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Journey to America

Chapter 5




ForewordChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3
Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7
Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11
Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15
Chapter 16NotesBiographyDownloads

Departure from Oley and move into the schoolhouse at the Moselem. -Visit from neighbors. -Sad condition of the schools. -A Jew sets a good example. -Freedom hinders religious life and morality.

The next day a driver came to fetch us and our things; but because he came rather late, he spent the night in Oley. We traveled the next morning from Oley and arrived so early at the Moselem schoolhouse that we could put our things in place that day with the help of several farmers who were gathered there for this purpose; this took place on October 30, 1822. When it became dark the farmers went to their dwellings and the two of us had to get along in such a large house so distant from other people for the first time, for the nearest neighbor lived more distant from us than the nearest neighboring village is from my present locality, and the way to there led through a forest. If we went out of the house, we could see nothing but the church, the school buildings, the school fields and the surrounding forest.

Indeed I had already frequently heard that nocturnal visits by thieves were uncommon there and that also the oldest people could not remember any break-in by thieves; nevertheless upon going to sleep I put a loaded rifle next to a dagger at the bed which we had set up in the spacious living room and I slept very little that night. Early the next morning when we were barely dressed, a neighbor came to us and when he saw the gun and the dagger at the bed, he roared loudly. This was the most remarkable thing that I had seen and heard in America up to that point, for until then I had believed that a native American could not laugh loudly. "Schoolmaster!" he cried, and could hardly get it out for laughter, "Schoolmaster, what on earth did you do with gun and dagger? Did you hunt here in the room?" This old neighbor named Hahnse teased me about the gun and the dagger at the bed for a long time thereafter.

Since I had no official duties as yet, I busied myself during the day with improving the provisions on the plantation and other work and the long evenings I spent mostly writing. Because the road passed by the schoolhouse and the church, every now and then we also saw a person passing by, and occasionally someone would come into the house as someone did one time to light his cigar; for no one has a lighter there, neither with him on the road nor at home, because the fire in the kitchens is kept going even through the nights. Lighting a fire with iron, stone and sponge is not used at all; and if for some reason the fire in a kitchen goes out completely, then someone fetches glowing coals in a container from the closest neighboring house.

Because no service was being held in the church there the next Sunday, it was my intention to visit one of my neighbors after we had eaten dinner in order to pass the time. But as I noticed that several persons were approaching my dwelling, I waited a while, and a total of twenty persons gathered in my living room, everyone of them from the neighborhood, men and women; everyone, or with few exceptions lit tobacco and smoked, but no one said a word. Thereupon I started and said that it pleased me to see such a gathering at my place and that I was glad that I had waited long enough that they could still find me at home, but all were silent. Then I started to speak about the wonderful weather about which one would not be glad in my fatherland at this time of the year. They looked at each other and made motions as if to speak, but not a word was to be heard from them as though each was shy about being the first to speak to me. Then I became embarrassed to know what to do with these people and said that to my great joy a great number of people had gathered and so I wished to become acquainted with them by name and asked that each of them one after the other would give me his first and last name which I wanted to write down and took ink, pen and paper and asked who was the oldest and what was his name? "Tschäck Adäm," he answered. I didn't understand that, but by proceeding to spell out the name I gathered that he was Jacob Adam and so it was that of all the names that were named there was not one that was spoken the way it was spelled, least of all the given names which are all desecrated by the-English dialect. So for example Peter came out Pitt, William in Pill, Joseph in Tscho, Eliesar in Elei, Johannes in Tschans, Benjamin in Pensch, Levi in Liwei, Daniel in Tän, David in Däwis, Salomon in Salm, etc. So also were the feminine names, Eva was pronounced Ev, Esther Hett, Susanna Sus, Maria Märry or Pahl, Catharina Cäth or Cattel, Judith Tschud, Johanne Hänne, Rahel Rail, Salome Zell, Elisabeth Pets etc. At baptism each child there receives only a single and biblical name; but they start even where German is still spoken exclusively to give the children a completely English name.

Once I had gotten the names of the persons present in writing, I again attempted to see whether I couldn't enliven these people and lead them to conversation. I told several humorous anecdotes, but there was no life attending and with it all I could get only two or three to give a totally non-commital smile. Then I told serious stories about my fatherland too, but neither through seriousness nor joking could I achieve my goal. At length two of them whispered to each other as though they were sharing a secret and two companions to the right and left and also one who sat opposite paid attention to the talk of the ones speaking and smiled unobtrusively; but that lasted only several moments and then everyone was silent again for a long time. But before these people departed again, several innocuous conversations arose. The women, however, are generally more talkative there, of which I was convinced this time again, for several of those present conducted a rather lively discussion-somewhat removed from us-with my wife. The next day several of them came again and each of them brought my wife a chicken as a gift, and soon thereafter the rest of them came each with one and several with two or three chickens, so that we were in possession of such an amount of chickens as we had never had in the fatherland. It is the custom everywhere there that one presents the newly arrived schoolteachers with small livestock, especially when they first come from Germany and have not yet set up housekeeping.

