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Chapter 2 - Theobald Sterner


Before proceding, please read this note.

                   THEOBALD STERNER

     On September 17th 1717, Governor William Keith "ob-
served to the Council of Pennsylvania that great numbers
of foreigners from Germany, strangers to our language and
Constitution, having lately been imported into this Pro-
vince, were daily dispersing themselves after landing with
out producing any Certificates from whence they came or
what they were; & as they seem to be landing in Britain
& afterwards leaving it without any License from the
Government of that Realm, nor so much as their knowledge;
so in the same manner have they behaved here, without
making the least application to myself nor to any of the
Magistrates; that as this practice might be of very dan-
gerousv Consequences since, by the same method, any number
of foreigners from any nation whatever as well Enemies
as Friends, might throw themselves upon us.  The Governor
therefore thinks it requisite that this matter be consid-
ered by the Board."

     Accordingly it was so considered, "& it is ordered
hereupon that all Masters of Vessels who have lately im-
ported any of these foreigners be summoned to appear at
this Board and render an account of the Number & Charac-
ter of their passengers from Britain; etc., etc...."

     In addition, the following oaths were drawn up to
which each new arrival must thereafter subscribe.  First -

     "I, John Doe, do solemnly swear & sincerely promise
and declare that I will be a true and faithful Subject of
King George the Second and do sincerely and truly Profess,
Testafie, and Declare that I do from my heart abhor, de-
test  & renounce as impious and heretical that Wicked Doc-
trine & Position that Princes excommunicated or deprived
by the Pope or any authority of the See of Rome may be
deposed or murthered by their subjects or any other
whatsoever.  And I do declare that no Foreign Prince,
person, Prelate, State, or Potentate hath or ought to

