The Families of Adam Keith

Part 3 - From Cowes, Isle of Wight to Philadelphia

Cowes, Isle of Wight to Philadelphia, 3.549 miles by water

This trip would have taken 3 to 5 days with a 10 day to two week layover for provisioning.

Text Box: John Melish, 1812,  David Rumsey Collection

Cowes, Isle of Wight


This trip was literally a killer. The time this voyage took could be anywhere from 7 weeks minimum to 10 or 12 weeks and that was just when the anchor dropped in Philadelphia harbor.  Another 1 week to 10 days were needed to clear quarantine and for the passengers to make their financial arrangements to pay for the voyage before stepping foot on a Philadelphia dock.


Before a discussion of what Balzer likely experienced in Philadelphia in 1753, the narrative that follows are  a series of excerpts from the often quoted diary of Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the Year 1754. Published in 1756 [German], Translated from the German by Carl Theo. Eben, member of the German Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: John Jos. McVey, 1898.


“In the month of May, 1750, I departed from Enzweihingen, Vaihingen County,my native place, for Heilbronn, where an organ stood ready to be shipped and sent to Pennsylvania. With this organ, I sailed the usual way, down the Neckar and Rhine to Rotterdam in Holland. From Rotterdam I sailed with a transport of about 400 souls, Würtembergers, Durlachers, Palatines and Swiss, etc., across the North Sea to Kaupp [Cowes] in England, and after a sojourn of 9 days there, across the great ocean, until I landed in Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, Oct. 10, 1750. From home to Rotterdam, including my sojourn there, I spent 7 weeks, caused by the many stoppages down the Rhine and in Holland, whereas this journey could otherwise be made swifter; but from Rotterdam to Philadelphia the voyage lasted 15 weeks. I was nearly 4 years in that country, engaged, as my testimonials show, as organist and schoolmaster with the German St. Augustine’s Church in Providence, having besides given private instruction in music and in the German language, as the following certificate will show, at the house of Captain Diemer. …


But the most important occasion for publishing this little book was the wretched and grievous condition of those who travel from Germany to this new land, and the outrageous and merciless proceeding of the Dutch man-dealers and their man-stealing emissaries; I mean the so-called newlanders, for they steal, as it were, German people under all manner of false pretenses, and deliver them into the hands of the great Dutch traffickers in human souls. These derive a large, and the newlanders a smaller profit from this traffic. This, I say, is the main cause why I publish this book. I had to bind myself even by  a vow to do so. For before I left Pennsylvania, when it became known that I was about to return to Würtemberg, many Würtembergers, Durlachers and Palatines, of whom there are a great number there who repent and regret it while they live that they left their native country, implored me with tears and uplifted hands, and even in the name of God, to make this misery and sorrow known in Germany, so that not only the common people, but even princes and lords, might learn how they had fared, to pre vent other innocent souls from leaving their fatherland, persuaded thereto by the newlanders, and from being sold into a like slavery. And so I vowed to the great God, and promised- those people, to reveal to the people of Germany the pure truth about it, to the best of my knowledge and ability. I hope, therefore, that my beloved countrymen and all Germany will care no less to obtain accurate information as to how far it is to Pennsylvania, how long it takes to get there; what the journey costs, and be sides, what hardships and dangers one has to pass through; what takes place when the people arrive well or ill in the country; how they are sold and dispersed; and finally, the nature and condition of the whole land. I relate both what is good and what is evil, and I hope, therefore, to be considered impartial and truthful by an honor loving world. ...


This journey lasts from the beginning of May to the end of October, fully half a year, amid such hardships as no one is able to describe  adequately with their misery. The cause is because the Rhine-boats from Heilbronn to Holland have to pass by 36 custom-houses, at all of which the ships are examined, which is done when it suits the convenience of the custom-house officials. In the meantime the ships with the people are detained long, so that the passengers have to spend much money. The trip down the Rhine alone lasts therefore 4, 5 and even 6 weeks. When the ships with the people come to Holland, they are detained there likewise or 6 weeks. Because things are very dear there, the poor people have to spend nearly all they have during that time. Not to mention many sad accidents which occur here; having seen with my own eyes how a man, as he was about to board the ship near Rotterdam, lost two children at once by drowning. Both in Rotterdam and in Amsterdam the people are packed densely, like herrings so to say, in the large sea-vessels. One person receives a place of scarcely 2 feet width and 6 feet length in the bedstead, while many a ship carries four to six hundred souls; not to mention the innumerable implements, tools, provisions, water barrels and other things which like wise occupy much space. On account of contrary winds it takes the ships sometimes 2, 3 and 4 weeks to make the trip from Holland to Kaupp [Cowes] in England. But when the wind is good, they get there in 8 days or even sooner. Everything is examined there and the custom-duties paid, whence it comes that the ships ride there 8, lo to 14 days and even longer at anchor, till they have taken in their full cargoes. During that time every one is compelled to spend his last remaining money and to consume his little stock of provisions which had been reserved for the sea; so that most passengers, finding them selves on the ocean where they would be in greater need of them, must greatly suffer from hunger and want. Many suffer want already on the water between Holland and Old England. When the ships have for the last time weighed their anchors near the city of Kaupp [Cowes] in Old England, the real misery begins with the long voyage. For from there the ships, unless they have good wind, must often sail 8, 9, 10 to 12 weeks before they reach Philadelphia. But even with the best wind the voyage lasts 7 weeks.


