The Gift

On this day in 1847, my grandparents gave me a gift.

That’s the day the Johann Jacob Scheiber and his wife Christine Engel Meier/Mayer arrived in New York on the brig Johannes Christoph from Germany.  They left their home in Trechtingshausen with their five-year-old son Frank, four-year-old Frederick, and a baby girl who had been born in February.

Last month when I was packing for our vacation and choosing the DVDs for the kids to watch in the minivan, I thought of them.  What would it be like to spend eight weeks on a ship with two small children and a newborn?  What would you feed them?  How would you keep them occupied?  What if they got sick?  I can’t imagine what that would be like.

As it turned out, not all of them made it.  The baby appeared on the ship’s passenger list, but not in any subsequent records.  Jacob’s obituary from 1881 says she “died on the ocean.”  They would have had to bury her at sea.  I wonder how they felt on that July day when they finally arrived at New York after losing their baby on the journey.  Did they think it was worth it?  Did they wish they’d never come?  How did their young boys cope with losing their baby sister and their country at the same time?

If they came here to build a better life, though, they certainly succeeded.  They bought land in West Bend, Wisconsin in August, and were among the very first settlers there.  Jacob started his tailoring business by traveling throughout Washington County on foot to find customers.  By the time he died in 1881, he left a considerable estate, and three grown sons with prosperous families.  Christine died in 1887, and she had used that estate Jacob built to make loans to other West Bend residents.  Her will is filled with the names of neighbors and relatives who had borrowed money from her.  In fact, her oldest son Frank (my great-great-grandfather) had failed to pay the interest on his loan, and she took it out of his inheritance.  Christine was a tough cookie.

When I celebrate the Fourth of July, I always think of my ancestors, who made such huge sacrifices to give me the chance to be an American.  I don’t know what future they imagined when they landed on that day 163 years ago, but I’m grateful for the gift they’ve given me.

Photo by shimelle

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