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100 Years Ago

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As told to Charles Eicher. Printed by Jim Sayre in March, 1999


The Historical Highlights feature article in February on Henry B. Sherman, Sr. generated favorable comments from a number of our readers interested in the experiences and events shaping the lives of those who, in turn, later shaped the progress of Shelby County. The Sherman family members began their journey to a new life in McLean Township via the German port of Bremer Haven. We have found the account of the German emigration of another Shelby County resident --Daniel Eicher-- and are pleased to share it. The Eicher family took a significantly different route to their new home, embarking from the French port of Le Havre.

Daniel Eicher began his eighty-six years in Steinwendun, Kingdom of Bavaria, Germany, and ended them in Shelby County’s Franklin Township on February 21, 1903. A 500-mile walk across France and from Baltimore to Ohio preceded his varied career as a cooper (making wooden tubs or barrels), canal boat hand, and, finally, the owner-operator of a 90-acre farm on Scott Road between the Fort Loramie-Swanders and Sharp roads just southwest of Swanders.

Sherman’s was a first-hand account; this Eicher story is nearly so. It was written by Daniel Eicher’s younger brother, Franz. Franz and Daniel shared these experiences; indeed, Daniel is mentioned several times in the account. For this reason, we think the article is relevant to Shelby County history.


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Franklin Township farmer Daniel Eicher, 1816-1903, walked from Germany, through France, and from Baltimore to Shelby County, Ohio. His brother wrote a first-hand account of their life in Bavaria and their travels in Montgomery and Shelby counties.

Life of Franz Eicher as told to Charles A. Eicher
I was born in Steinwendun, province of Bavaria, in 1819. The scenery around this place still lingers in my memory, the houses, the kind of country, all are as plain to me as if I had them right before me.

Steinwendun was at that time a small village situated just fier stunt (4 leagues or 12 miles) from the city of Kaiserslautern. Hay was the chief crop, while hemp and flax were raised for the purpose of making linen cloth. I can say that I never wore any wool clothing in Germany, it all being linen.

I was the youngest of a family of five sons. My father’s name was Henry, and my mother’s maiden name was Margaret Baker. My oldest brother’s name was Philip, and Martin who was drowned in childhood; after him came one whose name I think was Henry who also died young; then my brother Daniel and myself.  I can remember the book from which I learned my ABC’s as plain as if I now held it in my hand before me. It had the picture of a rooster on the back, and I think I was the picture of proudness while carrying it. At school we had a fine teacher and I had no trouble in learning, while my older brother Dan who is three years my senior could study all day and still find it hard to learn. He used to envy me a great deal, while brother Philip was a fine penman.

Cut Turf for Heating Fuel
Our fuel there was turf, which was cut out of the government lands in a marshy place about two miles wide and the length of which I never knew. Each man was allowed to cut out just so much according to his household. My father had a large knife with which he would stand in the trench and cut it, while my brother and I would carry it away on a small lot and pile it up to dry, and for inspection. It was cut in pieces about six inches square and about one foot long. It looked like wax and made fine fuel when dry.

My mother was an invalid while I knew her. She couldn’t walk very much and had to use two crutches; but she was confined to her bed most of the time, her ailment being a running sore on one of her limbs. She was continually doctoring while I knew her. Father would take her to Kaiserslautern quite often when the weather was fair, and I being the youngest often went along. The kingdom’s penitentiary was at this city, and alongside of which were the ruins of the old one, parts of the walls still then standing 15 or 20 feet high.

Mr. John Glazer, who now lives in Dayton, and Mrs. Wetz who lived there during her life, used to take my brother Dan and I and climb up on those old walls and look over into the new penitentiary and more for the purpose of hearing the prisoners singing which we greatly enjoyed. I can see the walls of the new penitentiary now, they were as smooth and shone like glass, making escape impossible. They would hold open-air meetings on Sunday which we attended quite often; more for the purpose of hearing the songs.

Harvested Hemp for Weaving
Pine grew very plentiful around Kaiserslautern. Another thing I can recall plainly is the working of hemp and flax. Hemp grows to a height of about four feet while flax about two feet. When it is ripe it is cut and dried in an open and level field. It is left there until the pith and bark have decayed enough to be easily removed. A man by the name of Urschell used to watch it I remember. It was then taken and thoroughly dried over a pit containing fire, then it was clubbed to remove all pitch and bark, after this the pure lint remained. Then it was pulled through heckles and shredded fine for weaving.

The only relatives I knew were an aunt, a sister of my mother’s, and my father’s mother who lived at Hirshhorn (Deerhorn) which was about 9 miles from where we lived. Us children were allowed to go there to see her on Saturday and return Sunday. Her name I think was Christina Eicher.   My mother died in 1826 when I was 7 years old. My father then married Elizabeth Christman and to them were born six children: Nicholas, Michael, Peter, Phillipina, Elizabeth and Barbara.

Ludwig Maximillian was King of Bavaria at that time. I saw him go through Kaiserslautern once. The schoolteachers in the neighborhood all took their scholars and lined them along the pike over which the king traveled. The line of school children was about a mile long, beginning at the edge of the town. The older ones stayed in town. When the procession came to the children the top of the carriage was let down and the horses were driven slow so that all the children might see them. I remember the king was an ugly-featured red-haired man, while the queen was as pretty a woman as could be found in a thousand. Their son afterwards became the husband of Queen Victoria of England. Queen Victoria was the same age as myself.

