miles out to sea

  • September 6 – 2 AM – boats, sloops and barrels broke loose, had to be thrown overboard, 2 sailors and 6 passengers dead, cannons rolled across deck and crashed through the hatchway
  • September 10 – raised piece of wood for mast.
  • September 13 – emergency shots fired, saw Ferro Island (Faroe Islands?)

  • September 27 – had been adrift for 14 days (letter above)
  • September 29 – saw the coast of Norway
  • October 4 – Seillanger (Skjellanger, on the north of Holsnoy near Herdla) – 10 miles from Bergen, fisherman piloting us, quarantine for 8 days (note, Zee Ploeg Norwegian wiki page says this was on September 25th)

  • October 10, 1817 – list of survivors created after docking in Bergen
  • October 13 – freed from quarantine after 8 days to be towed into Bergen, anchoring in Sandviken 15 minutes from Bergen

Note – wiki page says the ship was anchored as Elsesro. Elsesro is in the same bay and very near Sandviken.

  • November 13 – Bergen records indicate they were quarantined for another 30 days after arriving in Elsesro

  • January 14th – Noah Ark was tethered to ship Zea Ploeg when a storm forced the small ship off of the Zee Ploeg into the sea. Of 200 passengers on board, 75 drown.
  • January 22 – 20 more passengers died from terror and the rest were ill

Take a Break

I feel like I just need to take some time here to gather myself and recover a bit before even trying to evaluate this letter and what it tells us.

I can’t even begin to imagine the raw terror, day and night, for a month, drifting at sea. Knowing every minute that it might very well be your last. Watching your loved ones suffer terribly.

And die.

And die.

And die.

The fact that you survived the last minute, the last hour or the last day had no bearing on the probability that you would survive the next minute, hour or day – or at all. Most ships in this predicament didn’t. This scenario played out hundreds if not thousands of times with ships full of passengers that DIDN’T survive. This is what they endured as their ships were ripped apart, board by board, by an angry, malevolent sea.

It took me days to mentally ”process” this letter, knowing that FOUR of my ancestors were on this ship. Not one, not two, not three, but four.

The information varies somewhat with various sources, both in terms of total number of passengers as well as the total number of deaths.

How many people were involved?


Totals from the passenger letter:

  • Amsterdam to Bergen – 150 died
  • Washed away at sea – 6 passengers, 2 sailors
  • January 14, Ark Noah – 75 drown
  • January 24, Died of terror – 20
  • Total Dead – 251 passengers, 2 sailors
  • If you add 80 people who left Bergen in August of 1818 and 270 that left in October 1818, the total number of passengers is 601 plus any that went back to Germany and several orphans who were adopted and stayed in Bergen. Twelve surnames are reported among the Germans who remained permanently in Bergen, although those may have been children who were not included in the original passenger count. Bergen sources indicate that as many as 100 Germans returned to Germany, although I don’t know how that number was arrived at. It could have been an assumption to account for a discrepancy in the number of passengers who left Bergen, the number known dead from church records, and reports of very few who died on the ship before shipwrecking.

Total number of passengers and death totals from other sources vary:

From the Rapp letter:

  • 500 passengers out of Amsterdam
  • 200 deaths on way to Bergen
  • 100 went back to Germany
  • Several stayed in Bergen (orphans were placed in homes and adopted)
  • All 30 infants born at sea died
  • Passengers on Susanna Constant Bergen to Philadelphia in August 1818 – Rapp letter says 80 wealthy passengers paid their way, but also that 107 arrived in Philadelphia.
  • These combined equal about 758 passengers total, if you add the 270 passengers who also left on the ship Prima in October and the people buried in Bergen.

From the Bergen city site:

  • 24 people were buried at the new graveyard, Fredens Bolig, which was built on Stølen. The last of these tombs was removed in 1968 and the graveyard later converted into a park. The area is located at Krohnengen School and is still called “Graven”.

  • 41 people died and were buried at St. Mary’s Church, according to parish records

  • 80 left on Susanna Catherina
  • 270 left in October on Prima
  • There is no mention of anyone returning to Germany, nor of the orphans who remained in Bergen.

From the Zee Ploeg Wiki site:

  • 560 immigrants, 21 man crew plus captain
  • 10 passengers died of food shortage before arriving in Bergen
  • 16 died after ship was towed to Bergen but before passengers allowed to leave ship
  • 24 additional died in the hospital in Bergen
  • 80 left on ship Susanna Catherina
  • 273 left on ship Prima
  • 100 returned to Germany
  • List of 41 dead and buried in St. Mary’s Church (unclear if the 24 or 16 above are included in this number, although 24+16=40)

Where is Our Family?

From scattered piecemeal documents, we discover that Johann Adam Ruhle survived, in part because there is a hospital record for him in 1818, after the treacherous January Noah Ark ship catastrophe. I have been unable to find him in America, although he isn’t listed in the burials in Bergen.

Adam Ruhle is listed as being in the hospital in August of 1818:

  • Adam Ruhle fra Do. til nu Han og Søn 2 Børn Except Spiise for 6 Uger Hele Tiden
  • Adam Ruhle from Do. until now he and son
  • 2 Children Except Spiise for 6 Weeks all the time

The archive document states that Adam Rühle and his two sons had been in the Bergen hospital. This old document presented challenges to translate, and not just the words, but the meaning.

My Norwegian friend translated this passage as meaning that Adam and his two children received support from October 1817 until “now” meaning August of 1818. It appeared that Adam and one son had been at the hospital the whole time period and they received food except for 6 weeks. That means he would not have been on the Noah’s Ark. In other words, being in the hospital probably saved his life.

