The Streitmatter’s Journey to America
by Clay Johnson
Genre: Historical Biography
Price: $12.00 print ~ Kindle $4.99
Format: 6” x 9” ~ Perfect Bound
43 color illustrations ~ 63 pages
Publisher: Clay Johnson©
ISBN: 9798872908647
To Order:

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

The Streitmatter’s Journey to America pays homage to Michael and Anna. The more author Clay Johnson investigated this remarkable family, the more clues he discovered about their extraordinary lives. This review reveals, in part, the suffering of a family who believed that America offered them a better life.

Setting the Stage

In 1848, the Streitmatter’s lived in the village of Hägelberg, (population about 300) in the Grand Duchy of Baden. Grand Duchy Baden compares to our state of Maryland, which encompasses about 15,082 square miles. A small agricultural community, Hägelberg adhered to traditional values of fidelity to family, regular church attendance and hard work. Johnson’s narrative pictures a relatively peaceful, happy way of life that placed the Streitmatter’s within the comfortable ambience of mid-century life in rural Germany. This idyllic peacefulness would soon change.

Michael and Anna Streitmatter

Johnson’s well-organized narrative moves from geographical background to ancestral background. Michael plied the trade of “nagelschmidt,” (blacksmith). He specialized in making “nails” and repairing just about anything made of wood or metal. Michael was also a self-taught surveyor. His mastery of two trades furnished a good living that supported the Streitmatter’s eight children. Michael and Anna were valued contributors to Baden’s social fabric. When the political/social unrest began in 1848 the children were Frederick Fritz (23), George (20), Jacob (19), Maria (17), John Christian (15), Maria Katharina (11), Louis (9), and William (7).

Political Upheaval: The Baden Revolution

The Baden revolution was among similar regional uprisings taking place in other central European countries. France and Italy attempted revolutions as well in this same period. The major source of conflict involved entrenched monarchies which ruled with an iron fist, versus popular desires for suffrage and greater political influence. America’s own historical struggles for representative government and personal freedoms serve as a reference point.

Leaving Baden

By the spring of 1849 all the revolting nations found themselves, once again, under the hammer and anvil of their respective monarchies. It is against this social and political backdrop that Michael and Anna decided to move to America. With riveting skill, Johnson describes the difficulties securing passports and other exit documents at price-gouging amounts. A nice touch throughout the narrative is Johnson’s giving financial equivalents in modern day dollars. Reading about these experiences reminded me of spy movies where, “Even the walls have ears.” After going through mountains of paperwork and administrative dickering and delay, the Streitmatter’s finally secured passage on the passenger/cargo ship Bavaria.

Life Aboard the Bavaria

Johnson’s detailed description of life aboard the Bavaria is worth the price of the book. The three-masted vessel was designed to carry up to 500 passengers plus their cargo. The ten-member Streitmatter family was assigned passage in steerage. There were 290 passengers in steerage. Only 19 people sailed in the cost-prohibitive “cabin” class. Imagine living in conditions detailed on page 39:

          One of the most common smells was the salty and briny scent of the ocean, which could be refreshing or overpowering depending on weather conditions. The smell of seaweed and marine life was also present, as well as the scent of fish and other seafood served as part of the passengers’ meals.
       The conditions on the ship could also lead to unpleasant smells. There was a strong smell of body odor and sweat in steerage class, where passengers were crowded together in poorly ventilated spaces. The lack of adequate toilet facilities could also lead to a strong smell of urine and feces, which was particularly unpleasant during outbreaks of illness or disease.

Johnson’s narrative draws to a powerful closure amid Bavaria’s dramatic arrival in New York harbor. Even this part of the journey was fraught with challenges and hardships. Ships entering the harbor were dubbed “coffin” ships due to the dangers of unpredictable weather and rocky shores.

Among the enjoyable features of The Streitmatter’s Journey to America, are the 43 color illustrations sprinkled throughout the book. Clay Johnson’s thorough research and writing has forever changed his life. He owes much to his forebears who faced the turbulent seas of one life to finally drop anchor in the vast sea of prairie grass known as Illinois.


Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]