Began Trip to America in 1833
We lived about 25 miles from France, and started for America in the spring of 1833. At the line of France the wagoners or teamsters weighed all the baggage and women and small children and were charged 15 francs for each hundred pounds to be hauled. The men and boys and all able-bodied women and girls had to walk.

The distance through France was 150 leagues or 500 miles. The country in France was beautiful, all nice and level and no mountains. We were one month in going through France. The first town in France we came to was Washbundt, the next was Beach [probably Bitche], where a garrison of soldiers was stationed. The next was Nunsing or Nancy. We got to Nancy at noon, and while there my stepmother was sitting on the seat of the wagon with Phillipina, who was a little child then and slight of form, but a very pretty child. While there a jolly Frenchman came up and began to play with her and talking to her in French. He then went away and came back in about 15 minutes with a pretty little pasteboard box, partitioned off inside and with seven or eight different kinds of candy for the little girl. I well remember how the rest of the women got mad because my sister got that candy, and she was only one year old at the time.

After leaving Nancy we came to Chalons, then already a big town. After this we came by the edge of Paris, from there along the Seine river to Rouen. Here we saw our first ships and crossed the Seine on a bridge. The ships we saw there were all sizes up to three-masted schooners. As we neared the mouth of the Seine, the road went along the top of a hill; we could look down the hill and see the ships going up and down the river. Even a few small steamboats were there.

Embarked at Le Havre
We got on the ship at Havre de Grace [Le Havre]. We embarked on a three-masted ship belonging to Boston. All American ships had a stripe of red, white and blue about the width of your hand painted around them.

We were 55 days on the sea. Each one had to have a specified amount to eat with him or he couldn’t come. Sea biscuit, rice, and potatoes were main articles. Sea sickness bothered a great many, some only a day while others the whole trip. We were on the verge of starvation. Many ate their provisions before getting very far. As the captain would not leave them starve, he divided. The rations got so low that each one was only allowed one quart of water a day, and a sea biscuit the size of a dinner plate. These biscuits were as hard as can be, and we had to grate them so as to be able to eat them.

Some days we would sail right along, then the next day we would be carried back again. We went through one storm, and finally reached Chesapeake Bay. We were between eight days and two weeks going up Chesapeake Bay, and then had to anchor in the middle of the stream at Baltimore and were quarantined. There was only one young man sick who was about 21 years old. The captain was permitted to let us land after 12 o’clock the next day.

Walked from Baltimore
After being in Baltimore one day we left on foot for Hagerstown which is 72 miles west of Baltimore. Here my brother Philip had come before. One mile from Hagerstown there lived a family by the name of Middlecoffs. I worked for them for seven months at $2.00 per month, and brother Dan worked for the renter of the farm for $5.00 a month. He was three years older than me and could do more.

These people treated us very nice and were very kind, except for an orphan whom they had taken to raise treated us rather rough. Margaret Grimes was her name and outside of her I never received a cross word. I then worked for a doctor as errand boy for $3.00 a month. I had enough of it in six weeks and told my father I would not stay there. The doctor heard that I intended to leave and tried to coax my father to bind me to him until I would be twenty-one years old, but father would not do it at all. After that I worked on a farm here and there for 50 to 75 cents a day.

Traveled the National Pike
In 1835 Philip came to West Carrollton [Ohio]. Father wanted to come here too then, so we left in the spring of 1835 and started to walk on the National Pike to Wheeling which is 196 miles from Hagerstown, through the Alleghenies and Blue Mountains. We crossed the Ohio River there and came toward Columbus, and when within Ohio turned toward Lancaster until roasting-ear time in August. From there we went to Circleville on the Scioto River, then to Washington Court House, then to Jimtown [Jamestown], Xenia, then down to Bellbrook. We stayed overnight at Bellbrook in an old grist mill on the banks of the Little Miami. Then we came down the Holes [Boles?] Creek road past Lamb’s grist mill to Alexanderville.

My brother Dan then went to learn the cooper trade at Carrollton, while Father and I threshed rye, cut wood, and worked about at odd jobs. My father never attempted to speak English, and never ailed with anything but the toothache. He died about 1850 with something similar to pneumonia. He was 71 years old. He was always stout and hearty. He had made the mortar and carried it for the plasterers while plastering J.T. Dryden’s former residence in West Carrollton. It was built for Mr. Pease for Dr. Taylor.

In 1839 a man lived in Alexanderville by the name of John Waltz who owned a boat on the canal, run by George Shepard. I hired to him and worked for him that spring and summer till harvest time. It was a dog’s life to live, but it furnished good living and $15 a month. I then went on a Dayton boat till fall. I was informed by two Woodruff brothers (twins) on a Pickway [Piqua] boat "Exchange" that the owner was a fine man to work for. I found this to be true for I worked for Mr. Jordan until the canal froze that winter.

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Another account notes the Eicher brothers chopped wood for 31 cents a cord at about this time.

I worked in the cooper shop under a man named Nixon for Mr. Pease. Mr. Jordan came after me in the spring but I was persuaded to stay, and I stayed till the slack season then work was scarce and I went back with Jordan on the return trip, and stayed until the fall of 1840. Philip died Aug. 12, 1874.

[Franz Eicher died in 1910, seven years later than his brother Daniel, the Shelby County farmer.]


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