A Voyage of Suffering … To the Land of Promise

Recently, a lot of folks have been coming to this blog to read about Elvis’ grandchildren.  If you think they are interesting, wait until you hear about his ancestors.


The more recent Elvis genealogy charts reveal that his surname changed from the Germanic Pressler to the anglicized Presley several centuries ago.  In fact, if you go back through nine generations of Elvis’ family, you can pinpoint his Pressler ancestor who crossed the Atlantic in 1710 to start the whole bloodline here in America.  His name was Johann Valentine Pressler.


Elvis Presley Bloodline
Johann Valentine Pressler                              1669 — About 1742

      Andreas Pressler (Andrew Presley)           1701 — About 1759


          Andrew Presley Jr.                                1733 — ?


              John Presley                                      About 1748 — ?


                  Dunnen Presley                             About 1780 — ?


                      Dunnen Presley Jr.                    1827 — 1900


                          Rosella Presley                     1862 — 1924


                              Jesse Dee Presley             1896 — 1973


                                  Vernon Elvis Presley     1916 — 1979


                                      Elvis Aron Presley     1935 — 1977


Valentine Pressler was Elvis’ Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather.  He was a vineyard worker in the Palatinate region of the Rhineland in southern Germany.  With his wife Anna and five children, he left the vineyards and sailed off to America with hopes of new freedom and opportunities. 
What he found was not what he hoped, but it was far better than the situation he was fleeing from back in Germany.  Life in The Rhineland was abysmal in 1709.  For the previous three generations, the countryside had endured the passage of marching armies and the destruction they left behind.  There had been decades of warfare between France and Germany for the control of nearby Alsace.  Troops from one side or the other were always moving toward battle through the area where Valentine lived, trampling, looting, and burning everything as they went.  Famine, pain, pestilence, and death were left in their place.
That wasn’t all.  The German rulers subjected their subjects to extremely heavy taxation.  The Black Plague was so bad that the population was decreasing.  And starting in October of 1709, the area experienced the most severe winter cold in more than a century.  With the destruction of the precious grapevines, Valentine Pressler began to consider making a change so his family could survive.  He was forty years old.
Meanwhile, the English governors in America needed workers to make their lands profitable, so pamphlets and small books were produced to entice the Germans to escape their wretched existence and find a new life in America.  Free land and no taxes were promised.  Valentine and thousands of other Germans made the decision to go to America and see what opportunities might open up for them there. 
Unfortunately, just getting there turned into a horrible ordeal … truly a voyage of suffering.  The title above comes from the third chapter of a wonderful report about Elvis’ family history:  The Rhineland to Graceland, by Donald W. Presley and Edwin C. Dunn.  It reveals a fascinating story.  Hopefully, this short version on ElvisBlog will encourage you to click here and read the whole thing (73 pages).  It’s worth your time.
On December 21, 1709, Valentine Pressler agreed to a covenant with the British Crown.  In exchange for passage to America, plus settlement and support, the Germans would be, in effect, indentured servants to the British government – for an unspecified time.  They would be assigned to the Governor of New York and would be employed in the manufacture of naval stores (tar, pitch, resin).  When the Governor judged their obligations met, each German man was to receive a grant of forty acres of land.
By December 29, 1709, the Pressler family started their trek down the Rhine River on a flat-bottomed boat.  Each night, it would dock on the shore, where the Presslers would cook their food and sleep on the ground.  They had to contend with rapids in the 38-mile long Rhine Gorge.  There were delays due to adverse weather, and they were repeatedly stopped and required to pay tolls charged by a never-ending succession of feudal lords along the river.  The trip down the Rhine to Rotterdam in The Netherlands lasted approximately four-to-six weeks.
The next part of the trip, a voyage from Rotterdam to London, was short and uneventful.
Within a week after arriving in London, Valentine and his family boarded their last ship – the one that would take them to America.  They had no way of knowing they would be imprisoned in it for the next six months.   They were part of a ten-ship convoy that was supposed to be escorted by Royal Navy ships.  When the Navy refused, confusion reigned.  The ships couldn’t stay tied up in the harbor on the Thames and block other traffic, so they slowly sailed along the southern coast of England for three months, occasionally docking at Portsmouth and Plymouth.  It took until April 10, 1710, to get things settled and finally set sail to America.
All the Germans were jammed into cargo holds only 5 feet high.  There were no provisions for light or fresh air.  Food served to them was cold, and the drinking water was dirty.  Typhus broke out and slowly decimated the passengers.  Fortunately, Valentine and his family were spared the disease, and around July 1, 1710, they landed in New York Harbor.  Happy times, but there were more frustrations for the Presslers to endure.
The city government did not want all these sick immigrants to come into their city.  They decided to send the Germans to Nutten Island (now Governor’s Island).  Huts and tents were quickly constructed, and sufficient foodstuffs were provided.   As the Germans came back to good health, they were moved upstate to settlements along the Hudson River to begin their required work in naval stores production.  For some reason, Valentine stayed in New York City.  Authors Presley and Dunn speculate that he found work in the Governor’s gardens or the gardens of some of the wealthier citizens.
Over the next two decades, Valentine and his family moved several times.  His final place of residence was in Prince George's Parish (County), Maryland, where he lived with, or near, his oldest son Andrew.  Valentine’s name last surfaced in an election petition in 1742.  He was 73-years-old, an advanced age for this time.  Although he did not achieve his dream of land ownership, he may have lived long enough to see his son Andrew purchase 100 acres in 1745.
Authors Presley and Dunn, ended their chapters on Valentine Pressler as follows: “If his goal in America was land ownership, then he was perhaps less than successful, but if freedom and opportunity for his children was his goal, then he was indeed a great success.  He had established the family bloodline in the New World.”
Nine generations later, that lineage led to Elvis Presley.
©  2008   Philip R Arnold   All Rights Reserved   www.ElvisBlog.net 

