Diary of Susannah Woychik, 1868 2 - More plans
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Sunday, March 15, 1868
Tonacy brzytwy sie chwyta
The drowning person grasps a razor
I find that if I set aside an hour each Sunday afternoon to write in my diary, that is the best plan. We are not supposed to work on Sundays anyway apart from the necessary such as cooking food. So I am doing this rather than saying prayers or reading a book about the Saints.
Pa managed to borrow the other book for me to have a look through and make some notes. I am the practical one in the family – so it is up to me to get us organised properly for this trip.
This book as written in German not in English like the other one, in which I had to keep using my dictionary to find out what it said.
It was written by Carl De Haas, who went to Wisconsin in 1857 over 10 years ago. He came from Prussia too, and as such, should know exactly the sorts of things we will be experiencing. He did not go to the same area we are going to – but to an area north of Milwaukee on the opposite side of the state. (map of Wisconsin above)
He talks about the need to be organised. He and his brother and nephew packed 14 cases, large and small. He said it’s very important not be separated from your baggage, as there were many unscrupulous people in the dock area, who would happily steal all your goods, while pretending to be helping you.
We have heard about the terrible crossing that some people had from Hamburg earlier this year on the Liebnitz – about a fifth of those on board died. They left in November and went by the southerly route, via Madeira and it was very hot, and the food rotted and they ran out of water, and many got dreadful diseases.
Moma and Pa have been thinking about how we might save a bit of money. As I am not very big for my age (less than 5 feet tall at age 14) they are going to say that I am 7, as children under 8 go for a half fare. My brother John is 12, but also rather short and they are going to say he is 7 too, and Tom who is 8 will have to be 6. I don’t know if we can get away with it, but it will save us the equivalent of one and a half full fares. Apparently the Skrotches are doing the same thing for their daughter, Mary. But of course, then we will only get half food rations on the trip, and only half the baggage allowance. We are allowed to take 20 cubic feet of storage space for each adult. So for the 4 ½ adults we will be considered – that is 90 cubic feet. I think we probably will have to pay at the rate of $1.25 for each extra 100 lbs. or we will not be able to take what we need with us. Pa wants to pack one long flat case with his farming and woodworking equipment and his rifle. As far as I understand it, we will be given a family unit on the ship with four berths. Our parents and the younger boys will be in one set, and the older boys and me will have the other set. So we can also take four cases with our bedding and changes of clothing that we need. We apparently will be allowed to change the contents of these bags for clean items in a store box, half way through the journey. Moma say we might not be able to take pillows but will have to use our coats bunched up to serve the purpose. We will want a light mattress and at least two blankets per bag. We also have to provide or own plates, cups and cutlery, as well as buckets to store the water that they will issue us each day. And we shall need a chamber pot. It all seems an almost impossible task.
We do have agents (Mr. O Gussing and Mr. A G Rhederei) who will deal with the finances for our trip, and will meet us in Hamburg to lead us through the final stages. They have not provided us with half the information that we need, so luckily we have this book. Our expected sailing date is May 1st. we had thought we might leave earlier, but Moma was pleased that we will be having Easter at home first. We will meet with the agents at the train in Hamburg on the 29th of April. That gives us an extra day if something goes wrong with our transport from here to Hamburg. Apparently we have to all undergo a cleansing process (have a bath and being inspected to make sure we do not have fleas on our clothing) before we are allowed on the ship. And we have to take our baptismal records, and also evidence that we have had a small pox vaccination. The people in New York insist on it. If we had gone through Quebec, as lots of our friends are doing, we could have avoided much of the red tape. But we have also heard that the Americans have a good reputation for fairness and being helpful to people who are immigrants.
Pa says it is important to be in Wisconsin early enough to plan a garden (he has little hope of a cash crop for this year) but we cannot leave too early, as the danger from floating icebergs will not have diminished until the end of April.
Mr. De Haas talks about staying in accommodation while waiting for the boat to dock at the cost of 7 thaler for 1 day and 2 nights. He said it was pleasant and presumably included meals. Our agents have said we must stay at the Emigration Hotel, right on the dockside in Hamburg so we will be ready to embark when the time comes.
When Mr. De Hass actually got on his ship and it had sailed, he said that 97% of the passenger suffered from sea sickness, which was very unpleasant while it was happening. Most of the passengers lay on the deck, and the sailors came through with brooms to sweep up the mess they made if they didn’t make it to empty their stomach contents overboard. I expect I will be sick too, but I do hope not. He also says that seasickness should not put anyone off making the trip, as it only lasts a day or so, and no one dies of it, and then everyone will feel much better and regain their appetites quite soon. He also suggested that we should take extra food to supplement that provided by the shipping company such as dried foods and smoked meat and fish, zwiebacks, and vinegar to take away the awful taste of the water.
