Journeys to America

Johannes Morgenstern’s reference letter (Abschiedschein) from 1749 in the Morningstar Mill collection
Johannes Morgenstern’s reference letter (Abschiedschein) from 1749

Sailing across the Altantic in the 18th and 19th centuries was time consuming and often perilous. Space was tight, food and water were limited, and diseases like cholera and typhus were common. The journey could take between six and fourteen weeks depending on adverse winds or bad weather.  Wilson Morningstar’s grand-daughter, Lorna, recounts that her paternal grandparents emigrated from Scotland in the 1870s. She says that they initially wanted to immigrate to Australia, however, when their ship came into the New York City harbour at a 45 degree angle, her grandmother said that ‘she was not getting on another ship!’

Wilson Morningstar’s great-great grandfather, Johannes Morgerstern (1697 – 1749), immigrated to America in 1749. The St. Catharines Museum is very fortunate to have his reference certificate or Abschiedshein in the Morningstar Mill Collection. It is the most significant document about Johannes and his family’s journey from Germany to America.

Johannes Morgenstern was born in Konken (Zweibrucken), Germany in 1697, and was a wool-weaver by trade. From 1737 – 1749, Johannes was a teacher and caretaker at a school church.   On 9 May 1749, Johannes received a certificate of reference from the Reformed Church stating that they had accepted his resignation due to his wish to immigrate to America. The document also confirms his identity and his trustworthy and honest character.

Within weeks of receiving the reference certificate, Johannes Morgenstern, his wife Anna, and two sons Johannes Jacob, 16 years old, and Johann Daniel, 12 years old, departed from Zweibrucken for the New World. Their daughter Maria, 18 years old, and son Johann Nickel, 5 years old, remained behind.

The family would have traveled north down the Rhine River to Dusseldorf, Germany, then to Rotterdam, Holland. A trip down the Rhine was very expensive at the time because it was a toll river. The Morningstars would have had to make a payment at 15 – 20 custom houses along their route.

In Rotterdam, emigrants typically waited between five and six weeks to roster on an Atlantic ship. As a result of the Navigation Act in 1663, a ship bound for America was required to pass a British custom house before sailing westward. Johannes and his family would have pledged allegiance to the King in Cowes or Portsmouth, England, and shown his Abschiedschein to the authorities. This type of document was required by Great Britain to insure that people who immigrated to their colonies in America were upstanding citizens.

The Morningstars may have made their journey to America on the ship called ‘Leslie’. The ship was commanded by Captain J. Ballendine and sailed from Rotterdam to Philadelphia via Cowes, England. Before the ship arrived in America, it was quarantined outside of the Philadelphia harbour because many of its passengers were sick. The Captain’s register noted that 400 passengers from Palatinate, Manheim and Johannes’ hometown, Zweibrucken, in Germany were on board, but only 121 of the ship’s passengers took Oaths to the Government at the courthouse in Philadelphia on Saturday, 7 October 1749.

The earliest that Morningstars would have arrived in the new world would have been early fall 1749 which gives support to the date above. Unfortunately, Johannes Morgenstern died during the voyage to the New World, and the remaining members of the family did not sign the passenger list or the Oaths upon arrival. Johannes’ widow and sons settled in Maryland and then later in Pennsylvania. In 1792, Johannes’ son, Johannes Jacob, moved his family to Willoughby Township, Lincoln County, Upper Canada and began their life in Niagara.

Update – March 8, 2019

Descendant William Morningstar shared this information with us:

“When I came across your original story it intrigued me. When I went to the [the Leslie] ships log to find my relative I didn’t find him. Knowing roughly when they came I started to search other ships and found him on the St. Andrew, September 9, 1749 into Philadelphia.”