That these people visited us was purely nosiness, just to see what kind of people we were, for thereafter they did not come in such numbers to us again except on the Sundays when there was service. The retiring attitude in company is a characteristic of the American Germans everywhere, which I experienced often thereafter.

Several times I asked the people when I had opportunity whether winter school shouldn't start soon and how I should proceed to let the widely scattered community know that it was my wish to start having school. But to that I never received a satisfactory answer since most of them said that the people still had work for their children to do and school started normally in the Christ·month (Christmonth or December)17 and many had other opinions. This struck me as being very unusual; meanwhile I waited until Pastor Miller came there to preach, namely in the last days of November; I then asked him and he also said that the people still had much work for their children in November and for that reason winter school could start first in the beginning of December. But he wished to remind the people of it at the end of the sermon which he did then in a manner pleasing to me.

Joseph de Jounge, landowner, businessman and innkeeper in Richmond parish started it. He lived two English miles distant from me, a native German Israelite, who already in the first days after my arrival in Richmond requested me and spoke to me about the instruction of his children. Already on the day after Preacher Miller made the announcement of the beginning of winter school, he sent four of his children immediately to my instruction, who from the beginning of December 1822 to Easter 1823 did not miss a single schoolday; and even when the weather was bad, still the covered wagon of de Jounge came, harnessed with two exceptional blue gray horses, arriving punctually each time that the stones shone; and even when the roads were so snowed shut that you thought no one could get through, still I heard at the right moment the bells of the horses, and de Jounge's sled would come rolling up not one minute later than in nice weather. The oldest daughter of this Joseph de Jounge, a rare beauty of eighteen or nineteen years, who was so skilled in riding and driving that a man would have a hard time to do better, was usually the coachman and brought her siblings in the morning and took them back home again in the evening.

Nothing provided greater joy for me than instructing these Jewish children, who listened to my instruction with almost unbelievable attention and the greatest involvement and within a short time made unbelievable progress, about which de Jounge as well as his wife were exceptionally amazed and delighted. In addition to these Jewish children four Christian children from the neighborhood also came to me in the school in the first days of December but I did not get more pupils in this whole month from a community sixty-four families strong where the school should have been 100 children strong. When I asked the people for the reason that only so few children came to school, several answered what is already noted above, that the people needed their children at home and that after the New Year I would get more pupils; others also told me that there were now so many adjunct schools to which the congregational members far distant from me would send their children for whom these schools were closer, which I discovered subsequently was also well based for the outdistanced farmers had constructed schoolhouses on their plantations, even here and there in the woods and had hired a schoolmaster for stipulated months, who did not live in the schoolhouse, however, but rather was housed and fed in the homes of the providers. However, that was not the only reason that I got so few children for instruction, but the following especially:

Before the school there got started, I had already learned from Pastor Miller that in the United States generally there were only vagabond German schoolteachers because most of them had not previously chosen this vocation but rather had come into the same only out of dire straits and had neither learned a trade nor could adapt themselves to a craft; also in the country schools nothing more was taught than reading and with it here and there some writing and arithmetic and generally there was no schoolmaster in a position to talk about anything to the children and to instruct them in religion; for that reason he thought that if I were to start with the latter there I would incite great respect and make myself popular. The reading books which the children brought to school were the psalter, the New Testament and a really out-of-date primer. The children do not learn a catechism in the school; also I found that they learn nothing at all by heart. So I started to explain to children who could already read what they were reading and to ask questions about it, taught them several sayings and maxims through repetition and also the five parts of the Lutheran catechism. I also made the effort to have the children read in a distinct tone and let them pronounce each letter, for the reading and spelling of the children was totally loathsome to listen to listen to.

Simultaneously in the first days several farmers visited my school. They sat with their big hats on their heads next to the stove, the chair leaned back against the wall, the left foot on the wrung under the chair at the front, the right heel on the left knee, the toes of the right foot grasped with the left hand and a burning cigar in the mouth (this is the American way of sitting on a chair), and for three hours listened to my instruction. Among them was one named Altendörfer, whom I regarded as the most level·headed in my neighborhood. He was also a member of the church council, but was not present when I was elected. He was dejected that the rest had elected me without his approval and let the following judgment about my instruction become audible: my instruction was not of much use (did not say much), for I let the children recite (read) only about five times in a day; the American requires, however, that each schoolmaster allows each child to read ten to fifteen times daily; explaining what is read he calls foolishness and the maxims nonsense. The five sections of the Catechism, the American believes, the children have to learn shortly before confirmation, if indeed they are to be learned at all; for if they learn them earlier by heart, they will forget them again, and the children would have to learn them all over again shortly before confirmation. So instead of making myself popular through my instruction and earning approbation, as I hoped, I drew to myself the mistrust of the farmers there. All of this I did not find out at once, but rather some time afterward.