But during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably. Add to this want of provisions, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, anxiety, want, afflictions and lamentations, together with other trouble, as c. v. the lice abound so frightfully, especially on sick people, that they can be scraped off the body. The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for 2 or 3 nights and days, so that every one believes that the ship will go to the bottom with all human beings on board. In such a visitation the people cry and pray most piteously. When in such a gale the sea rages and surges, so that the waves rise often like high mountains one above the other, and often tumble over the ship, so that one fears to go down with the ship; when the ship is constantly tossed from side to side by the storm and waves, so that no one can either walk, or sit, or lie, and the closely packed people in the berths are thereby tumbled over each other, both the sick

and the well—it will be readily understood that many of these people, none of whom had been prepared for hardships, suffer so terribly from them that they do not survive it. …


No one can have an idea of the sufferings which women in confinement have to bear with their innocent children on board these ships. Few of this class escape with their lives; many a mother is cast into the water with her child as soon as she is dead. One day, just as we had a heavy gale, a woman in our ship, who was to give birth and could not give birth under the circumstances, was pushed through a loophole [port-hole] in the ship and dropped into the sea, because she was far in the rear of the ship and could not be brought forward.


Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage; and many a time parents are compelled to see their children miserably suffer and  die from hunger, thirst and sickness, and then to see them cast into the water. I witnessed such misery in no less than 32 children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea. The parents grieve all the more since their children find no resting-place in the earth, but are devoured by the monsters of the sea. It is a notable fact that children, who have not yet had the measles or small-pocks, generally get them on board the ship, and mostly die of them. …


That most of the people get sick is not surprising, because, in addition to all other trials and hardships, warm food is served only three times a week, the rations being very poor and very little. Such meals can hardly be eaten, on account of being so unclean. The water which is served out on the ships is often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst. O surely, one would often give much money at sea for a piece of good bread, or a drink of good water, not to say a drink of good wine, if it were only to be had. I myself experienced that sufficiently, I am sorry to say. Toward the end we were compelled to eat the ship’s biscuit which had been spoiled long ago; though in a whole biscuit there was scarcely a piece the size of a dollar that had not been full of red worms and spiders’ nests. Great hunger and thirst force us to eat and drink everything; but many a one does so at the risk of his life. The sea-water cannot be drunk, because it is salt and bitter as gall. If this were not so, such a voyage could be made with less expense and without so many hardships. ...


When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased, and are released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst, for the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first; and so the sick and wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive.


Before I describe how this traffic in human flesh is conducted, I must mention how much the journey to Philadelphia or Pennsylvania costs.


A person over 10 years pays for the passage from Rotterdam to Philadelphia 10 pounds, or 60 florins. Children from 5 to 10 years pay half price, 5 pounds or 30 florins. All children under 5 years are free. For these prices the pas are conveyed to Philadelphia, and, as long as they are at sea, provided with food, though with very poor, as has been shown above.

But this is only the sea-passage; the other costs on land, from home to Rotterdam, including the passage on the Rhine, are at least 40 forms, no matter how economically one may live. No account is here taken of extraordinary contingencies. I may safely assert that, with the greatest economy, many passengers have spent 200 forms from home to Philadelphia.


The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance, say 20, 30, or 40 hoursaway, and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage-money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are  21 years old. Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; for if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that such parents and children, after leaving the ship, do not see each other again for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives. …”


If just half of this story were true it would be a horrible tale.  But, unfortunately, I suspect it is mostly true which amounted to a complete and utter disregard for human life on the part of all of those involved with transporting these Germanic immigrants to America.


What would Balzer have seen in Philadelphia in 1753? From Life in Mid-Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania by John R. Humphrey is the following;


Merchants looking for servants soon boarded [the arrived ship].  Frequently, those merchants were the proprietors of the ship or were in the employ of the owner.  An official account was taken to determine the passengers who could be sold as indentured servants. Frequently, a representative of the government accompanied the merchants.  The official was not looking for servants, but wanted to make certain that all fit males sixteen and older who were aliens disembarked and proceeded to the courthouse where the required oath was given Immigrants, whose origins were not in the British Isles, made their way to the courthouse located at second and High Streets. As they proceeded to the courthouse they climbed the steep riverbank to the city on some very wobbly legs. After an extended period of time at sea they were used to the rocking motion of the ship, and they did not have their “land” legs. Most probably looked like a pack of drunken sailors as they proceeded to the courthouse. The captain of the vessel usually led the way.  When the alien immigrants entered the courthouse, a representative of the government—namely the Mayor, President of the Assembly, or a Justice of the Court—was waiting.  He told them they were now in a country that belonged to the King of England; a fact that required them to take an oath of allegiance to that King and his successors. The oath was then explained to the immigrants.  Given the numbers of Germans arriving in Philadelphia, one presumes that someone was available who could translate.  The immigrants had to promise they would conduct themselves as good and faithful subjects, that they would not revolt against his Majesty, nor would they settle on lands that were not their own.  They were also required to abjure or renounce allegiance to the Pope.” [Note: Balzer was listed in the early Philadelphia Census in 1753 and 1754, and he signed the oath of allegiance in 1753, writing his own name as opposed to signing with an “x”.]


