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Map Key: 1. Wurttemberg 2. Alsace 3. Hanau 4. St. Gallens 5. Rotterdam 6. Cowes

The Hell Family was part of the third wave of German and Swiss immigrants who left the Fatherland for a new life in America. The vast majority arrived in Philadelphia, and settled in Pennsylvania. Between 1725 and 1800, over 500 ships landed in the port of Philadelphia. These ships were required to keep a record of the names of the passengers, their occupation, and the place of their departure. One ship, The Speedwell, sailed into Philadelphia on September 25, 1749. Aboard this ship was Johannes Hell and Hans Jacob Hell. The 240 passengers on this vessel came from Wurttemberg, an area in the southwest part of Germany; from Alsace, on the western border with France; and Hanau, an old town in the center of the country. However, it's important to note that in the 1700's, the German border was not as clearly defined as it is today.  A great number of Swiss ignored a decree prohibiitng emigration and crossed the border into Germany - some settling along the Rhine, others traveling with Germans to America. In fact, research into the Hell name in Germany has uncovered an intriguing possibility: It is not uncommon for surnames to appear in a cluster in one particular area of a country, but no such cluster of Hells was found in Germany. However, a significant cluster of Hell's was found in St. Gallen, Switzerland - which is only10 or 15 miles south of the German border, and just 90 miles south of Stutgart, the capital of Wurttemberg. It's very possible that the Hell family actually came from Switzerland, and not Germany. 

Regardless of which side of the German border the Hells called home, it's fascinating to imagine the emotional state of the Hells and other emigres as they prepared to leave; affairs had to be put in order; posessions had to be sold or given away; and at some point the moment had to come when they said goodbye to loved ones forever, and walked or rode away from everything they knew and loved. Ahead was a 300 mile journey north to what was at that time the biggest port in the world - Rotterdam, in the South Holland province of the Netherlands. Imagine the awe at laying eyes on this giant seaport... filled with tall ships, bustling with people and commerce.....imagine the anticipation as they walked up the creaky wooden gangplank to board their ship...and the feeling of resolve when Rotterdam disappeared from view on the horizon. There would be no turning back.

The Speedwell would make one stop in Cowes, which is on the Isle of Wight in the south of England before embarking on the 2 month voyage across the Atlantic.  This first leg of the journey would take a week with a favorable wind, but up to a month with a contrary wind. The layover in Cowes could easily last a week or two while cargoes are loaded and the ship prepared for sail. During this time the passengers were forced to spend what little money they had and rely on provisions that were intended for sustenance at sea.

The journey ahead would not be easy, as is evidenced by a passenger who crossed the Atlantic aboard a similar ship at roughly the same time. Gottlieb Mittelberger, a school teacher, traveled to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1750 aboard the ship The Osgood, and he kept a detailed diary of the experience:

"...during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and the like all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably..." Continue Reading

Johannes and Hans Jacob Hell were not the only Hells to make the long difficult journey to America. Hans Wendell Hell, or 'Holl', or 'Hellin' depending on the source, travelled with his wife Anna and six children aboard the ship The Samuel and arrived in Philadelphia on August 11, 1732. In 1750, Hans Michael Hell arrived in the ship The Bennet. And on October 10, 1868, The Minerva sailed into Philadelphia with Johann Jacob Hell, his wife Susanna Fichter Hell, 1 year old daughter Catherina Elisabetha. and a man, possibly a brother - named Jacob Hell.

While the Passengers Lists of the various ships are a valuable resource for uncovering who came over from where and when, details are still sketchy about the vast majority of the Hell family in the 1700's. While we know that Jacob Hell Sr. was born in Pennsylvania in 1763, we still need information on his parents, his siblings, his grandparents, and their lives in the 'old country'. Research is ongoing, and updates will be posted as new information comes to light.

For a brief historical background on the lives of our Pennsylvania German ancestors, read 'Early Life Of The Pennsylvania Germans' by A. Monroe Aurand. It's available here in four parts: