The May/Meÿ Immigrants: 1748
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The Great Migration
In the 1680s William Penn, a leader of the Quakers, received a charter from the king of England and wanted to populate his lands with productive farmers and his towns with skilled artisans. Penn soon became the foremost salesman for his province. By 1685, about eight thousand Quakers from England, Wales and Ireland had already immigrated to Pennsylvania. From an earlier journey to Holland and Germany in 1677, he had first-hand knowledge of the desperate situations of his fellow Christians as far up the Rhine as Mannheim. His promotional tracts, also published in Dutch and German, appealed to thousands of Germans from the Rhienland Palatinate. The promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to own their own land was an answer to prayer to these masses who had suffered for centuries at the hands of the ruling dukes, princes, emperors and archbishops in their homeland. His pamphlets promised an exciting adventure to all, with a government in which "the people and governor have a legislative power, so that no law can be made, nor money raised but by the peoples consent."[1]

The War of the Grand Alliance, fought against the invader King Louis XIV of France at the end of the Seventeenth Century, punctuated the despair of the people in the Rheinland Palatinate as their villages and cities were laid to waste. Following the end of the war, the people were slow to rebuild and were easily tempted by many opportunities promised in foreign lands. The winter of 1708-09 was unusually cold in the region, freezing and destroying many trees and vines. Queen Anne of England solicited as many as 13,000 Palatines ("Pfälzer") to come to London where they would be dispersed to Ireland, North Carolina and the Hudson River Valley in America.

In 1717 three small ships brought 363 Germans Palatines to Philadelphia. In 1730, a Dutch pastor in Rotterdam estimated that "15,000 Reformed confessors of the Palatinate" had settled in Pennsylvania. Later research indicates that estimate was too low, perhaps sufficing as an absolute minimum. Many records show that after the migration began, it soon accelerated in response to glowing reports written to friends and relatives back home. Most of those who ventured to America were landless farmers and rural laborers willing to take the risks of the journey for the uncertain gains they might receive. There also were many younger sons who had no birthrights in Germany, and were intrigued by the opportunity to freely seek their own fortunes.

The Meÿs leave for America
The largest known immigration from the Meisenheim region - now recorded in the Bavarian State Archives at Speyer - occurred from 1738 to 1749. During that period, the winters were very cold, causing extensive damage throughout the region. An especially bad winter was recorded in 1745-46, during the time when the Meÿs were formulating their plans to leave for America. From a document marked "Zweibrüecken III, 2035" we know that the Meÿ family left Niederhausen an der Nahe, bound for America in 1748.[2] At the time, people weren't free to "pack up and leave" from most regions of Germany. They were required instead to go through a process called "Manumission" to gain permission to exit the country. Because of this requirement we now know of this important family record.

Johann Adolf Meÿ was the first member of the family to leave the village of his birth. In the spring of 1747, soon after his thirty-sixth birthday, Adolf gathered his mother, brothers and sisters around him to bid them good-bye. It probably was the last time they were ever together. We don't know if Adolf left with a wife or children, but we do know that he applied for his manumission along with three other people from Niederhausen, and arrived in Philadelphia aboard the ship Two Brothers on October 13, 1747. There is no other record of Adolf.

After Adolf left home, twenty-eight year-old Johann Leonhardt probably took the lead in planning for the family to leave for America. He was three years older than Johann Daniel and five years older than Frantz Peter, the youngest son. About 1743, Leonhardt had married Maria Barbara Lorentz, but by 1747 his wife and their two infant children had died. Prior to 1748, the only sons of Johann Nickel and Maria Catharina Meÿ known to have been married were Johann Nickel (Jr.) and Leonhardt.

Members of the Lorentz family, close friends and neighbors of the Meÿs in Niederhausen, were making similar preparations. It appears that the Meÿ and Lorentz families were eager to leave in the spring of 1748, so they could be on board the first ship out of Rotterdam that summer.
[I had previously supposed that Anna Maria Lorentz may have been a married Meÿ sister, but now have doubts after learning that Anna Maria Meÿ had been living in Alsenz with her husband who died there in 1747. Descendants of this line of the Lorentz family are actively researching the history of their ancestors.]

The oldest son, Johann Nickel (Jr.), was the only member of the family remaining in Niederhausen. His wife, still remembering the loss of her first child in 1745, was expecting her second child in about three months. By 1755 his wife had given birth to four healthy sons. For the remainder of his life, Johann Nickel practiced the family trade as a shoemaker in Niederhausen. On March 25, 1778, he died in the village at the age of "68 Jahr, 5 Monat." This matches exactly his birth record, which shows him to have been born on October 25, 1709.

Meÿ Immigrants in 1748

Age by Sept.