THEOBALD STERNER have any Power, Jurisdiction, Superiority, Preeminence, or Authority, Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, within the Realm of Great Britain or Dominions thereunto belonging." The second oath, abbreviated - "I, John Doe, do sol- emnly swear, sincerely and truly acknowledge, profess, testify and declare that King George the Second is law- ful and rightful King of the Realm of Great Britain and all others his Dominions and Countries thereunto belonging, and I do solemnly & sincerely declare that I do not be- lieve the person pretending to be the Prince of Wales du- ring the life of the late King James and, since his De- cease, pretending to be and Taking upon himself the Style and Title of King of England by the name of James the third, (this refers to the old Pretender, not Charles Ed- ward - Bonnie Prince Charlie over the Water), has any Right nor Title whatsoever to the Crowne and Realm of Great Britain. And I do herewith renounce & refuse any allegiance & obedience to him whatsoever etc...." These two oaths, while interesting in themselves, are of importance to us here because it is from the filed lists of those immigrants who subscribed to them that we get the following facts. On September 20th 1738 there berthed in the Port of Philadelphia the ship Nancy out of Rotterdam but last from Dover - William Wallace, Master. That was five years after Benjamin Disbrow had been laid to rest on his Grav- ally Ridge Farm; it was the year his son John bought the "Roundabout Farm" over in Jersey between Cheesequake Bay and South Amboy. It was just a century after Nicholas returned to Hartford from the Pequot Warre. The English settlements had come a long way since the first rude huts at Plymouth; they now stretched in an unbroken line along the entire seaboard from the French in Canada to the Span- 6
THEOBALD STERNER ish in Florida, and the frontier had been pushed back at most places a hundred miles or more from the Atlantic. Among the Nancy's passengers qualifying for admission to the Province by signing the Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration was one Theobald Sterner (on the purser's list, Störner which indicates that Theobald pronounced his name the same way we do today), aged thirty-one. Whatever the original background of some European Sterners may have been, it is quite evident that our Theobald was no man of wealth or culture, for on all the copies the name appears as "Theobald (X) Sterner" (or Störner) - which indicates all too clearly that he was unable to sign for himself. We have no further details of the long journey from Swabia on the Upper Rhine down to Rotterdam, across the North Sea to Dover, and thence across the Western Ocean to the New World; nor of what happened between the time of his landing and his final settling in the Allentown area. But the following letter, written five years earl- ier, gives an extraordinary and detailed picture of just what such a crossing entailed for these poor peasants who had never seen a ship nor the Ocean before, crowded to- gether for weeks in such cramped quarters. * * * Germantown, October 17, 1733. To Jacob Wilhelm Naas. Heartily Beloved Son: I greet thee and thy dear wife Mar- gareta, together with her dear children, very heartily. The 24th of June we went from Rotterdam to within half an hour's distance from Dort, where we lay still, the wind being contrary. On July 3rd we started and the ship was drawn by men several times on the River Maas, as far as the neighborhood of Helvötsluys. Then the sea- sickness began among the people, that is, dizziness and 7
THEOBALD STERNER vomiting. The greatest number, after having vomited, could begin to eat again. On the 13th of July, early in the morning, we arri- ved in the Port of Plymouth, which port lies in the midst of rocks. We had to lie in the middle of the harbor until the ship was released by the Customs officers and provis- ioned. On July 21st we sailed out into the big Ocean and on our left we lost the land, France and Spain. The 24th we also lost it on our right, namely England. The 25th a little child died; it had come upon the ship very sick; the next day, about 8 o'clock, it was buried in the sea. When the body fell from the plank into the water I saw with great astonishment that a large number of fish ap- peared and darted quickly away in front of the ship, as if they wished to flee from the corpse. For ten days we had steadily a good breeze, so that we sailed a long way on the big Ocean. The 28th of July, before daylight, a French man-of- war by the name of Elizabeth, came near us. This captain examined our captain in French. After having made them- selves known to each other, they wished one another a happy trip and each went on his course. After this day we had very changeable weather so that in three weeks we made only sixty leagues which, in a very good wind, we could have done in one day... The 7th of August, during the night, again a little child died and in that same hour a little boy was born. The 17th we had another storm which was much stronger than the first and for six or eight hours it blew the sea very high up. It lasted for one and a half days and one and a half nights but toward the end was not so strong. Sails, rudder, hatches, everything were hurriedly fast- ened up and left to wind and sea. After that it grew so 8
THEOBALD STERNER calm that we did not get far from one spot during several days. During this time the people got well again from dizziness and vomiting. Then we got again a strong wind from the side, by which we made good headway. On the 23rd of August again a child died and was buried at sea that evening. The 26th, about 5 o'clock P.M., we passed by a mast standing fast, the point of which showed a half yard a- bove the water, quite immovable and with ends of rope still on it. By good fortune our ship passed it at about a rod's distance. The Captain had just been drinking tea. Many people were very much frightened by this sight, because it was impossible for this mast to be standing on the bottom, and yet it was immovable.... The 7th of September a big fish, a shark, was caught by the crew. They took a hook which was very large and strong and of about a finger's thickness and to this they fastened one and a half pounds of bacon. When they saw the fish near the ship's side they threw the hook with the bacon to him, which he swallowed at once and since the fish was very thick and five feet (cubits?) long and a great strength in his tail, as well as out of the water, they drew him into the ship with a very hard pull, and drove back all the people so that it should not hurt anybody, as he struck the deck so powerfully with his tail that if he should have hit anyone against the legs, those would certainly have been struck in two. But af- ter the ship's carpenter had cut off the tail with his axe after ten strokes, his strength was all gone. His mouth was so big that he might have swallowed a child of two years. The flesh the Captain ordered to be distri- buted to the delighted people. On the 11th again a little child died, without any- body having noticed it until it was nearly stiff, and on 9
