Fred Hannemann’s Terror-Filled 1863 Ship Voyage to America

Leaving the family homeland to make a trans-Atlantic trip and emigrate to America would be an intimidating prospect under the best circumstances. When Michael Friedrich Ferdinand Hannemann brought his pregnant wife Mina and infant son Albert aboard the ship John Bertram in Hamburg, Germany in April 1863, he likely had no idea the horror they would face during 46 days at sea.

Fred Hannemann, as he was known to family and friends, was not the first in the family to leave Pomerania for Wisconsin. At least two sisters were already in central Wisconsin, so Fred may have heard stories from them about their travels to the American Midwest. But that likely would not have prepared him for the life-threatening conditions the 336 passengers faced en route to New York. One of the middle children of Matthias and Maria Caroline Hannemann of Meesow, Kreis Regenwalde, Pomerania, Fred was among at least eight children in the clan who would come to America between 1861 and 1882.

The John Bertram was a 1,060-ton clipper ship built in just 90 days in Boston in 1850 and placed into service in January 1851. At 180 feet long, the ship was initially employed to shuttle cargo from Boston around Cape Horn to San Francisco. It was later sold and pressed into service moving emigrants and cargo from Europe to America. Between 1860 and 1869, nearly 2,100 people were carried from Europe and elsewhere to America aboard the John Bertram.

About 10 days into the journey, the John Bertram encountered a violent gale that ripped at the sails and caused the ship to pitch up and down in the massive ocean swells. The winds raged at the ship for 48 hours, tossing drinking water casks overboard and destroying the storm sails. Conditions below deck were likely horrific, with the violent rocking causing seasickness and injuries. On deck, conditions were worse. Four crewmen were lost overboard and eight others were disabled. Once the storm passed, the ship was leaking badly, making it difficult to keep under sail. Mina Hanneman no doubt had to struggle to care for young Albert Hannemann, 1, in the chaos. The former Johanna Wilhelmine Florentine Glebke was nearly seven months pregnant during the voyage.

On May 4, still three weeks from docking in New York, the John Bertram hit dense fog and became trapped in a massive ice floe. For four days, the ship was surrounded by ice that scraped the planks of the hull and ripped at the cutwater. Four other ships in the area became snared in the ice. Eventually the clipper broke free, but had to steer 3 degrees to the east in order to escape the ice fields.

The trip took its toll. Eight infants died during the trip, although two babies were born. Along with the crewmen who were washed overboard, 12 people lost their lives. Thankfully, Fred, Mina and Albert Hannemann made it safely to Castle Garden in New York. Once they reached the Town of Grand Rapids in Wood County, Wis., they settled into farming. Eventually, seven children were born into the home, as yet another branch of the Hannemann family tree took root in central Wisconsin.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

5 thoughts on “Fred Hannemann’s Terror-Filled 1863 Ship Voyage to America”

  1. I’m still checking, but it appears my great, great, great grandmother was also aboard this ship, which left Hamburg April 1, 1863. I appreciate this article.

    Like

      1. Her name was Elisabethe Mayer, and she was traveling with her 17-year old son, Wilhelm Mayer. Thank you for checking. Can you provide a link?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s