Emigration to America 1770-1914


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Sumin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007



Table of Contents


I. Introduction : Emigration
II. To North America
II.1 1770-1840
II.1.a Scotland
II.1.b Ireland
II.1.c Germany
II.1.d Netherlands
II.1.e Nordic Countries
II.2 1840-1914
II.2.a Ireland
II.2.b Germany
II.2.c Slavic Countries - Poles and Slovaks
II.2.d Jews
II.2.e Italy
II.2.f Netherlands
II.2.g Portugal
III. To South America
III.a Spain
III.b Portugal
III.c Italy
IV. Change in Emigration Characteristics
V. Conclusion
VI. Notes
VII. Bibliography



I. Introduction : Emigration
            Emigration is the movement of people into another nation to settle there. From the ancient period, human-beings moved from place to place and emigration also had a profound influence on the modern world in 18th, 19th and 20th century.
            Even though many countries in the world have received immigrants and sent emigrants to various regions, America would be the number continent which received a large influx of emigrants from European countries, especially during the period from the late 18th century until the World War I. This paper will organize thoughts each by the period and region where European emigrants settled down and discuss the reasons and effects of emigration.


II. To North America

II.1 1770-1840

            By the time of the American Revolution, from 1775 to 1783, the population in America had reached approximately 2.5 million people. By origin, about 250,000 were Scots or Irish; approximately 200,000 were Germans. Protestants formed the overwhelming majority of white people, although about 25,000 Roman Catholics and about 1000 Jews also lived in the colonies (1).
            Right before and after the American Revolution, approximately 15,000 Lowland Scots came across the Atlantic and settled in North America (2). In the 1790s, several thousand French men and women who opposed the French Revolution, during 1789 and 1799, found their way to the United States. By the 1830s, another 150,000 emigrants, predominantly from Northern Ireland and England, had made their way to the United States (3).
            In Canada, there was also a wave of emigrants from Britain and Ireland, which was encouraged to settle in Canada by the colonial governors, who were worried about another American invasion attempt after the War of 1812, which included British army regulars who had served in the war. The governors also wanted to counter the French-speaking influence of Quebec, rushed to promote settlement in back country areas along newly constructed plank roads within organized land tracts, mostly in Upper Canada, which is present-day Ontario (4).

II.1.a Scotland

            Scottish emigrants, influenced by factors such as the Highland and Lowland Clearances (5), and the formation of the British Empire, could be found throughout the world. A large number of Scots settled on the lands of North America.
            In 1773, approximately 200 Scots were brought to Pictou, a Canadian town in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, starting a new stream of Highland emigration. At the end of the 18th century Cape Breton Island, located on the Atlantic coast of the North America, became a center of Scottish settlement where only Scottish Gaelic, a branch of Celtic languages, was spoken.

II.1.b Ireland

            The pre-famine Irish emigration before 1840 was mainly one of bilingual or English-speaking farmers, artisans and townsmen travelling in family groups. Emigrants of this kind continued to leave during the rest of the century, but each year before the famine saw a rise in the number of poorer emigrants from the predominantly Roman Catholic rural districts of Connaught and Munster.

II.1.c Germany

            The large number of German emigrants went to America in search of an improved standard of living. In 18th century Prussia, farming underwent a restructuring which saw the expansion of the estate-system so many farmers lost their lands; furthermore a big agricultural disaster in 1816 with a severe flooding and bad harvests made Germans to leave their own country. In a broader sense, this economic and political motivation cannot be separated. As a matter of fact, when the emigration was impelled by the desire to become a farmer with his own land or a craftsman with his own business, it also implied a resist to the rigidity of the social class structure in the authoritarian German states.

II.1.d Netherlands

            Most Dutch emigrants before 1850 originated from the parts where rich marine clay-soil had led them to specialize in crop growing, such as the provinces of Zeeland, Groningen and later on also Friesland (6). Emigrants were for the most part day laborers working on the farms. Another important group, which accounted for 31% of emigrants, consisted mainly of small farmers from the light sandy soil areas in the East and the South of the country.

