Johann Henrich "Henry" Kleiboeker

1801- 1862

Ohio, the 30th of September 1834

Dear parents and brothers and sisters,

It has been almost seven months now since I began my travels from home.  I know that you are very interested in learning something about my experiences so far, and I hope you received my letter from Baltimore.  Now I consider it my duty, as much as possible, to communicate with you and share as much as I can about my present circumstances. So far I am still healthy and cheerful and hope that this letter finds you healthy and well.

We left Baltimore on the Tuesday after Pentecost (May 20, 1834) with a company of fifteen men and had arranged our things with a teamster and wagon to take us to Willingen (Wheeling WV).   Nothing significant really happened to us on this journey other than that we quickly encountered nothing but mountains and stone cliffs that looked quite dangerous in various places.  We came upon one of the highest mountains and we noticed that the clouds were not able to pass over the mountain.  As we came down the mountain we encountered an incredibly overpowering fog that made us feel like we were walking inside a cloud. That's how we spent fifteen days. 

As soon as we got to Willingen, (Wheeling) we made sure that we got all our belongings transferred to a steamboat and then after forty-eight hours on the Ohio Reber (river) we arrived in Cincinnati. Here we met many Germans from the local areas around our home towns. We found and visited with Bernardt Biest.  He was quite happy and doing well with what appeared to be a good income.  I heard that he had not yet written home. But he said that he would send a letter the next chance he got and I do think you will at long last receive a letter from him.

We stayed in Cincinnati for three days and sailed up the Canal for 45 English miles (to Dayton).  We left our belongings (except some clothing, and a few shirts) with Wilbrand Struwe  in Cincinnati. We visited Rudolph Höpker (in Dayton) and found him healthy and in the same place where he had last written to us from this past winter.  He would have liked for us to stay longer but because there was no work for us at the local distillery at this time, we were not able to stay there. However the “Bahs” (Boss)  agreed that his brother could work. (This “brother” is Hermann Heinrich Hoepker who has traveled with JH Zur Oveste and Ernst Kiesekamp from Germany via Baltimore to Ohio)

But we heard there was available work on the Canal. Ernst Kiesekamp and I then went up four English miles above Dayton to work on the Canal for twelve Dollars per month.  The Thaler (Dollar) is here a hundred cents and in your money would be ninety six groschen.  We did not like the Canal work and its very expensive room and board.  We left after only three days and went back to Dayton and found work with a farmer, where we got nine dollars per month but free room and board and free washing. We preferred this situation.  Fourteen days later we came across Rudolph Höpker in Dayton who had the task to find and hire a hired hand which he offered me. As I realized that we could not stay with the farmer over the winter, Rudolph went with me and we let the farmer know I would be leaving. The farmer gave me what I had earned the next morning and I left.  I then went to the Stilhaus, (Distillery) which you refer to as a “Brennerei”. I did not have that much work to do at first but since then I have done all sorts of work at the distillery.

Now my main job is ladling beer (or beer mash) and I work 12 hours a da  from noon to midnight, when another man starts his shift and relieves me.  I enjoy the work. They pay me $10.00 per month and room and board but I have to pay for my laundry.  There are 12 employees here, 7 Germans and 5 Americans.  The Distillery/Brewery is very well designed and practical as it is laid out under a hill.  The drink that is created here each day is worth over $80.00.  They call it Wiski (Whiskey) and is mostly made from “Welsh Korn” which you refer to as “Turkish Wheat”.  The Whiskey is distilled over fire and boiling water.

Further, I will write as much as I know about the Country here, but it is not possible for me to describe everything to you.  Here, this is a free Country and the freedom appeals to me in some ways and not so appealing in other ways.  This State (Ohio) is just now being built and the oldest Cities in this State were only founded thirty to forty years ago.  The residents are mostly Americans that have moved here from Pennsylvania and other states.  Most of the Pennsylvanians speak relatively good German. Earlier this State was populated by wild Indians. It is completely different here as compared to you in Germany. 

The woods here are more than plentiful.  One sees huge fallen trees that would provide the best beams for building just laying over each other and rotting. You can see all sorts of species of trees in the groves and forests.  The soil is heavy and rocky here.  Corn is planted everywhere here and grows especially strong.  I have not seen other crops and fruits though grow better than what we have in Germany. The livestock here is quite acceptable.  They have especially well behaved horses and generally the cattle are just as they are in Germany.  The primary language is English. 


As regards religion, I cannot write about it that much as there are so many different religions. Many of the residents live completely without church as they are neither baptized or allowed to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Others do take on a religion as they come of age, some in on type of church, and others in a different church.  There are various churches and schools placed in here and there but only a few parents send the children, as the parents are not forced to do such. And everyone here can keep their religion that they have.  We go at least once every two weeks to Miamisburg where German Lutheran services are held.  There are good German preachers here, but they have little income.  Each person gives or donates money as they want as this is a free land.  One gives as much as another, independent of their status.  (Note: in JH’s previous experience in Lower Saxony, amounts paid to the church were dictated based on status and income. This approach in the US was very new to him.)