It is also the custom there for schoolmasters to go from house to house in their parish in a poor coat shortly before the winter school begins and plead with the people earnestly to have mercy upon them and through that to give them pay and produce, that they send their children to school, whereby they then tell the schoolmaster how often he shall let their children read daily and more such instruction. I had no idea of any of this and no one told me; it displeased the farmers, however, that I had not done this, and their pride was thereby hurt; therefore many of them took their revenge on me by not sending their children to me in the school. Of this, however, I heard absolutely nothing in the first winter of my stay, but rather only a long time afterward I found out that the above-mentioned points were the reason that I got so few children for instruction. For there are in America so many persons who do not provide for their children's instruction and never send them to school, but rather let them grow up rough; further, those who do send their children to school allow each child only two, three, at most four months' long instruction during the entire span of their learning capabilities and until they are confirmed, and one finds only very few that make an exception in this. Thus one finds the number of children in all schools naturally to be very small and in no way proportionate with the number of inhabitants in the communities. In this parish, however, the number of those who sent their children to school was so very small that I should have made the decision as soon as reasonably possible to leave my office of schoolteacher again.

In addition there was the unusual attitude of the farmers when they gathered on days of service in the schoolhouse before the worship started. If it happened that a single individual came by himself into my room first, then I could speak with him, after he had lit up a cigar and sat down on the chair in the manner described above. Then he would become so verbal that often he would relate something to me and allow me to relate something to him. But as soon as he would hear the footstep of someone else in front of the door, he would turn around even before the one coming would open the door and come in and act as though he had not spoken a word with me. This often hurt me indescribably and although I often noticed immediately that it went no better for many another schoolteacher there and that this manner of treatment is customary, still I was not in a position to tolerate it long. When people came into my room one after the other, usually there was not one of them who would close the door behind him and even if the cold were blustery, I had to be the servant to all and-close the door; and instead of greeting me I was only glanced at over the shoulder or not looked at at all. If the gathering, however, became rather packed and they sat for a while in the fashion described above in this chapter, one of them would be moved to look at me over his shoulder and ask with a menacing grin, "Oh, schoolmaster, do you have many pupils?" Whereto I would answer curtly "No." Then they would look at each other with phony smiles and with the bearing of the first another would speak, "Ah! It will yet come!"

After New Year 1823 the number of my pupils increased two-fold, although the ones that came in December, except for the Jewish children, stayed away: for though their parents were satisfied with me, they kept the children instructed in December at home nonetheless and each of them sent another of their children to school in January. However, among the remaining new parents interested in schooling were several who gave me orders about how to instruct their children, and because I did not follow these orders immediately they sent their children to school for only fourteen days and then took them back again. Of such I want to present two examples here:

A miller named Jacob Löscher, who sent me two boys at the same time to the school, of whom he bragged that they had already come pretty far in reading and writing, which was not the case, however, sent along the following letter to me which I reproduce as it was written word for word, because this miller had bragged about himself that he could master the pen.
Heading:
To School Master

Content:
"To Mr. school Master I am letting you know that you should let the children recite from the writing books and that you teach them the letters every day-and let the children recite one after the other and do not let them bleat all at once like sheep."
From me
Jacob Löscher

Heading:
"An Schul Meister:
Content:
"An Hern schul Meister ich Las euch wiesen das ihr die Kinter die schreibicher aufsagen solt und das allen tag das sie die buchstaben Leren dueen-und die Kinter Last auf sagen eins Nach dem andrem und last Sie nicht anen auf ein Mahl brillen Wie die scheä
Von Mir
Jakob Loscher
Another farmer living not far from me named Jacob Sell who had sent a girl of about eight years to my school for several days who had not learned the alphabet even half sent me his maid and let me know that his daughter should be excused from learning the a b c spelling, whereupon I answered her that it would not be good for her, etc., because she does not yet know the letters. The next morning, however, the maid came with the words: "Jake said you should let the girl show you, where he made the mark." In other words, he put a mark on the paper where the child should spell. These and other children stayed away after attending school fourteen days, because I could not meet the demands of their parents. Many, however, stayed away after one or two days because they did not like it in my school; for when the little boy or little girl comes home from school, then Tate and Mamme (father and mother) ask, "wie oft hoscht tu aufg' sagt?" and "wie kleichscht tu tern Schulmäschter?", that is, how often did you read and how do you like the schoolmaster? Should the child happen to be dissatisfied with the teacher, or should the teacher not have let the child read often enough, then many parents keep their children immediately out of school. The schoolteacher can seldom say with certainty there that he has had so and so many children in one month in his school. In the month of January I could account for only twelve children who steadily attended school on the average. In February, March and April, however, I could ascertain the number of my pupils as sixteen on the average; the highest number I had in February when I counted twenty-one one day, but this number I had only that one day. The greatest percentage of my pupils in the last three months were persons who were over sixteen years old and several of them were young men and women already in their twenties. In Germany such people would be ashamed to read in turn with such little children eight years of age in school, but that is not the case there. Often even married persons learn reading and writing in company with the small children. At the end of March the school was closed, because the pupils, except for Joseph de Joung's children, stayed away; but since de Joung asked me especially, I instructed his children yet in April for a time all by themselves, but to the end of this month with two farm children from the neighborhood.

