Peril on the High Seas: The Voyage of the Bark Caroline

Approximate route of the Bark Caroline, April-June 1845.

Approximate route of the Bark Caroline, April-June 1845.  Created with Google Maps Engine Lite.

The journey of the Bark Caroline, the sailing vessel that conveyed the first settlers of Frankenmuth to America in 1845, has all the ingredients for a Hollywood movie: adventure, danger, romance, disease, and death. In his book History of Frankenmuth : with Short Sketches of the Old Settlers, author T. J. Pollen relates the voyage, which he based on the reminiscences of Johann Leonhard Bernthal.

“…the ship Carolina weighed anchor on Sunday noon, April 20, and left the harbor at Bremen under the guidance of a pilot. This pilot must have been inefficient, as on the second morning out the craft struck a sandbank presumably the Dogger Bank in the North Sea. The tide, however, soon lifted them off this precarious position and they proceeded seawards, where seasickness soon over took them…

“Contrary winds hindered Captain Volkmann from taking the southern route through the English Channel and he had to go north around Scotland. They cleared the coast of Scotland on April 29, and set out on the great Atlantic proper. They encountered the usual storms, and some unusual ones too, in the fifty-one days they were confined on the second deck of the little boat…

“On May 4, the mountain-like waves rolled constantly over the Carolina and the passengers had to be kept below with the hatchways closed. Down there they were rolling in fear and sickness, and with them were rolling trunks, boxes and bedding. Utensils, victuals, water-crocks and everything seemed mixed up with a suffering and moaning mass of humanity. Utter darkness and a suffocating atmosphere did its part to make the poor landlubbers think the end of it all had come. And welcome the end would be as present conditions seemed unbearable. In the night of May 13, they collided with an English trawler. The bowsprit of the Carolina was broken and the other boat was also damaged. Further on, icebergs became a dangerous menace to the travelers, especially in the thick fogs on the Newfoundland Banks…”[1]

In addition, a smallpox epidemic broke out on the ship. Four passengers died including the two year-old daughter of Martin and Margarethe Haspel. “The little girl was buried at sea at 3:00 a.m. amid the glow of lanterns and the reading of burial rites by Pastor Craemer.”[2]

“The last few days of the journey, however, was accompanied by fine weather, and the German emigrants, in their gratitude for relief, held religious services every morning and evening until they at last, on June 8, arrived in New York harbor…”[3]

Four couples of the Frankenmuth party were married aboard ship. Pastor Craemer, leader of the pioneer group, met his future wife on the Caroline. They were promptly married after their arrival in New York. But these are stories deserving of their own posts.

[1] T. J. Pollen, History of Frankenmuth: With Short Sketches of the Old Settlers, (n.p., 1914), unpaginated.

[2] Bavarian Inn Lodge, Guestroom Family Histories: ”Haspel Family,” (Frankenmuth, Michigan: Bavarian Inn Lodge, n.d.).

[3] Pollen, History of Frankenmuth, unpaginated.

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