Maria Catharina Graeff (the immigrant mother)


Maria Elizabetha


Anna Maria (may have remained in Germany)


Johann Leonhardt


Johann Daniel


Frantz Peter


Anna Margaretha


Meÿ family members who immigrated to America in 1748.

Travel on the Rhine was the only practical way to get to Rotterdam on the North Sea. There was no established road system for transporting heavy loads through the various principalities dotting the countryside along the way to the large Dutch seaports. River travel, however, wasn't inexpensive. As many as forty toll-stations were located along the Rhine where fees were extracted from travelers and captains before their barges were allowed to pass certain stretches of the river. Many delays along the way intentionally forced travelers to stay overnight and shell out their money.

The Meÿs probably left Niederhausen about mid-May, joining many other immigrants as they floated down the Rhine, probably arrived in Rotterdam by the middle of June, 1748. Upon arriving in Rotterdam, they confirmed the schedules of the first ships bound for America. The times of ship arrivals and departures varied from year to year. The ship Captains sought to get the best cargo for their journeys, and humans weren't the preferred cargo on the best ships. They attempted to select their cargo to maximize profits for themselves and the ship owners. Since their ships were not normally outfitted for carrying passengers, special modifications had to be made for the immigrants.

After passage was booked on the Edinburgh, captained by James Russel, the weary immigrants could only wait, wonder and pray about the uncertainties that lay ahead. Securing the best accommodations they could afford, probably sharing space with the Lorentz family, the Meÿs made themselves as comfortable as possible as they awaited the arrival of their ship. The Meÿ brothers and sisters must have been apprehensive about the affect the rigorous journey thus far had on their sixty-two year-old mother, Maria Catharina, and on any children that may have been sailing with the group to America.

Crossing the Atlantic
Contemporary accounts of the cost of passage from Rotterdam to Philadelphia in 1750 say the fare was £10 (sixty florins) per person, with children five to ten years old charged half-price. Assuming these fares, the Meÿ and Lorentz party of nine adults, and possibly some children, paid Captain Russel at least £90 for the Atlantic crossing.

In 1748, a total of only seven immigrant ships sailed from Rotterdam to Philadelphia. However, soon afterward the number of immigrants seeking passage would grow, with the following six years being the busiest of the century. More shipmasters were finding it profitable to fill their holds and decks with human cargo. The Meÿ and Lorentz party was on board the first ship to leave Rotterdam that year. They knew very little about the large, untamed land they soon would enter. In stark contrast to the region they had known as home in Germany, their new home would be in the middle of a sparsely populated wilderness.

Allowing about ten weeks for the voyage to America, we can estimate the date that the Edinburgh left its mooring in Rotterdam with the Meÿs aboard to be about the first of July, 1748. After clearing the channels of the Rhine delta, Master James Russel maneuvered his crowded sailing vessel across the choppy tides of the English Channel from Holland to Portsmouth, England. This route took the immigrants through the Straits of Dover where they saw the famed white cliffs in England and the quite sandy shore of Calais in France. In Portsmouth, a large seaport in southern England, the British authorities checked the ship's manifest and gave official approval for Russel to continue on to the Colonies. Authorization to approach Portsmouth on the waters between the Isle of Wight and the mainland was often delayed for larger ships owned by the Crown, and for more important ship companies. Often the immigrant ships were sent to the smaller port of Cowes on the island. The time for the channel crossing and the approval process in England could, much to the dismay of the passengers, take as long as two weeks.

After leaving Portsmouth about mid-July, the treacherous and unpredictable Atlantic lay before them. These were the warmest months for crossing the ocean, and despite the risks it was the best season to transport immigrants. However, as we are reminded every year, this also is the season for hurricanes moving westward from the lower latitudes and ravaging the Atlantic shore of North America. Fortunately, despite the weather, most ships sailed from England to Pennsylvania in less than eight weeks. The passengers were typically in very bad physical condition upon arrival. The captains had no resources to meet the needs of such a large number of people, and they gave little sympathy to complaining immigrants. Those traveling in family groups were capable of caring for each other, so they had the best chance to survive the journey.

Arriving in Philadelphia
The Edinburgh, arriving in the port of Philadelphia on September 5, 1748 with as many as 380 passengers, was the first shipload of immigrants that year. The first page of the Edinburgh list of male passengers contains the names of two of the two Meÿ brothers and two Lorentz men known to be traveling with them.[3] Two more men, who also signed on the same page, probably were other members of the party from Niederhausen.

