I was born in Germany, in the city of Spire, Rhein Bavaria, on the 21st day of January, 1820. My father was a stone cutter by trade; also a builder of public Government buildings. My parents were in fair circumstances. I was the oldest son of the family. I had one sister older than myself, and four brothers and sisters younger. My parents were strict Catholics, and attended church regularly, consequently, I was brought up in that faith from childhood. My mother was a very pious woman and consistent Christian. Her sole life and conduct was consistent with her belief. She was one of the best of mothers to her children. She taught them honesty, industry, and economy. Also did she always hold up to her children the Golden Rule; To do unto others as they wished others to do unto them.
I was sent to the common school very early in life, and received a common education. Afterwards I was sent to a higher school to receive a better education. My life as a scholar passed by like most of other ordinary mortals. I was not one of the brightest - neither was I the dullest of scholars.
Nothing of an extraordinary nature happened to me until the time I was thirteen years old when my father made up his mind to emigrate to North America with his family - to better their condition. With the full consent of our mother we left our Fatherland on the 1st day of April, 1833. There never was a happier boy than I when we started on our journey towards the then so-called Promised Land. Our journey took us thru France. We arrived in Havre de Grasse, that being our seaport, on April 15, and soon engaged with the Captain of a three mast mail ship for a passage for New York for 135 francs per head besides all the provisions for our family. We left Havre de Grasse about the 22d of April, 1833, and arrived in New York on the 12th day of June - after being on the ocean about fifty days. We had a tolerably fair trip, with the exception of two storms. But nobody was injured in the least. My father was sick nearly all the way across. We had a very good, select company of people amounting to 300 souls on our ship. Among them were ministers, doctors, lawyers, musicians, and an excellent Captain. Our ship was named Logan, and among the passengers we had a child born during the passage which was baptized the first Sunday after its birth by one of the ministers and received the name Logana - being named after the ship.
We stayed in new York about 8 days. Then took our course west for the State of Ohio. We traveled by canal from New York to Albany, thence to Buffalo and then crossed Lake Erie to Cleveland. From there we took a canal boat to Massilon, Ohio. There my father stopped for a few weeks and consulted the country with the view of buying some land but farms being high - he concluded going farther west. So, he hired a wagon to take us to Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio.
We arrived in Tiffin on July the 10th, and took up our quarters in a log cabin on Perry St. The town of Tiffin at that time was only a small village of two or three hundren inhabitants. The country all around Tiffin was almost a perfect wilderness. The Land Office being located there, my father entered 80 acres of land - ten miles west of Tiffin along what was called Wolf Creek at that time. There were only four houses between Tiffin and our land, it being a solid body of Timberland.
On the 3d day of August, 1833, my father moved with his family into a cabin that was built by Henry Sheller, who was a Pennsylvania emigrant. The cabin into which he moved had no floor - only the bare ground - so we had to lay some oak planks on the ground and put our beds upon them. There were no doors or windows to the log cabin, so we had to hang blankets before them to keep out the storm. A few days after we moved into that cabin there came five more families, all Germans, and moved in with us. They all had bought land and in the same section. As a matter, of course, there was not much convenience in the house with six families living in it - and only one fireplace to cook by but we got along splendidly, and were agreeably happy.
My father then began to clear up some of his land to build a house for himself and his family. That was hard work, and he was not used to any hard work. But I went along with my father every morning to help him chop down trees to make room for a house. In the course of two months we had our house built, such as it was, and we moved into it the 5th day of October, 1833.
Now commenced a series of hardships which I can never forget during my life. My father spent nearly all his money for the building of his house. His family being too young to help him much, and he not being used to that kind of work, he took sick and could not do much. Then the whole burden rested upon my mother and myself. Many times we could not get the necessaries of life for love or money. The country being new, and so many emigrants coming in, there not as much produce raised in the whole country as was needed to supply them all. The only way to bring it in was by wagon thru a dense forest of 50 or 60 miles, without roads, except such as were cut by axe thru the woods. There were no bridges over creeks or rivers, and part of the way was thru low, swampy places where an ox team could hardly get thru. Such was the conditions of the roads that it took a team 2 days to go to Tiffin and back. I recollect one time we hired a horse team to go to mill for some flour. It was called Hunter's Mill on the Sandusky River near Tiffin. We got there in the evening and stayed over nite. There were 5 others there - some of them had a grist to grind and the others were there, like myself, to buy flour. There was not more than about 200 pounds of flour in the Mill, and no wheat to grind. The miller divided that among us so that each got a very small supply - hardly enough to keep them for one week. Just as it was all divided - another man came, and told the miller that he must have some flour for his family - for they had no bread in the house for a week. We had to divide it again in order to let him have some.
I also recollect the first winter was a hard one. There was a great deal of snow on the ground. We had no fence around our house and the wolves were around our house all nite howling We were afraid of them. We would see their tracks in the snow in the morning.
Such was the scarcity of money that my father had to sell some of his household goods to buy bread for his children. My eldest sister went out to work to earn something to help support the family. In that way, we shifted along a few years until I got old enough to earn something.
When I was 16 years old I went out to the Miami and Erie Canal to work. I hired for 12 dollars per month - and as fast as I earned it I sent it home to help our family along. I worked on that Canal off and on for 4 years, and I gave my father all my earnings which helped him along and paid off his debts. The farm being then cleared up and the stumps beginning to come out, we could raise better crops. Then we got along better.
By that time I was able to look out for myself. I bought 40 acres of land from my father for $150, and commenced to clear up a small farm for myself. I stayed at home and did the farm work for my father and all the spare time I had - I devoted to the clearing of my little place. It was very hard work- chopping down trees, logging, burning log heaps, splitting rails, and making fences to keep out the cattle and hogs. It was also hard work ploughing among the roots and stumps. But with the oxen and patience, I succeeded. I started in with a determination to make a small, comfortable home for myself.
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The account above is the beginning of a 20 page memoir written by John
Unser over the years from 1880 until July 12, 1902. He died on October
8, 1902, in Tiffin. A copy of this memoir, printed by Will H. Good,
Tiffin, Ohio, in 1903, is available for research in the vertical file at
the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.