By the middle of October 1753, Balzer was likely an indentured servant doing blacksmithing work in Philadelphia.  There are no accounts or records of his communication back to his family in Höchst but there is no doubt there was communication detailing his experiences on the trip to America and what he found in Philadelphia.  I suspect the family was overjoyed to receive the news he was well. Continuing with the Humphrey account;

“By contemporary standards Philadelphia was relatively small.  But, by the standards of eighteenth-century ancestors, most of whom left small villages Germany or Great Britain, Philadelphia probably looked huge.  A 1762 map shows the city extended from below South Street to Vine Street in the north and west to about Seventh Street. Reports dating about 1750 note it took about one day to walk around the town. Newly arrived German, and Scotch-Irish immigrants probably noticed several things almost immediately.  First, the city had not walls.  Many towns and villages of comparable size in Europe still retained their medieval fortifications.  Second, the streets in Philadelphia were rectilinear, running at ninety-degree angles to one another.  Streets in the Quaker capital did not meander as did many streets in European towns and villages.  Newly arrived immigrants most likely commented that in Philadelphia streets were much wider than in Germany or England. The Philadelphia of 1760 may not have felt as foreign to Germans arriving in that city as many late-twentieth century historians may think.  Based on the number of recorded baptisms found in eighteenth-century Philadelphia church registers, Germans may have accounted for one-half of the entire population of the city. Most of those Germans lived in an area of Philadelphia located in the northern end of the city around Arch, Vine, and  Race Streets.  In this section of the city, Germans started a tradition that would continue for generations in this country—even into this century:  They created the first ethnic neighborhood. In the German section of town, signs were written in German and English, and to the consternation of many English residents, some signs were inscribed solely in German! German settlers, who arrived in Philadelphia, most likely disembarked, and proceeded to the German enclave because here they could make contact with friends and neighbors who came earlier.  Here they could begin the process of getting re-established.  The presence of so many Germans in this area of Philadelphia undoubtedly eased their transition into a foreign culture and a foreign land. ...”

After Adam left Höchst in early May of 1754 there is specific documentation, thanks to Ella Gieg, that details Adam’s financial situation and his trip to America. Translated by Ella Gieg;

Report of the CENTSCHULTHEISS [Mayor of a district also called a CENT that consisted of several villages] Hieronymus Friedrich, May 29, 1754.


Emigration of Adam Gieg from Hochst

             Since Johann Adam Gieg, a master smith working together with a partner of the CENT Hochst citizen and inhabitant of Hochst and his wife and their seven children, all under age, run [ran] into debt and went bankrupt and everything was sold, he [Adam Gieg] decided to go to the New Country [America] with their children to make their money for a piece of bread.

             As far as we know they do not have any fortune, with the exception of some smith tools which were given to them by the creditors although the creditors lost quite a lot [of money].


The above given information certified for the honorable OBERAMT BREUBERG [office of the HERRSCHAFT BREUBERG, an area between the principality of Lowenstein-Wertheim and the County of Erbach].”


We know that Balzer was in Philadelphia when the remaining family arrived on October 1, 1754.  I can only speculate that Adam and his remaining sons of age, Hyeronimus, Michael, and Adam also found indentured employment in Philadelphia.  Adam is listed in the Philadelphia Early Census in 1754 but does not appear again until 1758 in Brecknock Township of Lancaster Co. PA. I would assume Adam, and his sons including Balzer, were indentured in Philadelphia for no longer that about three years. The family was not all accustomed to “city life” and in spite of the many German acquaintances they no doubt made while they were in the city, I surmise that late 1757 or early 1758 they began their hunt for a permanent residence. Humphrey continues;

“Most immigrants did not remain in Philadelphia for any length of time, as evidenced by settlement patterns in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Those settlers wanted to get out on the land. … The lure of land drew thousands of immigrants to Pennsylvania, both German and English—a fact many twentieth-century family historians do not fully appreciate.  Land played a very important role in the lives of all ancestors.  Our eighteenth-century forebears lived in an agrarian economy in which practically everything came from the soil—food, clothing, and shelter.  It was a simple fact:  People who controlled land controlled their own destiny.  In Germany or England most people were tenant farmers and did not control land. They rented the land and their ability to stay on that land depended on the owner, generally a Lord or someone of minor nobility. If the tenant paid the rent on time and if he caused no problems, the renter remained on the land.  If he followed the dictates of the landlord, he increased his chances of keeping his tenancy.  Following the rules frequently meant attending the church of the local ruler, as opposed to a church dictated by conscience. If the family lost its right to remain on the land … another way had to be found to provide for the basics of life.”

And so, the journey to America completed, the “bills” for the travel paid through indentured servitude, the family began their search for a new home. [See The “New Country”, the New Home]