THEOBALD STERNER the 12th it was buried at sea. On the 13th a young woman, who had always been in poor health, died in childbirth and was buried at sea on the 14th, leaving three children, two of them before and now the third just born, so that the husband has no one left now to care for them. On the 16th, in the morning about four o'clock, a woman fifty years of age died; she had not been well du- ring the entire voyage and had always repented having left her native village. She was buried at sea that same day. And since the voyage, owing to the many changes of wind, had lasted somewhat long and the greater number of people had all consumed their provisions, having expected only a journey of six weeks from land to land, they had gone on eating and drinking hard from morning until late at night. Then at last they found it a great hard- ship to live on the ship's fare alone; thus the greater number so entirely lost courage that they never expected to get on land again... On September 18th a ship from Rhode Island came up to us. It had a cargo of sheep and other things and was sailing to the West Indies. Our Captain had a boat low- ered into the water and rowed four seamen to their ship. When they had drunk a welcome together, he return- ed and brought with him half a bag of apples, a goose, a duck and two chickens and distributed the beautiful apples at once among the people. That caused great re- joicing to get such beautiful American apples on the high seas, and those that were left over the Captain threw among the people to grapple for them...... On the 20th again a young married woman died and was buried at sea the same night......Thereupon we had a very heavy fall of rain and some people caught half-kegs 10
THEOBALD STERNER of water only from the sails and from the Captain's cabin. This was followed by a powerful wind-storm from the north- west. The sea rose up so high that, when one looked at it, it was just as if one were sailing among high mount- ains all covered with snow; and one mountain-wave rose over the other and over the ship so that many people's beds, which were quite near to the port holes, were quite filled with water....Not a human being remained on deck but one sailor who was tied fast in order to watch by the rudder; all the rest, the Captain, the Mates, the seamen, crawled into their beds in their wet clothes, and the ship lay sideways in the wind, always on its side, so that it drew water all the time which, however, poured out again. At midnight a great wave struck so hard against the port holes aft that two boards sprang away from the win- dows where some of the people lay in sleep and slumber, and the water rushed through the window, as big as it was, and straight into the beds, which caused a great terror to those who lay near the window. The water took away a board together with the rope; we all sprang up because the friends who lay near the window had not tied the board fast enough and the misfortune might have become a very great one......The ship's carpenter the next morning made a new window board. The storm also abated a little and thus the anxiety of the people grew a little less; and toward two o'clock in the afternoon it cleared, the wind ceased, the portholes were opened, and it was beau- tifully calm weather. Then the Captain quickly ordered a kettle of rice to be boiled, in order that the people might get something warm to eat that day and night for their supper. The 22nd at noon the ship lay as still as a house, while the people dried their clothes again. A good 11
THEOBALD STERNER breeze sprang up at dinner time and blew all night, so still and so steady that one did not know in the ship that it was moving and yet made two miles (leagues?) and a half in one hour. At midnight the first soundings were made - 150 rods deep and no bottom found. The 23rd at nine o'clock another sounding was made and at 55 rods ground was struck and a eleven o'clock at 35 rods; shortly after, 20 rods; and yet we did not see any land but knew we were nearing the river (the Delaware). Then all the people became very joyful on account of the good breeze and the ground being found. But the Captain did not trust himself to reach the River by daylight since one could not see any land even; and at four o'clock in good wind he reefed the sails and had the rubber tied fast because there are so many sandbanks in front and inside of the River. Early in the morning all sails were set again and we headed in for the River although the breeze was not very favorable and there was a heavy fog... At twelve o'clock we saw the land with great rejoi- cing. Toward half past four we neared the River, for one is still six hours away from it when one first gets in sight of it. Meanwhile I and the Captain caught sight of three boats sailing toward us; then the Captain cried - "These are the pilots." One could hardly see them among the waves. Then he had all the sails set and was very glad when the pilots came to meet him. The first one who came he did not accept, but when the second came, whom he knew, he took him into the ship at once, intending to sail into the River that same night; however, when we were on both sides against the land just in front of the River, suddenly from the southwest a storm broke loose such as we had never yet had. Then all had to help reef the sails, and the anchor was thrown out 12