10 responses to “A Voyage of Suffering … To the Land of Promise

  1. Could tell me how I might access the book, Rhineland to Graceland. I only see it on Amazon in German. I am a descendent of Johann V. Pressler
    Shealy Ly.

    • Hi Shealy: I thought I remembered a link in my 2008 blog to this 73 page report (not really a book). Unfortunately, that link goes nowhere now. Sorry, but I have no idea where to find Rhineland to Graceland.

      Phil Arnold, Original Elvis Blogmeister

  2. patrick presley

    Donald Presley the co-author of the book is my father. You can visit the the facebook site ‘The Rhineland to Graceland” or twitter for information on the CD. Truly hope you enjoy and have been humbled by the amazing response from Germany and Europe as well here in the states.

  3. William J Presley

    My family breaks away with Dunnen Sr’! Dunnen Jr, was Elvis’s direct ancestor! His brother George W. was the beginning of my side of the Presleys! The lineage was George W– William Oliver–Simpson Westbury– William Carl– William Joseph, (myself)!! I an 77 years old , & want desperately to procure a copy of From the Rhineland to Graceland!! If not possible, I would gladly pay the toll for someone to copy the pages out of the book, & get a facsimile to leave with my family! If possible I would like a price on a copy of the original!! You have my email, & I will communicate further with you, perchance we can do any further dealings!! WJP

    • William: Perhaps you should check out the Facebook page The Rhineland to Graceland. I believe I saw something there where you could order the book on DVD.

      Phil Arnold, Original ElvisBlogmeister

      • Lela Delgado-Presley

        You can purchase the book on DVD at the Rhineland To Graceland Facebook page for $25.50. Hurry, the Collector’s Addition is a limited quantity!

  4. My family tree also begins with Johannes valentine presslar and follows through Hans Jurie…where can you get the book Rhineland to Graceland? Would love to have for my family.. Thank you

    • Hi Carol: I don’t have a source for a copy of this book, but maybe one of the ElvisBlog readers may be able to help. Have you tried to Google it?

      Phil Arnold, ElvisBlogmeister

    • Vanessa Butler Callahan

      Carol I also can trace my roots to Hans Jurie through his son Elias to his son John to his son Levi to Milas Pinckney to my great grandpa John Sterling to my grandmother Lois Presley.

      • Nichole Johnson

        Vanessa, if the data I have is correct, my Presleys also come from Hans Jurie through his son Anthony Andreas, his son Elias, his son James, his daughter Mary Caroline “Mollie” who was my 2nd great grandmother.

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