Tag Archives: NY

Life in New York

When we last left off, Johannes and his family were standing on the docks of New York City. Whether they had purchased the land for their new home while still in France or after their arrival in New York is unknown. However,we do know French land agents worked hard enticing Alsaceian families to settle in Lewis county, New York.

According to Johannes’ grandson Pierre, they had either settled first in Belford, which would have been in New Jersey or more likely Belfort, Lewis county, New York. Since it was already fall the family must have had enough additional money to buy most of the provisions they would need to survive until the next year.

They built a log home on the property which was what most families in the area had. In the spring of the following year Marguerite,Johannes’ wife, died.The cause of her death is unknown. She was buried in a clearing near the log home.

Did the lost of his wife make Johannes ponder the wisdom of moving his family? Did a hard winter and a lack of enough resources contribute to her death or had some epidemic rage through the community? We will never know but Johannes was now left with 6 mother-less children ranging in ages 2-12 and a farm with poor soil.

He moved his family to Naumburg, another small village in the area, in 1851 or 1852. There he married Julia Schlieder Seyfarth, the widow of Frederick Seyfarth. She owned the farm adjoining his new property.

In the fall of 1953 Johannes began building a very fine home. According to his grandson Pierre it was larger and bigger than most of the homes of the time. Travelers often mistook it for a tavern. Today a large farmhouse exists on this same property. Further research needs to be done to determine if this is the same house.

The new farm was in Croghan, Lewis County, NY and is described as being lot 5 of Mocombs Purchase. From a Croghan pamphlet dated 1858 we know there were 500 European families in this area most from E. France or adjacent Germany. In 1848 the population of 1,168 were broken down to 646 American and 522 as French.

In 1854 Johannes and Julia had a son they named Charles Julius. Later that same year Julia’s daughter Wilehmina married Ferdinand Sonatag.

In the 1855 census New York census Johannes is listed as John Mairars age 37. His framed house is marked with a value of 600$ considerably more than the log homes of the rest of the area. He has 40 improved acres and 110 unimproved acres. The total value of the farm is given as $2,200. He has another $190 in stock and $50 in tools.

Crops were listed as wheat, oats, potatoes and hay. He owned one head of cattle, 2 butter cows, 2 sheep, 2 swine and one working ox.

In 1856 another son Augustus Lewis was born. At the age of 6 months Johannes and Julia allowed Augustus to be adopted by Julia’s daughter Theresa. The family story was that she and her husband Fredrick Hoffman were unable to have children.

In Feb. 0f 1862 Julia’s son Fredrick married Johann’s daughter Anna.

In May of 1863 Johannes and Julia sold their land in New York and moved with their unmarried children to Wisconsin where they settled near Lima township, Sheboygan county. Their now married children – Anna Meyer and Fredrick Seyforth – either went with them or came the same year.

Their new property was near what is now Kohler state park. It would need to be researched more but it is possible part of his land is now within the park boundaries.

In 1865 Johannes’ daughter Margaret married Phillip Welter in Sheboygan Falls, later the same year his daughter Catherine, married Fredrick Sauer in Lewis County, New York. In 1866 his daughter Maria Meyer married Wilhelm Demand in Sheboygan, Wi.

It is not known why but sometime before 1870 Johannes and Julia decided to move back to New York. This time to a small farm in Wayne county.

In 1870 the couple decided to separate and split their assets with Johann moving back to Alsace to live with a brother while Julia took their son Charles to Watertown, NY to live.

When Johannes got back to Alsace, he only stayed 2 days before war broke out. He returned to the U. S. living for times with each of his married children until 1872 when the war ended. Johannes then returned to Alsace to live the rest of his years with his brother.

He died around 1906. A document found in Sheboygan shows that one of his daughters was appointed to see to the dispersal of his small estate. The lawyer handling his affairs in Alsace was from Neiderhausbergen (a small town near Strassburg) indicating that was where he was living at his death.

We have now documented 8 children and 35 grandchildren for Johannes Meyer.

