English -> 1844 A letter from America



The attached letter wrote Nikolaus Bettendorf, a carpenter from Crettach from Trier County, who emigrated to Northamerica, to his father Heinrich Bettendorf in Crettnach. Everyone who thinks the letter was fake can check the original letter at the father?s house.


We think it?s our bonden duty to publish this letter in order to disappoint and warn those which intend to leave their home and search their luck in America as it will not be found there. The letter has been transcribed from the the original as it is ? word by word ? without correcting the spelling mistakes.





Newyork, 21. Novbr. 1843.

Heartly beloved parents and brothers and sisters and brother-in-law.


With mournful eyes and lose heart I feel urged to take my feather and bring to yours, my beloved parents and family, attention how my health is alike. Myself for God?s saken I?m still healthy like a fish in the water and it is my childlike desire that it will be same with my family. Until now I can not say in any meanings that I like it here.


First of all my business doesn?t run well, this gone summer I have worked for a master who produced bricks and earned 20 Gulden per month. I?ve been working there for three months but the productions ends in fall (?late in the year?) so I had been urged to move to New York as in winter time there is no farm work. And as I couldn?t get work at once I had been urged to live in a guesthouse for one month which costed 25 Gulden (the amount in dollars converted to your German currency) and now I have work but in a profession where I earn just enough to make for a living. For what I have to thank our Dear Lord that I have been so lucky as in the country there are more Germans than devils in the hell who have no work; it?s so bad as it is nowhere in Europe, at all it?s so bad like nowhere at all.


If you work you have to put up with the fact that you may not get your money. For the fraud (?Spitzbuberei? = ?scoundrelness?) here is ten times as much as in Germany. To tell you from my deepest heart every German who makes his way over the ocean has more penitencel than hair on his scull.


Occassionally I had to bemoan and feel sorry about the fate of  our beloved unhappy countrymen.





I canot describe how the people got cheaten and betrayed before they arrive her. And once they arrive, misery begin for real. There are so much fault-finders and rascals ? Germans themselves ? that nearly no one can master his fate himself. And so the people are brought into the German ?Wirtshaus?es to spend their money day after day until all money is spent. Then they have no choice, they cannot stay in the towns, the have to leave for the wild country where they find nothing but wild things. So they get rid of their money soon and are no be able to work the soil and have nothing to stay and no place where they can build a hut even from clay or so. There are thousands of them in America and then they write letter home to Germany, telling they are wealthy people ? even it is not so  - and tempt their friends to follow them into their misery as I know from my own experience and through my own eyes.


My advice to my beloved countrymen is to stay where they are.

Oh, some of those of innocent blood, live in the woods and wilderness where no man can hear nor see them and wished to be back in Germany again if only they could.


I departed Barbach on May 3rd and arrived (Le) Havre on May 19th and stayed there until 10 June until we had the opportunity to leave. Our journey took until 18th of July when we arrived in Newyork. The sea voyage had been dangerous, our ship had been poured with water over and over again so no human being could be on the deck of the ship. People had suffered a lot from sea-sickness. You can?t describe no one the misery what those on board suffered. No one shuld believe what their own folks write when they write positive. Try to reflect yourself in such a situation as written in this letter. I have not been sick on the sea but there are less than one of a hundred like me.


Last summer I have worked on the countryside 45 miles from New York City but next summer I will move hundred miles or more to see what my business would be alike in other towns.


I send thousand wishes to my family, father and mother, and all of you good comrades and especially Peter Dewes and Nicolaus Schmidt


                        Nicolaus Bettendorf

born in Krettnach in 1813 on 15 March.

Adress: Guesthouse of Mr. Karl Büttner, Washington Nr. 87, to the hands of Nicolaus Betendorf in New York in Northamerica, waiting for soon replay.?






Weekly newspaper of St. Wendel and Ottweiler County, No 8, published St. Wendel, 24. February 1944

Located in Landesarchiv Saarbrücken, public notary Ackermann, file No 4871 from Mar 12, 1844 (the public notary file has no reference to the letter)


Transcription and translation: Roland Geiger, St. Wendel




Well, it seems that the letter to his parents didn?t result in what he most probably proposed. Nikolaus Bettendorf was a second son (third child) of Heinrich Bettendorf, and Angela Schmitt, both from Krettnach. His mother died in 1820 when Nikolaus was seven, that was three months after the birth of your son Heinrich (youngest of six) . His father remarried in 1822 to Susanna Franzen (born 1800 in Krettnach) and they had 12 children, youngest born in 1844 in Krettnach, Germany.


In 1854 Heinrich and most of his children emigrated to America. I assume that his second wife Susanna had died before, most probably in 1844 after her young child was born dead.


The ?Andrew Forster? reached New York Harbour on May 8, 1854. On board were:


Heinrich                 59                                farmer

Peter                     29                                farmer

Margarethe            28                                servant

Bernhard               24                                farmer

Johann                  22                                farmer

Josef Jacob           21                                laborer

Maria Catharina      18                                servant

Helena                   17                                servant

Michael                  14                                laborer

Angela                   12                                servant


There were two more children born in Germany:

Johann                     born 1823

Magdalena               born 1836

They may have died or stayed in Germany, maybe because they had married before 1854.


The family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Heinrich died in in 1857.


At least three of the seven children from first marriage emigrated, too. Matthias, born 1815, settled in Lockport, Illinois, Heinrich, born 1820, settled in Belle Plainte, Benton, Iowa, well, and Nikolaus who wrote the letter. I don?t know what happened to him.


Census 1850 from Indiana, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has a farmer named Nicholas Bettendorf, 37 and his wife Cibilla, 39, both from Germany. With them lives Mary Hoffmann, 4 years old, born in Pennsylvania. You can find him in the U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes:


Nicholas Bettendorf, Pennsylvania:

Intention declared on Oct 13, 1851

Naturalized on Sept. 29, 1854


But I don?t know for sure whether it?s him or not. At least the birth date fits.


Roland Geiger



Historische Forschungen · Roland Geiger · Alsfassener Straße 17 · 66606 St. Wendel · Telefon: 0 68 51 / 31 66
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