Monday, February 25, 2013

The Saga of Johannes Reiter Part III

This is from the "Saga of Johannes Reiter" by Amos. O. Reiter.  Although we don't KNOW this is our family, I am pretty sure we are related to them.  My DNA matched up with one of Johannes' descendants, my ancestor was from Cassel/Kassel Germany, we believe the village my ancestor was from to be near Martinshagen where Johannes was from, but most convincingly, my grandfather repeatedly said the Reiters were Swiss and not German.  Louis, also, did not want to fight German wars. This part of the saga emphasizes how being Swiss was so important to the family even having lived in Germany for many years.  One final note, this also describes the family as being "above that of most people."  Mary Reiter Long (Louis's oldest daughter) on her deathbed told her son Roy to go back to Germany to re-claim the family estate.

Returning to Martinshaagen, Johannes Reiter at last settled down to peaceful pursuits.  Six sons were born between 1814 and 1826.  These were named John, Conrad, John Henry, John Dietrich, Jacob and George [my ancestor Louis Reiter was born in 1827 and I believe was a cousin of these men].  He prospered.  His station in life was above that of most people.  He owned a two story stone house and a large blacksmith shop in the town and thirty-four acres of good land nearby.  He had every reason to be satisfied and content.  That is, every reason except one.  Over him and his home hung ever the menacing cloud of compulsory military service.  he had been forced to give up fourteen of the best years of his life, and his inherited Swiss blood had boiled hot at the wrong and injustice done him.  He wanted freedom and independence.  He could not endure the thought that his six boys might be forced into subservience to a like tyranny.
He heard of the United States of America where no one was ever forced into the army either in war or peacetime and he determined to emigrate as soon as possible.  But he delayed his departure a little too long.  It was May 1832, before he was able to dispose of his real estate and load his personal belongs and family on wagons for the first twelve miles of his journey to the city of Cassel, and by that time, his son John was 18 years old and had already been summoned for his two years of free service in the Army.  However, John took matters into his own hands and promptly disappeared, thus becoming a "draft-dodger" and a "fugitive from justice."  In Cassel, Johannes chartered a large flat-bottom boat on which he loaded his family and all their belongings to float down the Weser river to Bremen.  The trip took three weeks, during which officers boarded the boat three times in search for the elusive Johan.  Of course, they did not find him.  

In the port of Bremen, they tok passage for Philadelphia on a ship the name of which I do not know.  The ship was much over-crowded and underprovisioned, even for the six weeks the passage ordinarily required.  sometime early in June, the ship set sail, but stopped at Bremerhaven to take on additional passengers and freight, but no additional food or water.  The younger boys were much thrilled to see at the dock in Bremerhaven, their oldest brother, John, helping to load the ship; but the parents quickly forbade any speech or any sign of recognition.  When the ship left the dock, they strained their eyes in vain for any sign of John.  He had disappeared.  A few days at sea, John came crawling out from among the freight where he had stowed himself away and joined the rest of the family.  under ordinary circumstances, he would have been placed in irons to be sent back to Germany a prisoner, on the return voyage of the ship.  But Johannes Reiter had money.  Some of the money found its way to the Captain's pocket, and John was permitted to come to America on the overcrowded ship.

One incident of that voyage deserves mention here.  The Captain, knowing he had not food and water enough for a six-weeks voyage, determined to shorten the trip by taking a short-cut.  Instead of circling far to the North and then sailing south to Cape May at the entrance of Delaware Bay, he determined to sail straight from the North Sea to Cape May.  He must have known about the Sargasso Sea in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  But he took chances, with the inevitable result.  The ship became hopelessly entangled in the sea-weed and the flotsam and jetsam of previous wrecks.  the rudder became jammed and the ship floated helplessly in a great circle.  Days and weeks went by, the circle narrowed and the current became swifter.  The circling ship was lowly being sucked into the vortex at the center of the Sargasso Sea where awaited inevitable wreck of the ship and death for all aboard.  

The food ration, already down to almost nothing, was cut to half a sea-biscuit and half a pint of water per day for each one aboard.  Many died, and their bodies were thrown to the sharks in the sea.  But there was a "black market" on the ship.  Even in the presence of death, the love of money is the uling passion in the breast of some men.  Johannes Reiter had money, and was able to buy enough food and water to keep the members of his family alive until they arrived in Philadelphia.

When the panic aboard ship had reached its height, and all had given up hope, the Captain admonished all to pray, telling them that nothing less than a miracle could save the vessel from shipwreck or the passengers from becoming food for the sharks.  A miracle did happen; a strong Northeast wind began to blow and blew steadily for a number of days.  The Captain, at the imminent risk of losing all, crowded on all sail and let the wind blow the ship steadily toward the Southwest  until it was driven beyond the zone of sea-weed and was able to continue its voyage toward the Delaware Capes.  The ship arrived in Philadelphia in mid-September, after a voyage of 13 weeks instead of the six weeks of the schedule.

After this, the "Saga" continues to tell of the family's trials and triumphs in the Pittsburgh area---Kittaning and Greensburg.  One other interesting note is that two of Johannes sons had children with the name Louis Reiter.  Were they named after their great-grandfather Louis Koch or a cousin who lived with them a time before moving on to Missouri?  OK, another interesting note.  Lewis Reiter and his brother Amos Oliver Reiter (the author) were also pastors.  Although none of my Reiter family were pastors, go to the Reiter label or the Bethlehem Baptist blog to see how many of them had key roles in that church.

No comments: