chapter  C
69 Pages

–31: the documents

Organized markets for German immigrant servants arriving in the U.S. contin­ ued after the War of 1812. When and why such markets ultimately disappeared is a mystery. While the largest peak in German immigration between 1755 and 1830 occurred during the years 1816 through 1819 (Chapter 2), the United States Federal government did not start collecting passenger manifests until 1820. This lack of Federal documentation of immigration before 1820 has made investigating the end of immigrant servitude difficult. In addition, few sur­ viving port records and state documents before 1820 recorded names and other information about individual immigrants, and those that have survived are incomplete. The last systematic body of records documenting an organized American market in European immigrant servants is in the German immigrant trade to Pennsylvania. After the revolution, the Pennsylvania German Society convinced the state of Pennsylvania to keep a register of German immigrant servant con­ tracts. These books are the only systematic records of European immigrant ser­ vants arriving in the U.S. after 1784. “Book A of redemptioners” spans 1785 through 1804; “Book B of redemptioners” which must have spanned 1805 through November 4, 1817, apparently is lost, and “Book C of redemptioners” spans from November 5, 1817 through 1831. The contents of “Book C of redemptioners” are transcribed in Grubb (1994). The existence of “Book B of redemptioners” and some idea of its content can be taken from references to that record made in “Book C of redemptioners.” “Book C of redemptioners” is also one of the few existing documents that can be used to identify German immigrants who arrived between November 1817 and 1820. Because immigrant servant contracts were registered within 30 days of arrival, the registration date can serve as a proxy for the date of arrival. The register can also be used to reconstruct immigrant families, since many family members entered servitude together. In addition, the register locates the initial residence of these immigrants since the township, county, and state of the immi­ grant’s initial American employer were recorded. This contract register is an indispensible record for studying German immigration to America in the decade after the end of the War of 1812. Because the last organized markets for Euro­ pean immigrant servants in the U.S. were in the German trade, “Book C of

redemptioners” is also an indispensible record for studying the nature of immi­ grant servant contracting during the last years of the institution and for studying why European immigrant servitude disappeared. When and why German immigrant servitude in the U.S. ended cannot be understood without knowing the contents of “Book C of redemptioners” and seeing the documentary history that shows how German immigrant servants were legally and contractually processed from embarkation through debarkation after 1815. To this end, a detailed summary of the contents of “Book C of redemptioners” is provided first. The documentary history of each step of the migration and servitude process is provided second. Examples of ship contracts, servant contracts, health inspection orders, sales advertisements, and eyewitness descriptions of the servant auction from this post­ 1815 era are given. These examples are taken from documents which are concurrent with, and involve the immigrants whose contracts appear in, “Book C of redemption­ ers.” This information lays the foundation for the analysis in the next two chap­ ters which determine when and why German immigrant servitude came to an end.