The original hospital building is gone but was located where the yellow building stands today.

In a second entry, Johan Georg Ruhle with wife both began receiving support from December 14th. Johann until May 24th, but his wife until now, “August.” Both had been at the hospital for two months, sometime between December 14th and May 24th, 1818.

There is no mention of Adam’s wife! So, either Dorothea isn’t ill, or she isn’t there. Perhaps the reason that they didn’t receive food at the hospital for a 5-week period is because Dorothea was bringing food to them. But how and from where?

We know that Dorothea’s son, Johann George Ruhle survived at least until May 24th, as did his wife, because they bury their baby May 27th, 1818. They apparently left, because they aren’t listed in the burials. Presumably, they both survived the crossing in the fall of 1818, although I have been unable to find them in America.

We know that Jacob, Fredericka and three of their 4 children survived, because they lived to tell about it in America, and I was able to identify those family members in Ohio after 1830. We know that daughter, Elizabeth, perished during the journey to Bergen because the list of survivors compiled in October shows only 3 children with Jacob Lenz and we know that 4 left Germany. Furthermore, Jacob’s own account tells us that daughter Elizabeth died “on the sea.”

That must have broken his heart.

Where is Dorothea?

Everyone is accounted for one way or another except Dorothea Katharina.

Where is Dorothea?

What happened to her?

One possible hint is found in the article by Weintraud where he provides information, as follows:

This list was compiled on 10-13 October 1817 of 424 passengers (including women and children), who started the voyage on the Zee Ploeg. The label “F” stands for “wife” and the number behind that for the number of children.

From Chris:

In case you wonder about the number “424 passengers”: It is stated earlier, on book page 17, that this list does not include the ship passengers who died before 10 October 1817. Furthermore, the list does not include orphan children of parents who had died before. Hence, in summary this is not a complete list of all Zee Ploeg passengers, but only the ones, who were adults and survived until 10 October 1817.

Hence, for example Adam “Rijle”/Rühle boarded with his wife and three children (“F, 3”).

That little one letter, “F” means that Dorothea survived, at least until October 10-13. This also tells us that the three “children” that were with them, meaning adult children, survived as well. Her son Jacob Christian Breuning, her son Johann George Ruhle and daughter Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, the sister of Fredericka referred to in Jacob’s letter. If Johanna Margaretha had died, Jacob would surely have said so, given that he mentioned that Elizabeth died and stated that Fredericka’s sister accompanied them.

Dorothea isn’t on the list of burials at St. Mary’s Church during the time that the immigrants were in Bergen, so her funeral wasn’t in the German church in Bergen, and she wasn’t buried in the cemetery.

What we don’t know is whether Dorothea drown on January 14th, her body being swept out to sea. It’s possible because the hospital states “except spouse.” So, Dorothea arrived, but she is not hospitalized with Adam Ruhle. She is also not recorded as having died and being buried.

So, she either drown in the Noah’s Ark accident, or she wasn’t ill and left Bergen in October.

If she did survive the January 14th accident, we don’t know if Dorothea survived the next leg of the journey after leaving Bergen, because the family is not home free just yet!

One additional piece of information that may be relevant for Dorothea and Adam is a final note stating that 28 immigrants weren’t sold as indentured servants in America, because no one was interested in them. Dorothea was a traumatized woman approaching 64 years old, so she may have been considered not worth “purchasing” for any amount of money.

Maybe, just maybe, that is what finally saved her. Although she surely would have accompanied her indentured family. What else could she have done?

Dorothea’s Son, Jacob Christian Breuning

The letter tells us that:

Before the “Susanna Catharina” left on 13 August 1818, a thank-you letter was written and addressed to the King of Norway, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian nation, who all had supported the emigrants during their stay for more than a year This letter was signed by Joseph Viedler, Adam Kuhl, Johannes Noedlinger, Christopher Ehemann, Jacob Christian Breuning, Leonhard Boss and Christian Fritz Ilg.

I was quite surprised to find Dorothea’s son listed here, because this implies one of two things. Either he had money to pay his own way, and was willing to leave his family behind, or he was a celebate Rappite. He was born in 1783, so 35 years old, and unmarried – which could mean that he had accumulated his own money, especially if he lived at home with his parents. The fact that he was unmarried could also mean he believed in the Rappite religion.

Regardless, he apparently left in August and presumably landed in Philadelphia with the rest of the passengers. From that point forward, his trail goes cold. Of course, if he was and remained Rappite, he has no descendants.

A Rappite Connection?

I have often wondered if there is a Rappite connection. In several letters written by members of Rapp’s colony, Harmonie, located in Indiana, 17 adults, by name, and a total of 29 people are mentioned as being part of the stranded Bergen passengers who were Rappite followers. A total of 60 people were reported to want to have their passage paid from Bergen to Philadelphia with the goal being to join the Rappites. I’m presuming that number is adults only, since children had no choice in the matter.

The letters mention one David Lenz, from Schnaith, who was already in Harmonie in 1816. Furthermore, although not referenced by name, 5 families from Schnaith are explicitly mentioned.

Furthermore, at least 15 of those adults were on the ship, Susanna Catharina that sailed in August from Bergen. In the Bergen records, the passengers on that ship were referred to as the wealthier passengers, but Rapp’s followers weren’t wealthy, they were simply going to be redeemed by Rapp when they arrived. However, Rapp’s funds became tied up in various ways, and either those passengers became stuck on the ship until they were ransomed by Rapp, or they were sold into indentured servitude. Rapp was able to redeem at least some of the passengers, which is why we know who they were.