II.1.e Nordic Countries

            The first emigrants of Scandinavia in the 19th century were comparatively well off, mainly the literate peasants, who were increasingly unsatisfied with the state church and the increasing limits of opportunity at home.

Table 1 : U.S. Population by Country of Origin, 1790

Country Immigrants in 1790 total immigrant population 1790
Africa 360,000 757,000
England 230,000 2,100,000
Scot-/Ireland 135,000 300,000
Germany 103,000 270,000
Netherlands 6,000 100,000
France 3,000 15,000
Jews 1,000 2,000
Sweden 500 2,000


II.2 1840-1914

            Before 1840s, immigrants to America had been flowing in at the rate of about 60,000 a year, but suddenly the influx tripled in the 1840s and then quadrupled in 1850s (8).
            The population of the Old World more than doubled in the 19th century, and Europe began to generate a great seething pool of apparently "surplus" people. Increasing scaling also continued and thus, the number of proletarians continued to grow. Landless farmers were displaced and footloose in their homelands. Modern land-owning farmers did not hire help for a whole year anymore, but only for the harvest season. Since they now only produced one or two crops, the harvest season became shorter as well. Thus, the economy needed groups of harvesters that went from town to town. Many people moved around in Western and also in the Russian Empire after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. By 1850, in most countries of Europe, the countryside had become very overcrowded, partially because of the rural industry. Malthus, an English demographer and political economist, developed a theory on the population growth that too high a population growth would lead the world population to misery and disaster.
            The Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the late 18th century, gradually spread across Europe; it swept across Belgium, France and the German states. In these areas the economic and social changes with rapid industrialization led to a huge exodus of people. Although Ireland did not industrialize until the end of the 19th century, a severe famine in the 1840s and the replacement of small farms by larger estates produced similar mass migrations of displaced people. By the late 1870s, industrialization had pushed into Scandinavia, sending waves of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish emigrants to the United States. Also during the 1880s and 1890s, the industrialization in Southern and Eastern Europe encouraged the mass emigration of Italians, Slavs, and Jews. Moreover, the introduction of transoceanic steamships also meant that the emigrants could come to America speedily, in a matter of ten or twelve days instead of ten or twelve weeks.
            Although economic reasons were the major factors which prompted these movements, others left their hometown as a result of religious persecution, political upheavals or in search of adventure. For example, approximately 4000 Germans left their homelands because of the suppression of the revolution of 1848 (9).
            Thus, the greatest influx of emigrants to the United States occurred between the 1840s and the 1920s. During this era, approximately 37 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Census figures indicate that about 6 million Germans, 4.5 million Irishmen, 4.75 million Italians, 4.2 million people from England, Scotland and Wales, approximately the same number from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 2.3 million Scandinavians, and 3.3 million people from Russia (including those from what presently form the Baltic states) entered the United States (10). Between the 1840s and the 1870s, Germans and Irishmen predominated. Between 1854 and 1892 more Germans arrived in any given year than any other ethnic group, except for three years when the Irish headed the lists (11). In the 1880s, the so-called ˇ°New Immigrantsˇ±- Italians, Croats, Slovaks, Greeks, Poles ? came from Southern and Eastern Europe.

