1836: Escape to America Scenes from Prussia, on board ship and in America
1836: Escape to America takes you to very different worlds: Prussia in the era after the Napoleonic Wars and before Germany was unified in 1871 and on board a sailing ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It gives you glimpses of Gibraltar, Havana, Texas and New Orleans. Books 2 and 3 of The Immigrant Chronicles will take you up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and into the American frontier at the time.
PRUSSIA, 1836 In 1836, there was no country called "Germany," and "German" was short for "German-speaking," a designation that covered multiple Germanic languages and dialects spoken over much of Northern Europe, from what is now Germany, Luxembourg and Austria to parts of Switzerland, Poland, Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic), Belgium and the Netherlands. German immigrants thought of themselves as Bavarians or Prussians or Swiss, but in America that they were lumped together and called Germans or Deutsch, the German word for "German." My own father, a first generation German-American, was nicknamed "Dutch."
from 1836: Year of Escape From Chapter 5, Katrina confirms that the family is in imminent danger Katrina ... stepped gingerly onto cobblestones silvered by starlight on ice and hurried home. When a night watchman approached, she stepped into a shadow and waited silently for him to pass, listening for his footsteps to fade into the distance, sorting out the sound from her own heartbeat. Surely he’s harmless, she thought, but on a day like this, that began with murder, who knows? She started forward again, slipping quickly through the darkness to the ancient, half-timbered house at the end of Old Kästner Lane, where she gave the stout oak door a quick rap. Niklas opened it a crack, grabbed her arm and pulled her in. “What took you so long?” “I couldn’t let the Zimmermanns think I was in a hurry.” “I sent you into the lion’s den.” He was still shocked that she had talked him into it. “Well, I’m safe and home now.” She worked at the straps of her boots, shook them off and straightened up. “What did you find out?” “We were right—what happened today, the murder…” Her voice caught, and she coughed to hide it. “It was Werner—Horst and Berthe’s oldest, from Edzard’s class, a student at Würzburg.” “Ernst ought to watch out. Horst will go crazy, sue him or more likely, go after him with a pitchfork.” “Anna says Ernst is waiting for more men—a dozen, maybe more, secret police—to root out the disloyal, she says, and enforce something called ‘The Sixty Articles.’” She saw no surprise in Niklas’s expression and felt a spike of anger. It was a mystery why he did not tell her everything. “He’s not a bad man, Ernst is, but…" “Your ‘not a bad man’ will follow orders.” Katrina could hear the bitterness in his voice. “I’ll give you that,” she said. “The murder today may have been a mistake or at least unfortunate or premature, but Ernst was not sorry for it. Anna sounded like he was crowing about it.” She paused, swallowing hard, not wanting to give way to tears. “The murderers were an advance party here to ferret out the Resistance, when—last night maybe—they overheard Werner saying he was going back to Würzburg University today.” Niklas nodded. Würzburg was a hotbed of revolution. “Which forced their hand.” “Ernst said they had to stop him getting back. But the papers they found on him—that was an unexpected coup.” Niklas winced. “We have to get Hans out of here.” “But you can’t think…Ernst would never…” He gave her that odd look again, and when she spoke it was in anger. “But you grew up with Ernst! You were comrades in arms. You saved his life!” “Ernst and the prince,” said Niklas, “need to show the crown they have no favorites, they allow no escape.” She spoke slowly. “Ernst would lose his position if he favored you. He has taken the loyalty oath.” “Yes.”
SAILING ACROSS THE ATLANTIC OCEAN In 1836, sailing across the Atlantic took an average of forty-five days and longer on a passage like the Kästners' from Rotterdam to New Orleans. About twenty percent of ships went down, most often with all hands. Immigrants were still scarce. The big wave of German and Irish migrants did not begin until 1840. Larger groups traveling together might hire a ship, but individuals and families crossed however they could, mostly by booking passage on merchantmen (cargo ships). Passengers were expected to bring their own food and cook for themselves.
