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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : SLAVERY OF REDEMPTIONERS.

American Lutheranism by Friedrich Bente

SLAVERY OF REDEMPTIONERS.

35. Cruelly Deceived by the Newlanders. -- Toward the middle of the eighteenth century there were some 80,000 Germans in Pennsylvania, almost one-half of the entire inhabitants. In 1749 about 12,000 arrived. Benjamin Franklin and others expressed the fear: |They come in such numbers that they will soon be able to enforce their laws and language upon us, and, uniting with the French, drive all Englishmen out.| Many of the Germans were so-called Redemptioners, who, in payment of their freight, were sold and treated as slaves for a stipulated number of years. Most of them had been shamefully deceived and decoyed into the horrors of this |white slavery| by Dutch and English merchants and conscienceless agents whom Muhlenberg called Newlanders (Neulaender). In Holland they were called |soul-traders.| By means of stories of the fabulous wealth acquired in America they enticed Germans and other emigrants into the signing of papers in the English language which not only committed them and their children to slavery, but sometimes separated husband and wife, parents and children. The following is an instance of the revolting horrors connected with this trade: In 1793, when the yellow fever prevailed in Chester, a cargo of Redemptioners was sent thither, and a market for nurses opened. (Jacobs, 236.) In Pennsylvania this kind of slavery continued from about 1740 to the second decade of the nineteenth century. Quakers and other |friends of liberty and humanity| exploited the system. Foremost among those who exposed and condemned it were Germans, notably Muhlenberg, who described the abominable business of the Newlanders as follows: |These Newlanders first make themselves acquainted with the merchants in the Netherlands. From them they receive, in addition to free freight, a certain gratification (douceur) for each family or each unmarried person which they enlist in Germany and bring to the traders in Holland. In order to attain their object, they resort to all manner of tricks. As long as the comedy requires it, they make a great show in dress, frequently look at their watches, and make a pretense of great wealth, in order to excite a desire within the hearts of people to emigrate to so happy and rich a country. They give such descriptions of America as make one believe it to contain nothing but Elysian fields, bearing seed of themselves, without toil and labor, mountains full of solid gold and silver, and wells pouring forth nothing but milk and honey, etc. Who goes as a servant, becomes a lord; who goes as a maid, becomes a milady; a peasant becomes a nobleman; a citizen and artisan, a baron!| Deceived and allured by such stories, Muhlenberg continues, |The families break up, sell what little they have, pay their debts, turn over what may be left to the Newlanders for safe-keeping, and finally start on their journey. Already the trip on the Rhine is put to their account. In Holland they are not always able to depart immediately, and frequently they get a small amount of money, advanced by the traders, on their account. The expensive freight from Holland to America is added, also the head-money. Before they leave Holland, they must sign a contract in the English language. The Newlanders persuade and reassure the people [who, not understanding the English, knew not what they were signing] that they, as impartial friends, would see to it that, in the contract, no wrong was done their countrymen. The more freight in persons a merchant and captain can bring in a ship, the more profitable it is, provided that they do not die en route, for then it may be disadvantageous. For this reason the ships are kept clean, and every means is employed to deliver healthy ware to the market. For a year or so they may not have been as careful, suffering to die what could not live. When parents die on the ships and leave children, the captains and the most intelligent of the Newlanders, acting as guardians and orphan-fathers, take the chests and inheritance in their safe-keeping, and the orphans, arriving on the land, are sold for their own freight and the freight of their deceased parents; the real little ones are given away, and the inheritance of their parents just about pays for the manifold troubles caused to the guardians. This crying deceit moved some well-disposed German inhabitants of Pennsylvania, especially in and about Philadelphia, to organize a society, which, as much as possible, would see to it that, at the arrival of the poor emigrants, they were dealt with according to justice and equity.| When a ship of emigrants has arrived in the harbor of Philadelphia, Muhlenberg proceeds, |the newcomers are led in procession to the court-house, in order to take the oath of allegiance to the King of Great Britain; then they are led back to the ship. Hereupon the papers announce that so and so many German people are to be sold for their freight. Whoever is able to pay his own freight receives his freedom. Those having wealthy friends endeavor to obtain a loan from them to pay the freight; but these are few. The ship is the market. The buyers pick out some and bargain with them as to the years and days of service, whereupon they make them bind themselves before the magistrate by a written instrument for a certain period as their property. The young, unmarried people of both sexes sell first, their lot being a good or a bad one, for better or worse, according to the character of the buyer and God's providence or permission. We have frequently noted that children who were disobedient to their parents, and left them stubbornly and against their will, here found masters from whom they received their reward. Old and married people, widows and the frail, nobody wants to buy, because there is here already an abundance of poor and useless people who become a burden to the state. But if they have healthy children, then the freight of the old people is added to that of the children, and the children must serve so much longer, are sold so much dearer, and scattered far and wide from each other, among all manner of nations, languages, and tongues, so that they rarely see their old parents or brothers and sisters again in this life; many also forget their mother-tongue. In this way the old people leave the ship free, but poor, naked, and weak, looking as though they were coming from the graves, and go begging in the city at the doors of the German inhabitants; for, as a rule, the English, afraid of infection, close the doors on them. Such being the conditions, one's heart might bleed seeing and hearing how these poor human beings, who came from Christian lands into the New World, partly moan, cry, lament, and throw up their arms because of the misery and separation which they had never imagined would befall them, partly call upon and adjure all elements and sacraments, yea, all thunderbolts and the terrible inhabitants of hell to smash into numberless fragments and torment the Newlanders and the Dutch merchants, who deceived them! Those who are far away hear nothing of it, and the properly so-called Newlanders only laugh about it, and give them no other consolation beyond that given to Judas Iscariot by the Pharisees, Matt.27, 4: 'What is that to us? See thou to that!' Even the children, when they are cruelly kept and learn that they must remain in bondage all the longer on account of their parents, conceive a hatred and bitterness toward them.| (G., 474 ff.)

36. Mittelberger on Redemptioners. -- Mittelberger, who, in 1750, brought to America the organ built at Heilbronn for the Lutheran church in Philadelphia, and served Muhlenberg also as schoolteacher in Providence, describes, in substance, the sad lot of the Redemptioners as follows: |Healthy and strong young people were bound to serve from three to six years, young people from their tenth to their twenty-first year. Many parents, in order to obtain their freedom, must themselves bargain about and sell their own children like cattle. A wife must bear the freight of her husband if he arrives sick; in like manner the husband is held for his sick wife; thus he must serve not only for himself, but, in addition, five or six years for his sick spouse. When both are sick, they are brought into the hospital, but only when no buyer is found. As soon as they are well, they must serve in payment of their freight, or pay, if they have property. It frequently happens that a whole family, husband, wife, and children, being sold to different buyers, are separated, especially if they are unable to pay anything on their freight themselves. When a spouse dies on the ocean after one-half of the voyage is completed, the remaining spouse must not only pay or serve for himself, but also for the freight of the deceased one. When both parents die on the ocean, their children must serve for their own and their parents' freight till their twenty-first year. If anybody escapes a cruel master, he cannot get very far, since good provisions are made for the certain and speedy recapture of escaped Redemptioners. A liberal reward is paid to him who holds or returns a deserter. If a deserter was absent for a day, he must serve a week for it; for a week, a month; and for a month, half a year. Men of rank, skill, or learning, unable to pay their freight, or to give any surety, must serve their masters by doing manual labor like ordinary servants. While learning to perform the unaccustomed hard labor, they are treated with lashes like cattle. Many a suicide was the consequence of the abominable deceit of the Newlanders. Others sank into utter despair, or deserted, only to suffer more afterwards than before. Sometimes the merchants in Holland make a secret agreement to deliver their cargo of human beings not in Philadelphia, where they wanted to go, but at some other place, where they expect a better market, thus robbing many of the assistance of their friends and relatives in Pennsylvania. Many entrust their money to the Newlanders, who remain in Holland, and on their arrival in this country they must either serve themselves, or sell their children to serve for them.| (477 ff.) Like the negroes, the Redemptioners could be resold. The newspapers carried advertisements like the following from the Staatsbote of Philadelphia: |The time of service of a bond-maid is for sale. She is tall and strong enough to do any kind of work, and is able to perform work in the city as well as in the country. She is not sold on account of a physical defect, but only because her master has many women folks about. She has yet to serve for four and a half years. The name of her owner may be learned from the publisher of this paper.| (481.) As with the negro slaves the lot of a Redemptioner was not in every case physically a sad and cruel one. In Maryland the laws protected them by limiting the days of work in summer to five and a half a week, and demanding for them three hours of rest in the middle of the day during the months of greatest heat. In 1773 Pastor Kunze wrote: |If I should ever obtain 20 pounds, I would buy the first German student landing at our coast and owing freight, put him in my upper room, begin a small Latin school, teach during the morning hours myself, and then let my servant teach and make my investment pay by charging a small fee.| (481.) Some of the honored names in American history are those of Redemptioners, among them Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress during the Revolution, Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the parents of Major-General Sullivan. (Jacobs, 235.)

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