The American Revolutionaries: A History in Their Own Words 1750-1800by Milton Meltzer
A humble shoemaker hears the bells ringing at Lexington and responds to a call to battle. An aide to George Washington recounts his feelings as he crosses the Delaware. A young surgeon describes in his diary the horror of an army camp, where the spread of smallpox, frostbite, and starvation are deadlier than any sword. These are the voices of the American
A humble shoemaker hears the bells ringing at Lexington and responds to a call to battle. An aide to George Washington recounts his feelings as he crosses the Delaware. A young surgeon describes in his diary the horror of an army camp, where the spread of smallpox, frostbite, and starvation are deadlier than any sword. These are the voices of the American Revolutionaries.
Most of us know about the American Revolution only from secondhand accounts of the fighting or from documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But listen closely and you can hear the voices-those that tell the truest stories of men, women, and children of all races who experienced the Revolution firsthand, who planted the seeds of liberty and passionately struggled to give birth to the United States of America that we know today.
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They Cry Out for Home
One who came in 17SO was Gottfried Mittelberger. He was a musician in Germany, asked to bring over an organ to a German congregation in a small town of Pennsylvania. From his home be traveled to Rotterdam, sailed to a stopover in England, and then on to Philadelphia. Some four hundred passengers were packed into the same ship, most of them German and Swiss redemptioners -- that is, people pledged to work off the cost of passage. From his home to arrival in Philadelphia the trip took twenty-two weeks. He stayed four years in America, working as organist and schoolteacher. On his return to Germany he published an account of his experience. He was enraged by the lies and deceit he saw practised by the "newlanders" -- the recruiting agents the shippers hired to tempt Europeans with false promises. "Con men" we call them today; "soul sellers" they were called then. Mittelberger indicts the trade in white contract labor, and the sufferings inflicted upon them during their life in the colonies:
DURING THE JOURNEY the ship is full of pitiful signs ofdistress-smells, fumes, horrors, vomiting, various kindsof sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, heat, con-stipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and similarafflictions, all of them caused by the age and the highlysalted state of the food, especially of the meat, as wellas by the very bad and filthy water, which brings aboutthe miserable destruction and death of many. Add to allthat shortage of food, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, damp-ness, fear, misery, vexation, and lamentation, as well, asother troubles. Thus, for example, there are soI inlice,especially on the sick people, that they have toscraped off the bodies. All this misery reaches its climaxwhen in addition to everything else one must also sufferthrough two to three days and nights of storm, witheveryone convinced that the ship with all aboard is boundto sink. In such misery all the people on board pray andcry pitifully together....
Among those who are in good health, impatience sometimes grows so great and bitter that one person begins to curse the other, or himself and the day of his birth, and people sometimes come close to murdering one another. Misery and malice are readily associated, so that people begin to cheat and steal from one another. And then one always blames the other for having undertaken the voyage. Often the children cry out against their parents, husbands against wives and wives against husbands,, brothers against their sisters, friends and acquaintances against one another.
But most of all they cry out against the thieves of human beings! Many groan and exclaim: "Oh! If only I were back at home, even lying in my pigsty!" Or they call out: "Ah, dear God, if I only once again had a piece of good bread or a good fresh drop of water." Many people whimper, sigh, and cry out pitifully for home. Most of them become homesick at the thought that many hundreds of people must necessarily perish, die, and be thrown into the ocean in such misery. And this in turn makes their families, or those who were responsible for their undertaking the journey, oftentimes fall almost into despair-so that it soon becomes practically impossible to rouse them from their depression. In a word, groaning, crying, and lamentation go on aboard day and nightso that even the hearts of the most hardened, hearing all this, begin to bleed.
One can scarcely conceive what happens at sea to women in childbirth and to their innocent offspring. Very few escape with their lives; and mother and child, as soon as they have died, are thrown into the water. On board our ship, on a day on which we had a great storm, a woman about to give birth, and unable to deliver under the circumstances, was pushed through one of the portholes into the sea because her corpse was far back in the stern and could not be brought forward to the deck.
Children between the ages of one and seven seldom survive the sea voyage; and parents must often watch their offspring suffer miserably, die, and be thrown into the ocean from want, hunger, thirst, and the like. I myself, alas, saw such a pitiful fate overtake thirty-two children on board our vessel, all of whom were finally thrown into the sea. Their parents grieve all the more, since their children do not find repose in the earth, but are devoured by the predatory fish of the ocean. It is also worth noting that children who have not had either measles or smallpox usually get them on board the ship and for the most part perish as a result.
On one of these voyages a father often becomes infected by his wife and children, or a mother by her small children, or even both parents by their children, or sometimes whole families one by the other, so that many times numerous corpses lie on the cots next to those who are still alive, especially when contagious diseases rage on board.
Many other accidents also occur on these ships, especially falls in which people become totally crippled and can never be completely made whole again. Many also tumble into the sea.
It is not surprising that many passengers fall ill, because in addition to all the other troubles and miseries, warm food is served only three times a week,, and at that is very bad, very small in quantity, and so dirty as to be hardly palatable at all. And the water distributed in these ships is often very black, thick with dirt, and full of worms. Even when very thirsty, one is almost unable to drink it without loathing. It is certainly true that at sea one would often spend a great deal of money just for one good piece of bread, or one good drink of...
Meet the Author
Milton Meltzer, a Christopher Award and Jane Addams Children's Book Award winner, is the author of over eighty books in the fields of history, biography, and social reform. His most recent books are The Amazing Potato, a 1993 ALA Notable Children's Book, Gold and Hold Your Horses!. He lives in New York City.
Winner of the 2001 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
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