...I hope, therefore, that my beloved countrymen and all Germany will care no less to obtain accurate information as to how far it is to Pennsylvania, how long it takes to get there; what the journey costs, and be sides, what hardships and dangers one has to pass through; what takes place when the people arrive well or ill in the country; how they are sold and dispersed; and finally, the nature and condition of the whole land. I relate both what is good and what is evil...
--Gottlieb Mittelberger's Journey to Pennsylvania, 1754
1724, Christopher Sauer (Sower), his wife, and young son left Germany for an uncertain life in the colony of Pennsylvania. Twenty-six years later, Gottlieb Mittelberger made the same journey, landing in Philadelphia in 1750. Both men came from the same area and traveled to the same colony and both men left written accounts of their experiences. But this is where the similarity ends. Sauer and his family permanently settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and operated a respectable printing establishment. Mittelberger, a musician by trade, delivered an organ to a church in Pennsylvania and returned to Germany after four years. The letter that Sauer wrote to his family upon his immediate arrival to Pennsylvania contrasts markedly to Mittelberger’s journal which he wrote two years after his return to Germany.
The object of the lesson is three-fold. First, students will learn about the treacherous trans-Atlantic journey from first-hand accounts. They will read about the conditions on the ships and descriptions of colonial Pennsylvania. Second, students will understand the importance of placing events within their historical context and be able to make comparisons between two time periods. They will consider the perspectives of people living during these time periods and be asked to place themselves in their shoes. Last, students will learn about the biases inherent in certain forms of historical record. The readings will ask students to think about tone, accuracy, and motivation and students will analyze the documents with the critical eye of an historian. While illuminating their knowledge of settlement to colonial Pennsylvania, the students will learn about the questions historians ask themselves when looking at historical documents.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has an extensive archival collection on German immigration to Pennsylvania and holds an impressive number of secondary source materials. The Society preserves family papers in its manuscript collections as well as the records of German ethnic organizations and newspapers. The Library Company of Philadelphia has an original German copy of Mittelberger’s published journal. Students are asked to exercise their critical thinking and creative skills, using the Historical Society’s primary source collection.