Emigration to America

Reasons for Departing Walheim

Our family departed from Walheim for America in two stages: first, in 1819, when the younger brother, Christian Bollinger, left and, secondly, in 1827, when Johann Jacob and his family followed.  Economic hardship appears to have been a major cause.

The Napoleonic Wars had only just ended with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  More disasters were to follow.  According to a rough translation of the relevant section of the book 9OO Jahre Walheim, 1071-1971, published by the town of Walheim, in 1816 there were eight months of unbroken rain.  It was one of the worst years faced by the town and the crops were very poor. In 1817 there was a flood and Walheim required loans in order to recover. In 1824 there was a freak rainstorm and the Neckar River, on the edge of which Walheim nestles, burst its banks.  People were stranded in their homes with nearby Besigheim suffering deaths. It wasn’t until 1827 that the town was able to repay the major loan it had gotten in order to recover from the flood. But on top of everything else that had happened, according to The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 (published in 1961), there was a bitter winter in 1825-26 followed by a worse one lasting well into the spring of 1827. Reserve food supplies had been exhausted by the first bad winter and the second year of shortages caused sharp price rises. In addition, the extreme cold had injured the vineyards on which our family apparently depended.

After this nearly continuous series of disasters, it is not suprising that Johann Jacob Bollinger, father of Johann Gottlieb Bolinger and great-grandfather of Arthur J. Bolinger of Versailles, Missouri, decided to move to the United States in May of 1827, particularly since presumably his younger brother, Christian, who had been in Maryland for the previous eight years, would have described the conditions there by letter, conditions which might have sounded pretty good by comparison to Walheim.

Christian’s own departure for America in 1819 may have been motivated by more than just economic necessity. Having been born in 1798, he was only 16 when both his parents died in 1814. His older brother, Johann Jacob, by then was 29, married, and the father of three children. The Walheim City Hall contains bills for the guardianship of Christian from 1814-1824. Christian left for America as soon as he turned 21. There may not have been much to keep him in Walheim.  In addition, records show that Johann Jacob had been sentenced to debtor’s prison (for more information, see below).  It was only thanks to money sent by Christian, that he was able to get out of prison and take his family to America.

Emigrating to America was not without risks, including that of shipwreck.  In the month of May 1827 alone, when they sailed to America, there were 25 shipwrecks.  A description of conditions two decades later would have applied all the moreso in 1827: “The conditions on immigrant ships at this time were unbelievably bad. Owners sold their excess ship space to agents whose only interest was to fill it with as many passengers as possible. The immigrants were crowded together into unsanitary quarters for voyages of 6 weeks or more & were particularly susceptible to the ravages of disease.”  References in the records to Johann Jacob Bollinger’s wife, Maria Catharina Edelman, end with their departure to America.  I have not found any references to her in U.S. records, suggesting that she may have died on the voyage.

Records in Walheim mention their departure: “zog den 25. Mai 1827 mit seiner Familie nach Hagerstown in Maryland in Amerika”.  (“Left the 25th of May, 1827 with the entire family for Hagerstown in Maryland in America.”)

AJ Bolinger quoted Johann Gottlieb (John G.) Bolinger as giving a different reason as to why the family moved to America.  Johann said the countryside where they lived was swept up in a religious movement prophesying the end of the world.  The whole village where they lived (Walheim) congregated on the side of a mountain wearing long white robes waiting for the trumpet to sound.  Having sold everything, when the world did not come to an end, they decided to leave Europe for the New World.  [See the discussion on pg. 109 of The Atlantic Migration below about pietism which may be related to Johann Gottlieb’s anecdote.]

The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860, by Marcus Lee Hansen, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1961

The following are my notes from The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860.

Pg. 79.  Emigration resumed in large numbers soon after the cessation of  [Napoleonic War] hostilities in 1815.

Pg. 81.  “The peace treaty itself increased the number of those eager to move about.  Article XVII allowed six years for the inhabitants of districts which had been transferred to a new allegiance to leave without paying a property emigration tax.  Many of the principalities along the Rhine belonged in this category and thousands of those departing chose America as their destination.”

Pg. 82.  “Pennsylvania Germans sent to the districts along the Rhine and the Main circulars describing the prospects of their new Germany….”  “For twelve months after Waterloo battallions returning from France crowded the roads, and all conveyances were employed in transporting army baggage and supplies.  But in 1816 a regular boat service commenced on the Rhine from Basel to the Dutch ports, with a passenger agency which attended to the details of the emigration.  In the same year the first steamboat ascended the river from Rotterdam to Cologne, an event heralding a new period in navigation.  Even these facilities, however, were inadequate;  and when the emigration season of 1816 got under way, bateaux had to be constructed in the shipyards of the upper Rhine to handle the traffic.”