The Big Move

Imagine, you’re waiting on the crowded dock, pictured above. It’s a day in late Aug or early Sept in the year 1849, the year the Meyer family emigrated to the United States. Now imagine, in addition to yourself,you must also keep track of your spouse, 6 children (ages 1-10) and all your worldly possessions. A mix of exhaustion, excitement and fear run through your mind. Have you made the right decision? Is this move really going to be better for you and your family?  Will you and the family even survive trip? Never mind, it’s too late now to turn back.

Perhaps Margaret, the eldest child, is holding her, year old brother, George, while her mother tries to keep track of the four others and her father their possessions. They don’t dare lose sight of them now, for any moment they will hear the announcement they can finally go abroad.

Are John, Catherine and Anna, the three middle children, getting antsy. They’ve been waiting for days to board the ship and are tired of having to stay so close to their parents. Maybe little Maria, age 3 is crying, in need of a nap and frightened of the throngs of people around them.

For the past few years the family watched as others left their beloved Alsace. They’d read the letters of those who’d gone ahead and listened to the various agents who came to their village touting of the riches to be found in America. But it wasn’t until this year, when agents from  Lewis County, New York came talking up the county where the farmland was fertile and plenty, they paid much attention. To Johann and Marguerite a place with plenty of land for their own and eventually their children sounded to good to pass up.

Life in Alsace has been getting harder and harder with each passing year. Years of frequent wars, harsh winters and epidemics make leaving look better and better. Jobs are scarce and prices keep getting higher and higher, as a growing population struggles to survive. And the prior year brought both war and famine to their area. What will the future bring if they stay? Will their children have any hope for a good future? And so after much discussion and debate Johann and Marguerite made the difficult decision to emigrate.

First they had to pay off any debts and taxes they owed and obtain passports confirming their identity. Plus they had to have enough cash to buy their passage, sustain their journey and allow them enough to start over in the U.S. In the last year Johann has set about taking care of his obligations and selling off all of his holdings to enable him to sail for America. Now everything is done, it is time to leave.

Because of the cotton trade, departing cotton ships leaving the port of Le Harve, France are always looking for paying passengers. It is their best choice. Plus the route is shorter taking only 20-30 days.

The best crossing times are between April to September. But this last spring Le Harve had a cholera epidemic. Mayors of the village were asked to stop issuing them, making it harder to leave. Now in August, they have obtained the necessary documents. If they wait any longer they will have to risk a harder crossing or wait until next spring.They sell off the last of their possessions deemed unnecessary for their voyage.

To get to Le Harve they first have to cross France. Like most emigrants from Alsace they probably used empty cotton carts leaving Strasbourg. I can imagine Johann loading the cart with their trunks and boxes while Marguerite added their linens and bedding. In addition to the clothing, tools and utensils they will need once they reach America they are expected to provide their own bedding and provisions on the ship.

The time for final good-byes has come. The family stands outside their home and takes one last look. When the wheels of the wagon begin to rock they turn their heads and with heavy hearts they begin the first leg of their journey, the trek across France. Quite likely, when they reach Paris they stop for a day or two to take advantage of what the capital has to offer and perhaps replenish their provisions.

Finally they reach the port of Le Harve to wait with thousands of others. Johann still needs to book their passage. A colony of innkeepers and shopkeepers lined the port. Was the family well enough off to stay in an inn or did they make do camping on the dock in a shack or make shift tent? Sometimes it was necessary to wait weeks before as ship was ready to set sail.

Once on board they would have to camp out in a crowded steerage area. There was no lighting and it also was not dry. Water seeped in through the ventilation holes. Like most passengers they were probably seasick the first few days. If it was stormy it wasn’t possible to go up on deck for fresh air. There was only one toilet per 100 people. Diseases spread easily. They had to cook their own meals in crowded conditions.

What an exciting day it must have been, after weeks in the cramped dark steerage quarters of the ship with only endless ocean for scenery, when someone announced they could finally see land on the horizon. What was to come was still unknown for now they were thankful they’d survived the crossing.