Mr. De Hass says that in the steerage, which is where we shall be housed, there are only two areas besides the portholes, where light and air come into the ship – and that is through the staircases. It is very dark and airless below. The beds are of lathe work, and placed one above another, and on both sides of the ship with the space between being used for trunks which then are used as tables. But he said that much of the time they chose to eat their food on the deck which was more pleasant.
He did say that putting in contraband was silly as it would be found and severely punished. But it was essential to include vital implement and clothing. He suggested that the cases each weigh less than 200 lbs, have catch locks but not projecting locks, that they have strong covers but not over the outsides and the ropes around them are used for winching them on board ship and could catch and tear any outside wrappings.
Mr. De Hass recommends that when we get there we buy a team or oxen, making sure they are not fence – jumpers whatever that means (Although I suspect it means just what it says, but how can you determine that before you buy them, I cannot imagine) and a wagon . He suggested they can be bought for about $40-50. He also suggests taking from home, window frames, axes, a hay bark, two pails, some chairs and a table, although these things can be bought cheaply there.
He suggests that en route after landing, in a big city, buy supplies to stock the homestead such as rice, dried apple slices, coffee beans, sugar and salt. He says not to get a cook stove until we are close to our destination as they are very heavy, and it should be stocked with pots and pans.
The county we are going is called Trempealeau, a strange French sounding name for an area settled supposedly by Polish. I have asked and found out that it means mountain by the water or something like that.
I am getting quite good at learning English words. It’s important someone is as Moma and Pa haven’t made any effort so far to learn anything. I keep my English-German dictionary near me, and whenever I think of a word that I don’t know in English, I look it up. It is useful to see how similar the English and Silesian words are – such as ablucja is ablution, abolicja is abolition, absolutny is absolute, absencja is absence.
Mr De Hass says we should choose land based on things like a good clean water supply not over 1200 paces from the house, and that it should be running water. Congress land – similar to the Homestead land – that is bought directly from the government costs 1 ¼ dollar per acre. An acre is 4/5 of a Prussian Morgan. But of course this book is 10 years out of date so most of the good Congress land will already be taken. If you do find some, you have to pay the full price within the year and make some improvement on it, such as cutting down woods to make a clearing, and building a house of some sort.
Mr. Hass didn’t buy congress land but got 300 acres already fenced with a two story log cabin and paid $300 for it. I know Pa won’t have that sort of money straight off. It will take nearly all our money just to pay for our passage.
Pa and Moma have to pay full fare and the rest of us are half, but all together it comes to $180. The Train fare to Chicago is $3 each. Pa has been saving, but also borrowed money from his brother-in-law Lepold Filla. They want to come over too, so when we have saved some money, we can pay them back, and that will help them afford their fares. My father’s brother John is not planning to come. His wife Mary is expecting their 2nd child his year and she is not a well woman. I do not think she would survive the journey, But Uncle John says that perhaps he will send his children later on, and my father has agreed that he would take them in, if that were the case. It is good that Uncle Simon will be with us.
In order to own land, you have to be a citizen, and you do this by going to the local big city and signing a pledge saying that you give up your allegiance to your foreign power. You then have to appear again after five years and renew the oath and prove it by two witnesses that you have lived in the US for all that time, and then you are appointed a citizen of the US.
He suggests taking a warm feather bed, which is hard to find there. He says bring sturdy practical work clothes, but shoes are easy and cheap to buy and are of good value. You want to have American clothes so as not to look very different from the others in the area.
Other things he suggests to bring are a copper kettle and an iron griddle, and small carpentry pieces like door locks and hinges. Also a bellows, rope, flat iron and coffee grinder.
Then he spent a long time talking about the weather which is similar to that in Berlin, but a bit better. He says that no one should come here with less than 400 Prussian Thaller left over after they have purchased their tickets. We will be lucky to have half that amount, but I don’t think we will be put off taking the journey on that account.
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What an interesting era to be
What an interesting era to be living in, though so much uncertainty and awareness of the hazards and discomforts to be expected, aswell as excitement for them. This does give a feel for what it was like for them. Rhiannon
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How exciting it must have
How exciting it must have been, but so, so scary.
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What huge commitments, but
What huge commitments, but why not? Perhaps we are too cautious about change these days.
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