For an unexplained reason, the ship's passenger list does not include the name of Johann Daniel Meÿ. We can only speculate why Daniel's name is not recorded. Perhaps he simply was too ill to sign with the others and was allowed to leave the ship later. Reference are made to immigrants on some ships who were "Sworn sick on board whose names are not in the List." Regardless of the circumstances in Philadelphia, we have numerous other records of Daniel, up to the time of his death about thirty years after he arrived in America. As a leader in the religious, social and business community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Daniel plays an important role in the establishment of the Meÿ family in America.

At the Courthouse at Philad a, 5 th Sept r 1748.
William Attwood, Esq r, Mayor
William Allen, Esq r, Recorder
Robert Strettell & Benjamin Shoemaker, Esq rs.

The Foreigners whose Names are underwritten imported in the Edinburgh, James Russel Master, from Rotterdam but last from Portsmouth, did this Day take the foregoing Oaths to the Government.

Johann Valentin Opp
Jacob Schumacher
Andraes Stoudt
Johann Filib Schmitt
Christoph (X) Kunn
Johann Adam Schuster
Johann Stephan Franck
Johann Peter Heyer
Lenert Reyder
Dietrich Strubell
Johann Valentin Klages
Adam Rauch
Jacob Hiltzheimer
Johan Lorentz
Johann Philip Lorentz
Johann Jacob Gilberth
Johan Velten Lorentz

Thomas Koch
Adam (X) Kirchner
Johann Leonhard Maÿ
Frantz Peter Maÿ
Johann Wilhelm Gärtner
Johann Peter Von Känne
Johan Jacob Bronner
Johann Jacob Eyler
Johann Nickel Busch
Johann Nickel Mäyer
Johannes Schue
Johann Jacob Schlosser
Johan Herman Clauss
Conrath Clauss
Sebastian Barthelmy
Peter Weingart
Henry (X) Neizart

Transcription of page 1 of the
Edinburgh's 1748 passenger list.
The male passengers known to have traveled from Niederhausen
are shown in bold blue type.
* See NOTE below

This transcribed list, along with facsimile copies of the original signatures,
 was published by Ralph B. Strassburger and William J. Hinke in 1966.

Another transcribed list from a second set of Oaths was published
by I. Daniel Rupp in 1876 and indexed in 1931.


- 1748 signatures -
Hans (Johan) Lorentz
Johann Philip Lorentz
Johann Jacob Gilberth
Johan Velten Lorentz

Recent research by genealogists of the Lorentz (Lawrence) family has questioned whether all of the Lorentz passengers were from the Lorentz family of Niederhausen. Some genealogists have confirmed that they are descended from Johann Philip Lorentz of Niederhausen. Others of the family who are known to have immigrated from Niederhausen with Johann Phiilip were Johan Jakob Lorentz and Anna Maria Lorentz. It is reasonable to assume that Johan Jakob Lorentz was the Hans/Johan Lorentz on the list.

However, a genealogist of the Lorentz family who has extensively researched Lorentz family records from Niederhausen has concluded that Hans/Johan Lorentz on the Edinburgh was not related to the Lorentz family members known to have been on the ship. He also found no record of a Johann Velten Lorentz from the village. It is known that this genealogist's ancestor, Johannes Lorentz, later married the daughter and sister of two men on the ship, Valentin Huth and Valentin Huth, Jr. Y Chromosome DNA tests have shown that he doesn't have common male ancestors with descendants of Johann Philip Lorentz. It is his working conclusion that Johannes was the Hans/Johan Lorentz on the passenger list.

- 1748 signatures -
Hans (Johan) Lorentz
Johann Philip Lorentz
Johann Jacob Gilberth
Johan Velten Lorentz

1748 signatures of
Johann Leonhard Maÿ
Frantz Peter Maÿ

Johann Leonhard and Frantz Peter appear to have preferred to spell the family name as Maÿ, instead of the older form of Meÿ. Most of the Court records in America use the Anglicized spelling, May, which I also use in subsequent essays.

1.  Parsons, William T. The Pennsylvania Dutch: A Persistent Minority, G. K. Hall & Co., Boston, 1976.
2.  Yoder, Don, editor.  Pennsylvania German Immigrants 1709-1786, Lists Consolidated from Yearbooks      of The Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1980.
3.  Strassburger, Ralph B. and Hinke, William J.  Pennsylvania German Pioneers, A Publication of the      Original Lists of Arrivals In the Port of Philadelphia From 1727 to 1808, Volume II Facsimile Signatures,      1727 - 1775, Picton Press. Camden, Maine, 1992.

Continue with an essay on the family from 1748 to 1768 in Lancaster County, located in the British Province of Pennsylvania - Penn's Woods.

Facsimile copies of many family records, including those cited in this essay, are printed in the book on the May/Meÿ family, The Shoemaker's Children.

              © 2000 Fred T. May                Return to Index of John May essays