In a genealogy workshop this summer I met another Lakesider (she heard me mention Manchester College and asked me if I was Brethren) whose maiden name was Studebaker, a name I recognized not just from the automobile, but from the wagon company which at one time had some intention to save the Mt. Morris College in Mt. Morris, Illinois. Today we met again and she loaned me her huge Studebaker genealogy book, “The Studebaker Family in America,” published in the 1970s by the Studebaker Family National Association. One of the association’s links back to Europe was a letter written by 2 brothers, which is translated, and is an interesting peek at life for new immigrants in Pennsylvania. . . with our conventions and campaign speak in full force, some of these phrases will be familiar, yet extremely foreign to us. We don’t remember today how burdened Europeans were with taxes and assessments, how if you were born poor, you stayed poor. . . or that people actually sold their children into labor contracts if they were too poor to pay for passage to get here!
“As to your question regarding brother John, there is, thanks to God, no reason for complaint, for life is pleasant here. For we are better off than in Europe, because anyone who is willing to work can make a good living here, except for certain craftsmen.
The craftsmen are not organized here as with you. [The reference is probably to the toolmakers of the district from which the writers came]. Yet things could be better organized here, if only there were some masters here. For steel and iron are plentiful in this country. Good steel and iron and coal and grinding stones are imported from England, and the coal is for sale here as with you. Also there are many rivers.
Yet anybody who wants to work on a farm, can live a life without worries, for not much has to be paid to the sovereign, the maximum is six shillings per one hundred acres in the national currency. Some give corn and some give peppercorn and others give one shilling per one hundred acres and some don't pay anything, once the sovereign has received his money. Much that was bought from the late Count [William Penn], as indicated above, has to pay one shilling per one hundred acres.
Furthermore let me tell you how a poor man be able to come across, who lacks the money to pay the passage. There is the following agreement: If a man has children, he can put them into service. A boy has to remain in service until he is twenty one. The girl has to stay until eighteen years of age. For this, people pay a lot of money. In that way, a poor man is able to free himself and his wife.”
After praising the crops one could grow, the writers go on to say in an almost amazed tone about the honesty and integrity of the authorities, and they were just folks like the ordinary people,
“Furthermore a word about the authorities. The authorities here are good ones. You can go to a person in authority in the same way as to a peasant. You don't have to take your hat off for a person in authority. They administer justice. Nobody suffers violence or injustice from them. They live a pious and God-fearing life. They don't harm or vex anybody as they do with you. When you sell something here, e.g., inheritance or tools, it does not concern the authorities.
Also an interesting insight into religion, especially since there are progressives among us who are downplaying this today. . . (note: Dunkers is the old term for Church of the Brethren and related groups which practiced adult baptism):
”As far as religion in this country is concerned, it should be said that there are all kinds of faiths here. Firstly, where authority is as it were, within; congregations, in which they have no baptism, neither for infants nor for adults. Then there are also here whole congregations of Baptists and Seventh Day Baptists [i.e., Dunkers] who also practice adult baptism, and they keep their Sunday on Saturday, yet lead a good life. There are also many "monists" [Unitarians?] as well as Reformed and Lutherans, and also a few Catholics in Philadelphia, whom the late Count [William Penn] wanted to expel, but they insisted on the franchise granted to them by the late Lord. So he had to keep his peace. But afterwards both we and all new arrivals of the male sex must go to the town hall before the magistrates to give up and renege allegiance to the Pope in Rome [illegible] of Great Britain in England. For the rest the authorities permit all faiths. If a person lives a quiet and pious life, he may believe what he likes.”The writers continue on to discuss labor—the shortage—and the problems with slave labor which the rich used, and relations with the Indians. Read the rest of the letter here.
My grandmother’s childhood scrapbook showing advertising for the Studebaker Wagon of South Bend, Indiana.