At least 13 adult Rappite followers, plus children, sailed on the Susanna Catharina in August. There may have been more whose names aren’t included in the article, George Rapp’s Harmonists and the Beginnings of the Norwegian Migration to America by Karl Arndt.


Chris discovered a list of Separatists from both Beutelsbach and Schnait.

The list of Beutelsbach Separatists can be viewed here and Schnait here. Not all of the Separatists immigrated, only the ones noted in Germany by “Auswanderung.” By copying and pasting these links into the Chrome browser and translating, information is available in English.

The page indicates that from about 1680 to 1820, thousands of people separated from the church in Württemberg (until 1803 Duchy, then Electorate, since 1806 Kingdom) for religious reasons. Hence, they were called separatists. Since membership in the Lutheran church and regular attendance at the services and sacrament were compulsory, the separatists were interrogated and punished.

The names and biographical data of the Wurttemberg separatists and their co-thinkers in other dominions were collected from the files. The life data in brackets were determined by recalculation and should indicate the approximate age of the person.

Fundamental to the theme is the book by Eberhard Fritz: Radical Pietism in Württemberg. Religious ideals in conflict with social realities. Epfendorf 2003.

The source references refer to the following archives:

  • HStAS = Main State Archive Stuttgart
  • LB = State Archive Ludwigsburg
  • LKA = State Church Archive Stuttgart

I copied the Beutelsbach and Schnait families to an Excel spreadsheet, with the English translation, as follows:

I added color coding.

  • Yellow = immigrated in 1817. This may or may not have been on the Zee Ploeg, but 5 families were mentioned as being Rappites from Schnait, and there are 5 Separatist families listed as having left in 1817. Four are from Beutelsbach, but the two Lenz men could well have been born in Schnait. The villages are neighbors. Note that the Beutelsbach family page indicates that Ignaz Dobler immigrated to Russia.
  • Green = immigrated some other time. It’s worth noting that Jacob Hoffman and Margaretha Schillinger seem to be ringleaders, and both immigrated in 1818, along with Johann George Schwerdt, all going to Indiana. Both Jacob and Margaretha were on the Zee Ploeg and survived.
  • Red = Lentz or Lenz related family. Of these, two immigrated in 1817 from Beutelsbach, one went to Harmony, but we don’t know when and two went to Harmonie in 1804.

A more legible version of the above chart is available in the pdf file, Zee Ploeg Beutelsbach Schnait Families.

It’s evident from the number of red boxes that the Lenz family was heavily influenced by the Separatist movement. Even though Adam Ruhle and his wife weren’t listed as such, given that their daughter had married Jacob Lenz, and they lived in the same small village, the Ruhle family had clearly been exposed to this theology.

Who were these people?

  • Daniel Lenz born October 19, 1758 in Beutelsbach was the son of Daniel Lenz and Magdalena Kuhnle, the son of Daniel Lenz and Anna Katharina Lang, the son of Hans Lenz and Barbara Sing, an ancestor of the Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Daniel Lenz Married Katharina Grotz born May 9, 1760 in Schnait and who is listed as having died in America. Translated, that means she left Schnait. Four of their children, Anna Maria born in 1788, Christina Magdalena born in 1791, Johannes born in 1794 and Daniel born in 1802 are also listed as having died in America. Therefore, if Daniel was on the Zee Ploeg, he would have departed with a wife and 4 children. There was a Daniel with 3 children who arrived. It’s certainly possible that one child died on the ship.
  • Johannes Lenz born in 1794 is likely the son of Daniel, above. There was a Johannes on the Zee Ploeg.
  • Gottfried Lenz, unmarried, was born September 4, 1782, the son of Adam Lenz born in 1740 in Beutelshach and Elizabetha Lenz born in 1736 in Schnait. Adam was the son of Johann Adam Lenz and Maria Katharina Bauer who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Sibilla Muller, who was an ancestor of Jacob Lenz who married Dorothea Katharina’s daughter. Elisabetha Lenz was the daughter of Hansjorg Lenz, of Schnait and Anna Barbara Kipler. Gottfried left for America in March of 1817, shortly after his last parent died, and nothing more of him is known. However his Lenz roots in both Beutelsbach and Schnait run deep. There is no Gottfried on the Zee Ploeg unless he is traveling as a member of another family.
  • Elisabetha Lenz born October 24, 1749 married Israel Stark in 1782. Their children were Johanna Margaretha born in 1788, Israel born in 1784 and immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie. Christian Stark, born in 1752 and who immigrated in 1804 to Harmonie was likely the brother of Israel and brother-in-law of Elizabetha. According to the Family Book, Elisabetha’s parents were Johann Jakob Lenz and Elisabetha Schmidin who married in 1756 in Beutelsbach. Johann Jakob’s parents were Hans Jakob Lenz and Anna Christina Jetzle, who was the son of Johann Georg Lenz and Anna Marit Vetterlin, the son of Georg Lenz who died in Beutelsbach and Barbara Kettler. There is a Johanna Stark listed on the Zee Ploeg.
  • I can’t tell who Johannes Lenz born in 1790 was. There is second Johannes Lenz on the Zee Ploeg.

The Separatists were not only Rappites, but anyone who separated from the traditional church. One has to wonder if people, both at home and onboard ship wondered if God indeed was punishing those who had left the church.

