On the Atlantic Ocean, June 6, 1855
Since I am afraid that upon my arrival in New York I will have time nor opportunity to write you, as promised, I will now take the pen in hand in order to prepare this letter for you.
We are presently at 62.50 W.L. Greenwich, and if the wind is favorable to us, we can arrive in New York in two or three days. At this moment all of us are healthy and are feeling fine, and our children are absolutely not looking foward to the end of the sea-voyage. It is not my purpose to tell you the details of this voyage at this time, but I do want to give you a brief report of our trip from Bornwerd to Rotterdam, and of the things we saw and noticed in that city, mainly in connection with emigrants. I have made careful daily notes about everything we have experienced during our sea-voyage, and about the things I have seen and noticed during the voyage. If I am well and as soon as I have time and opportunity to do this, I will make a true copy of my diary and will send it to Mr. Swartte van Loon.
Why we left our Fatherland, dear Brother, is well known to you, however, I do have to say a few words yet about this. As a teacher I could not exist in our Fatherland, and for our children there was absolutely no future. For that reason I have felt for several years, and my wife as well, an inner urge to leave the Fatherland and cross over to the United States, in order to seek an improved existence and a better future for our children. Due to circumstances, this urge finally became a definite decision in the fall of last year. And when the decision was made, we were unflinching in our resolve. It appeared as if we did no longer have a lasting place in the Fatherland.
We knew very well that there would be many difficulties coming our way, especially regarding all the things we would need to make the voyage. To leave the Fatherland as a dishonest man, was never an option for me, because I would never have dared to ask the Almighty for His blessing on this project. I felt the need for this, because I knew we would have a difficult voyage to make, and I was convinced that without God's blessing all our attempts would be in vain. Up to this point God has not withheld his blessing from us. Financial difficulties and also other things we had not counted on were cleared away for us, and as far as I know all my business in the Fatherland has been looked after.I seriously advise every emigrant not to leave any unfinished business in his Fatherland, as this will make you feel better and will give you trust in the help of the Almighty, and the emigrant really needs this very much.
On the day before our departure we had sold our redundant goods, or rather, the things we did not need on the voyage or just could not take with us. We took leave of our family and many acquaintances and early in the morning of Friday, April 13th, 1855 we left Bornwerd for Leeuwarden.
In Leeuwarden we met our brother Jan Heeringa and his wife, my future Brother in Law Wijbe and a few acquaintances. We shook hands with them for the last time.
Brother Jan Heeringa came along with us to the place where the boat leaves from Leeuwarden to Harlingen, he was the last person of our family we said goodbye to. I will keep quiet about that having to say goodbye to family and acquaintances. I have felt what this means to an emigrant, but I cannot describe it, at least I will not attempt it.
To say farewell to the Fatherland as Fatherland, did not mean very much to us, if I may be perfectly honest, but to permanently tear oneself away from blood relatives and beautiful friends that was hard -- indescribably hard. During the moment of departure, it seems that everything impresses one more that usual. At that time I noticed a look-alike of one of my dear friends who had moved to his eternal home some two years ago. This happened in Leeuwarden, and looking at that person made such a strong impression on us, that seeing this and thinking about that friend will never be erased from our memories.
We arrived in Harlingen that evening at six o'clock and we stayed the night with Widow Bleeker. We were treated very well and it cost little money. We thought that we had to take the steamboat to Amsterdam the following morning, because we thought that there was no regular service from Harlingen. A better opportunity presented itself for us, however. The owner of the barge Franeker, Johannes Houtstra, arrived that morning early in Harlingen and he told us that we could go with him. He came to our hotel and we soon came to an agreement, which was very favorable for us. He would take us and our baggage to Amsterdam for ten-guilders. We were the only passengers on board and stayed in the cabin. We were treated in an excellent manner and we praise the master and we thank him openly.
On Sunday morning at nine we arrived in Amsterdam and that evening at eight we left on the night barge for Gouda, and from there with the steamer to Rotterdam. On Monday morning at half past eight we arrived in that city. Here we saw the ship on which we would cross the ocean; its name was South Carolina, with Mr. Stewart as captain.
Upon arrival in Rotterdam I immediately went to the office of Masters Wambersie and Crooswijk. I was pleased to hear that the ship was prepared to receive passengers, even though the day of sailing had been set on the 20th. I concluded my business at this office and tried to get my goods on board. This brought some difficulties because of formalities having to do with custom forms. Around noon we came on board as the first passengers, but even within the hour some more people appeared and as the population increased, so did the confusion. This took till Friday the 20th, when all the passengers were on board finally; 286 souls altogether.