The land here in this area is already sold and mostly settled.  The areas still for sale are Neu Bremen (New Bremen, OH) Wabokonette (Wapakoneta. OH) and Stalloton (Stallotown, now called Minster, Ohio), which was named after the Bookbinder (Franz Josef Stallo 1793-1833) from Damme Germany.  So far, I have not found the desire to hack out all the forest and brush and clear new land.

I cannot yet forget Germany and will not recommend that any follow me here.   Each person must decide on their own.  There is an ability to earn a lot more money here, but the work is much harder, and things are more expensive. But if one remains healthy one can accumulate more over time than by you folks there.  I cannot write much more at this time.  I ask you please to write again soon as I think I will be staying here over the winter months. Write to me and let me know about all the others, whether my brother Friedrich is back home (Friedrich was the designated inheritor of the Oeveste Hof Tenancy, and had to do 6 years of military service) and how everything stands there with the family. 

 Send my greetings to all my friends, neighbors, relatives and good acquaintances from your obedient son,

 Johann Heinrich zur Oeveste

To:       Colon Kessen zur Oeveste
            Village of Rieste in Amt Vörden,

            Kirchspiel (County) Bramsche


From:  Baltimore, May 19, 1834

Dear Parents and Siblings,
On May 18th, we have finally arrived happy and healthy in Baltimore and now I have the opportunity to share a bit of my current circumstances.

Our voyage across the sea did not go as far as we first imagined.  We left on the 12th of March from Bremen and took a small boat down river to arrive at the big Ship (Magdalene) in Bremerhaven on the 13th.  We left Bremerhaven the following night, but in a few hours we were back dur to contrary winds and stayed at anchor for 2 days waiting for the winds to change.  We were again underway the morning of the 17th and arrived on the 21st in the Canal between England and France.  The 23rd we had a strong west wind that made most of the passengers seasick.  Of England we saw a lot of land and hills, of France only a few hills. The 27th we left England behind and came upon the Spanish Ocean (assume he is referring to the Atlantic here).   

During Easter week (Easter fell on March 30th in 1834) and the weeks after, we had a good east wind and made good time.  The ship usually made about 8 German miles every 4 hours (about 9 miles per hour).  On the 5th of April, the 17-week-old daughter of Friedrich Kröger died and the following night was sunk with a stone into the silent sea.

On the 14th of April we experienced a storm out of the southwest for 24 hours. On the 16th, the storm was much worse, and this time was out of the northwest.  The waves came like mountains over the ship and shook us all violently.  The water poured through the hatches and holes in the “Zwischendeck” (The deck below the top deck also known as Steerage class) so powerfully that most of the beds were drenched.  On the 25th and 26th we had a strong storm out of the west.  The 27th brought wind and rain and on the 28th another storm from the west.   

It had stormed almost the entire month of April.  The Capitan and all the sailors assured us that there was no mortal danger and the ship was strong and well-built for the open sea. But for all of us that have never experienced an ocean storm before, we found ourselves very scared, feeling horrible and extremely uncomfortable.  You can’t walk, you can’t stand, you can’t sit, you can’t lie down. The boxes and luggage which were not tied down fell all over each other.  One could hardly eat or drink during these stormy days.

The month of May started out seemingly good, but on the 7th we had yet another storm out of the Southwest.  In the night of the 8th, morning of the 9th, the wife of H. Brodman from Lohausen gave birth to a healthy and happy boy.  The winds held strong and continued from the West, which slowed us down. On the 12th of May we met up with a pilot boat.  For a long time we only saw water and different variety of fishes and seabirds. Now one could see other ships! Some close and others quite far away. 

On the morning of the 13th of May we first saw the forests of America as we were about 200 miles from Baltimore. We must have had contrary winds on the 15th and 16th of May as we did not lay anchor until (Saturday) the 17th in Baltimore.  On that day a doctor arrived on board to examine several people.  We were not allowed to disembark the ship yet, but the Captain allowed us to go on shore to celebrate Pentecost on Sunday as long as we returned to the ship.  So I spent my first Pentecost in Baltimore with my good friends.  With great wonder I took in the sights of the city.  What most impacted me was seeing all the black Negros. 

We went with others to the German Lutheran Church and partook of the service. In the Church, the service was just like at home in Germany.  We could easily understand the preacher.  In the evening, two of our sailors picked us up and took us back on board.  On the second Pentecost Day (Monday) the ship arrived in port in the main harbor.  There was a consider crowd of spectators there to meet us among whom were many Germans.  The first people I recognized were Ludwig Aschendorf and Twiefels Menke, both from Vörden.  After that I came upon Friedrich Hussman Gedrut Greve von Stickdeig.  There are lots of Germans here.

The city is supposed to have 100,000 residents of which 40,000 are Negros. There were enough local Germans that came and helped us from the ship to various nice hostels.  We are now in a German home.  