The Lenz family in Schnait seems to be full of rabble rousers, along with the Stark family perhaps. Given the circumstances, and their misbehaving ways, the rest of the community might well have been glad to see them depart. Dorothea Catharina Wolflin and her husband, Johann Adam Ruhle didn’t seem to be either Rappite or Separatist, nor was their daughter, Fredericka and her husband, Jacob Lenz, but they were, nonetheless, on that same ship.

Given the age of Dorothea’s two the adult sons, their unmarried state, and the fact that the Rappites were celibate, I wonder if the family was perhaps split in their beliefs. In America, after arriving in Ohio in 1829 or 1820, Jacob and Fredericka Lentz had become Brethren someplace along the way although not all of their children practiced the Brethren faith. Their eldest son, Jacob, did not and was Lutheran.

Dorothea’s son, Jacob Christian Breuning, born in 1783, so age 34, was single and left in August on the ship with the Rappites.

However, the Rappite theory doesn’t apply to Johann George Ruhle, born in 1794, who was age 23 and single. What do we know about Johann George Ruhle?

If he was a Rappite when he left Germany, he wasn’t by June.

Dorothea’s Son, Johann George Ruhle

We have multiple pieces of evidence that Johann George Ruhle survived, at least long enough to leave Bergen.

First, he’s listed as one of the children with Adam and Dorothea. Second, he is recorded as being in the hospital, by name.

Third, in a surprise twist of fate, a child by the name of Joseph Ruhle died on May the 27th and was buried the 31st.

That baby can’t belong to Dorothea and Adam, the only married Ruhle couple on the ship. Dorothea was 63 years old. The only other possibility is their son, Johann George Ruhle, but he isn’t married.

Or is he?

He wasn’t when he left Beutelsbach a year earlier.

We needed the baby’s baptism record.

Tom excavated the entry that states the child was baptized on February 27th, 1818.

Between Tom and Chris, the following information was pieced together.

“Son of Johann Georg Rühle og [and] Catharina Kochin, married in Bergen, Germans on the way to America.”

Adam Ruhle is one of godparents.

So, who was Catharina Kochin?

Sure enough, Tom found a marriage entry for Johann George Ruhle in Mariakirken parish as was the baptism.

The marriage took place on Feb. 8, 1818 and Johann George Ruhle is age 25.

“Johann Georg Rühle, vintner (vinedresser) from Wurttemberg. He plans to go to America. Catharina Kochin from Beutelsbach in Wurttemberg. [Witnesses] Gallus Stoll, butcher, Johann Melchior Fiedler [undecipherable], [married] in the church”

This Johann Melchior Fiedler could be identical or related to the “Johann Fidler,” who on January 8th filed suit together with Jacob Lentz against the ship’s captain.

Two things come to mind. They were married just two weeks after the terrible event of the Noah’s Ark breaking loose from the Zee Ploeg, drowning 75 people. Maybe they weren’t on that ship, or maybe that accident convinced them they should marry now and not wait until they arrived in America. Either way, they were both incredibly lucky to be alive.

Perhaps the baby wasn’t as fortunate. Born just 13 days later, the child could have been at least somewhat premature. He did live for 3 months, but weeks of his mother being starved and any other sort of health compromise could have contributed to or caused his death.

Dorothea’s son was married, and her grandchild was baptized in the Cross Church right around the corner from the hospital.

Little Joseph’s funeral was at St. Mary’s Church, a few blocks away.

The baby’s death was one more sadness and grief for our family on top of the rest.

For Dorothea, she didn’t just lose one grandchild, Elizabeth, who would have only been about three and a half and was buried at sea. A few weeks later, she lost her grandson by her son, born in Bergen – and that was AFTER managing to keep the baby’s pregnant mother alive and nourished for those miserable weeks on the sea.

I have to wonder if Dorothea gave some of her own food to her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, Katharina, in order to save that baby. The baby who died anyway.

Who was Katharina Koch anyway?

Katharina Koch

The marriage record tells us that Katharina is from Beutelsbach, so she was clearly traveling with this group. An unmarried female would not have been traveling alone, even if she was 24 years old. She is not listed on the October survivor’s list by her own name, so she clearly was traveling with another family

Checking back with the Family Book, we discover a candidate to be Katharina.

This Katharina was born in 1793, so just a few months younger than Johann George Ruhle.

And look at who her mother is – one Anna Maria Ruhle, daughter of Michael Ruhle from Schnait and Anna Maria Vollmer. Michael would have been born no later than 1734, and possibly quite a bit earlier. We already know from Johann Adam Ruhle’s ancestry that a Michael Ruhle born in 1716 was born and died in Schnait and was married to Anna Barbara Lenz. These two families were quite intertwined.

Katherina Koch’s father had died in 1808, leaving her mother with children yet at home, including Katharina who would have been 15 when her father died.

Katharina’s mother died just three years after Katharina left for America.

As it turns out, Katharina Koch had an illegitimate child on January 16, 1815. The child died that same year. A second illegitimate child was born to her on September 22, 1816 and also died before year end. Katharina had certainly endured her fair share of heartbreak. In Bergen, her third child died.

A father was not listed in the birth record for either of her first two children. Tom indicates that a father would only be noted if he were present for the baptism and acknowledged that he was the father of the child.

Was Johann George Ruhle the father of her first two children? I’m guessing probably not, or he would have been present. Whatever the reason the father was absent, Katharina assuredly suffered from that humiliating situation, followed by the deaths of both children.

1816 was the year of drought, so it’s possible that her she was malnourished during that time, then starved at sea during her third pregnancy.

Regardless of the reason, by the time that her extended family was pondering leaving Beutelsbach, she had buried two babies in two years, had no husband and leaving for a new opportunity probably sounded like a fine idea to Katharina. We’ll never know if she left because she was romantically involved with Johann George Ruhle in Beutelsbach, or whether they became involved while traveling up the Rhine. If their son born in February was born full term, she would have gotten pregnant sometime between June 2nd and June 10th while the family was searching in Amsterdam for a ship to transport them to America.

Perhaps Johann George Ruhle and Katharina Koch had already decided to marry before leaving or in route. Perhaps by the time she discovered she was pregnant, the oceangoing portion of the trip was already underway and it was too late to marry. In fact, marriage was probably the last thing on her mind. Death would have been front and center – every single minute of every single day. Johann George was likely her only comfort and she was probably entirely convinced that both she and her unborn child would die in his arms. The fact that she actually managed to carry that baby to at least near-term is utterly amazing – considering what that young woman went through.

The Next Journey

Having said goodbye to their friends in Bergen, and certainly not without some amount of trepidation at boarding another ship, on October 7th, 1818, the 273 remaining German passengers climbed aboard the ship Prima, captained by Jacob Woxvold, and set sail for yet the fifth time for America.

The ship’s original goal was Philadelphia, but once again, Mother Nature got in the way, and they arrived in Baltimore on January 1, according to Jacob Lentz’s letter.

On May 4th, 1819, a few months after the Prima’s arrival earlier that year in January, another Harmonite letter tells of yet another near catastrophe. These ships carrying Jacob and Fredericka seem jinxed. I can only imagine their unrelenting, horrific fear as they were once again 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.

No, no, not again!

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. Semmingsen discussed the voyage of the Prima:

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 2 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.”

This account is interesting, especially in light of the following article dated January 20, 1818 from the Brooklyn, New York, Long Island Star, page 3.

In retrospect, it‘s difficult to discern if this article is actually suggesting that the ship docked on Long Island in New York, the area near where the Hamptons are located today, or if it is actually reflecting the region still known as Hampton Roads which is in the North Carolina/Virginia region of the Chesapeake.

If the ship arrived on the 5th instant, that means the ship arrived on January 5th in that vicinity.

On the map below, Hampton Roads, or at least the area considered such today, is shown with the red pin.

The ship did not arrive at the original destination of Philadelphia, but instead docked in Baltimore. The article was reported in the Long Island paper, further north yet.

Given the commentary about their reception in Baltimore, and that “a committee was appointed by the citizens,” I wonder if there are any newspaper accounts or perhaps court notes in Baltimore that would provide additional information. I would surely love to find the indentured servant auction notes as they would provide us with the next chapter in Dorothea’s life – if she was still alive. And if not, her death would be confirmed and we could follow her family forward.

This view of Baltimore, painted just a few years before the family arrived probably looked quite similar to the landscape that greeted them – and terra firma had never looked better!

What Happened to Dorothea?

I sure wish I knew the answer to that question.

The last we truly know of Dorothea was on October 10th or 13th in Bergen where she, as Adam’s wife, was listed as present. She is absent on the hospital list, but not listed in the burial records.

The passenger letter indicates that several people drown on the Noah’s Ark, but Professor Simmingen in her paper states that all of the Germans were housed in the city before that time. However, it’s also speculated that Semmingen did not utilize the 107-page protocol from the Bergen City archives, as that document is never mentioned. It may have not yet been discovered at the time she wrote her article.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that the letter-writer would or could make up something as outrageous as the Noah’s Ark tragedy out of thin air. Perhaps both versions of the story are true, and the Germans had been removed temporarily in December into the city of Bergen while the Noah’s Ark was being tethered to the Zee Ploeg, with the accident happening in January as stated. The letter writer did state that he was “just on the Aark Noa to visit the new rooms of the immigrants” that had been created for the German families. It seems logical that the Zee Ploeg was uninhabitable by that point in time, given the extent of the damage incurred, and that in December of 1818, the ship was sold for scrap.

I am hopeful that one day, we’ll perhaps be able to locate Dorothea and maybe even Johann Adam Ruhle in the 1820 census. However, it’s likely that the entire family was indentured at that time, although if we could figure out who they were indentured to, our family is likely listed with them.

Barring indenture purchase records surfacing, or perhaps a baptism record of Johann Adam Lentz (Lenz), presumably someplace near Shippensburg, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania about August 30, 1819, it’s unlikely that we’ll reveal where the Ruhle and Lentz families spent the next decade – meaning of course that we won’t discover what happened to Dorothea.

Shippensburg spans the counties of Cumberland and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. As much as I hate to replow fields, I need to review the records in both counties for Reuhl/Ruhle/Ruhl as well as Breuning records on the off chance that Dorothea’s oldest son had second thoughts about Rappite life.

Additionally, Fredericka’s sister, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, if she survived, would have been the right age to marry by 1820. If they were in Shippensburg at that time, a trace might be left, if not of Dorothea directly, then perhaps through her children.

Jacob Lentz and Fredericka had a child in Pennsylvania in 1829, and according to a newspaper article about their eldest son, moved to Montgomery County, Ohio in 1829. They are not found in the census in 1830 and could have been in transit or living with another family while they got established.

By 1830, Dorothea, if still living would have been 75 years old. Not impossible that she would be living, of course, but also not terribly likely either. If living, she would likely have been residing with a child.

Dorothea simply dissolves into the mists of time.

Regardless of how or where Dorothea died, she truly lived a remarkable life and survived an unprecedented tragedy. Actually, multiple tragedies.

I was blessed to trace Dorothea’s steps, in person, in Bergen, and narrated that journey from the perspective of Dorothea’s son-in-law, Jacob Lentz.

