Eller Family

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.

eller coat of arms

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.

Benjamin Eller (benjamin.eller@comcast.net) shows Paul, Kaspar and Georg as sons of Johann Adam Valantin Eller (b. 1636 in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, Germany) and Margarete Gerbert (b. about 1638). He shows Johann Adam Valantin Eller as the son of Johann Eller (b. 1611 in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, Germany) and Anna Barbara Startzig (b. about 1611). And he shows Johann Eller as the son of Matthes Eller (b. about 1585 in Koenigsberg, East Prussia, Germany).

We will return to the five Eller cousins later in this introduction. But first let's turn to their Eller ancestors, who - if the Johann Adam Valantin Eller ancestry is correct - appear to be from around Koenigsburg, East Prussia, Germany.

By the way, if you try to find Koenigsberg on a map today, you are going to find it quite difficult. In 1945 East Prussia was divided between Poland and Russia. The capital city of Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad and became the capital of the Russian enclave. German inhabitants of East Prussia either escaped in 1945 or were expelled from there afterwards.

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:v "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."

Disease spread quickly among a population already weakened by travel and waiting in tent cities. Typhus was even called "Palatine fever." Nearly one out of every seven immigrants would die before arriving in America. The toll was heaviest on the children.

Perhaps as bad as the trip, many of the immigrants had to wait on the boat for days or weeks after it arrived in America, waiting for some one to buy their "redemption."

"Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High Germans come from Philadelphia and other places...and go on board the newly arrived vessel that has brought people from Europe and offers them for sale.

From among the healthy they pick out those suitable for the purposes for which they require them. Then they negotiate with them for the length of the period for which they will go into service in order to pay off their passage."

This legal slavery lasted four to six years. We have no real record of Christian Eller from his arrival in 1747 until 12 years later, when he arrives in Rowan County, North Carolina. It is easy to assume that at least part of that time might have been used to "redeem" his passage and that of his wife and two sons.

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Eller Resources


There are several variations of the Eller crest or coat of arms for this family name. We've chosen one to show here but realize it is probably not appropriate to associate it with later generations of the family.

Created 30 January 2019. (c) 2018-2019. Harvey Powers. All Rights Reserved.