Many of our fellow passengers are staying here in Baltimore to work. Most likely work here is available, but Enst Kiesekamp, H. Höpker and I have decided to travel to Zincinati (Cincinnati, OH) via Willingen (Wheeling, WV) to get to Deten (Dayton, OH) and find Höpker’s brother.  We have already arranged a transport service to take us to Wheeling which will cost us around $2.00.

Our dear God is everywhere and has accompanied us to these foreign lands and since I have left you all, I have not even had a hurt finger and my comrades and I did not get seasick!  Many of our fellow passengers were sick the entire journey and spent most of their time in bed. The “Kaltefieber” infected many on the ship and raged throughout the entire journey.  (Cold fever or chills and fever JH mentions here could be just a flu or cold that everyone got, due to the close proximate living conditions.  Or it could have been Malaria, which was not known until the 1880’s, but quite common on the swampy coastlines of northwest Germany and Holland.)

And now I hope that my letter gets to you and finds you, all in good health.  My thoughts and memories of home are gradually receding, and I hope that you will not worry about my absence anymore.  I have the desire to see much more of the world and I hope that when I get to my next destination you will enjoy my letters from there.  Now I send greetings to all my friends, relatives and good acquaintances from your most obedient son.

Johann Heinrich zur Oeveste 

Johann Heinrich "Henry" Kleiboeker was born January 1801 in Neuenkirchen, Germany near Osnabrück.  At the age of 33, he left Bremen on March 17, 1834 and arrived Baltimore on May 19th, after 64 days (9 weeks and a day). According to the Passenger List recorded in Baltimore on May 19, he was accompanied by two women, both over the age of 17 and one child under 5 years of age. It is unclear whether these were sisters, wife, children or otherwise.   Henry traveled from Baltimore to Cincinnati by wagon via the National Road to Wheeling WV and then by steam paddle wheeler down the Ohio from Wheeling to Cincinnati.  According to all found records in the USA, Henry initially lived in Cincinnati, where his first child Johann Friedrich was born.  Henry then moved to Indiana in 1837 where he bought 240 acres of land near Brownstown, Indiana, not far from Cincinnati.  Over the years various documents including the land purchase spelled his names various ways, Klabecker, Klaybaker, Claybaker, etc.  But even though his descendants settled on Claybaker, his first record to America, the passenger list from the Ship Magdalene in May, 1834 and his last record, his tombstone in 1862, both spell his name as "Kleiboeker", as seen below.


We are lucky enough to have a record made by one of Henry Kleiboeker's fellow passengers on that very ship, Magdalene.  J. H. Zur Oveste who was from Rieste, a nearby village to Neuenkirchen wrote many letters back to his family about his journey from Germany to Indiana and his new life in the USA.  JH ZurOveste's mother was Catharina Erdbrügge, who was a sister of Elisabeth Erdbrügge.  Elisabeth Erdbrügge was married to Christian Menke Kleyböcker who was the Colon of the Kleyböcker Hof in Hinnenkamp.  So JH Zur Oveste is a nephew of the Kleyböcker Family that rebuilt the Hof / Farmstead in 1815.  And in fact, a letter JH ZurOveste wrote in 1846 to his parents, asks them to greet the Kleyböckers for him.  It is very likely that many of his letters were read by the Kleiboekers in Neuenkirchen and Gehrde.  Henry's trip to America and these letters written by JH Zur Oveste most likely influenced Johann Heinrich "John" Kleiboeker (1830-1900) to leave in 1851.


JH Zur Oveste's letters were compiled in a book entitled "Ferner thue ich euch zu wissen...  Die Briefe des Johann Heinrich zur Oeveste aus Amerika 1834 - 1876" edited and produced by Antonious Holtmann; Temmen Publishing, Bremen, Germany, 1995.  In English, this would translate to: "Further, I do want you to know.... The letters of John Henry zur Oeveste from America 1834 - 1876".  These letters ar​e online but only in German here.   In late 2018, I found an English translation of all these letters.  The translated English is a bit weak in places and not always accurate.  I am working on improved translation and two of these newer, improved translations are below.  If you want to read all the letters in the rougher translation click on the blue box below:

First Letter Home written by JH Zur Oveste who traveled with Henry Kleiboeker to Baltimore

     Magdalene Passenger List showing Henry Kleiboeker    (67 day voyage, average time to Baltimore was 51 days)

Following then, are two of Zur Oveste's letters (in improved English) written in May and June of 1834 describing his and Henry Kleiboeker's journey to America via sailing ship and travels to Cincinnati.  Interesting to note that one of JH Zur Oeveste's friends mentioned in the letter is Heinrich Höpker.  Henry's Uncle Hermann died in "Höpker's House in Neunkirchen" in 1811 and Henry's  grandmother was a Höpker.  So JH Zur Oveste had ties with the Kleiboeker's, Hoepkers and of course his own family the Zur Ovestes that are all mentioned in his various letters. 

   Tombstone of Henry Kleiboeker in Indiana

Family Info and great history 

Second Letter Home written by JH Zur Oveste who traveled with Henry Kleiboeker from Baltimore to Cincinnati