One thing is for certain, Dorothea was not the typical peasant girl from the tiny village of Beutelsbach. Forged, iron to steel, Dorothea survived against all odds.


Footnote of passenger letter transcription in German, courtesy of Chris:

Transcription of letter from a Zee Ploeg passenger in Bergen back to Germany (in: “Zeitung für die elegante Welt”, 15/16 May 1818, pp. 740-742 and 745-748):

Unglückliche Fahrt der holländischen Fregatte d`Zeeploeg

                                                                                 Bergen in Norwegen, den 23. Februar 1818.

Das Versprechen, welches ich Ihnen in Amsterdam v. J. [vorigen Jahres] gab, aus Nordamerika Ihnen einige Berichte sowohl über die dasige Landessitte, als auch von dem Leben und Schicksale der deutschen Auswand`rer, und über meine Seereise zu geben, kann ich nicht in Erfüllung bringen, denn dem Höchsten hat`s – gefallen, meinem Plane, nach Amerika zu kommen, entgegen zu seyn. Ich will Ihnen hiernach so viel als möglich unser Unglück beschreiben, nur weiß ich nicht recht, wo anfangen, und wo die Farben hernehmen, um unser Unglück und den Jammer des Passagiers treulich genug entwerfen zu können. Denn der unglückliche Zufall, welcher uns auf dieser Reise durch das Verlieren unserer Masten überfiel, war in jedem Falle schrecklich; 28 Tage lang schwebten wir in Todesangst umher, keine Rettung schien uns mehr möglich, Tod und Verderben drohte uns auf allen Seiten, und Verzweiflung hätte beinahe auf der hohen See die Auswand`rer ergriffen, wenn nicht Religion und Hoffnung die Stütze gewesen wären, worauf sich unsere Selbsterhaltung gegründet hätte.

            Nach 2 Monat langen Rasttagen verließ ich den 10. Juli 1817 Abends 7 Uhr mit einigen württembergischen Familien, Hrn. Heinrich Diezel, Kaufmann von Lahr im Breisgau, und mit den besten Zeugnissen von Amsterdam nach Philadelphia ausgerüstet, den Hafen von Amsterdam, um uns im Texel and Bord der Fregatte d`Zeeploeg zu begeben, und damit die Reise nach Amerika anzutreten, allein die Ebbe hinderte uns, die Rhede zu verlassen, und so konnten wir uns erst Nachts 12 Uhr flott machen. Den 11. Abends 10 ½ Uhr trafen wir auch glücklich da ein. Die Aufnahme, welche mir der Schiffskapitän H.E. Manzelmann wiederfahren ließ, war mit aller Humanität und Gastfreiheit verbunden.

            Unser Schiffspersonale bestand aus dem Kapitän, dem Obersteuermanne, dem Untersteuermanne, dem Schiffschirurgen, 3 Passagieren in der Kajütte, 30 Schiffsmatrosen, und vielen Passagieren, männlichen und weiblichen Geschlechts, alle aus dem Württembergischen.

            Der Wind war uns immer ungünstig, zwar wurden einigemal die Anker gelichtet, aber kaum hatten sich die Segel entfaltet, als uns Sturm und widrige Winde überfielen und die Anker wieder fallen mußten, der Himmel schien uns immer ungünstig, und so dauerte es bis den 5. August. Nachmittags 4 Uhr verließen wird unter Begünstigung eines guten Nordostwindes die Rhede im Texel, um 5 Uhr waren wir an der Mündung, wo unser Schiff durch eine schiefe Richtung in augenblickliche Gefahr zu stranden gerieth, die Bewohner des Helders waren schon beschäftigt, die am Ufer sich befindenden Kähne auf`s Wasser zu bringen, um uns damit zu Hülfe zu eilen, als wir plötzlich durch eine geschickte Wendung gerettet und vor Anker gebracht wurden; wir blieben jedoch nicht lange in dieser peinlichen Lage, denn um 6 Uhr passirten wir glücklich die gefährlichen Stellen, welche wirklich Grausen und Schrecken erregen, und mit gefüllten Segeln steuerten wir die Nacht durch, unserer Bestimmung glücklich entgegen.

Den 9. Aug. waren wir schon im Angesichte der englischen Küste, und kein Hinderniß schien uns mehr im Wege zu seyn, den Kanal zu erreichen, allein der Südwestwind, welcher bald in Sturm ausartete, nöthigte uns den 10. Morgens 1 Uhr zum Rückzug, und so lavirten wir, mit den Elementen kämpfend, auf eine angstvolle Weise die Nordsee links und rechts durch. Die Resultate unserer 17tägigen Seereise waren also, daß wir den 16. Abends in der Nordsee, vor der Mündung des Texels, die Anker werfen mußten, und den 17. Morgens 6 Uhr wieder auf der Rhede vom Texel vor Anker lagen, und nicht voraussehen konnten, wenn [wann] wir die Station wiederverlassen könnten, indem wir uns frisch verproviantieren mußten. Jedoch am 24. Aug. Morgens 3 Uhr wurden die Anker neuerdings gelichtet, um die Rhede zu verlassen, nachdem wir den 23. Abends 9 Uhr durch 2 Lichterschiffe mit Proviant verstärkt wurden. Ein günstiger Nordost[wind] füllte unsere Segel, und um 6 ½ Uhr hatten wir schon die gefährlichsten Stellen der Mündung passirt, ein heit`rer Himmel wirkte wohlthätig auf die Gemüther der Emigranten, alles war froher Laune, ein jeder schien neu belebt, und mit ruhigem Herzen sahen wir getrost einer bessern Zukunft entgegen, allein nur zu bald wurden wir in unserm Laufe unterbrochen, denn am 26. Morgens 11 Uhr drehte sich der Wind wieder nach Süden hin, so daß wir in den Kanal nicht eingehen konnten, sondern um ganz England herum segeln mußten. Den 27. Morgens 8 Uhr bekamen wir die Küste von Norwegen zu Gesicht, und den 29. jene von Schottland. Die arkadischen Inseln boten uns einen schönen Anblick dar. Bis dahin hatten wir noch immer gutes Wetter.

