En partant pour l'Amerique, Houdry

Navire quittant le port du Havre, 1851, photographie de Louis-Cyrus Macaire
Sailing ship leaving the port of Le Havre, 1851, photograph by Louis-Cyrus Macaire
Source: Gallica, Bibliotheque Nationale de France
Used with permission

“En partant pour l'Amerique”
 de Philippe et Gilles Houdry, 2002

Leaving for America”
by Philippe and Gilles Houdry, 2002

(Translation to English by Marilyn Gosz, 2012)

For many years, we have researched our Moselle roots (specifically Sarroises) related to our ancestors Mathis PAULY and Anne-Marie SCHREINER. This work being difficult, especially because of the trade of Mathis who was a member of the brigades of the Ferme Generale which made him move all along the northern border of the actual Moselle, we were interested in numerous printed sources for that region.

Having consulted the list of inhabitants of the village of Hargarten-aux-Mines, between St. Avold and Bouzonville, we have discovered some of the descendants of our ancestors mentioned above, especially related to their granddaughter Elisabeth BOUTTER.

In this same work, related to the villagers of Hargarten-aux-Mines, the author writes: “Pierre BREM and Elisabeth BOUTTER: he asked his wife to sell building and furniture to pay for her trip, as well as that of her two children.” (Source: Cote 312 U58 dated 13 March 1846) Where was this family going, to sell all of its possessions in this way?

In another table completed by the Genealogical Association of the Land of the Nied (river), we learn that Pierre BREM and his family emigrated to New York, in the United States of America. Thus, like many other Lorrains and Europeans of their times, this small portion of the descendants of our Moselle or Saar ancestors left to take their chances across the Atlantic … creating for us, probably, cousins that remain unknown to us for now.

Quickly intrigued, we investigated the why and the how of such an adventure. To better understand them, we first had to understand the global context of this emigration, most especially for the Moselle, when that was possible. Then we researched the family documentation to flesh out the life of these distant relatives.

For practical reasons, especially linked to the difficulty of researching the United States in the 19th century, this article is split into two parts. The first of them is going to describe the trip that led Pierre BREM, Elisabeth BOUTTER and their children, from their village of Hargarten-aux-Mines to their embarkation at the Port of Le Havre. The second part will be published as part of next year's schedule and will tell the rest of their adventures, from the crossing of the Atlantic up to the settling of the family in New York.

Elisabeth BOUTTER is the daughter of Etienne BOUTTER and of Marguerite PAULY, and thus the granddaughter of our ancestors Mathis PAULY and Anne-Marie SCHREINER. Elisabeth married Pierre BREM the 15 April 1834 at Hargarten-aux-Mines, in the north of the Moselle. She lived in this village with her family, where she gave birth to four children. Two of them died there at a young age, as often happened at that time, in 1838 and 1844.

This zone in the north of Lorraine was German-speaking. The notaries of the region had formed the habit, if they completed their documents in French which was the official language, to indicate that they had read them, in German, to the participants and witnesses.

The documents indicated that Pierre BREM left in 1844 to scout the United States, leaving his family in safety at Hargarten-aux-Mines. In 1846, Elisabeth and her two children Anne Marie and Michel, about 10 years old, left to join him. And it was on that occasion that Elisabeth received power of attorney from her husband, sent from New York, to sell their possessions and thereby pay the voyage for the three of them. The sale occurred in Hargarten-aux-Mines, in the family house itself, the 13 March 1846. This sale at public auction, of which the record and transcription were furnished separately in completion of the scheduled actions, yielded 145.8 francs. For this middle of the 19th century, it was a tidy sum. But the rest of the story will show that it was completely absorbed by the expenses of the preparation of the voyage and the trip itself …

Why emigrate? Why America?

A quite large amount of literature exists about the emigration of Europeans to North America. It is, of course, much more limited concerning the Lorrains themselves. But the causes at the origin of the departure from the old continent for the new continent were always the same.

At the head of the list of reasons to abandon the homeland is misery, that is, emigration for economic reasons. This misery was of course more or less great, among families, but it was constantly provoked by the same things: poverty of the lower classes, insufficient lands following upon the demographic expansion that Europe experienced in the 19th century and the numerous families that resulted (especially true, more so in the north of Lorraine than the south), difficult climate for a good portion of the continent (notably in Lorraine). To all of this add natural catastrophes and epidemics (like smallpox in 1826/27 and cholera in 1832), which only added to the difficulty of the time. The poorest classes lived constantly in a precarious balance, easily broken by crises that rocked the century. Rather than die of hunger, numerous were those who preferred to emigrate.

