|If you think about it long and hard, what would drive a person to risk life and limb for a no return trip into an uncertain future? This is exactly what Johannus Georgius Bager did in 1752. With wife, a two year old son and a baby to care for, he headed west at the age of 27 to what was maybe a calling of God for him or maybe freedom from religious persecution or weary of constant wars on the horizon or a hope for a better future, or maybe a little bit of all. It is also reported that he was recruited by a pastor in America to come and preach. I haven’t personally made the research to confirm if this is true or not. One thing is for sure, we will never really know all the details, so we will have to speculate between the facts and try to fit together what we can.
He was born in the year 1725 in the small town of Niederlinxweiler, Germany. Located in the Saarland only a day’s ride from the border of Luxemburg and France. This is too easy to say he lived in one of the friction areas of Europe at that time and for years to come. Being born into a household that was rather well to do with a father who held the important office of Pastor of Niederlinxweiler surely had its advantages. His father whose life was well-documented do to his position in the church and community gives us a lot of insight to JGB. He was raised under strict conditions, which his father had set for all of his children, but maybe JGB was looked upon as the brightest and most promising. He was the only child to have a higher education out of his 12 siblings. This was an expensive venture for his father to finance. JGB grew up in the church of Niederlinxweiler and playing in the rolling hills of the Saarland. Hard work was also in the program with many duties to do at home. As JGB grew older and continued his education he came to the point of where his teacher could not bring him any further. He had discussed this fact with his father and had then or maybe since he was young known he wanted to fill the important role that his father had played in the community. He was to become a pastor, but for this it would require more education. He was enrolled in to the University of Halle. There he studied Theology . During his studies there his father had kept contact with him to keep up on his studies and progress in life. JGB had made contact with the many other students at the university and his world dramatically expanded outside the village he knew as Niederlinxweiler. This most likely where the topic of American colonies came up and the students discussed the new world. There at the school or somewhere in the town of Giessen he met his love Anna Elizabeth Schwab. He had courted her for some time throughout the year when he sent word to his father that he wanted to know if he had the blessing to marry. JGB had taken his bride to be to Niederlinxweiler where his father and mother got to know the young lady. JGB eventually finished school and was married in Giessen. JGB had become the position as a Pastors assistant (erste Vikar) in the church of Simmern. Whether he wasn’t a full-fledged pastor in Simmern may have been a driving force for him to think about his future elsewhere. America kept coming back up in his discussions with his wife. He may have thought it was a calling of God for him to go and preach the word of God to the new world. A lot of Germans were leaving and the tales told were amazing or at least promising. The reality of such a journey was an entirely different. There were so many Germans immigrating in fact there were more people speaking German in American colonies than any other language at the time. Therefore, it would not be a problem for him to communicate with people. This was discussed time and again with his wife and most likely his father who may or may not of agreed. His wife who was recently pregnant knew there could be no journey before the baby was born. Although travelling with a baby wasn’t a better idea. If they left Germany they knew it was a one-way ticket with no return. The local authorities would not accept them back into the community, it is known that failed immigrants were not reaccepted by the authorities for abandoning their country, if they noticed any emigration was taking place they would forbid it at once for fear of losing their man power and population. JGB position at the church would surely be filled. With no job, all finances would be drained from the trip and he would become a burden for his father with a family to support. JGB had made up his mind, and after the baby was born they would make the trip to America. But where in America, how does one get to America in the first place, what are the cost and how big are the dangers. With the Saarland (Palintine) being ravaged by the French, war constantly looming in Europe, disease running rampant, JGB was about to set out on the biggest adventure of his life.
