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Fechenheim am Main, Hessen, Germany
Part of Frankfurt am Main

Home of My Kaiser Family from 1636 to 1949

Schiffreiter

(Shipriders)

In the late 18th century, resourceful merchants realized that more goods could be transported economically on the Main River with appropriately built ships than with vehicles on the road.  Since the engine was not yet invented, boatmen depended on manpower or on a favorable wind.  The muscle power of men pulling ships, using lines and walking along the edge of the river, was adequate only for short distances.  Often the wind failed to materialize when it was most needed, a new source of power was needed.

This power was found in horses that had proved themselves in their ability to do farm work.  They were now used to pull ships against the current with a line connected to the horse from the ships' masts.  This was an arduous task for the horses and their riders.  From Mainz, the horses walked along the southern bank of the Main and then, after passing Frankfurt, they crossed over to the northern bank.  It took considerable work to switch the horses from one side to the other.

Usually teams of two to six horses, supervised by one or more men who owned them, were required to go against the flow of the river. The danger of the horses' falling was a real concern.  Purchasing a horse was a costly transaction, often requiring all the assets a man possessed.  A fall in the water was equivalent to death by immediate drowning or to injury, which required rescue.  An injured horse was useless for further work and had to be left behind because a shipper would not tolerate delays in the shipment of his goods.  The shiprider, if he wanted to remain in business, had to rent lesser quality horses for a high fee.  The rented horse might not survive the ordeal of the strenuous work and die after the shiprider had paid a high fee for the animal.

In 1780, when the population was about 700, there were probably forty shipriders living in Fechenheim who had about 50 horses.  Only one third of these men had enough fields to provide for themselves and their families.  In the eight years during which these shipriders had been performing this work, the debts of some of them had become overwhelming.  They suffered setbacks so severe that they had to sell all their assets.  Their horses had fallen frequently and became unusable.  Among these were Philipp Heinrich Ohl, Nicolaus Ewald, Henrich Ewald, Friederich Ewald, Georg Klee, Friederich Kayser's widow, Friederich Mueller's wife  and Philipp Mueller, Senior.  These had all previously been in the best of circumstances.  Now they had to earn their living by doing daylabor.

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Copyright 2008 Sue Foster