From Chapter 21, aboard the three-masted barque, the Enigma departing from Rotterdam The dawn was breathtakingly beautiful, the cold ocean a deep cerulean blue with crests of white showing here and there, the western sky still bearing wide strips of violet and indigo along the horizon. The palest blue filled all the dome above, with white puffs of clouds moving gently from west to east. Their three-masted barque, the Enigma, would soon slip between Dover and Calais and run the length of the English Channel down towards Plymouth... When they came near the poop deck, Niklas called up to the captain, “Shall we put in at London?” The tall, brusque captain with a Danish accent and long blond hair in an old-fashioned pigtail told them firmly: “We will not. In the first place,” he said, his bright blue eyes flashing fire, “London would slow us down by several days and charge outrageous fees!” “Liverpool, then? Or Plymouth?” “There ain’t nothing at Plymouth but ruffians and smugglers, who would sooner fleece you than look you in the eye. And Liverpool’s completely out of the way and besides, even worse.” Plymouth, a once-proud city, according to Captain Peterssen, had had nothing to say for itself since the Peace of ’15. “That there’s a dockyard that ain’t to be saved by naught but the next good war, not that peace ain’t a wonderful thing,” Niklas and Katrina exchanged a look. She was disappointed, even though she knew Niklas would be happy to sail past England, home of his Waterloo enemies. Still, she would have liked to see London, the most modern city in the world. Izak Peterssen added, “Besides, in ’34 they had The Cholera. No, it’s neither safe nor wise to put in at Plymouth.” “Cholera!” Katrina said. “An excellent reason to stay away.” ...When the Kästners were out of hearing, Izak Peterssen grumbled, “How do they expect to get anywhere if they keep wanting to stop at every little island?” “Aye, sir,” agreed Mr. Groves. “Everyone knows a ship should keep to the sea, away from rocks, shoals, and lee shores.” “And ports are the devil’s playground—where ships rot and men go to hell.” “Aye, it’s bad enough we have to put in at Gibraltar.” Izak Peterssen was annoyed that his passengers had spoken to him. A captain should never be bothered with frivolities, and worse yet, their questions were lubberly. Groves was not surprised to see the fury rising on his captain’s face, and he sent one of the boys scurrying below: “Bring the captain a cup of hot coffee,” he said with some urgency.
From Chapter Ten, putting in at Gibraltar Captain Izak Peterssen put a big foot on the larboard rail and slung himself up into the ratlines. Enigma rose on the swell, and in the distance, Cabo Finisterre rose out of the waves, dark, mysterious, and unmoving. It was Land’s End, the westernmost tip of the European continent, and it marked Enigma’s successful traverse of the Bay of Biscay. Many long hours later, she had navigated the straits of Gibraltar, rounded Tariffa, and passed promontories on either side. Gibraltar lay to the north and on the south, Ceuta, a fortress in the Spanish province of Cadiz on the coast of Tangier. Then Ceuta faded into the distance, and Enigma made her way across a vast bay, toward headlands entirely different from the grim Cabo Finisterre, sunny, colorful, and so inviting that Katrina felt the strongest desire to go ashore at once and abandon the very idea of America. She did not dare say this aloud. As the last of the day’s light faded, the Enigmas hove to and picked up moorings at Gibraltar. The huge bay Enigma crossed and the high waves in the strait made for a daunting approach between Morocco on one side and the Crown Colony of Gibraltar on the other. Now, in the harbor, hundreds of ships contested for anchor room, from massive Indiamen and sleek galleys to cutters, barges and other working boats—launches, fishing boats, lighters, and every description of small craft. “Fend off, ye blind bastard of a bat, fend off,” came faintly across the water, one of many distorted voices, perhaps off starboard, perhaps not. Just barely visible in the fading light was a long, curved stone quay, the Old Mole. It had defined Gibraltar for centuries, with its massive dockyard, quarantine island, and low warehouses on what had once been ordnance and victualing wharfs. Dr. Ward was on deck, and now he told the captain, “Nowhere do I see the yellow flag of pestilence.” “Gudskelov,” said Izak Peterssen. “Thank God.”
From Chapter 31, aboard the three-masted barque, the Enigma, man overboard One splendid day, all the passengers quit their hammocks as if of one mind to savor a delicious change in weather. Will was off watch, so he took Jakob on deck, and it wasn’t long before they were roughhousing. Katrina was busy braiding Lisette’s hair, so Amalie, free of children for the moment, stood at the rail, enjoying the perfect sea breeze. Then she saw with trepidation Thomas Segrave, the ship’s owner, approaching her spot at the rail, and she determined to ignore him. A wicked Englishman! Will let his little brother chase and wrestle, while trying not to be too rough for the four-year-old. Thomas Segrave watched them for a moment, a smile playing on his lips, and then he turned to Amalie. “Good morning,” he said. “Guten Morgen.” She knew the English for it well enough, but she would not give him the satisfaction of hearing her use it. Behind them, Cutlip glanced at Will and the little boy with his usual blank face. If he felt disdain for landsmen, he hid it well. The Kästners’ status as cabin passengers and Will’s pluck in the maintop gave the family a certain protection from the crew’s contempt. Cutlip’s eyes went back to the sails. Just as Will looked out to the sea, Jakob dove at him, and startled, he swept one arm back, throwing the little boy aside. Jakob landed awkwardly on the slanted deck and fairly bounced up—onto the rail. He balanced there, his arms beating the air, a face of pure surprise. Amalie saw him there, flailing, and leapt to reach him. Thomas Segrave did the same and knocked into her. Will had already spun around and flung himself at the boy, grabbing. Then Jakob was falling. They heard his high-pitched scream, and there was a desperately long moment before they heard the splash, a moment in which Amalie shrieked and Will stripped off his coat and dove overboard. Cutlip had already tossed a line overboard where the two would surface, grabbed a second line and barked out, “Man overboard!”