This Jew did everything he could. to persuade me to remain the schoolteacher in this parish. Earlier he had sent his children alternately to an English and German school, but now he promised me that so long as I would remain there, he would have them instructed only by me. He also tried with great enthusiasm to convince the farmers that they had the best of all German schoolteachers; often he had said in gatherings of farmers loudly: you farmers are stupid as oxen to fail to appreciate your schoolmaster, and precisely that which deserves praise and should make you happy you complain about of this man, etc. The largest portion of the farmers there, however, would not be convinced of the fact that it is good if the schoolmaster teaches his children more than reading, writing and of course a little arithmetic; for they had never witnessed that anything else was the practice in a school; indeed they had never heard that a child in school was required to learn something by heart; explanations through questions and answers were as foreign to them as Bohemian villages, for they had never heard that a schoolmaster could catechize about something with his school children, and also believe that the schoolmaster commits a sin if he explains the Scriptures for to their mind something like that only the preacher dare do and only in the pulpit. Learning mottos, maxims and Bible verses in school and other helpful and necessary things or even the catechism is likewise unfamiliar to them and because they cannot understand their content they think it is so much foolishness; also in their opinion time is wasted if the children cannot read ten to fifteen times a day, which they consider necessary. To educate these foolishly proud people and to convince them of the truth and a better way than they are used to would take far more than Solomon's wisdom; they are much too stiff-necked, proud and rebellious against all conceptions that are aimed for their true greatness with respect to their spiritual development and distrustful to the highest degree.

Freedom is indeed the greatest earthly fortune for the comprehending; but for the uncomprehending and fools it is worse than slavery itself; of this I became totally convinced during my stay in the United States, but especially during my term of school service at the Moselem Zion Church in Richmond parish. Never should the uncomprehending and the fool have the freedom to get involved in things about which he cannot properly judge, but which are of the greatest importance, as for instance school instruction. Never should it be left to the discretion of such persons as the German farmers in the United States of North America as to whether they will have their children baptized, obediently instructed and confirmed or not, which unfortunately is the case there. For these persons are children in comprehension and children need training and guidance because they do not yet see their true well-being, and without leaders and instructors can easily come onto ways that lead them to corruption. Should children, however, not want to hear and follow the counsel of their instructors and the loving admonitions and guidance of the same, then they will be held to it with stricture. But this meritorious stricture is totally lacking in Americans, and that is the greatest cause of their corruption toward which they rush with speedy steps. The unrestricted freedom with which the American can elect preachers and schoolteachers according to his desire and dismiss them again from their office if they do not please him and may tell the schoolteacher how he should instruct in school and what he should teach; also that it is open to him whether he will have his children instructed at all or let them grow up totally rough without instruction-all this causes so much upheaval that even eternity could not make good again. One can only think how the situation would look among us if especially the country people were allowed a free hand in these points, just to get an idea of the thing.

How my state of mind was with all of this, when the farmers not only complained about my way of instructing but also mocked it and laughed about it, and then because of my instruction removed their children and sent them to another teacher who often did not deserve the name schoolteacher because he could neither spell nor write and cipher, that can be easily ascertained. Although I could readily make ends meet and live there even without the income of school money, my wish was to get myself out of these depressing circumstances again as soon as possible. I also believed that the farmers wished to be rid of me again and would terminate my services after the passing of three quarter years. For this reason I wrote already in February 1823 to the administrator Ernst in Vandalia in the state of Illinois, over 600 English miles distant from my place, to recommend myself to him, and as I received no answer from him, I decided to travel to Vandalia myself at the beginning of the month- of May, if circumstances had not arisen on the way to there which changed this decision.

Source: Edited by Bryan Wright

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