In smaller measure, which did not affect the family BREM-BOUTTER, the origin of emigration also related to religious or political persecutions, the avoidance of military service of young men and also, beginning in 1849, the rush for gold in California.

Between 1845 and 1846, years during which Elisabeth BOUTTER and her children were still in Hargarten-aux-Mines, there was also a serious disease that struck the potato. This, via Alsace, came from Eastern Prussia. The root vegetable already played a critical role in nourishment. The disease made the potatoes rot, making them inedible. The act of sale by auction of March 1846 showed that Elisabeth sold several pounds of potatoes, evidently in good condition. Thus in this month of March, the north of Lorraine did not yet seem to be affected. But Elisabeth could not ignore this problem concerning such an important food. If she had possibly hesitated to cross the Atlantic with two young children, without doubt this additional approaching challenge would have made her decide to undertake the voyage across the seas without delay.

Why did these Mosellans choose to leave for the United States of America? In 1844/1846, the Algerian alternative was possible. The French government actually encouraged emigration to Algeria, a conquest that the country had just decided to preserve. It was to be confirmed that this land was not foreign, but truly France. However it required of colonizing candidates to adhere to criteria that were quite difficult (at least in the beginning): belong to certain occupations, have a specific minimum amount of capital, not have a large family. Faced with these demands, many immigrants thus preferred to choose America as the destination. Plus, throughout the 19th century, that country enjoyed a large reputation that was communicated in the mail, from previous emigrants, to family members remaining in Europe. America was considered as a country of liberty and of democracy, where the recognition of the individual was based on his competence and not his birth, things which many felt had disappeared in their homelands. The destination the most favored by Mosellans between 1850 and 1870 was, by far, New York … as the end point of the crossing and as the point of departure of their new life.

Leaving Lorraine. Preparing for the Crossing.

The decree of 10 Vendémiaire[late September to late October, first month of the calendar year under the first French Republic] of year III (1795) was effective until 1868 and thus greatly affected Pierre BREM as well as his wife Elisabeth BOUTTER. It stipulated: “No one may leave the territory of his canton without having a passport.” And so, the emigrants for distant locations like America had to acquire a passport not only for the foreign trip, but also first to be able to legally leave their canton and go to their port of embarkation on the coast (very usually Le Havre for the Lorrains).

The passports for foreign travel of this family that interest us in this article have unfortunately not been found. They would have allowed us to have some more-detailed facts about their destination, especially when Elisabeth and the children left to join Pierre in 1846.

At that time, the price of passports rose to about 10 francs per person. The candidates for departure were in general also in contact with one of the employees of the maritime companies making the voyage between France and the United States. These individuals were mostly Americans, transporting cotton and other goods toward Europe and returning to their home port with some emigrants on board. These companies, which advertised their shipping lines in the local papers and in leaflets distributed in the cities and countryside, ended up having offices and some emigration agents in numerous cantons of Moselle. Surely Pierre BREM had contacted one of them, for example at Faulquemont or at Hambach, and thus prepared his crossing ? In 1841, shortly before the departure of 1844 or 1846, the price of the trip between Le Havre and New York was between 50 and 75 francs per person.

The local authorities did not encourage these canvassings, even if they reluctantly allowed them. As early as 1833, the sub-prefect of Sarreguemines wrote: “These unfortunates sell their property, achieving in capital their small fortune, and leave with wife, children and baggage, going to search across the seas, a comfort of life that they are not sure to find there.” That same year of 1833, the prefect of Moselle warned the emigrants against “some swindlers who, for some time now, follow the emigrants to take advantage of their inexperience” and to strip them of their belongings.

To prepare the departure was then often also to begin to sell the belongings, converting them entirely into capital. It was exactly this that Pierre and Elisabeth did, finishing the sale of their belongings in the auction sales of 13 March 1846. The 150 francs produced could not have been sufficient, so without doubt the family had other sales income and/or had set aside some small savings.

The majority of immigrants made the voyage in wagons up to the port of embarkation Some used the services of transport firms and, likely for the more well-off, others used the stagecoaches that linked Metz to Chalons-en-Champagne with a transfer for Le Havre. Each in his turn, Pierre in 1844 and Elisabeth and the two children in 1846, would certainly have traveled to the coast by wagon to not waste the precious savings scraped together in Lorraine. Is it likely, as is often the case, that they would have joined a convoy of other Lorraine emigrants, why not even people they knew ? The trip “in a troop”, as was said, made it safer and maintained a familiar environment in foreign surroundings. On bad roads, the convoys moved slowly. To remove some of the burden from the horses, the men and youths walked. The most careful travelers placed a canvas or sail-cloth over the arches of the wagons to protect the passengers from bad weather or to more comfortably spend the night.

