Merchants of Migration: Keeping the German Atlantic Connected in America's Early National Period, 1800-1820

James Boyd

Using archive material from Philadelphia, Annapolis, and the German south west, this paper examines the Atlantic commerce in German passengers between 1800 and 1820.  It shows that, during periods of high migration demand,  such as the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent post-war depression, merchants were able to quickly extend the 'redemptioner' system of passage on credit to German migrants.  Despite not being heavily used since the pre-revolutionary era, this economic institution, which had traditionally brought Rhineland Germans to the Delaware Valley, was deeply embedded in both regions, allowing its rapid re-deployment at profitable periods.  The paper links both prominent Philadelphia merchants to this early 19th century peak in the trade, examines internal commerce in Europe that connected migrants to the Atlantic, and explains why the heavy use of the redemptioner system immediately prior to 1820 helped contribute to its downfall.