. II.2.a Ireland

            Before the Famine in the 1840s, emigration was already an established feature of life in Ireland, and the numbers were gradually increasing. The level of emigration reflected local economic trends; north Connacht and the midlands had relatively high levels of emigration because of the erosion of the domestic spinning and weaving industry with the advance of the industrial revolution.
            In 1846, there was a marked increase in numbers and that autumn, with the second failure of the potato crop, very substantial numbers regarded emigration as their most practical solution. Even though the trans-Atlantic emigration was normally limited to spring and summer, this time was the urgency to avoid the prospect of a hungry and cold winter in Ireland. Between 1845 and 1851, the numbers amounted to 1.2 million; by 1855 another 0.9 million had departed, giving a total of 2.1 million for the period from 1845 to 1855 (12).
            Travel was expensive, and finance generally determined the destination. The fare to Canada was at least 50 shillings, and that to the United States 70 shillings (13). As a result, those without money to pay for the fare were trapped, unless assisted by relatives already established abroad. Such family bridges largely account for the comparatively high levels of emigration from regions such as South Ulster. Some emigration schemes were funded by landlords as a means of clearing their estates. In addition, some Poor Law unions, which were units used for local government in the United Kingdom from the 19th century and were responsible for parishes, and various charities funded the emigration. These uprooted newcomers swarmed into the larger seaboard cities, such as Boston and New York which rapidly became the largest Irish city in the world.
            The Famine emigrants were mainly young men and women between ages of 20 and 35, but there were also entire families. The majority was unskilled and Catholic; 25% were Irish Gaelic-speaking. In most cases, they eventually found a better life. In the first years of the Famine, when people were at risk from hunger and disease, public opinion in Ireland regarded emigration as a welcome relief for those able to undertake it.

II.2.b Germany

            During this period German emigrant numbers surpassed those of any other emigrant group, even the prolific and often detested Irish. These "Germans" actually hailed from many different Old World states, because there was no unified nation of Germany until 1871, when Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck created the German state out of independent principalities, duchies, and kingdoms.
            Thus, they arrived at different times and for different reasons. Most of them were uprooted farmers, who were displaced by crop failures and hoped to become independent farmers of 100 acres or more in the American West. But a strong sprinkling was a group of liberal political refugees, particularly the so-called "Forty-Eighters," political refugees from the democratic revolution of 1848, hungered for the democracy they had failed to win in Germany.

II.2.c Slavic Countries - Poles and Slovaks

            Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Latvians, Slovaks and Hungarians swarmed into the America during the second half of the 19th century in unremitting waves.
            Most Polish immigrants who arrived in America were former peasants from rural areas in Poland. Nevertheless, more prosperous and educated Poles also established themselves in the United States, and both groups settled in urban areas. Many of the Poles found jobs as industrial workers, especially in the steel industry and manufacturing. They often established neighborhoods near the factories where they worked (14). Many educated Polish immigrants started business and formed organizations. Most Poles were members of the Roman Catholic Church, and they soon founded Catholic parish churches in their neighborhoods.
            During this period, approximately 500,000 Slovaks immigrated to the United States. About two-thirds of Slovak emigrants were men (15). Most of the Slovak emigrants immigrated to America for economic reasons. Seeking employment, they came into the regions where major industries, such as steel manufacturing and coal mining, needed unskilled labor. About half of Slovak emigrants settled in Pennsylvania; other destinations where they mainly arrived included Ohio, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey.
            Many Slovak emigrants could neither read nor write. This high illiteracy rate reflected the rural background and farming heritage of most emigrants (16). Hungary, which administrated Slovakia until 1918, repressed Slovak culture and discouraged the development of literacy among Slovaks. Slovak parents usually encouraged their children to look for secure jobs rather than social or economic advancement. Even though some Slovaks entered the professions such as law and education, most of them became industrial workers. II.2.d Jews

            Among the "New Immigrants," there were Jewish people. In the 1850s, the first large group of Jewish emigrants came to the United States. Approximately 50,000 Jews from German cities joined a larger economic migration from Germany to America (17). Also, small groups of Jews emigrated from many countries around the world.
            At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, nationalism continued to grow. Large empires like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (1918), the Ottoman Empire (1918/1924) and the Russian Empire (1917) collapsed and were split up in separate states. Eastern Europe now gained its own share of nation-states after the Western European concept. The idea of an own state for every nationality did not work out everywhere. In many countries there lived a mixture of nationalities. This caused much movement of people towards their "own" country. Some groups, however, like Jews, did not have their own country to return and were not welcome anywhere. From 1880, especially Jews in the Russian Empire and in Romania were the victims of growing hostility. In Europe and other regions, Jews endured harsh treatment, such as forced conversion to other religions or expulsion. Fierce government-sanctioned attacks against Jews, known as pogroms, took place in Russia and Poland from the 17th century until the 1920s (18).
            Therefore, approximately 2,340,000 Jews, mostly from Russia, immigrated to the United States to escape discrimination and build a better life (19).

