An Amish Voyage to
By S. Duane Kauffman
Though most of the Amish who migrated to America did so in the early
nineteenth century, an overwhelming majority of today’s Mifflin County
[Pennsylvania] Amish and Mennonites are descended from those who made
the move a century earlier.
Fixing the exact date of the first Amish arrivals in America is not
possible. Names such as Brandt, Bricker, Hershberger, Hostetter, Huber,
King, Kurtz, Lichty, Shirk, Zimmerman, and Zug, which were found in
Lancaster County as early as the 1720s, were previously common among
the Alsatian and Palatine Amish. If they had Amish origins, their
failure to establish an Amish congregation after arriving and their
early separation from the established Amish bodies in Europe suggest a
minimal level of commitment that would have been easily relinquished in
a new setting.
According to persisting oral tradition, the American Amish story begins
with a widow Barbara Yoder who with her nine small children settled in
Oley Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania, sometime before 1720. This
account was first printed by John Hertzler in his 1885 Hertzler
Genealogy and promoted and embellished by C. Z. Mast in his speeches
and writings. This foundational assertion has been greatly modified by
recent research, which places the Yoders into the context of Bern
Township in the early l740s.
Though the possibility of Amish arrivals before that year is
speculative, by 1727 names of good candidates are found sprinkled on
the lists of ship passengers.
1737, the Charming Nancy docked at Philadelphia, carrying at least
twenty Amish family heads that can be proven genealogically. The vessel
has been likened to an “Amish Mayflower” by Amish historian David
Luthy, and Dr. John A. Hostetler has dubbed it the “first Amish
Though conditions in Europe were almost intolerable, the choice to come
to America was not an easy one. The unknowns that lay ahead weeded out
the fainthearted. The traumatic ocean journey called for adaptability,
stamina, and a deep reservoir of personal faith. One of the early Amish
settlers sent an ominous letter to Europe warning:
If you are in Germany, Switzerland, or Strasburg, Alsace, and have not
the opportunity to follow our sect on account of the “government” and
you care for the salvation of your souls, I would advise you to come to
me for perhaps you are poorly off in worldly goods, and in this country
is a very good living. I would assist you as much as my means, yet I
would not bid you to come, for should it go badly with you on your
journey, you would blame me.
A diary attributed
to Hans Jacob Kauffman, written in the margins of an almanac, provides
poignant details of his voyage on the Charming Nancy. The translation
is as follows:
|Photo: The barn on
"Contentment", the homestead of 1749
Amish immigrants, Jacob and
Catherine Reugy Hertzler.
Hertzler was a minister in the Northkill
settlement, the earliest
known organized Amish congregation in North America.
The Northkill Amish cemetery is on this
The 28th of June while in Rotterdam getting ready to start my Zernbli
died and was buried in Rotterdam. The 29th we got under sail and
enjoyed one and a half days of favorable wind. The 7th of July, early
in the morning, Hans Zimmerman’s son-in- law died.
We landed in England the 8th of July, remaining 9 days in port during
which 5 children died. Went under sail the 17th of July. The 21 of July
my own Lisbetli died. Several days before Michael’s Georgli had died.
the 29th of
July three children died. On the first of August my Hansli died and the
Tuesday previous, 5 children died. On the 3rd
August contrary winds
beset the vessel and from the first to the 7th of
the month 3 more children died. On the 8th of August,Shambien’s
Lizzie died and on the 9th Hans Zimmerman’s Jacobli died. On the
19th, Christian Burgli’s Child died. Passed a ship on the 21st. A
favorable wind sprang up. On the 28th Hans Gasi’s wife died. Passed a
ship 13th of September. Landed in Philadelphia on the 18th and my wife and I left the ship on the 19th. A
child was born to us on the 20th - died - wife recovered. A voyage of
The number of deaths and the length of the Charming Nancy’s journey
were not unusually great. In a heart-rending account of his 1750 voyage
to America, a German craftsman named Gottlieb Mittelberger exposed the
exploitation of the immigrants by those in charge and vividly detailed
the unbearable conditions on the crowded vessel. In commenting on ship
mortality, he said:
Children from one to seven years rarely survive the voyage; and many a
time parents are compelled to see their children miserably suffer and
die from hunger, thirst, and sickness, and then to see them cast into
the water. I witnessed such misery in no less than thirty-two children
in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea. The parents grieve
all the more since their children find no resting-place in the earth,
but are devoured by the monsters of the sea. It is a notable fact that
children, who have not yet had the measles or small-pocks [sic],
generally get them on board the ship, and most die of them. Often a
father is separated by death from his wife and children, or mothers
from their little children, or even both parents from their children;
and sometimes whole families die in quick succession; so that often
many dead persons lie in the berths beside the living ones, especially
when contagious diseases have broken out on board the ship.
