Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mutiny Before Christmas

Two-hundred and eighty years ago today, my Sherck ancestor arrived in North America.  It's not a story, unfortunately, that was passed down through the family, at least not through my branch of the family. I found this by finding the genealogical research that someone else had done. Anyway, I found it fascinating. Here's how it went down:

In May of 1731, Casper Schirch set out from Rotterdam with his wife and small child on the ship "Liebe und Einigkeit" ("Love and Unity") along with a number of other German Mennonite emigres. The name of this ship is the earliest documented example of extreme irony in my family, as you'll soon see.

The ship went to Falmouth, England, to take on supplies before heading out to cross the Atlantic. Twelve days after setting out, the passengers were assured that they were halfway there. Over six weeks later, still at sea, drinking water and food were being rationed. For the next six weeks, the passengers had no bread and only small amounts of water. Crew members sold rats to the passengers to eat. Oddly enough, no favorite recipes for preparing rat have come down through the generations of my family.

Many passengers died, and they were simply thrown overboard--stripped of clothes, not weighted down, simply left to float behind the ship. The captain demanded payment for the dead as well as the survivors. Looking for ways to meet this demand, passengers examined their trunks of possessions and found many things missing. Believing that the captain meant to starve them and take all of their possessions, the desperate passengers seized the captain and crew and took over the ship. Three days later, one week before Christmas of 1731, they landed at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts after 25 weeks at sea. Only 48 of 156 passengers survived the crossing (Casper's wife and child did not).

The passengers were off the water, but they weren't out of the woods yet. The passengers took the captain to trial for his "barbarous treatment" of his passengers. However, the court acquitted the captain and crew because, well, that's what courts did (hmmm... wealthy ship owner or poor [German] immigrants...?). Officially, there was not enough evidence, so the Germans had to pay the court costs which, of course, they didn't have. So they were jailed. Welcome to North America, folks.

But he and his offspring did well enough in the end--in his lifetime, he became a successful farmer in eastern Pennsylvania. He remarried (twice) and had a whole bunch of children, many of whom had a whole bunch more children, and as far as I can tell, his lineage is in no real danger of going extinct.

1 comment:

  1. What a terrible, moving story! Immigrants, it seems, no matter the century or decade, have had terrible obstacles to face. Puts a lot of things in perspective.