Learning from the past, living in the moment, and leaving footprints for the future. Stories of lov

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Travel Tuesday - Westward Passage

It is 1857 and you are living in Germany.  You worked with the underground, the Republican Party, trying to overthrow the monarchy.  At first you succeed, but then all is reversed and lost. You have already sent two of your sons to America so they would not be forced to join the German military. Now is the time, you decide, to take the rest of your family and join them in America for a better life. 

You gather passports stating that you wish to take up residency in Northern America, publish in the local newspaper of your intentions and that you have paid all your debts, then permission is finally granted with the statement that domestic and civil military authorities are to let you pass.

You hear rumors about young girls being preyed upon by sailors, so you cut your seventeen-year-old daughter's long hair short and change her name so others would think her male.  You pack your trunks of clothing, utensils and quilts and food of soft whey cheese and other salted or dried foods and flatbread and kegs of sour milk and beer.

You board the ship "William Nelson" and given accommodations of tween decks, normally used for cargo.  You are provided with wide family bunks lined on either side of the ship, one above the other with little room to move about.  You have oil lamps that provide you light in an otherwise dark environment, with instructions not to be used during bad weather for fear of fire and orders were issued as to when you must shut them off at night.  The captain attempts to foster good health and orders you to take exercise on the top deck.

You and many other passengers, particularly during rough weather, suffer from seasickness and you would vomit on the vessel's wood plank floor. The stench alone caused others to fall ill.  On each end of the ship there are long lines to stand in waiting to use one of the primitive oak barrel toilets that contributed to the lingering odor that hung in the air.  Despite your queasiness you had to take on some of the responsibility of washing the floor with chlorine and vinegar to help deaden the worst smell.  You live like this for 46 long and trying days. 

This was the life of my great great grandparents, Mathias Roesch and Magdalena Jehle and their children , Elenora (17), Philip (14), Herman (11), Regina (9), Magdalena (7), Josephine (3), and six month old  Maria as they travelled to America aboard the William Nelson. 

Mathias later learned that the German government gained a knowledge of the Republican Party and that he got out of Germany just ahead of them.

You may wish to read:  The Dream Lives On

About the William Nelson

The US ship was built in Somerset, Massachusetts in 1850.  It sailed its last voyage from the port of Antwerp on June 1st, 1865.  On the 25th of June 1865 the ship caught fire, burned and sank with 426 German and Swiss immigrants aboard.  The captain and his crew were the first to abandon the ship.  Men woman and children were left to fend for themselves and die in fiery misery and confusion.


  1. How wonderful to have such a graphic account of your ancestors' journey. I also enjoyed your style of writing

  2. Thank you Susan, I appreciate your kind words.

  3. I agree with the first commenter - your writing style is a pleasure to read while it outlines so many important events. How wise of your ancestor to take every precaution, although his 17-year-old daughter shed tears, I'm sure, at the cutting of her hair.


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