“Anna’s Crossing” with Hagenbuchs on the Charming Nancy
If primary sources and historical documents are too dry for you, but you still want to read about ocean travel during the 18th century, give Anna’s Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher a try. This is a book detailing the very same journey, down to the exact same ship, that Andreas Hagenbuch made in 1737!
Unfortunately, neither Andreas nor his family are mentioned in the novel. In her author’s note, Fisher states that she specifically avoided using names from the ship’s passenger list because she did not want to “try to tell the story of anyone’s cherished ancestor.” Some of the few real historical figures mentioned are the ship’s captain, Charles Stedman, and his brother John.
The story’s protagonist is Anna König, a young Amish woman, making her way from Ixheim, Germany, to Port Philadelphia. The Charming Nancy is known as the “Amish Mayflower” because some of the first Amish settlers came to the New World on the ship. In this story, all of the passengers on the Charming Nancy are described as Mennonite or Amish and as coming from the Palatine region. Whether this was for simplicity and to tell a compelling story, or if Fisher thought that Hagenbuch sounded Amish, I don’t know!
We do know that the Hagenbuchs were Lutheran, not Mennonite or Amish. We also know that they came from Lomersheim in the Duchy of Wurtemburg. This was near the Palatine and about 90 miles from Ixheim.
Anna is an unmarried woman traveling with members of her church, and this sets her up perfectly to fall in love on the journey. Of course, there is an eligible, attractive ship’s carpenter on the Charming Nancy (complete with Scottish accent) that catches her eye. Perhaps my favorite quote is: “There was nothing plain nor humble nor holy about this man.” You’ll have to read it to find out more!
Besides the illicit, yet chaste, love story, some of the more interesting parts of the novel describe the ship and living conditions aboard. The passengers were told to remain on the lower deck for the whole voyage. This lower deck was only five feet tall! The crafty, experienced Mennonites boarded first and secured their bunks by the stern. Anna’s group was left with the stinky bow end, closest to the animal cages and the ship’s head, or toilet. Their living quarters were cramped, filthy, and when the ship’s carpenter ventures down there, he describes the stench as eye-watering.
When a sailor dies on board, they give him a proper sea burial. He is sewn into an old sail with a rock at his feet, and thrown overboard. The book also describes a sea burial of a dead mother thrown overboard with her living newborn child. The captain says it’s customary to bury the child with the mother at sea, and without his mother the baby would surely die soon after. While many people died on the Charming Nancy, Woods and her editor made the decision not to include too many deaths for fear of being too “horrific” or “depressing.” In the afterword, the author quotes the same journal entry by Bishop Hans Jacob Kauffman found in this previous article.
When it comes to dates and the timing of the journey, Anna’s Crossing is very accurate. The Amish group travels down the Rhine to Rotterdam, taking them an astonishing one and a half months due to required stops at twenty-six customs houses. They are further delayed at Rotterdam as they try to find passage and supplies. They also stay nine days at Plymouth in England for more supplies and a fine wind to blow them out to sea. When they finally reach their destination on October 8, 1737, they must wait three weeks due to a health quarantine.
For potential readers: this book is Christian fiction and the message is strong. I would also classify this as an easy read, perhaps even juvenile fiction. The plot moves very quickly and is thin at times. Foreshadowing is pretty obvious, but historical romance fans will still want to read to the end. Yet, for all of you Hagenbuch ancestors out there, how can you pass up a book about the exact same journey Andreas Hagenbuch and his family experienced?
Anna’s Crossing was written by Suzanne Woods Fisher and published by Revell. The book is 328 pages long and is available for purchase on Amazon.