William Benitz Page last modified:

William Benitz
New World
(ages: 18-26)

First Arrival in the Americas – New York City  (December 2, 1833)

At C

Ship’s Manifest, Utica, Dec.2, 1833

Lost Texas!

Ship Utica, 1833-1850

Johann Bennitz and Wilhelm Bennitz, natives of Baden, ages 21 and 18 respectively, were passengers on the ship Utica that sailed from Le Havre, France, to New York City, U.S.A., arriving on December 2, 1833.  The names, ages, and country of birth match those of Wilhelm (William) and his older brother Johann (John).  It is too much of a coincidence to believe it is not them.

Assuming it was them, their ship, the Utica, would have departed Le Havre on about October 20th.  They probably left Endingen during September, 1833.

The alternative, that William sailed directly from Europe to the coast of Mexico-Texas, seems unlikely.  Immigrants to Texas before him had first sailed across the Atlantic to ports on the east coast of the U.S., where they then boarded a second ship that took them around the Florida penninsula to the Gulf Coast.

In the family records that have come down to us, John is not mentioned.  Other records include a John Benitz in Pittsburgh.  However, brother Anton Benitz, in his letter of May 6, 1852 to their eldest brother Thaddeaus announcing he had found William, ends with “As for the rest, Xaver and Nany are, as far as I know, healthy and doing well.”  He makes no mention of their brother John, which suggests that in 1852 John may not have been living in Pittsburgh or may have had died.  County and city records list a “John Benitz” - however, the name is not uncommon and this person may not have been a brother.

Why did he Emigrate?

The primary reason why Wilhelm emigrated is very likely because his father, Anton Böniz, had died, on 25th February, 1833.  The family cooperage went to Wilhelm’s older brother Thad; the younger brothers, including Wilhelm, were probably each given some funds and pushed out into the world to fend for themselves.

In none of his letters to his brother Thad does Wilhelm state exactly why he left Endingen.  At best, we can only speculate on the reasons.  Here are some that could have influenced his decision in 1833 to leave for the New World:

  1. He was 18 — young, healthy, and single — the world was his to explore.  And he now had the funds with which to do so.
  2. Young and impresionable, he could easely have been intrigued by the possibilities of adventure in the American west:
    • In 1831, Johann Friedrich Ernst sent glowing letters from Texas that were published in Germany.  He depicted Texas as a paradise which led several groups of young well educated Germans to emigrate.  [Their villages in Texas became known as ‘Latin Communities’, it was rumored they could quote Latin better than they could farm.]
    • Stories must have circulated about Jean Baptiste Charbonneau living almost next door, studying under the patronage of Prince Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg.  Jean was the son of the French-Canadian fur-trader Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea, guides and translators for the Lewis & Clark expedition across North America in 1803 - 1806.
    • James Fenimore Cooper’s book The Last of the Mohicans, published in English in 1827, had been recently translated into German and widely circulated.
  3. Wilhelm — as an apprentice in Freiburg — surely was aware of the nationalist stirrings and reviving revolutionary spirit, particularly amongst the students.
    • Germany in 1830: unrest forced the rulers of Brunswick and Hesse-Kassel to abdicate, and in Saxony a modern constitution was enacted, leading Metternich to clamp down on political dissent.
    • Europe in 1830: the French replaced Charles X with Louis Philippe; the Belgians revolted against their Dutch rulers; and the Poles revolted against their Russian rulers.
  4. Though only about 25% of the young men were conscripted, Wilhelm must have been concerned by its possibility.

Whatever the reasons for his leaving, Wilhelm left as many did without the required official permission.  He and his brother Johan (John) apparently invested their funds in passages to New York.

Where to next?

William’s first years in the New World, 1834 to 1841, are a mystery to us.  We have exciting family lore about his arrival in Texas (ca. 1834-1835), but no earlier details about him.  As a young man, he very likely worked for daily wages, leaving little in the way of a written record of his passing (e.g. business transactions & legal records).  Per his letters to his brother Thadaeus in Germany, written 20 years later (June, 1853, and March, 1855), he did not have it easy but said his adventures were many and their "description would not fit into six volumes".  He promised to write an account of his adventures; if he ever did, it is currently missing.

We lose track of his whereaboust after his arrival in New York.  We do not know where he went for his options were many.  We present the two options which seem the most plausible to us.  Note that hurricanes on the Texas coast most often occur in late summer, between August and October, particularly in October.

1) Heavily influenced by the glowing letters of Johann Friedrich Ernst (see above), soon after arriving in New York Wilhelm could have boarded a ship bound for Texas (same as Ernst had).  If so, Wilhelm would have arrived off the coast of Mexican-Texas no earlier than February, 1834; however, his shipwreck would more likely to have occurred in late summer of 1834.  [Passenger lists of ships leaving New York in the early 1800s have not yet been made available on line (assuming they exist).]

2) Wilhelm could have accompanied his brother Johan (John) to Pittsburgh where many Germans were settling.  Growing restless, he may have returned to the east coast -or- travelled down the Ohio & Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.  In either case, he would have boarded a ship for Texas that was shipwrecked upon the Mexico-Texas coast in late summer of 1835.

Research notes:  We discovered William’s arrival in New York quite by accident, in December 2016.  We hope to find his tracks now that we know where to look!!

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)