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The Charming Nancy, the Harle myth, the trip, and historical comments...


The 1912 book entitled "Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler" indicates that our Jacob Hochstetler came to Philadelphia on a ship named the "Harle" in 1736, and that conclusion was based on the best information that the author and historian, Harvey Hostetler, had access to at that time. For over 50 years no one has ever questioned this presumption.

Then, in the 1970s Virgil Miller, who has conducted extensive Swiss and colonial family historical studies, raised some questions about this arrival. He considered the date and the ship questionable but since family historian Paul V. Hostetler (grandson of the 1912 historian and author) defended his grandfather's work, the matter was laid to rest. Ironically, it was this same Paul V. Hostetler who in the later 1970s discovered crucial data in Pennsylvania which proves there were TWO Jacob Hochstetlers who immigrated about the same time. This brought Virgil Miller's theory back to the drawing board and the ensuing investigation determined that he had been correct all along.

Evidence shows that the earlier one was not Amish, and the facts about his existence are supported by verifiable documents and records. He and his wife Eva had a completely different set of children than our Joseph, that are listed in black and white in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA. These facts, when they came to light, immediately disqualified him as our ancestor.

So we had to come up with a better candidate. In the ship lists, another Jacob was found who better fit the facts, so we had to revise our records and dates to reflect that our ancestor was Amish, and was the one who came over on the "Charming Nancy" which docked in Philadelphia on Nov. 9, 1738. The 1738 ship list says our ancestor was 26 years old, thus was born in 1712 (The "Harle" Jacob was 32 years old in 1736, therefore born in 1704).

In order to better comprehend the difficulties that accompanied a voyage like our ancestors undertook, one needs to take a step back into the conditions of the times. The Mennonites, named for the 16th-century Dutchman named Menno Simons who was their founder, espoused an evangelical and severely simple religious outlook. They opposed infant baptism, insisted on the Bible as the only spiritual authority, tried to keep their marriages within the Mennonite community of faith, believed in pacifism, refused to take oaths, and dressed very plainly. The Mennonites came to be concentrated in the Jura Mountains and along the Rhine River in Switzerland and southern Germany. The Amish, named for the followers of Jakob Ammann, believed much as the Mennonites did but favored stricter rules on attire and employed firmer discipline - using shunning and excommunication if necessary. Both sects were often persecuted for their views, especially because the authorities regarded them as subversive to social order and potentially disloyal. From about the middle of the 17th century both Amish and Amish Mennonites were expelled from Switzerland or fled before they could be forced out.

William Penn, eager to populate (and sell) his large land holdings, enthusiastically recruited Swiss and German settlers from the Palatine. He made several trips there himself to drum up immigration to Pennsylvania. He could point to the Penn family's liberal views on religious tolerance, along with thousands of acres of fertile land that were available. So it was that thousands of Swiss and Germans came to America, some directly and some passing through the Netherlands. The peak came in the mid-1700s, when some 30,000 of these people arrived in Pennsylvania.

Most of the emigrants traveled down the Rhine to Rotterdam, a journey that would ordinarily be seven to nine days but probably took far longer because of various inspections and payments, then remained in Rotterdam for some weeks until passage to America could be arranged. This was an economic as well as physical ordeal for the emigrants, all the more because they had to leave much of their capital in escrow with the government back in Switzerland until they could prove they were successfully settled - and working - elsewhere and would not return home as paupers.

The entire journey lasted from the beginning of May to November. The Rhine boats went from Heilbronn to Holland, passing twenty-six custom houses and at each one of them the ship had to dock and be boarded so it could be examined. This initial trip took four, five and even six weeks. After arriving in Holland they were detained five to six weeks. At every stop the passengers had to spend more money to survive. The last stop before departure was a week or two in a port in England (Cowes in our case), where the captain received official clearance to take the passengers to America (still considered a British colony).

Then, depending on the winds, they began their real misery as they undertook their arduous ocean crossing. It took anywhere from eight to twelve weeks before reaching Philadelphia but never less than seven even with the best winds. Passengers were packed densely like herrings without proper food and water and were subject to all sorts of diseases such as dysentery, scurvy, typhoid and smallpox. It was not uncommon for many of the passengers to die of hunger and exposure in their crowded quarters, or to be cheated by the merchants who arranged for passage and provisions - or by the captains who were supposed to make those provisions available. Sometimes survivors were forced to pay the costs of passage for those who had died en route and when they could not come up with the funds, they were sold into indentured servitude.

The following passage was extracted from the Kreider & Gingerich book "Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies" by Hugh F. Gingerich and Rachel W. Kreider, 1986, Pequea Publishers, Gordonsville, PA: "Little is known about the journeys of the Amish people in their coming to America. According to Gottlieb Mittelberger, a German traveller, who came to America in 1750 and returned four years later, the journey was a frightful ordeal. He spoke of different customs houses along the Rhine River, each involving long delays and additional expense. In Rotterdam he observed that people were "packed into the big boats as closely as herring." He talked about the stench of fumes, dysentery, vomiting and scurvy. Filthy food and water were major problems, as were also lice, disease, and severe storms. Overcrowding gave way to stealing, cheating, cursing, and bitter arguments between children and parents, husbands and wives. Those who lacked the money to pay for their passage, including the sick, were held on board until their future labor was auctioned off to the highest bidder."

There were frequent stops the ship and its passengers had to pass through, and many times the passengers feared they would go down with the ship. After arriving in Philadelphia, there was another delay while a health officer visited the ship. If there was infectious disease found on board, the ship had to be removed one mile from the city until it was safe to unload passengers. It was after having survived these horrific conditions that our Jacob took his oath of allegiance to the government of America on November 9, 1738.

As an interesting side note, our ship "The Charming Nancy" is NOT the same ship that implicated General Benedict Arnold in pandering for private gain and brought about his conviction in 1781. THAT 130-ton Charming Nancy was built in 1752 for Charleston merchants Thomas Smith Sr. and Benjamin Smith and evidently borrowed the name of our ship for unknown reasons.

Once in Pennsylvania, the settlers generally moved outwards from Philadelphia and began the process of putting down agricultural roots. The Amish and Amish Mennonites lived amongst one another but kept separate; both were in turn intermingled with Lutheran and Reformed neighbors, usually also of German and Swiss origin. Gradually the Susquehanna Valley northwest of Philadelphia filled up. Crossings of that great river were established at Harris's Ferry (now Harrisburg) and Wright's Ferry (now Columbia). When the newcomers reached the Juniata River, geography began to steer them first westward and then increasingly toward the southwest. Soon the Great Valley would be beckoning them on to Virginia and further south. Our Jacob and his family were amongst the first settlers to reach the Upper Bern Township of Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1737. Their settlement became known as the "Northkill Settlement" and, set in a notch in the Blue Mountains, was on the very edge of the frontier. Following the infamous Indian massacre in 1757, many of those in the Northkill Settlement retreated. Some of them later returned but others moved further south to the eastern parts of Lancaster County.

It's important to take notice of the fact that Jacob and his family suffered these conditions because they would not renounce their particular method of worshipping their God. As conditions worsened, their faith grew, which was in great part responsible for their survival. It was Jacob's deep faith, built and tempered in these toughest of circumstances, that would not allow himself to defend his family even under hostile attack from Indians...

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