The convoys, in Europe, had to very much resemble those that movies show us today in the American West. The wagon trip from Moselle to Le Havre took, thus, about 3 weeks.

It is, on the other hand, completely definite that they were not able to take the train. The railroad line Metz-Nancy did not open until 1850, that of Nancy-Paris not until 1852. The line Paris-Le Havre itself was only slightly older; it opened in 1847. In all of these cases, the lines opened after the emigration of our Mosellans.

At Le Havre, Before Embarkation

The majority of emigrants, when they got to the sea, especially before 1850, were not able to embark right away. In bad weather, the ships were clustered close alongside each other for the length of the embankment and prevented from taking to sea because of contrary winds. Sometimes, the port was empty and it was necessary to wait for the arrival of the boats. In one manner or another, the travelers often had to wait one or several weeks in one of the auberges of the city.

At Le Havre, if they did actually leave from there (which it remains for us to prove), the auberges were not lacking in the port neighborhood. At the time, they were mostly run by foreigners, Swiss and Germans, who specialized in emigrant customers. There was, for example, a Hotel of Metz. This one may have received Pierre or his family, if they had looked for those whom they thought to be compatriots (or at least they should speak German there). But this auberge, and perhaps as a glimpse of what could await the candidates for voyage, was run by a German, not by a Lorrain, and was well known for its dirtiness. To put a realistic outlook on it, these auberges, and certainly those of still lower levels and therefore the most crowded, gave a realistic foretaste of the steerage where the emigrants were going to huddle during the roughly one-and-a-half-month length of the crossing …

At Le Havre, life was difficult. The Lorrains were surrounded by other nationalities, especially Germans. The difficulties were not uniquely related to the lodgings but also to provisioning and to the epidemics that sometimes spread viciously among these weakened populations. Of course, they had to eat while waiting for their ships, but they also had to buy the food necessary for the voyage. It was not included in the price of the ticket. In the 1840s, each future passenger had to spend between 16 and 20 francs for food provisions, according to the rules transmitted by the ship captain who was going to command them. The additional expenses well show that Pierre, and especially Elisabeth, had to spend more money than that earned by the single auction of March 1846. When the departure of a ship was announced, the emigrants with tickets for that voyage left their auberge and headed in the direction of the port for embarkation But the rest of the story will be told in the second part of this article …

Copyright 2002, Philippe and Gilles Houdry

Traduction/Translation Copyright 2012, Marilyn A. Gosz, with permission of authors

NOTE: This is not the story of the ancestors of Ms. Gosz, but provides valuable insights into the emigration experience of thousands of German and French emigrants of the time.  

Bibliographie :

- Notariat de Bouzonville (57), Deuxième étude BLANDAN, 1846 [AD 57, cote 312 U 58].

- L'émigration des Lorrains en Amérique 1815-1870, Camille MAIRE, Thèse de doctorat de

3ème cycle, Université de Metz, 1980 [AD 57, cote BH 12070].

- Lettres d'Amérique, Des émigrants d'Alsace et de Lorraine écrivent au pays 1802-1892, Camille

MAIRE, Coll. Arpenteurs de Mémoire, ISBN 2-87692-104-9, 100 p., Ed. Serpenoise, Metz 1992.

- Les patronymes au pays de la Nied, Alfred LOUIS, Cercle Généalogique du pays de la Nied, 14

pages, Filstroff 1993.

- Viva America, Émigration mosellane vers les États-Unis au XIXème siècle, Marie-José

MARCHAL, 1993 [AD 57, cote BH 12932 (salle), cote 9 SP 3/26 (salle)].

- Liste des habitants de Hargarten-aux-Mines, Adolphe KLEIN (Creutzwald), Cercle

Généalogique de la Moselle, Metz.

- Pierre BREM et ses descendants, Maires de père en fils de 1568 à ~1730, Denise PLONTZ et

Evelyne SCHMIT, Cercle Généalogique du pays de la Nied, 15 p., Filstroff 1995.

1 commentaire:

I. a dit…

Merci Marilyn pour votre commentaire sur mon blog … le votre a tout l'air bien intéressant aussi
…. Si vous le souhaitez vous pouvez me laisser une adresse mail pour que je vous tienne au courant des nouvelles aventures de la peinture

Bon printemps
et peut être à bientôt sur Paris
Isabelle Augé