Friday, June 14, 2013

1754 Indentured Servants - Germans in Pennsylvania


From Gottlieb Mittelberger's Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the Year 1754 (Philadelphia, 1898).

Gottlieb Mittelberger traveled to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1750, on a ship primarily filled with poorer immigrants who would become indentured servants upon arriving in Philadelphia. Mittelberger was not a servant, and worked as a school master and organist for 3 years before returning to Germany in 1754.

19th-century engraving  Female indentured servants arriving in New World

In the 17th & 18th centuries, many immigrants to the British American colonies entered as indentured servants bound to serve a term of service, usually 7 years, before receiving freedom. Between 1749 & 1754 over 30,000 Germans came to Pennsylvania, about 1/3 of the colony's population. Mittelberger observed the working conditions for Geman immigrant, indentured servants in Pennsylvania and wrote of them upon his return to his homeland.

Immigrants came to America for varies reasons and also left their original country for many reasons. There were many religious, political, and economic reasons involved such as not having religious freedom, political upheavals, and economic downfalls leading to the emigration of many people. Some indentured servants were forced to leave with their "master" to work in another country. People who couldn't afford the voyage over to America, signed a contract agreeing to be a servant for a certain amount of years in exchange for a free ride so many were left with this option.

Indentured servants performed much of the labor during the early years of colonization and were mainly of English, Irish, or German heritage. These servants got their name from the indenture or contract they signed, binding themselves to work for a number of years (usually four to seven) to pay for their transportation to the New World. Voluntary indentured servitude accounted for half of the white settlers living in the colonies outside New England.

After serving their years of indenture, the servant was free to go & to acquire land on their own. Some of these former servants did well for themselves, many became political leaders or plantation owners, although most remained part of the poorer classes. Until the latter half of the 1600s, white indentured servants comprised the dominant source of labor in the Americas and it was not until the 1680s and 1690s that slave labor began to surpass the use of white indentured servants. Although African slaves cost more initially than indentured servants, they served for life and quickly became the labor force of choice on large plantations.

When a serf has an opportunity to marry in this country, he or she must pay for each year which he or she would have yet to serve, 5 to 6 pounds. But many a one who has thus purchased and paid for his bride, has subsequently repented his bargain, so that he would gladly have returned his exorbitantly dear ware, and lost the money besides.

If some one in this country runs away from his master, who has treated him harshly, he cannot get far. Good provision has been made for such cases, so that a runaway is soon recovered. He who detains or returns a deserter receives a good reward.

If such a runaway has been away from his master one day, he must serve for it as a punishment a week, for a week a month, and for a month half a year. But if the master will not keep the runaway after he has got him back, he may sell him for so many years as he would have to serve him yet.

Work and labor in this new and wild land are very hard and manifold, and many a one who came there in his old age must work very hard to his end for his bread. I will not speak of young people.

Work mostly consists in cutting wood, felling oak-trees, rooting out, or as they say there, clearing large tracts of forest. Such forests, being cleared, are then laid out for fields and meadows. From the best hewn wood, fences are made around the new fields; for there all meadows, orchards and fruit-fields, are surrounded and fenced in with planks made of thickly-split wood, laid one above the other, as in zigzag lines, and within such enclosures, horses, cattle, and sheep, are permitted to graze.

Our Europeans, who are purchased, must always work hard, for new fields are constantly laid out; and so they learn that stumps of oak-trees are in America certainly as hard as in Germany. In this hot land they fully experience in their own persons what God has imposed on man for his sin and disobedience; for in Genesis we read the words: In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread. Who therefore wishes to earn his bread in a Christian and honest way, and cannot earn it in his fatherland otherwise than by the work of his hands, let him do so in his own country, and not in America; for he will not fare better in America. However hard he may be compelled to work in his fatherland, he will surely find it quite as hard, if not harder, in the new country.

Besides, there is not only the long and arduous journey lasting half a year, during which he has to suffer, more than with the hardest work; he has also spent about 200 florins which no one will refund to him. If he has so much money, it will slip out of his hands; if he has it not, he must work his debt off as a slave and poor serf.

Therefore let every one stay in his own country and support himself and his family honestly. Besides I say that those who suffer themselves to be persuaded and enticed away by the man-thieves, are very foolish if they believe that roasted pigeons will fly into their mouths in America or Pennsylvania without their working for them.

How miserably and wretchedly so many thousand German families have fared, 1) since they lost all their cash means in consequence of the long and tedious journey; 2) because many of them died miserably and were thrown into the water; 3) because, on account of their great poverty, most of these families after reaching the land are separated from each other and sold far away from each other, the young and the old.

And the saddest of all this is that parents must generally give away their minor children without receiving a compensation for them; in as much as such children never see or meet their fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters again, and as many of them are not raised in any Christian faith by the people to whom they are given.