                        [here end of first part]

Den 31. August segelten wir mit einem günstigen Winde in`s Weltmeer, aber dieser uns günstige Wind dauerte kaum 24 Stunden, als wir von conträrem Winde und schwerem Sturme überfallen wurden, wlecher bis den 4. Immer schrecklich wüthete, da artete der Sturm zu einem fürchterlichen Orkane aus; nicht zu beschreiben ist`s, wie unser schweres Schiff von den Wellen Thürme hoch in die Luft, und wieder bis in den Abgrund des Meeres geschleudert wurde; Leute fielen von der allzustarken Bewegung über Bord, und ertranken, aber welcher Schrecken stand uns noch bevor, den 5. August Abends halb 6 Uhr brach der Kleverbaum. Mit aller Mühe hatten die Matrosen diesen kaum fertig, als um 6 Uhr der große Mast mit dem Pram-Maste vom zu starken Winde und der hohen See, die überschlug, über Bord fielen. Ein jeder bemühte sich nun, so gut er konnte, mit dem Abhauen des Tauwerks, um glücklich die Masten vom Schiffe los zu werden. Nun waren wir noch froh, einen Mast behalten zu haben, aber halb 7 Uhr brach auch der Fockmast und um 7 Uhr der Bogspriet, und so fanden wir uns nun ohne alles, was dem Schiffe sonst seine Haltung gibt. Die See schlug von hinten die Kajütten-Fenster entzwei, so daß das Wasser stromweise bei uns einlief, welches jedoch bald wieder gestillt wurde.

Nun trieben wir ohne Masten in der hohen See, auf allen Seiten über 300 Meilen vom festen Lande entfernt. Um 2 Uhr in der Nacht brachen Bote und Schaluppen los, (die auf dem Verdecke angebracht waren) man sah` sich gezwungen, diese, nebst den Wasserfässern, Speck- und Fleischtonnen über Bord zu werfen. Die Kanonen von der allzuheftigen Bewegung des Schiffes los geworden, rollten nun auch über`s Verdeck, und schlugen die Lucken entzwei, so daß das Wasser nun auch zu den Passagiers herunterschoß. Drei bis vier Fuß hoch stand das Wasser in den Betten der Emigratnen, wir glaubten alle, daß diese unsere letzte Nacht seyn würde, und es war ein Elend anzusehen, wie ein Matrose den andern auf dem Rücken in die Kajütte trug, ihn niederlegt, und dann wieder zur Arbeit ging, denn beinahe alle Matrosen waren blessirt, einer hatte den Arm, der andere ein Bein gebrochen, dem hatte ein Wasserfaß, das über`s Verdeck rollte, die Füße gequetsche, nur noch 5 zur Arbeit taugliche Matrosen hatten wir, deswegen mußten wir mit arbeiten. Ich war gerade auf dem Verdecke, als die hohe See das Schiff niederschlug, und wir alle im Wasser lagen, nur weil ich mich gewaltig an einem Taue fest hielt, blieb ich noch am Leben, sonst hätte mich die See mit weggespült. Zwei Matrosen und sechs Passagiere verloren dabei das Leben, und so hatten wir immer den Tod vor Augen. Der Kapitän und die Steuerleute, welche auch blessirt waren, und die Matrosen gaben alle Hoffnung auf. Den 10. Setzten wir ein Stück Holz auf, welches uns zum Maste dienen mußte, um doch wenigstens ein Segel zu haben und langsam dem festen Lande, so Gott wollte, zuzusteuern.

            Den 13. Septbr. [September] thaten wir den ersten Nothschuß, aber Niemand auf der hohen See kam uns zu Hülfe; trostlos mußten wir weiter steuern. Bis Abends 11 ¾ Uhr bekamen wir die Insel von Ferro [Färöan Islands?] zu Gesicht. Wir thaten des andern Morgens früh mehrere Schüsse, aber vergebens. Ohne einen Lootsmann am Schiffe zu haben durften wir nicht einlaufen. An`s Land konnten wir nicht fahren, denn wir hatten keine kleinen Fahrzeuge mehr; alles, alles hatten wir verloren. Hier hofften wir endlich in den Hafen einzulaufen. Doch nein! Ein neuer Sturm von Südwest schleuderte uns zurück in ein klippenvolles Meer, und so trieben wir noch 14 Tage umher, bis wird den 29. Sept. Nachmittags 2 Uhr die nördlichste Küste von Norwegen erblickten. Der Wind war uns günstig, um längst der Küste vorbeizusegeln; wir thaten immer Schüsse, aber Niemand kam zu uns. Der Schoppen Wasser wurde auf unserm Schiffe für 4-5 Stbr. Holländisch [some kind of currency] verkauft, 2 Pfund Brot bekamen die Emigranten für die Woche, seitdem wir die Masten verloren hatten, bis wir, Gott Dank, den 4. October, einen Fischer erblickten, welcher auf uns zufuhr, und uns zwischen die Gebirge von Norwegen einlotsete, und des Abends 9 Uhr zwischen mächtig hohen Gebirgen an Seillanger, 10 Meilen von Bergen in Norwegen, vor Anker brachte. Hier mußten wir 8 Tage Quarantaine halten, weil die norwegische Regierung befürchtete, wir würden eine ansteckende Krankheit in`s Land bringen, jedoch den 8. Tag wurden wir von der Quarantaine befreit und bogsierten der Stadt zu, wo wir den 13. Oct. In der Nacht halb 12 Uhr in Sandwigen [probably Sandviken], 1 Viertelstunde von Bergen, die Anker warfen. Das Schiffspersonal ist krank, sowohl Matrosen als Passagiers, auch ich habe schon eine schwere Krankheit ausstehen müssen, und wäre wahrscheinlich ein Raub des Todes geworden, wenn nicht die rechtschaffene deutsche Familie des Kapitän Christ. Petersen, von Hamburg gebürtig, sich meiner angenommen und mich verpflegt hätte; 2 Monate mußte ich das Bett hüten, jedoch befinde ich mich jetzt ziemlich wohl. Wahrlich, Deutschland hat gute Menschen! Bei dieser Familie befinde ich mich jetzt glücklich. Sie bieten mit deutscher Herzlichkeit alles auf, was sie dazu beitragen können, um mir den Aufenthalt angenehm zu machen. Diese Familie muß man lieben, als ein echtes Bild biederherziger Vorältern.