He had spoken with people most likely in the transport/emigration trade wanting to know the cost of getting to a ship heading to America. He had been told that in Rotterdam (Hellevoetsluis) ships left there several times per year heading to the colonies. The British were known to send agents down the Rhine River putting the word out that emigrants were needed to populate the British colonies in America. He most likely would have chosen way of boat on the Rhine River for the journey to Rotterdam. JGB had made preparations for their second child coming into the world in the meantime. On October 5th, 1751 their second child Carl Theodor Frederick was born. The time was drawing near for JGB and family to go now or never. He had spoken with the head pastor of the Lutheran church in Simmern of what he wanted to do and had hoped for him to give his support and use his connections. The pastor may have supported him by helping him with money or provisions for the trip. He may have also been sponsored by the Lutheran community in the American colonies via the connections of the head pastor. JGB, his wife, two-year-old son and baby had set out for Niederlinxweiler for a last goodbye with his family before the long journey to the Netherlands. For JGB this would be the last time he would see any of his family again. They knew they would never look another in the eye again or hear each other’s voice. It must have been a very sad parting with the feeling of funeral and the excitement of knowing he was really going to leave Germany and Europe for the new promised world. They arrived back in Simmern with a relative good trip on the roads behind them. His wife had said goodbye to her family and most likely also received help from them as well. They said there goodbyes and JGB and family were on a wagon headed towards the Rhine River. They made their way through the hills of the Saarland. They arrived at a port town located on the Rhine after travelling for a day. They may have stayed in a town for a day or two before the boat arrived or was ready for its passengers. A small boat known as a “scow” was finally ready to take its passengers and cargo for the trip to Rotterdam. They made their way down the winding Rhine river seeing castles and military fortifications along the river every couple of kilometres. Stopping along the way pay tolls for the boats passage and to pickup and unload passengers. It’s safe to say they travelled at day on the river. With the baby, the two year old and wife doing well made there way northwest towards Rotterdam. As they crossed into the Netherlands they gave one last look at Germany. Diseases was rampant in those days and its curious to wonder if JGB was totally aware of the dangers of making such a trip. There were stories of ships losing almost all of their passengers do to diseases. The old (over 45 was old then) and young had slim chances of surviving such a trip. They made their way to the seaport town of Hellevoetsluis. They noticed the baby was sick. The stress of elements, constant moving or interaction with other people in the camps may have made the child sick. Sickness in the camps and even on the scows on the Rhine was rampant. The baby’s condition continued to worsen and they became more worried. They may have sought a doctor. The worst had come true. The baby died sometime in either late 1751 or early 1752 in probably one of the camps. Sometimes the passengers came earlier than expected and the ships were not ready for the trip. This made the over filled camp’s conditions a natural breading ground for disease to circulate. The passengers weren’t allowed to leave the camps for fear of spreading the disease. What feeling of guilt was upon JGB, did his wife scorn him openly for the death of the child because of his calling or choice to make this now deadly journey? Did they consider it an Oman from God not to go any further, was it a warning. But why would God take their baby from them, they must have thought. Death was now all around them. They were scared, they prayed now more than ever, the excitement had turned into heartache and fear for the other child as well as their own lives. There was no return. They had to go on, no matter what. They buried their child in Hellevoetsluis and said their last words to him. We can assume this was a terrible feeling of despair they must have felt. JGB had become a pillar to the other German (Palatine) emigrants. He took responsibility for the younger emigrants that were travelling alone. One of the youths he took care of was named Hans Jorge Mack. The time to leave had finally arrived. They made their way to the ship named the “Rawley” and signed onto the ships log and paid their fee for the Atlantic crossing. How long they stayed in the camp before leaving isn’t known. What is reported is it was in the month of June, on a star filled evening they walked across the gangplank leaving European soil. They had their belongings loaded on the ship and their sleeping corridors arranged. The captain had explained the rules to the mostly German passengers aboard for the journey they were about to undertake. The sails were set and the Rawley eased away from the port. There was most likely excitement with cheers and tears to be expected on the ship and at the port. JGB and his wife arm and arm with the two year old John Georg Wilhelm watched the city lights of Rotterdam get smaller and smaller and they turned to look upon an gigantic ocean that laid waiting in front of them.This was not to be a comfortable by any means cruise across the ocean. The trip was to last at least 8 weeks. The sleeping quarters were cramped. The chest that some had brought were broken down to make for more room. Disease threatened the lives of all on the Rawley. The crews of such ships were not known for the friendliness as well. As the crew of the Rawley worked to get the sails set and the officers yelled at the deck hands to do certain task. The passengers learned their sea legs. There were a few hanging their heads over board for hours at a time. Maybe JGB and his wife were one of them who didn’t quite adjust so quickly. As night settled in and there was singing and praying on the ship JGB may have become known as the man of god for the other passengers. He may have leaded them in prayer and held sermons as well as funerals on the decks of the Rawley. His services as a pastor were already in high demand on the high seas of the Atlantic. He had probably spoken with almost everyone on board the ship who spoke German, as he was the pastor of the Rawley for the next weeks during the crossing. He and the other passengers had spoken about Pennsylvania and what they thought it would be like. They probably asked the crew to tell them what they saw and knew of America since he had been there many times before with his ship. As the weeks went by, they knew they were getting close to America and everyone was keeping their eyes open for the first glimpse of land. The days past and on October 23, 1752 there was the sweet sound of “Land in Sicht!” being yelled in German. JGB, wife and child came to the deck and there it was, after all their sacrifice, heartache and loss, America was suddenly there before them. They may have been quarantined for the next week or weeks aboard the Rawley upon arrival to America by authorities for fear of disease. If everyone aboard the Rawley was allowed to leave the ship, is not known. They may have had to return or died there aboard the ship in the harbour.