From Chapter 55, arriving in New Orleans The shoreline showed fields, the occasional house, and clusters of villages with mills, modest church steeples, and the clang and fire of a blacksmith’s shop. This was hopeful, but nothing like a great city. Nevertheless, Niklas looked almost gleeful.... In the sunshine of this new day on the edge of New Orleans, the Old World’s never-quite-resolved conflicts seemed to have melted into the muddy waters of the Mississippi. Gradually, they came in among taller, finer buildings with more people, and then Enigma made a tight turn, was pulled along by its boats for a little distance, and turned again, and suddenly they could see the city spread along a grand, curving ridge of land. Ahead, the great white dome of the St. Charles Hotel appeared, and then masts in clusters, sailing vessels with flags of all colors, including the Blue Peter signal of imminent departure, followed by a crowd of steamboats, four deep along the wharf, and then clusters of fishing vessels, flatboats, ferries, lighters and small working boats of every description, including dugouts. They heard the beat of hammers and the voices of many people, busy, loud, impatient people. A great farmer’s market came into view, a riot of smells and colors, and then Mr. Groves barked orders, dock lines were thrown and caught, and the gangplank was lowered. Mr. O’Malley called to the Kästners quite civilly, bidding them disembark. “Bienvenue à la Nouvelle-Orléans!” he said. Niklas’s eyebrows shot up. He had not known until that moment that Mr. O’Malley spoke French.
from 1837: Among Strangers GETTING TO KNOW AMERICA In his 1829 best-seller, Gottfried Duden said about America, "People in Europe will not and cannot believe how easy and how pleasant it can be to live in this country. It sounds too strange, too fabulous." By 1836, America was a land of extreme contrasts, with well-established cities in the East and at New Orleans, farmsteads carved out of the woods or plains, and vast areas of wilderness, where you had better to be ready to manage on your own.
From Chapter Five, aboard the Yellow Stone side-wheeler, steaming up the Mississippi, approaching a dangerous passage One experienced passenger explained to Izak and the Kästner men, “If we hit the bar, it’ll knock the boat’s brains out. Better if your womenfolk were on deck should we need to swim.” “A steamboat is nearly as flat as yon broadbeam,” another explained, waving toward a flatboat going downriver in the central current, “but top heavy. If she hits the sandbar hard, she’ll tip, and we will be required to swim for our lives, those of us not fitted with wings right off.” Niklas went immediately to fetch the rest of the family. All seven now stood at the rail, Katrina wrapped in a shawl, Lisette’s arm around her waist and Jakob asleep on her shoulder. Thomas stood by Amalie and whispered in her ear: “I am a strong swimmer. Should we go over, don’t panic. Just let me carry you.” He studied the riverbank and the current to see what he would be up against and where might be the closest point of land. She nodded at him almost imperceptibly. They stood at the rail, each grasping it, her left hand in a lace glove and his right hand barely touching, but quite close enough for electricity to pass between them.
From Chapter Ten, Katrina and Niklas on the Illinois prairie “Ach mein Gott!” said Niklas, shocked to see the size of the funnel cloud forming in the western sky. The air had suddenly turned cold, and moments later they were lashed with hail, taking shelter as best they could, crouching together by the horses under the branches of the largest of the trees. A roaring rain began and then the roaring became louder than rain, louder than anything either had ever heard. The funnel cloud now touched the ground, kicking up a wide cuff of debris. With horror, they saw it cross a faraway creek like the one they were sheltering by and toss trees about like toothpicks. The roaring became impossibly loud, with rain and wind that left them unable to do anything but cover their heads and pray. And then, as quickly as it had come, they heard the roaring move off beyond them, and in a few moments they dared to look about. The tornado had passed a little south of them, but not so far away as to leave them untouched. Their faces and arms had been lashed by flying debris and their hair was littered with straw and twigs. The temperature had dropped precipitously, and both were soaked to the skin. One of the horses had been slashed open by a splintered tree branch and lay dying in desperate agony, the blood pouring from it, breathing hard, it having sunk to its knees, its head pulled up by the reins still tied to the tree. Niklas circled it, studied the wound and pulled out his pistol. “Schauen Sie nicht,” he said to Katrina, “Don’t look,”