            Weil ich nicht recht weiß, unser Unglück treulich und fürchterlich genug zu schildern, so bemerke ich blos nachstehende Punkte, welche am schrecklichsten waren.

            1) Der unglückliche Zufall unseres Mastenverlierens war in jedem Falle schrecklich.

            2) Hörte man das fürchterliche Geschrei während des Abhauens der Masten, in der Kajütte von den blessirten Matrosen, auf dem Verdecke von Kapitän und Steuerleuten. Unter dem Verdecke das Angstgeschrei der armen Passagiers, zu denen das Wasser schon 3-4 Fuß hoch in`s Schiff gedrungen war, und schrecklich war das Zischen der hohen See, welche Thürme hoch über uns her schlug.

            3) Das Hungern der armen Passagiers (weil man wegen des allzugroßen Sturmes keinen Proviant aus dem Raume holen konnte), woran sehr viele kleine Kinder starben. In 4-5 Tagen bekamen wir nichts zu essen noch zu trinken.

            4) Bei unserm Ankommen in Bergen wurden die Passagiers auf ein anderes Fahrzeug auch ohne Masten, welches an der Fregatte Zeeploeg festgebunden war, verlegt. Ein fürchterlicher Sturm wüthete den 14. Januar aus Nordwest, welcher das Fahrzeug von der Fregatte fortriß, und so die unglücklichen Passagiers nach der See zu hintrieb. Ich war gerade auf der „Aark Noa“ (so nannte man das kleine Fahrzeug), um das neue Quartier der Emigranten zu besuchen, als wir forttrieben. Große Bote und Schaluppen wurden uns nachgesandt, allein zu spät uns alle zu retten. Das Schiff kam auf eine Klippe, woran es scheiterte; ich selbst that einen Sprung auf Leben oder Tod nach einem kleinen Fahrzeuge schon halb voll Wasser, welches sich uns näherte, 8-10 Fuß weit in die See, um mich zu retten, und dieser gräßliche Sprung gelang mir. Von 200 Passagiers, die gerade am Bord waren, ertranken 75. Acht Tage nachher starben 20 vor Schrecken; die übrigen waren alle krank.

            Auf der Reise von Amsterdam bis Bergen starben: 150 Passagiers.

            Mit der hohen See von Bord weggespült: 6 Passagiers und 2 Matr. [Matrosen]

            Verunglückt mit der „Aark Noa“ in Bergen: 95 Passagiers_________________

                                                                                       251 Passagiers



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10 thoughts on “Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755-?), Despair in the Abyss of the High Sea – 52 Ancestors #215

  1. What a terrifying tale! It might help to clarify that in the following sentences, the verb “bless” is from blessieren “to wound,” so a more transparent translation would be that the sailors were wounded, as were the captain and helmsmen.

    “We all believed that this would be our last night, and it was a misery to watch one sailor carried the other on his back into the cabin to lay him down and then go back to work, because almost all the sailors were blessed.”

    “The captain and the helmsmen, who were also blessing, and the sailors all gave up their hope.”

  2. Just a guess but I doubt they were spell bound by the beauty of the castles they passed on their way out. More likely thinking, ” Thank God this is the last castle we will ever see.”

  3. I think that the Hampton Roads referenced in the newspaper article was, in fact, the Hampton Roads in Virginia. The ship was sailing north from the West Indies. Your article references the ship had encountered a hurricane. Perhaps it was still dealing with bad weather and rough seas or perhaps the ship had been damaged. It would have been much safer to leave the ocean at Hampton Roads, sail into the calmer Chesapeake Bay and then sail north towards Philadelphia. There is now a man-made canal (Chesapeake and Delaware Canal) that cuts across the Delmarva Peninsula that a ship can take from the northern Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River and up to Philadelphia. But at that time Baltimore would have been their best option.

  4. Roberta, you need to find someone to turn this story into a movie. Seriously, this is a story that is part of our American (and German and Norwegian) history and it deserves to be shared with a greater audience (not that you don’t already have a great audience.)

  5. Roberta, thank you so much for the historical information. I have been researching two sets of my 4th great-grandparents that immigrated from Wurttemberg, Germany in 1818.

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