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We know for certain that in the period 1740 to 1750, five young Eller men can from Germany, through Rotterdam to the port of Philadelphia and began the process of settling in the new world. They were Jacob, John Melchior, Christian, Henry and George Michael.
Earlier research referred to them as "five brothers" (Virginia Eller Hook in her book about George Michael). That research suggested they were sons of Paul Eller or perhaps Casper Eller.
Research done by various members of the Eller Family Association suggests that the five men were more likely first cousins, sons of three brothers Paul, Kaspar and Georg Eller. There is evidence that Jacob and John Melchior are sons of Kaspar. And it is likely that Christian is also a brother. However, there is a possibility Christian is the son of Paul Eller.
There is evidence that Henry and George Michael were sons of Georg Eller. However, we've seen Henry listed in the Kaspar line, too.
He also reports on the evangelical Lutheran Ellers from Dolgesheim in Rheinhassen (formerly county of Leininger-Guntersblum) which goes back to Jakob Eller, a farmer, (also innkeeper) and juror that was born about 1590. He came to Dolgesheim shortly before the start of the 30 Years War. First mention of him is in 1631 when his name appears on one of the Leiningen documents taking the oath of allegiance. In the chronicles of Dolgesheim there is talk of the "old Eller generation." Also; according to oral history, the Dolgesheim Eller lineage originated from the middle Hessian area around Offenabach on the Main (River)--Frankfurt on the Main. The presumable ancestor was HENN ELLER, born 1430, who was a wine master of Seligenstadt on the Main (River). His son HENN, according to documents, was registered by the family name "Eyler".
An Aurel Eller of Munich, Germany, wrote to the author's Grandfather, Wayne Eller, in the 1950's saying our ancestor was a man named Ello who cleared the forest at the foot of the Hirshberg in the Algauer Alps near Bergenz on Lake Constance. He says that community still exists. There is, however, no proof of an Algau connection.
One of the most prominent Eller families came from the Rhineland where the family seat was in Dusseldorf for centuries. These Ellers owned estates and castles as far up the Rhine River as Cologne. An heir of this family was Heinrich Adam von Eller, Lord of Burgau who was given his princely credentials in 1572-77 and married Cecilie von Bongard.
Moving from the mystery of the Eller ancestors back to the five cousins, we are led to ask, "What brought these five young men to make the difficult decision to leave home and make the dangerous trip to America?"
For many of that time it was a combination of religious persecution and a desire to "seek their fortune." We know Henry, and perhaps George Michael, were later associated with the Church of the Brethren (sometimes called "Dunkards"). The others would later be active in the Lutheran Church.
It is not difficult to imagine that these men - like so many of that time in Germany -- were living in an area where the Prince had chosen to be Catholic and was attempting to make all who lived in his area converts. That and the poverty of the working class of the time would make a persuasive argument. At the time, there were recruiters traveling through Germany saying America was a land where great wealth could be achieved quickly.
We know of no written record of the five Ellers' trip from Germany to America in 1747. It was probably quite similar to that of an estimated 25,000 Germans who left for America in what was considered the "first big wave" of German immigration (usually considered to have started about 1749 and to have lasted until about 1753).
Research on that era suggests almost all the immigrants were described as being from the Palatine, while many were from parts of Germany further east. And almost all went through the Port of Philadelphia (near which a large German community had developed, Germantown). This matches what little we know of the Ellers' arrival in Philadelphia.
While none of the five wrote of his trip, or that record has disappeared, there is a wonderful written record from Gottlieb Mittelberger who arrived in Philadelphia only three years after Christian Eller. It offers some insight into what our Eller ancestors may have endured to get to America.
The first problem, suggests Mittelberger, was getting out of Germany. The Princes there didn't want to loose workers and soldiers and so the process was made difficult. There had to be permits showing one had paid his taxes and done his military service. And then there was the trip up the Rhine River:
"At each (toll or customs house) all the ships must be examined, and all these examinations take place at the convenience of the customs officials. Meanwhile, the ships with the people in them are held up a long time. This involves a great deal of expense for the passengers; and it means the trip down the Rhine alone takes four to six weeks."
From Germany, usually through Rotterdam, the boats would go to England where the Germans would set up camp and await a ship to America. Many were weakened and sick from the first leg of their trip. Many more were running out of money. Some had even been led to believe the trip would be free. The wait in England usually lasted four to six weeks.
When a ship was ready to sail, those without passage -- as many as two-thirds of those assembled -- had to agree to a loan from the Captain, a process called redemption.
Emigrants were shipped across the Atlantic only after they agreed to "redeem" their loan within a few weeks after their arrival. If they could not -- and most couldn't -- the Captain would sell their contract to the highest bidder. The unfortunate immigrant would be required to work as a virtual slave for the contract holder for a number of years.
A few of the early ships provided some comfort, but most had as many as 400 to 600 persons on board. Mittelberger writes:
"During the journey, the ship is full of pitiful signs of distress -- smells, fumes, horrors, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, heat, consumption, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and similar afflictions, all of them caused by the age...of the food, especially of the meat, as well as by the very bad and filthy water."
The information also comes from newspaper articles, personal interviews, an exchange of letters with other Eller families and census information. We also note a chart prepared in 1935 by Wayne M. Eller.
Marjorie McCormick of Indianapolis and her daughter Janet Rice of Brownsburg, IN, are from the Christian Eller line. In addition to their material in the "Eller Chronicles," they have been kind enough to exchange letters with the author.
Mrs. Peggy Troutman of Salisbury, NC, is a descendant of Christian's daughter Susannah (AND a descendant of Jacob and John Melker). To date, she seems to have the best handle on the interconnections of the many Ellers who shared the same names. However, it is only fair to note that some of her material is contested by other Eller researchers.
Ruth Goodman of Rockingham, NC, and J. Gerald Eller of Whittier, NC, have also supplied information and answered questions.
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