Sprinkle Vinegar about the Cabin

Historical Leads for Genealogists

During the 17th and 18th centures, vessels transported emigrants between Europe and America. Although lives and vessels were lost, this one fact is of great interest to the genealogist who is researching his ancestors. But, let us consider some uncomfortable facts.

The vessels were small and crowded, the cabins close, and the voyage required from six to ten weeks. “Betwixt decks," writes a colonist, "there can hardly a man fetch his breath by reason there ariseth such a funke in the night that it causeth putrification of the blood and breedeth disease much like the plague.”

After William Penn came to America and his vessel lost a third of its passengers to smallpox, he urged those who came to keep as much upon deck as may be and “to carry store of Rue and Wormwood, or often sprinkle Vinegar about the Cabbin.” Actually, this was an old sailor's yarn; considering the health hazards onboard vessels. Rats were a real issue and arsenic was sprinkled around the barrels. Needless to say that arsenic caused sickness and death, as in the first colonists to Jamestown. In 1639 the wife of the governor of Virginia writes that the ship on which she had come out had been “so pestered with people and goods and so full of infection that after a while they saw little but throwing people overboard.” One vessel lost 130 out of 150 souls. One sixth of the three thousand Germans sent over in 1710 perished in a voyage that lasted from January to June. In 1686, Huguenot refugees left Rotterdam with 150 Palatines and when they landed 24 weeks later, only about fifty persons survived. Again, in 1738, a malignant fever anf flux left only 150 survivers out of 400 Palatines.

It was estimated that during the years of 1750 and 1755 that 200,000 corpses were thrown overboard from the ships plying out of Rotterdam. This voyage is described by Mittelberger a year later: “During the voyage there is aboard these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, vomiting, many kinds of sickness, fever, dysentery, scurvy, mouth-rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably.Many hundred people necessarily perish in such misery and must be cast into the sea. The sighing and crying and lamenting on board the ship continues night and day.” All vessels had such casualties even up until 1775 when a brig reached New York, having lost a 100 Highlanders in passage. Source: The Old World in the New: The Significance of Past and Present Immigration to the American People (1914).

A vast collection of images of old wills and estates is available to members of Virginia Pioneers.net concerning the Isle of Wight County dating from 1636 to 1767. Many of its early settlers left the Solent, a major shipping lane for passengers, freight and military vessels (actually a strait that separates the Isle of Wight (England) from the mainland) and made their home in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News region. That makes this county one of the important research areas for Virginia emigrants!

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