Additionally, Mr. Morningstar found:

“Looking into it further Johannes Jacob Engelbert Morgenstern married Anna Martha Braun, they had 5 children; Maria, Johannes, Fredrick, Johan, and Andreas. Maria died at 8 days old, Frederick died in 1745 at age 10 and Andreas died in 1743 at 3 years of age. Johannes and Johann were the 2 surviving children and they went with them to America. My research shows that Johannes moved to Black Creek around 1790 and Johann stayed in Pennsylvania, Shanksville.  I have found no information on Johann but plenty on Johannes, married Sarah Mae Brunner, moved to Black Creek in 1792. My lineage comes from the 13th child, Joseph.”

Thank you for sharing your family research with us, Mr. Morningstar!


  1. Thank you so much for this. Johannes is my husband’s ancestor and this has been a delight to read.

  2. I am interested in the Mittleberger/Thomas Burns family connection. I wonder if the Morgensterns and Mittlebergers knew each other in PA before moving separately to Canada. Mittlebergers were living in Quebec before they went to St Catharines ca 1817. Henry Mittleberger (1802) was apprenticed to WH Merritt and his sister Henrietta married attorney Thomas Burns in the home of her aunt and uncle George Rykert and Ann Maria (Mittleberger).

  3. My Father is son of Jacob Niece Morningstar wife was Maud Mongomery
    My father was their 5th child regerstered
    George morningstar later charged name to George Edward Starr I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters I am the second oldest my name is Marvin H Starr my great grandfather was a inn keeper in Oro two.

  4. For William Morningstar and other Morningstar/Morgenstern researchers: Johann Engelbert Morgenstern was born 20 Sep 1726 in Albisheim, Kreis Kirchheimbolanden, Germany. He arrived in Philadelphia aboard the ship St. Andrew 9 Sep 1749. He married Susannah Catherine Ferdin in Frederick County, Maryland Colony, in 1758, and they had seven children. Johann died on 17 Mar 1789 in Frederick County, Maryland, USA, and was buried on his property in Utica in Frederick County. His tombstone was later reset to Mount Prospect cemetery (Little Church on the Hill) in Lewistown. One of his descendants, John Robert Morningstar (born 15 Aug 1942), shared this and other extensive information with me at the Morningstar Family Reunion 16 Jun 2007 in Buckeystown, Frederick County, Maryland, including photos of Johann Engelbert Morgenstern’s tombstone. Our Johannes Morgenstern was born 15 Nov 1697 in Concken, Kreis Kusel, Duchy of Zweibrucken, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. He married Anna Martha Elisabetha Braun 25 Aug 1729 in Konken (Concken). They had six children. His Abscheids Schein was issued 9 May 1749. By all accounts of other immigrants and ocean travelers of the time, a Philadelphia arrival by 9 Sep 1749 was not possible (or most highly unlikely). Recognizing the most logical route from Konken to Rotterdam and the issues of getting on a ship to the new world and lengthy (and tempestuous) journey across the Atlantic would put our Morgensterns (widow Anna and two sons Johannes & Johann Daniel) into Philadelphia at best in early October 1749. Two ships with passengers from the Palatinate arrived, the Ship Leslie on the 7th and the Ship Lydia on the 9th. Two grandsons of Johannes the younger aka Jacob Morningstar, each named one of their sons Leslie, prompting us to believe these names recognized the need to remember the ship the family patriarch sailed on. All of the above dates and locations (and more) are from the research work that I did at the Protestantische Landeskirche Archive in Speyer, Germany in 1982 and subsequent years. The old church books of Concken/Konken are archived there. Anyone interested can contact me for the book “The Journey of the Jacob Morningstar Family Book 1: 1650-1870 Rhineland…Maryland…Pennsylvania…Upper Canada” which provides images of the birth, marriage, land records, tax records from the above locations.
    Thank you St. Catharines Museum for archiving and availing the treasures you keep there. Best regards, Glen Morningstar Jr., Highland, Michigan USA.

  5. @Glenn Morningstar, Jr – you wrote, “Anyone interested can contact me for the book “The Journey of the Jacob Morningstar Family Book 1: 1650-1870 Rhineland…Maryland…Pennsylvania…Upper Canada””

    How might one contact you for more info on this book?

Leave a Reply