Journey to Pennsylvania by Gottlieb Mittelberger

Subject: Law
Type: Reflective Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 945
Topics: Human Rights

In 1750, Gottlieb Mittelberger a German schoolmaster embarked on a journey to America in the company of four hundred other immigrants. During this journey, he became concerned about the unbearable fate of numerous individuals sold into forceful servitude by Dutch man-dealers and their emissaries. Consequently, upon returning to Germany, he published an account of the events that took place to discourage people from emigrating to America. The script titled Journey to Pennsylvania 1750 contains an accurate report of the occurrences as witnessed by the author. Based on the accuracy of the activities detailed in the text, it is evident that the author experienced the events personally. Apart from his warning, the second part of his report presents brief sections in admiration of Pennsylvania in the early 1750s. For instance, the author praises the region for its religious diversity and tolerance. Thus, the text not only shows the plight of poor immigrants but also an appreciation of the state of Pennsylvania. 

The manuscript makes its case by describing the voyage in various sections. The first segment which contains the journey onboard the ship depicts the length of the trip and the state of its passengers. The vessels undertaking the voyage at the time usually took between 8 to 12 weeks from Old England before reaching Philadelphia (Gottlieb, 1). Onboard the ship there is wretchedness, horror and numerous kinds of sicknesses such as dysentery. The conditions are worsened by dampness, heat, hunger, and thirst especially when a storm raves for two to three nights and days. Gottlieb briefly mentions his illness while on the ship. Nonetheless, he provides comfort for others who were sick and miserable through entertainment, singing and praying. In this section, the text mainly focuses on the emotional state of the voyagers. 

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The author goes on to explain their arrival at Philadelphia and the subjection to purchase they face. The purchase was based on their standards of health. It is an inhumane process that often separated many families. However, the author also praises Pennsylvania for its liberties in areas such as religion and taxation. Gottlieb fails to understand the culture of the Native Americans and describes them as savages who live in the bush. Nevertheless, he was enthusiastic about the customs that existed in Pennsylvania. He described the Americans as being more honest compared to other places such as Germany. Gottlieb’s opinion was that as a result of the equality established through liberties, Americans lived harmoniously compared to Europeans. 

In my opinion, the intended audience of this text are mostly immigrants but also historians. The author wants these two groups of individuals to understand the events that occurred during his time. As such, based on his audience the author utilized classifying and dividing, and narration as his two primary forms of rhetorical strategies. Through categorizing and dividing, Gottlieb partitions the events that took place in various sections such as the journey onboard the ship and arrival into Philadelphia. Moreover, he narrates the incidences that occurred based on his experience. The two strategies accurately convey the author’s message making it relatable and understandable to the audience. Although the author fails to give a background on the events that led people to immigrate to Pennsylvania, his arguments are credible and reliable. The validity of his arguments is supported by various pieces of evidence such as the letters he received upon returning to Germany two years later. The letters described the cruel conditions that immigrants continued to face upon arriving at Philadelphia. 

The events recorded in Gottlieb’s text vary significantly with what is acceptable in the current society. Nowadays, activities such as subjugation and purchasing of individuals are viewed as malicious, inhumane, and unlawful. The declaration of human rights adopted in 1948 establishes the basis of international human rights. The declaration recognizes the basic freedoms and rights inherent to all people. According to this memorandum, all human beings are born free and equal in freedoms and dignity. Consequently, it is would be morally and unlawful to disregard or displace a particular group of persons such as Native Americans from their origins. Nevertheless, such disregard of human rights and freedoms are recorded in the author’s text. The difference in values between the author’s period and current time creates a vivid image of the events that took place and enables a reader to comprehend their significance.

The text by Gottlieb supports Marianne S. Wokeck’s manuscript about the plight of German immigrants. Mariannes’s script titled The Experience of Indentured Servants From Germany and Ireland: Guaranteed Employment, Educational Opportunity, Or Last Resort? provides an analysis of servitude by oppression of German immigrants. According to Marianne, Gottlieb failed to question the use of formal contracts or the system of sale and only displayed anger, and sympathy when the system was used to exploit newly arrived Germans. Other primary sources such as the letter of 1724 by Christopher Sower differ with Gottlieb’s text. 

Sower does not describe the voyage on board the ship as dreadful with many sick persons. On the contrary, he describes his arrival at Philadelphia as pleasant. He was welcomed together with other immigrants with fresh food and was allocated a job immediately upon their arrival (Sower, 244). Nonetheless, he describes the savages as strange with an unusual religion as did Gottlieb. Unlike Sower’s brief letter, Gottlieb’s narration is detailed into various sections of the journey. As such, it may be argued that Sower found it unnecessary to mention some of the incidences that took place. Moreover, certain secondary sources support Gottlieb’s narration. Thus, based on these two accounts, Gottlieb’s text provides a more credible and reliable explanation of the events that took place.

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  1. Mittelberger, Gottlieb, and Oscar Handlin. Journey to Pennsylvania. Belknap Pr. of Harvard Univ. Pr., 1960. 
  2. Sower, Johann Christopher. “An Early Description of Pennsylvania. Letter of Christopher Sower, Written in 1724, Describing Conditions in Philadelphia and Vicinity, and the Sea Voyage from Europe.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 45.3 (1921): 243- 254.
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