II.2.e Italy

            Among the "New Immigrants," prominent and typical were Italians, some 4 million of whom sailed to America continent during this period. They came from the southern provinces of their homeland, and these areas had lagged behind the prosperous, industrial region of the northern part of the nation. Unification had raised hopes of similar progress in the south but this hope did not materialize.
            From such disappointing and poor conditions, Southern Italians set out for the New World (20). Almost all Italians came through New York harbor, and many soon moved to other large cities. Most of them were young men who intended to spend only a few months in America and returned to their own country afterwards. About half of them did. However, many resided in New York than in Florence, Venice, and Genoa combined (21).
            Italians were usually unskilled workers; they earned their daily bread as industrial laborers. Most famously as longshoremen, who load and unload ships, and construction workers. Lacking education, they remained in blue-collar jobs longer than some of their fellow immigrants of the time. Also, many of them sent their children off to work as early as possible.

II.2.f Netherlands

            Nearly half of the Dutch departing between 1845 and 1849 belonged to a dissenting Protestant denomination called the 'Afgescheidenen', or 'Seceded' (22).

II.2.g Portugal

            The Portuguese emigrants, who were a very homogeneous group, arrived at the turn of the century. More than 90% of them came from the Azores; 68% of them were illiterate; also, 88% were unskilled. The Portuguese were mainly single and very young, between 16 to 25 years old. Hence, their financial resources, at entry, were also extremely low.

III. To South America

III.a Spain

            Emigrants from Spain went to Brazil and Argentina, especially after 1905. Southern Spain ? Andalusia, especially Sevilla and its hinterland, ? continuously provided the large numbers of emigrants to South America; about 32.5% of Argentina population came from Spain (23).
            In the second half of the 19th century rapidly developing centers like Buenos Aires, Havana and Caracas began to attract substantial numbers of Spanish emigrants. Thus, between 1850 and 1900, Spanish emigrants, who were poor and from rural area went to Argentina to look for a permanent place for settlement.
            Spanish exodus to Argentina can be explained by several factors: rising demographic pressure, a veritable agrarian revolution, and an industrial revolution swept older proto-industrial communities, especially the large towns in Catalonia and the Basque region.

III.b Portugal

            During this period approximately 400,000 Portuguese came to Brazil (24). The first group of Portuguese emigrants were composed of teenagers and young adults who went to join relatives and friends to work in trade activities. This group came almost exclusively from the northern regions of Portugal. In contrast, the second group was relatively old, formed by those who had some properties or skill, and could easily find a niche in the expanding Brazilian urban economy. The third group was made up of those who entered the Brazilian unskilled labor market.
            After the mid-nineteenth century, nationalistic spirits had already calmed down and the flow to Brazil begun to regain strength, and Portuguese emigrants were pulled by the growing labor needs of the Brazilian economy and by the knowledge, in Portugal, of the existence of economic opportunities, particularly in retail trade.

III.c Italy

            The agricultural colonization movement, which involved mostly Italian farmers, began in the 1820s and continued on a modest scale well into the 20th century. During the period between 1857 and 1914, almost half of the Italian emigrants in Argentina, 47.5%, came from the central or northern provinces (25), which provided a broad spectrum of occupational, skill and rural-urban differences.
            Also, in this period some 800,000 Italians went to Brazil. This massive emigration to Brazil from Northeastern Italy showed very stark face of the emigration, a desperate flight from hunger.

