My great great great grandfather, Joseph Rusler started for America in 1852. He left a wife and three young children in Baden, Germany. The trip should have taken about eight to twelve weeks . He traveled on a sailing vessel, probably in steerage as the majority of
immigrants traveled. His journey was one of hardship and terrible conditions. For any person traveling in steerage, the journey would have been a rough one. Passengers were packed in as tight as space would allow and there was no light. The bunks were 18 inches wide by 6 feet long and were stacked up to four rows high. They were rickety and passengers usually had to provide their own bedding. Water seeped in through the airholes and many passengers were seasick. During bad weather, steerage would be closed off and the passengers would have to stay below until the hatch was opened for them again. Toilets were scarce, and hygiene illnesses and disease were rampant. The average trip was rough, but Joseph’s was no average trip. Soon after leaving Germany, his boat collided with another vessel, which created a hole in the hull. They put in to the nearest port, made repairs, and were able to continue on three days later. Before they had gotten very far a storm overtook them, breaking their masts, and destroying the
captain’s cabin and the kitchen – and every object the waves could reach. The ship was half under water but the well-trained crew quickly pumped enough water out that they made it to England. Here, Queen Victoria, who happened to be nearby, heard of the destitution of the passengers, many of whom had lost everything to the storm. She gave to each of them items of clothing that they needed. Joseph Rusler received a vest, which he wore on the journey and kept as long as he lived. They were able to fix the boat again and fourteen days later journeyed on to America. It took Mr. Rusler six months to reach America – and I imagine he was never so happy to see land!
Mr. Rusler had no money when he landed in New York so he worked in the city for $.35 a day, then proceeded to Chicago where he worked for a time. Then he started for Oregon, Illinois, his ultimate destination. He rode the train but his money gave out when he reached Belvidere so he walked the rest of the way. In Oregon he hired out to a farmer and worked for four years, saving his earning, $14 dollars a month, until he had enough saved to send for his wife and three young children. Their journey took three months and I personally think that she, a mother alone with three young children may have had the rougher journey of the two. The family then rented land for 15 years after which time they were able to purchase a farm in Illinois. Sometime during this time Mary Anne, the mother of the three children died, and Joseph remarried, Elizabeth Margaret, with whom he had four more children. The family worked hard and prospered, the children settled in Nebraska, Canada, and even Oklahoma. (York Compendium of Biography, 1899)
So why Illinois? Ogle County, Illinois seemed to be the predetermined destination for both the Rusler and the Erxleben family when they emigrated from Germany. Well, it seems, Ogle County is part of what is called “Germany Valley”. At this time in History, Illinois was building a railroad and they needed workers so advertisements were placed in international newspapers to attract them. The ads displayed Illinois as a beautiful land and a comfortable place to live. A daily wage of $1.25 was offered. “Much of German Valley was settled by the East Friesens, or Ostfriesens, who are a Germanic people akin to the Angles and Saxons. Ostfriesland is located in northwestern Germany. Most of these northern Germans immigrated to America in the mid to late nineteenth century because of a lack of good land. They brought their culture with them and faced several problems along the way. The first Ostfriesens that immigrated to the Midwest settled in Stephenson and Ogle counties in Illinois. The Ostfriesen settlement started in Illinois, around 1847, just north of the city of Oregon in Ogle County. The population grew denser as more immigrants came to the area looking for cheap land, settling between Oregon and Byron, now known as German Valley. As more Ostfriesens came to German Valley, they wrote back to Germany, telling of a beautiful land full of opportunities. In these letters, “it was pointed out that the little people, the craftsmen and wage earners, would
have the opportunity in America to work their way up and become land owners. As elsewhere throughout Germany, many Ostfriesens left Germany due to, poverty overcrowding, unemployment and lack of the possibility to own land. On top of this, many fled German to avoid military conscription, or, religious enlightenment and a chance to pursue happiness and success in this land of paradise”. http://www.simbeck.itgo.com/blank_28.html
The Ruslers’ came from Baden and the Erxlebens came from Calbe/Saale, Saxony. Neither of these areas are close to the Ostfriesen area of Germany so I don’t know if they came to Illinois to be with the Ostfriesens or if they just saw the advertisements and decided to make Illinois their destination? I can only assume that the large contingent of German residents drew them to that area. I don’t know what religion the Germans in “German Valley” mostly adhered to but it is somewhat peculiar that Mr. Rusler, who was a determined Catholic had a son, Michael Anthony (my gg grandfather) who married the daughter of a Lutheran minister.
I wonder what happened to Mr. Joseph Rusler’s prize vest? He had quite a story to tell his children. After they reached adulthood and married, Michael and Charles both made their way to York County, Nebraska (1874) where through much hard work and determination they became prosperous farmers and left a strong legacy for their descendants.
http://maggieblanck.com/Immigration.html for information on traveling in the mid-1800s and the top 3 pictures.