by Dr. George Nielsen, Special Features Editor

Logistics is a term for something we do frequently, such as taking a family vacation, and it is as old as Hannibal moving elephants from Carthage to attack Rome. There may be a simple definition, but it is a complicated process. How do you move people or goods from one place to another, providing comfort, safety, speed, while cutting costs and listening to “Are we there yet?” Some people pack simply and fit things into a carry-on bag small enough to fit into the overhead compartment, while others feel the need to replicate, on a small scale, the inventory of a Walgreens drug store.

Pastor Johann Kilian, in a letter written in 1855 to his former co-worker in Weigersdorf, said, “We have been hurt by these heavy transportation costs because of the great amount of baggage  (Gepäck) we brought.” What to pack and how much to pack was not regulated, and the “great amount of baggage” may have been the result of poor planning —not the result of an absence of planning. Each family and every individual who traveled on the Ben Nevis planned, selling or leaving things behind, and packing trunks and boxes of what they thought they would need. The leaders of the association also planned, to the point of employing a young Wend, Friedrich Matuschka, to travel with them as a translator.

If every one of the 531 Wends – every man, woman, and child counted by the reporter of the Serbski Nowiny, a Bautzen newspaper – packed one hundred pounds of stuff for the journey to Texas,
the total weight of baggage would have been 53,100 pounds, or about twenty-seven tons. The same Bautzen newspaper reported that the Wends took approximately 6,000 hundredweight of all kinds of domestic equipment.

Even though the reporter hedged his statement on weight of domestic equipment with “perhaps,” let us assume that the reported figure was close to the actual weight of the freight and translate hundredweight into pounds. A hundredweight is 112 pounds, so 6,000 hundredweight is 672,000 pounds or 336 tons. Now 336 tons is considerably more than twenty-seven tons—the amount if everyone brought one hundred pounds of baggage. By itself that is a lot of freight, and Weldon Mersiovsky’s friend in the moving business says that it would fill about thirty moving vans. Johann Kasper, an 1853 emigrant, had warned future emigrants from sailing on ships from Bremen and from dragging along a lot of things. The 1854 group listened to part of the advice and departed from Hamburg, but maybe Pastor Kilian was right about too much baggage. (Onehalf a ton is the equivalent to the amount of noodles produced by the Wendish Society in Serbin each year.)

But does the amount reported by the Bautzen newspaper make sense? Was it even possible for the Ben Nevis to have space for that much freight? It did, and with room left over for about another 1,000 tons, space that would be filled at Liverpool with Texas-bound salt.

The thought of loading and unloading 336 tons of freight at Bautzen, Hamburg, Hull, Liverpool, and Galveston taxes one’s imagination, but it helps explain the long waits at Hamburg and  Liverpool. The passenger trains traveled from Bautzen to Hamburg and from Hull to Liverpool in a day, but the baggage was shipped separately and its handling took longer, requiring the people to spend days waiting for the arrival of the baggage and its loading. Loading the freight in Bautzen began days before the departure of the passengers, so the wait in Hamburg was only five days, September 5 to September 10, while at Liverpool it was two weeks, September 12 to September 26—further complicated, of course, by cholera. While the emigrants waited at Liverpool, the freight was transferred from the steamship to rail at Hull, and then, at Liverpool, from rail to the Ben Nevis, extending the time for the travelers to be exposed to cholera.

Nowhere is there a list of items that were shipped. At Galveston, agents of the federal government examined the imported goods for tax purposes and handed the Wends a trifling bill of fifty dollars. Only goods intended for sale were subject to taxation, so we can conclude that most of the baggage was personal property. Some of the items are mentioned in other sources. We know that the number of feather beds and furs was smaller in Galveston than at Bautzen because those items of cholera victims had been destroyed in Ireland during the cholera decontamination process, even though the shipping company replaced some bedding. Other specific items were wagons and horse collars (although no number is given, books, clothing, cooking equipment, tools, rum, a  horseradish plant, and seeds. Carl Lehmann, according to Anne Blasig, brought along his gristmill, and the leaders of the immigration society anticipated a new church in Texas, so they also brought along a church bell and a processional cross.

No limits were placed on the amount each individual could ship, so understandably a tradesman bringing his tools would transport more baggage than a poor family with few possessions. Such a disparity in the amount of baggage between families is illustrated by Kilian’s move from Houston to New Ulm. Leaving his wagon and books behind in Houston, the Kilians joined with five other families and hired two ox-drawn freight wagons to haul 8,300 pounds to New Ulm, paying two dollars for every one hundred pounds. The total cost was $167 and Kilian’s share was $120. Even if he paid for the freight of his in-laws, the Groeschels, most of the freight must have been his.

The list of items that people packed, or should have packed, can be enlarged by examining a letter a Ben Nevis passenger, Johann Sommer, wrote to his relatives advising them of items to bring with them if they migrated, and which items to leave in Europe.

Do not bring: women’s costumes [Trachten], women’s Wendish jackets, cooking vessels, lots of cloth, and for unmarried women, don’t bring a husband because the choice is better in Texas.
Bring: linen cloth and aprons, cloth pants, blue and gray thread, woolen stockings and jackets, a spinning wheel, scythes, blacksmith tongs, manure forks, a grubbing hoe, an iron shovel (without the handle), men’s boots, women’s shoes, cigars, tobacco, a wooden pipe for smoking, coffee cups, round spoons, small iron pots, and if you are a single male bring a Wendish wife because “they know how to take hold of things.”

And the universal excuse for bringing too much baggage in 1854 or 2017 is “You never know; we may just need this.”

George Nielsen

George Nielsen is a professor emeritus at Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois; noted Wendish historian; author of In Search of a Home, Nineteenth-Century Wendish Immigration; special features editor of the Texas Wendish Heritage Society Newsletter; and author of a biography of Jan Kilian.