Pg. 85.  Bad weather the summer of 1816 and winter of 1816-1817.  Loss of crops, starvation, etc. resulted.

Pg. 86.  “The social unrest [caused by the food shortage] offered opportunities for the ever present agitators.  Peasant prophets arose in nearly every community to foretell a continuation of misery and to preach repentance for a happy eternity in the next world.”

Pg. 87.  “During the summer of 1817 several bands of Mennonites, numbering seven hundred in all, began a long march from Würtemberg to the plains of south Russia.”

Pg. 88.  “During the winter of 1816-1817 representatives of Dutch shipping firms spread the story that at Rotterdam and Amsterdam free transportation across the Atlantic was available.”  By June 30,000 prospective emigrants were stranded in Amsterdam after finding demands for fares or redemption agreements they could not meet.

Pg. 91.  “The route [in the U.S.] over the mountains [westward] was longer and more difficult than the immigrants had foreseen; the expenses of travel cut deeply into their funds; many were stranded in cities and villages along the way.”

Pg. 102. “…federal supervision and official statistics of immigration begin with [September 1, 1819]….”  The law of March 4, 1819 sought to prevent overcrowding on ships carrying immigrants.

Pg. 103.  A financial collapse in the United States in early 1819 set off by an overvalued real estate market produced conditions not conducive to ready absorption of immigrants.

Pg. 105.  Many redemptioner agents were hard hit.  They could not sell the services of their immigrants and sometimes had to free them, being unable to maintain them any longer.  Many immigrants returned home once they found the conditions in the U.S.

Pg. 108.  There was a decline in the number of immigrants to America in most of the decade of the 1820s.

Pg. 109.  “During the second decade of the nineteenth century southern Germany (Württemberg in particular) and the adjacent parts of Switzerland witnessed one of the recurring waves of ‘Pietism‘ that arose spontaneously among the people.  The desire to avoid a catechism and prayer book containing unorthodox doctrines turned thoughts to emigration….”

Pg. 118.  The low point of immigration into the U.S. in the 1820s was in 1823.

Pg. 119.  An increased influx in 1825 was partly attributable to floods in “the valley of the Rhine and its tributaries.  [The Neckar River, on which Walheim was located, is a major tributary of the Rhine.]  The rush of waters had destroyed orchards and vineyards and swept away buildings and crops stacked in the fields.”

Pg. 120.  In 1828 30,000 registered passengers entered the U.S., twice the number of 1826.  [The Bolinger family left for America in 1827.]  The depression following 1819 ended in the period after 1825 and a labor shortage spurred immigration.

Pg. 121.  “The bitter winter of 1825-26 was followed by one of  greater severity, lasting well into the spring of 1827.  Prices kept within moderate bounds during 1826 because of the supplies still in storage, but with these exhausted, the second year of shortage witnessed a sharp rise.  As was usual at such periods, southwestern Germany, which never produced an abundance of grain, suffered the most.  Moreover, the extreme cold had injured the vineyards, depleting the cash income with which food might have been bought.  The marked upturn in American immigration in 1827 and 1828 mirrors these factors.” A large problem was caused by immigration of poverty stricken Germans.  Many became public charges in American port cities.

Pg. 156.  “Few emigrants departed as unattached individuals.  The first to go was likely to be the chosen emissary of parents or neighbors; the later ones went to join the pioneers and round out the family circle.”

Naturalization Records in the U.S.

John Christian Bolinger

Naturalization records in Hagerstown, Maryland, on pg. 29, Minutes of Proceedings, November Term, 1822, show that John Christian Bolinger arrived in the U.S. on 27 October 1819, having emigrated from Walheim, and in 1822 applied for naturalization.  At the time of his application he was about 24 years of age.

Johann Jacob Bolinger

Naturalization records in Hagerstown, Maryland, on pg. 43, Minutes of Proceedings, March 1829, show the following

“To the Honble. The Judges of Washington County Court John Jacob Bolinger, a native of the Empire of Germany, now residing in Washington County begs leave to make report.  That his name is John Jacob Bolinger, that he was born in Walheim in the Kingdom of Wirtemburg (sic) in the year 1785, that he is now about forty-four years of age and owes allegiance to the King of Wirtumburg (sic).  That he emigrated from Bremen in May 1827 and arrived at Baltimore in August following.  That since his arrival in the United States he has resided in Maryland and intends to remain therein.  Witness my hand this 24 Mar. 1829.

(Signed)  Jno. J. Bolinger

“At the same time the said John Jacob Bolinger appeared in open Court here and made oath on the Holy Evangely of Almighty God, that it is bona fide his intention to become a citizen of the United States and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign Prince, Potentate, State or Sovereignty whatsoever and particularly to the King of Wirtumburg (sic).”

[This page is still under construction.]