Gottlieb Mittelberger About Immigration to Pennsylvania Colony c. 1750



  When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased, and are released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst, for the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first; and so the sick and wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive. . . .

  The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance, say 20, 30, or 40 hours away, and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage-money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.

Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; for if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that such parents and children, after leaving the ship, do not see each other again for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives. . . .

A woman must stand for her husband if he arrives sick, and in like manner a man for his sick wife, and take the debt upon herself or himself, and thus serve 5 to 6 years not alone for his or her own debt, but also for that of the sick husband or wife. But if both are sick, such persons are sent from the ship to the sick-house [hospital], but not until it appears probable that they will find no purchasers. As soon as they are well again they must serve for their passage, or pay if they have means.

It often happens that whole families, husband, wife, and children, are separated by being sold to different purchasers, especially when they have not paid any part of their passage money.

  When a husband or wife has died at sea, when the ship has made more than half of her trip, the survivor must pay or serve not only for himself or herself, but also for the deceased. . . .  I cannot possibly pass over in silence what was reported to me by a reliable person in Pennsylvania, in a package of letters which left Philadelphia Dec. 10, 1754, and came to my hands Sept. 1, 1755. These letters lament the fact that last autumn, A. D. 1754, to the very great burden of the country, more than 22,000 souls (there was a great emigration from Wurtemberg at that time) had arrived in Philadelphia alone, mostly Wurtembergers, Palatines, Durlachers and Swiss, who had been so wretchedly sick and poor that most of these people had been obliged to sell their children on account of their great poverty. The country, so the letters state, had been seriously molested by this great mass of people, especially by the many sick people, many of whom were still daily filling the graves.

  So long as I was there, from 20 to 24 ships with passengers arrived at Philadelphia alone every autumn, which amounted in 4 years to more than 25,000 souls, exclusive of those who died at sea or since they left home, and without counting those ships which sailed with their passengers to other English colonies, as New York, Boston, Maryland, Nova Scotia and Carolina, whereby these colonies were filled, and the immigrants became very unwelcome, especially in the city of Philadelphia. But that so many people emigrate to America, and particularly to Pennsylvania, is due to the deceptions and persuasions practised by the so-called newlanders.

  These men-thieves inveigle people of every rank and profession, among them many soldiers, scholars, artists and mechanics. They rob the princes and lords of their subjects and take them to Rotterdam or Amsterdam to be sold there. They receive there from their merchants for every person of 10 years and over, 3 florins or a ducat; whereas the merchants get in Philadelphia 60, 70 or 80 florins for such a person, in proportion as said person has incurred more or less debts during the voyage. . . .



Think About It!


1. What dominated the fate of the immigrants described by Mr. Mittelberger?


2. What other group(s) found in the colonies did they resemble?


3. How would you have managed this immigration differently?