In His Own Hand:
Fritz Mueller’s Journal of the Voyage to America
I. Farewells in Bremerhaven
The following is an English translation of a journal kept by Fritz Mueller and addressed to friends in Germany. Fritz organized his “little book” into two parts. The first, written aboard the ship, covers the departure from Bremerhaven and the voyage across. The second, written on his farm in Indiana, covers the arrival in New York and the train trip to the Midwest. In the interest of keeping the text manageable, the journal appears here in seven parts.
Various branches of the Mueller family have their own translations of Fritz’s journal (the Schumms, for example), but the archives do not have a copy of the original manuscript. This translation was completed by Fritz’s great-grandson, Rev. Herbert C. Mueller, though he may have used portions previously translated by others. There are some passages that do not make clear sense, possibly because the original journal was not clear or because the mid-19th century High German idioms are too obscure for modern readers.
Friederich Mueller, owner of an estate in the State of Wursten, Germany, emigrated to America with his wife and nine children. He left behind in the Staden Sunday paper this farewell greeting:
We bid all loved ones who have been our friends a cordial farewell. Yes, readers of this Sunday paper, [a farewell] before we depart for America. Our dear homeland will never vanish from our memory, even though storms and rays of sunshine in life may seek to banish it. It was certainly our first love. Even though its image acquired many a blotch and wrinkle during the years of revolution and of the Catechism controversies, we leave in the conviction that there is but one Germany, only one Hannover. The Lord God protect it and cleanse and renew it.
— F. Mueller [of] Bosenbüttel, Johanne Mueller nee Rösing,
Theodora, Elizabeth, William, Erich, Emma, Frederick, Enno, John, Gertrude
Geestemünde, August 11, 1865.
But in the spring of 1866, this death notice appeared in the same publication:
To all friends and acquaintances, this notice of sorrow that our beloved husband and father, Steward F. Mueller, formerly of Bosenbüttel, on the sixth of May after suffering painfully for sixteen days, fell asleep in joyous faith and confession of Jesus Christ, peaceful and blessed. His earthly remains rest in the city cemetery of Kendallville, Indiana.
— Johanne Mueller and nine children
Motto: He cannot be a true Mueller who has never thought of traveling.
Friederich Georg Wilhelm Mueller
Lying at anchor in Bremerhaven August 19, 1865. We are having calm winds. This calm and these contrary winds are truly pleasant for the novice at sea. He learns how to stoop and bow when he enters the cabin; in the morning he learns to devour a beefsteak, fried eggs and ham with his coffee. The air on the sea has great power. It digests foods which one would not stand on land. But the lack of progress is unbearable, as one realizes he is not drawing nearer to his destination. I regard myself fortunate to be able to write something for and to my dear friends.
The experiences of the first day on board have been especially dear to me after the very bitter separation from my homeland. Early yesterday it already was humorous when Messers. F. and R., Miss B. and her brother, who came aboard in order to bid us farewell, involuntarily had to begin the voyage with us — until, after anxious long waiting, a boatman took pity on them and brought them back to land. Finally, H. Winterberg also came and brought us the last flowers and friendly greetings from the homeland we have left. And not just flowers. We also received, through his mediation, a kettle of good butter, a tin canister of biscuits and Pfeffernüße. These, together with the two barrels of apples from our dear friends in Midlum, will be a good side dish to the heavy diet on board ship.
Yet H.W. came a second time to the ship. A passenger in the middle deck had lost his trunk in Bremen. With great care, H.W. had succeeded in getting it to Geestemünde. Now he brought it to the Eagle, to the great joy of the small tailor to whom it belonged. He did even more. Since the young man had only 25 pennies in his possession and more than a dollar was owed for transportation of the trunk, H.W. and someone else “paid the soup.” This very fortunate tailor made appropriate bows and wished very cordially a pleasant journey to the man who had brought his trunk.
I also took a bold and fortunate step this morning. As the steamer Vulcan was dragging us out of the harbor, several other passengers came onto my boat. A lady was climbing up the steep ladder on the side of the ship. The boat under her was driven away through the strong current. A sudden cry drove me to the ladder. The lady had an armful of clothes, and just as she was staggering backward, I grabbed her firmly by the neck. Straining with all my strength, I held her and soon she was safely on board.
Among the four hundred people the Eagle is carrying, there are, as one might well imagine, characters of various kinds: happy-go-lucky ones, earnest ones, good-natured ones, but also dirty and spoiled souls. Everything is thrown together in mixed fashion. Yet there had to be among them some we might have wished to meet, for as we were in the cabin yesterday evening there came a pleasant boy’s voice accompanied on a harmonica: “Where does the soul find its home, its rest? Who covers it with protecting wings? Oh, the world does not offer me a resting place where sin does not come, where it cannot bother me. No, no, it is not here. The home of the soul is up above in the light.” Until today, we have ridden at anchor, and since no wind was expected, the Vulcan is bringing us farther into the green waters of the North Sea.
At sea, August 20
The dear Weser and our old dear home have disappeared from our view. The three maidens, the last we will see between the sky and the ocean, do not feel our tender glances. Since midnight the ship is proceeding with full sails into the North Sea. I do not know how I should describe the rocking of the Eagle. The little bows of the tailor, who broke out into movements of joy when he saw me because he had his trunk back, were very awkward in comparison. And yet, the Eagle is making bows like those of the tailor, compared to those we must expect once we have passed through the North Sea bordering our homeland.
The many immigration ships that departed with us take turns coming into sight. Will all who are crossing on these great canoes — Jupiter, Republic, Geestemünde, Ocean and Norman — land safely at their destination? Seasickness has already cast many a person to the floor. My wife and children have been deeply afflicted. I myself, however, am becoming hungrier every day. We had seaman’s food last night and I found I could eat for two, although the concoction was strange to me. The proverb “What the farmer doesn’t recognize he doesn’t eat” was put completely to shame.
Another night has passed. It has strengthened and refreshed many a tired and sick person. Down in the ship lies a sick woman and her child. I am permitted to dispense the needed medicine from the ship’s dispensary. The wind is sweeping along freshly and the Eagle is carrying itself ever more proudly, cutting through the waves. Three little birds have come aboard, but my eyes search in vain for the land which they and we have left. One sees nothing but sky and sea. I must send greetings with the birds to my homeland:
Little bird, whither do you fly in your swift flight?
O, turn your flight to my homeland and greet it!
Cloud, beautiful on the sky up there,
You who so restlessly, continually drag on toward land,
When you see home, greet it!
You cooling wind of the evening,
You blow so fresh and free hurriedly across the earth,
If you pass by along my homeland, greet it!
Yes, only greetings I send. I myself cannot go.
And no one should notice a trace of homesickness;
Therefore, greet it!
Seasickness could well form its own chapter in my description of our journey, but since I am not making any chapters — I am writing everything mixed up — I will not compose a chapter on this point. Since I write only by observation, I would fear that my readers would become seasick from the mere description, so awful it is to observe.
We are not truly in progress, for the ship betrays its nature as the Eagle and will not fly. So one has time to observe the wonders of the sea. Often one sees a type of polypus swim by. I could wish it for the aquarium in Hamburg. It is similar to the water lily found there, only ten times greater. The beautiful green sea is beyond description. The white foam sprays into the air at the point where the bow of the ship cuts the water — the beak of the Eagle. This foam falls back like a stream of pearls poured out. I will try to compose a song:
O sea, O sea, O sea with your green water!
How the heart refreshes itself staring into your glow.
O wonderful sea with your diamond foam,
Whoever has not traveled by sea has no idea of your beauty.
O you brightly glowing sea, I would ask to see your wonders,
You wonderful sea of the Lord.
O bottomless sea with your dark waters,
It is not clear to me what rests in the depths.
Next: Part Two – On the High Seas