THEOBALD STERNER for the first time.......So we lay at anchor all night and the storm soon ceased. The 25th, early in the morning, we weighed anchor, set sail, and tacked into the River. We saw land there on both sides with so much joy as can be easily imagined, the land and the beautiful trees near the shore just as if they had been painted there. On the 26th the before mentioned last born baby died and was buried in the RIver. That same day, during the night, we sailed into the narrows of the River, which is indeed very delightful to see, as wide as the Rhine where it is widest, and on both sides are the most beautiful woods and groves, and here and there houses stand on the banks which have fish nets hanging to dry in front of them. The following day, the 27th, we passed New Castle with little breeze and in very dense fog. This town lies forty miles distant from Philadelphia. Since we had very little wind, we had to sail mostly with the tide; there- fore we sailed all during the 28th and not till the after- noon of the 29th did we arrive safely in Philadelphia - (just 97 days out of Rotterdam). We were met by brethren and sisters in small boats who brought us fine bread, apples, peaches, and other re- freshments of the body, for which we gave thanks to the Highest publicly on the ship near the city, with singing and ringing shouts of delight. With many tears we prais- ed and glorified the Lord for having preserved us in His Father's hand, and having carried us as on the wings of the eagle so that we all could meet again in love on this side of Eternity. See, dear children, brethren and friends, this is in short the description of our journey across the very big sea........ Now that we have safely arrived in this land and 13
THEOBALD STERNER have been met by our own people in great love and friend- ship, all the rest has been forgotten in a moment (so to speak) for the sake of the great joy that we had in one another. This hardship has lasted about nineteen weeks; then it was over; wherefore be all the Glory to the High- est - Amen! yea Amen! For it does not rue us to have come here and I wish with all my heart that you and your children could be with us; however, it cannot be and I must not urge you as the journey is so troublesome for people who are not able to patiently submit to everything, for often in the best there are restless minds; but if I could, with the good will of God, do for you children all, I assure you that I would not hesitate to take the trip once more upon me for your sake. Not that one gets one's living in this land through idleness! Oh No! This country requires diligent people in whatever trade they may be - but they can make a good living. There are, however, many people here who are not particularly successful; it would seem that if some people were in Paradise it would go badly with them. Some are to be blamed for it themselves for when they come to this country and see the beautiful plantations, the number of fine cattle, and the abundance of everything; and, knowing that they have only just come here, then they want to have it all at once and will not listen to any advice, but take large tracts of land with debts, borrow cattle, and so forth. These must toil miserably until they get independent. Well, what shall I say? So it is in this world where always one is better off than the other. If a person wants to be contented here with ample food and shelter he can, with the Blessing of God and with diligent hands, get plenty of what he needs. Our people are well off; but some do have more abundance 14
THEOBALD STERNER than others, yet nobody is in want. What I heard about people who do not have money for their passage, surprised me greatly; how it goes with the young, strong people.... also old people who have grown children and understand nothing but farm labour; there the child takes two freights (meaning ship fares) upon itself - its own and that of the father or mother for four years (referring to the system of indentured service) and during that time it has all the clothing that is need- ed and, in the end, an entirely new outfit from head to foot, a horse, or a cow and a calf. Small children often pay one freight and a half until they are 21 years old. The people are obliged by law to have them taught writing and reading and in the end to give them new clothes and present them with a horse or a cow. There are few houses to be found in city or country, where the people are well off, that do not have one or two such children in them. The matter is made legal at the City Hall with great ear- nestness. There parents and children often will be sep- arated 10 to 20 leagues, and for many young people it is very good that they cannot pay their freight; these will sooner be provided for than those who have paid theirs and they can have their bread with others and soon learn the language and the ways of the country. I will make an end of this and wish patience to whomsoever reads this. God be with you all, Amen. JOHANNES NASS. * * * Thus spake the Reverend Naas. Note particularly, my children, his warning against installment buying in the year 1733; it would almost seem this good man sensed in- stinctively what, in a brief two centuries, would become the greatest bane of this land he was already beginning to love. 15
THEOBALD STERNER What the people on Reverend Haas's ship experi- enced must have closely paralleled what Theobald went through five years later. But as to just what he did during the five years which followed the day he first planted his sturdy peasant feet upon the free soil of what was now to be his fatherland, we do not know. He may have bound himself over to pay his passage (freight, Dr. Haas calls it) as the letter describes; or he may, like those I mentioned earlier, have been under contract to the Royal Navy. More probably, since Northampton County was already dotted with well established settle- ments, he travelled with a group of his fellow passengers following the river trails up to the Allentown area where we know he did actually take up land. For we do definitely know that by 1743 he was located in Northampton County near Allentown. There land was to be had for the asking, all a man cared to clear for himself and make productive, good, rich earth that had never known the plow, in this brave new world so different from the feudal land he had left. All else is blank, except that by now he was married and had three sons - John, Casper, and Nicholas. What his wife's name was, what other children there may have been, even in what year he died - all these details, his whole life's story, are still buried where I as yet have been unable to find them. As to his sons Casper and Nicholas, we have no in- terest in them except to note that it is doubtless their names which appear in the Muster Rolls. We shall, there- fore, pass on at once to what little we know of our direct ancestor, Theobald's oldest boy John Sterner 16

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Last updated November 25, 1995.

Todd L. Sherman (afn09444@afn.org)
© Copyright 1995 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.