University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Murphy Library Area Research Center
Imagine yourself traveling across the Atlantic Ocean without anyone you knew by your side. You are on the same ship for five weeks under tough conditions and are dreaming of home cooked meals every night. In addition to this, you are sailing to an unknown land. Somewhere that holds the promise of a new life.
In 1856, twenty-one-year-old Friedrich “Fritz” Tillman did just that. He left everything he knew in Europe and made the famous voyage to America. During his travels, he wrote in a diary explaining his hardships, challenges, and fun times on board. In this collection, you will find Tillman’s original diary (yes, from 1856!) written in German. Don’t worry, however, another historian translated the diary into English for easy reading. No need to learn German to have fun with this primary source!
Tillman’s diary covers his five-week trip aboard the ship as it sailed to the United States. This FFA only covers Box 1. It details the full diary and divides it into two parts: difficult and enjoyable experiences. The historian who translated the diary from German to English followed Tillman’s original page numbers. As you read the translation, look for headings that say “Page I” or “Page II.” Each page has a lot of information about the trip. Please note: the translation is written in cursive, but don’t worry, after a little while your eyes will become used to it!
This folder has an article from Then and Now, a monthly publication of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. The article, written in January 1966, is a summary of Friedrich Tillman’s journey to America as written in his diary. This article is a nice starting point to decide if you want to read the real diary.
This folder has the original pages of Friedrich Tillman’s diary, laminated to protect the yellowing, fragile parchment. The pages are written in German, but nevertheless are very interesting to see. Remember, this was written in 1856 aboard a ship!
Page 1: Tillman expresses his frustration when he is not given enough water. Also, he struggles with preparing his meals because there were, quite literally, too many cooks in the kitchen!
Page 2: Tillman is having a difficult time sleeping on the ship because the other passengers are too loud. Tillman also talks about passengers getting very seasick.
Page 3: After a huge storm, Tillman faces a flooded cabin and a very wet mattress. It was so bad that he had to carry the entire mattress on deck for it to dry!
Page 4: There are a lot of bad things that happened in this section. Much to Tillman’s surprise, someone had broken into his belongings. He searched and searched for the thief, but had no luck. Tillman seems to be frustrated with almost everything that is going on. It also does not help that the weather is horrible and is frightening other passengers.
Page 5: As a result of the constant motion and rocking of the boat, Tillman experiences some headaches that force him to rest.
Page 1: Aboard the ship, Tillman is surprised at the variety of food he is given for the journey. He is given different meats, biscuits, coffee, and even cigars!
Page 2: Tillman comments that the ocean looks beautiful and is similar to a giant mirror.
Page 5: During a big storm, passengers and sailors socialize inside the ship. There is music being played and the sailors put on a comedy show to entertain the passengers.
Page 6: Tillman awakes to gunshots! Alarmed, he finds out that the sailors were celebrating America’s Independence Day. The rest of the day was full of activities and battle reenactments. Also, another ship passes by and is a sight to see, according to Tillman.
Page 7: Passengers flood to the top decks to see whales pass by the ship. Tillman is excited because there is a full ship-cleaning day. Finally, the harbors of New York are in sight!
Page 8: The ship gets to the harbor and Tillman is impressed with America. The voyage had finally ended!
Reviewed by: Olivia Roehri
So, what happened next? You might be asking this question, but there is not a definite answer. Tillman’s diary ended after he got to the harbors of New York. What we do know about the rest of Tillman’s journey is he lived in Milwaukee for a short time before coming to La Crosse.
Was Tillman’s story similar to those of other immigrants? Again, another great question! Many historians have studied ship conditions and immigrants’ personal stories in the 1800s. Tillman was given a good amount of food (quality aside) while other travelers were faced with poor portions and terrible quality. In both other accounts and Tillman’s own experience, the drinking water was poor, storms were discouraging, most were seasick, and death was something every passenger who traveled to the United States witnessed. However, travelers also created new friendships, and experienced enjoyable times.