An 19th Century Amishman’s Diary of 3 Months at Sea: “The Captain Does Not Always Tell the Truth”

For the September presentation on 19th Century Amish bishop, Jacob Swartzendruber, much research could not be presented due to time constraints. This included some fascinating details regarding the Swartzendruber family’s 1833 immigration to the United States from their home near Mengeringhausen in Waldeck, Germany.

 Swartzendruber’s stepson, Daniel Gingerich, kept a diary during this trip across the Atlantic and it’s been republished several times. He wrote,

“On the 9th of May 1833 we started on the great journey. We wanted to start in the morning at 8 o’clock, but on account of bidding so many goodbye [sic] . . . our departure was delayed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. . . . The wagon . . . drove off and went through ‘Mengeringhausen,’ where the curious crowd which stood and looked out of the windows, wished them an obliging farewell and a happy journey.”

As they left, they most likely were able to look back on their town for the last time and see the famous crooked steeple of the Mengeringhausen Lutheran church. As they took a ship headed for the Atlantic, it might have been this steeple Daniel thought of as he wrote that the cliffs of England passing on the right side were at points probably “4-6 times as high as a high church steeple.” Daniel wrote of exotic fish, of seasickness, of losing their anchor after a collision with another boat, of passengers tying themselves down with rope during a storm, and of a maritime funeral after one man succumbed to illness. He wrote that, “the captain made a nice speech so solemn that many cried. He said man offended God so often with his deeds that we would all be lost if God would punish us at once as we have deserved, but the gracious God preserved everything through his mercy.” The brick-weighted corpse was then dropped into the sea.

Despite his praise for the captain’s speech, after more than two months aboard Daniel wrote, “We are also out of the gulf stream according to the . . . captain, but the captain does not always tell the truth.” After 53 days in open ocean, the Swartzendruber family finally awoke on the morning of August 11th with American soil on the right and the left, and, as the final words of Daniel’s journal say, “There was great rejoicing that [they] once more saw land.”