IV. Change in Emigration Characteristics
            Late 18th and 19th century emigrants left their European homelands to escape economic problems ? scarce land, growing populations, and the decline of subsistence farming. They came to America in the hope of economic gain and better standard of living. Most settled in the United States or Canada permanently, but others came only to amass some capital and then return home.
            The emigrant population changed dramatically after the Civil War, which started in 1861. The majority of white emigrants had traditionally come from Western Europe, but during the second half of the 19th century, many emigrants came from Central, Southern, Eastern, and Northern Europe; they are called the "New Immigrants." This arrival brought in larger numbers of Roman Catholics and for the first time there were substantial communities of Orthodox Christians and Jews.

V. Conclusion


            European emigration to America of the period between 1770 and 1914 not only had an influence on emigrants' life on the American continent, but also had an effect within Europe as many people, who sought work, moved towards the harbors from where the transatlantic ships took the departure; the Europeans that left for America to earn more money than they did at homelands left behind jobs which were taken by laborers coming from other poorer regions or countries of Europe.
            Likewise, migration, the movement of people from one place to the other, has been one of driving forces that played a significant role in changing the world from ancient period until now. As human-beings have done so far, they will not stop their migration to find a better place for themselves and the following generations.

VI. Notes

(1)      Article 'immigration' from Encarta
(2)      ibid.
(3)      ibid.
(4)      Article 'Immigration to Canada' from Wikipedia.
(5)      Articles 'Highland' and 'Lowland Clearances' from Wikipedia
(6)      M. Schrover (ed.), Migration 1750-1914.
(7)      The 'March of Millions', pp.183-187, from Brief American Pageant
(8)      Article 'immigration' from Encarta
(9)      ibid.
(10)      ibid.
(11)      ibid.
(12)      Kissane p.153
(13)      ibid.
(14)      Article 'Polish Americans' from Encarta
(15)      Article 'Slovak Americans' from Encarta
(16)      ibid.
(17)      Article 'Jewish Americans' from Encarta
(18)      ibid.
(19)      ibid.
(20)      The 'Makers of America', pp.342-344, from Brief American Pageant
(21)      ibid.
(22)      M. Schrover (ed.), Migration 1750-1914.
(23)      ibid.
(24)      ibid.
(25)      ibid.

VII. Bibliography

Note : websites listed below were visited between Nov. 30th and Dec. 2nd 2007.
1.      Article Europe, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol.4 p.603
2.      Article Europe, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Macropaedia, Vol.18 pp.542-543
3.      Article Human migration, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, Micropaedia, Vol.4 pp.136-137
4.      Article : Emigration, from Wikipedia, last revised on 18 Nov. 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emigration
5.      Ganse, Alexander. "Historical Dictionaries : From Empire to Nation State." WHKMLA. last revised on 10 May 2005., http://www.zum.de/whkmla/histdic/meh/hdempnat.html
6.      Article : Highland Clearances, from Wikipedia. last revised 29 Nov. 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Clearances.
7.      Article : Immigration, from Encarta. , http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566973_3/Immigration.html.
8.      Article : Immigration to Canada, from Wikipedia. last revised on 22 Nov. 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Canada.
9.      Article : Jewish Americans, from Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761587494/Jewish_Americans.html.
10.      Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas A. Bailey, and Mel Piehl. The Brief American Pageant. 6th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. pp.183-344.
11.      Kissane, Noel. The Irish Famine. New York: Syracuse UP, 1995.
12.      Article : Lowland Clearances, from Wikipedia, last revised on 3 Apr. 2007, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowland_Clearances.
13.      Article : Polish Americans, from Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761587506/Polish_Americans.html.
14.      Schrover, Marlou, comp. International Migration: 1750 - 1914. 29 May 2007. Universiteit Leiden. http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/history/migration/18001914.html.
15.      Article : Slovak Americans, from Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761587511/Slovak_Americans.html.
16.      Article : United States People, from Encarta. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_1741500824_2/United_States_People.html.