Someone who has not been an eye-witness of all this, can hardly form an idea in his mind of the confusion on the ship during these first days. Everything was loaded mixed up and stacked on top of each other, bunks, suitcases, beds, blankets, pots and pans, kettles, etc. Only with great difficulty one could get through, and you would run the risk of breaking your neck and, legs. If someone had occupied a berth without having the number of it on his manifest, someone else would come with that number on his own manifest and then the other person was obliged to leave that berth again without knowing where he should go next. Most of the time this did not go smoothly, and more than once the one would tear the bedding of the other out of the berth, and there was no lack of quarreling, swearing and name calling. Some of them got rid of their frustration with swearing and name calling, while others were crying because of this confusion and hopelessness. If the Masters in the office had been as willing to refund the money as they were willing to receive it, I believe that many would have turned back. But a emigrant, once his ticket has been paid for, is just like a person who has agreed to be enlisted in the army. He has to passively accept everything, he can complain, but there is nobody who listens. While there was quite a confusion in the cabin, this was nothing compared to the situation below.
The surplus crates with baggage were finally cleared away and some order was restored. This happened on Saturday, the 21st; because the ship was not loaded yet and could not leave on the designated day. On this same day they weighed the foodstuffs of the passengers. Every passenger had to have 80 pounds of dried provisions on board, including the required weight of bacon; butter and salt were not weighed.
Those who did not have the required weight had to scramble to obtain it. All the passengers on this ship are Dutchmen, mainly from the Provinces of Groningen and Zeeland. Most of the passengers in the Cabin are Zeelanders; they all are good and decent people who belong to the group of seceding reformed people.
Among the emigrants one sees all kinds of different people, very old ones and young, children, as well as sturdy men and crippled people, wise persons, halfwits and crazy ones. All sorts of manner of dress and speaking in different dialects so that one can hardly understand the other one. The captain is Mr. Stewart, and American, first mate is a Scott, second mate is Dutch. The Stewart is an American and the chef is Dutch from the Province of Zeeland; the crew consists of many different nationalities: Germans, Sweeds, Dutch, English and Americans.
Now we take a look below deck. There are two entrances: the one is at the front of the ship in the galley where passengers can cook their meals and the other is in front of the great mast. As soon as you lower yourself on the stairs, you are met with an almost impossible smell caused by the stench of tar and unpleasant odors of more than two hundred people. Furthermore, when you first enter it is so dark that you are unable to see any objects; and because of the large number of crates, pots and pans, it is difficult to get from one end to the other. On both sides there are two rows of berths on top of each other; every berth is intended for four persons and they are so low that an adult cannot sit up in them. The divider between the berths consists of one single board. Everything consists of rough boards, and they are still wet and unsanitary, it is a shame to place a good bed on them. The boards at the bottom of each berth do not fit together, and this causes the beds to slide through. In one word: the design of the berths is extremely poor. Would this be the captain's fault or are the Masters Wambersie and Crooswijk responsible? I don't know, but they should be ashamed of this. Is it decent to arrange the berths for four people? And is it not a shame to make them from wet and dirty planks, and without a decent partition between them?
The deck below is a wretched place, and I advise my countrymen who wish to move to the United States not to reserve space on the lower deck of a sailing vessel, provided that his finances allow him to make the voyage in some other way.
We will now look at the second cabin. The door is at the lower deck by the big mast. This room is spread out over the entire width of the ship, between the two masts; there is plenty of light and air; on both sides there are small windows and two large windows in the ceiling that can all be opened. The berths are made in the same way as the ones below deck. In the cabin the passengers have improved the berths a lot by hanging curtains in front of them. In front of the cabin on the lower deck is a large cabin that contains the coal, the kitchen of the chef and the kitchen for the passengers. The kitchen for the passengers is a rather large space where there is a large cast iron stove with eight holes on which you can cook. During the voyage of probably six or seven weeks it is here that meals have to be cooked for almost three hundred people. When I was still in Rotterdam, this struck me as a bad thing, and I made an arrangement with the chef to provide me for four dollars, during the entire voyage, a kettle with boiled water in the morning and in the evening a tin of cooked grits. I have not felt bad about my four dollars. Later in my diary I will come back to this kitchen.
At the very front of the deck there is the place of the crew - (the fore castle) - and it resembles a pigsty. The quarter deck is above the second cabin. On the lowerdeck there are rails of about eight or nine feet high and at the quarterdeck they are about five feet high. On both sides of the large mast there is a stairway to reach the lower and quarterdecks. On the quaterdeck there are several benches on which you can sit, as well as cages for chickens; there are plenty of them.
On Monday, April 23rd, the ship was finally ready and on the following morning at six o'clock it was announced to the passengers that we were about to leave. We had to be in Rotterdam for nine days, and we were not sorry about this. It is important for the emigrant to be at the place of departure for several days in advance, especially if he does not take the provisions from the expediters, but has to buy them himself.
I feel obliged to advise every emigrant to do this, because he will enjoy this. He should look around and realize that there are no inns or stores on this wide ocean and that the voyage is quite uncertain. I will write later what type of provisions and other things the emigrant needs to buy for the voyage. First of all you can expect the diary of the ocean voyage, and by way of a supplement I will give you my ample thoughts on this.
I should not omit to say that our stay in Rotterdam was made much more enjoyable because of the friendly treatment we received there by the family of Mr. R. A. Mees and for this we can never adequately express our thanks.
And now brother, I will put down the pen, and I hope that you will receive this letter in good health. May God be with you and yours; farewell!
Your Brother J. Pelmulder
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