Mittelberger also commented on the tragic lot of the large number of
redemptioners who sold their labor as indentured servants to pay for
their passage. In most cases, the person had agreed to the arrangement
voluntarily as the only means for getting to America. On other
occasions, individuals were kidnapped by unscrupulous captains and sold
to the highest bidder in the American port.
One such case was Ludwig (Lewis) Riehl, the ancestor of all Amish and
Mennonite Riehls. According to oral tradition, around 1750, at age
eight he was abducted, taken to America, and bound as an indentured
servant to a cruel master until he reached the age of twenty-one. After
suffering physical abuse and the indignity of sleeping with the hogs,
he escaped and found a home with the Chester County Amish.
An indenture, dated 1767, bearing the name of John Melchoir [sic]
Blankenburg, has been handed down in the Plank family. According to
tradition, he was the same Melchoir [sic] Plank who died in Mifflin
County around 1815. The story of the Planks’coming to America is as
While living in Rotterdam, they boarded a ship to bid farewell to
friends who were leaving for America. The ship captain assured them the
anchor would not be lifted till morning so they spent the night with
their friends. However the ship left during the night and the Planks
awoke to the shocking reality that they had been kidnapped. Upon their
arrival in Philadelphia. they were sold as indentured servants to pay
for their passage.
In his writings C. Z. Mast identified five eastern Pennsylvania Amish
congregations that existed in the Colonial Period: Northkill,
Tulpehocken, Maidencreek, Conestoga, and Goshen. Recent research
suggests that West Conestoga, Cocalico, and Compass should be added,
bringing the total of Amish settlements that existed prior to the
American Revolution to eight. Of these, only the one represented by the
Conestoga Mennonite congregation near Morgantown has had a continuing
From Mifflin County Amish and
Mennonite Story 1791-1991 by S. Duane Kauffman, pp. 17-19.
Published by the Mifflin County Mennonite Historical Society, 1991.
Used with permission.
Duane Kauffman, Perkasie, Pa., is retired from teaching history at
Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, and is helping prepare for the
school's 50th anniversary celebration in July.
shall serve, and that honestly and
obediently in all Things, as a good and dutiful Servant ought to [do].
|Photo: Johan Melchior Blankenberg
This Indenture Witnesseth, That Johan Melchior Blankenburg in
Consideration Twenty two pds seven sixpence pd. by his master Jehson
Cloud for his passage from Holland as also for other good Causes, He
the said John hath bound and put him self, and by these Presents doth
bind and put him self Servant to the said Jehson to serve him his
Executors and Assigns, from
the Day of the Date hereof, for and during
the Term of Five Years thence next ensuing. During all which Term, the
said Servant his said Master his Executors, or Assigns, faithfully
AND the said Master his Executors and Assigns, during the Term, shall
find [and] provide for the said Servant sufficient Meat, Drink, apparel
Washing and Lodging, freedom Dues And for the true Performance hereof,
both Parties bind themselves firmly unto each other by these Presents
In Witness whereof they have hereunto interchangeably set their Hands
and Seals, Dated the 27th Day of Nov. in the Eighth Year of his
Majesty’s Reign; and in the Year of our Lord, one Thousand, seven
Hundred and Sixty-Seven.
Signed, sealed and delivered in the Presence of his Mark
X Johan Melchior Blankenburg
"God calls us to preserve our faith heritage, to interpret our stories,
and to proclaim God's work among us."