Immigration Archives

Within a few short months in 1709, 13,000 “Poor Palatines” landed on English soil. They had arrived from the Electoral Palatinate in Southwest Germany, with the intention of eventually settling in the New World. Little did they know, their arrival in England would cause an unprecedented political debate over the merits and drawbacks of immigration.

Illustration of the four lay electors of the H...

Illustration of the four lay electors of the Holy Roman Empire (from left: King of Bohemia, Count Palatine of the Rhine [or Elector Palatine], Duke of Saxony [or Elector of Saxony], Margrave of Brandenburg [or Elector of Brandenburg]) with their insignia (Photo credit: Penn Provenance Project)

Many reasons were to blame for the mass emigration. The most prominent, however, was the devastation left by years of war. The Thirty Years’ War had decimated the Palatinate; however, due to hard work and fertile land, the region was making a remarkable recovery. Unfortunately, the time of prosperity was cut short by the armies of Louis XIV.

The province was devastated in 1674, as Marshal Turenne and his troops laid the country to waste. Conditions were worsened by ongoing spats and struggles between neighboring princes in the region. From 1688 to 1689, the Grand Monarch vented his wrath on Protestants by ordering the Palatinate laid waste yet again.

The Nine Years’ War and the War of Spanish Succession brought years of terror for Southwest Germany. French troops thundered and plundered across the region, requisitioning freely and bringing widespread devastation and famine to the people of the Palatinate.

To the man-made devastation, nature brought a final blow. The winter of 1708 was the worst of the century, bringing intense cold as early as October, with temperatures reaching bone-chilling depths by early November. Of that winter it is said that firewood would not burn in the open air and birds fell dead in flight. Orchards and vineyards were destroyed, and men froze to death before the snow stopped falling on February 6th in 1709.

A final burden on the Palatines came from their own petty rulers. These princes lusted after the extravagant lifestyle of Louis XIV, and turned to heavy taxation in order to finance their lavish living. So heavy were the taxes that peasants were often left without sustenance.

To this impoverished crowd came a number of English agents with the enticing offer of free land in the American Colonies. Pamphlets were distributed, advertising the wonderful life that could be had in the New World and offering free passage through England to the plantations of Carolina and Pennsylvania. The books and papers distributed often bore the Queen’s picture and bore gold lettering on the title page.

The prospects offered in the pamphlets must have seemed a dream come true to the suffering Palatines. These “golden promises” led many of the poor people to believe that they would receive assistance after their arrival in England. Encouraged by the success of families who had gone before them, many thousands of Germans set off for England and the New World.

In May 1709, the first boatloads of “Poor Palatines” began arriving in England. Throughout the summer, thousands more arrived. While the first 900 immigrants were provided for by a group of benevolent wealthy Englishmen, the thousands of refugees that followed quickly overwhelmed the capacity to provide for them.

Army tents were set up in Blackheath and Camberwell fields as a temporary solution while a committee was frantically seeking ideas for employment and settlement of the thousands of refugees. Unfortunately, the Palatines were largely unskilled and poorly educated, greatly narrowing the opportunities for employment.

Of course, the situation provided excellent fodder for political debate – particularly because immigration had been a hot-button topic for some time. The Whigs felt that immigrants would prove to be a benefit to England’s workforce, and made great effort to raise sympathy and support for the Palatines. The Tories, on the other hand, felt that the Palatines were already placing an unbearable financial burden on the country and strongly opposed naturalization of the immigrants.

The Board of Trade was commissioned with finding a solution to the problem, and unfortunately for the Palatines (who still had dreams of reaching America), many were initially dispersed to neighboring towns and cities. Eventually, however, the Board gave in and began sending many families on to New York.

Over the summer of 1710, ten ships carried around 2800 Germans to New York. While not all the Palatines made it to America, groups of Germans did eventually succeed in establishing successful communities and making significant contributions in the New World.


In this Rosh Hashana greeting card from the ea...

The 19th century saw increasingly hard times and harsh persecution for Jews throughout Eastern Europe. Many Jews had emigrated to Eastern Europe in medieval times. They lived for many years under Polish rule; however, when the kingdom of Poland was divided in the late 1700s, a huge percentage of the Jewish population suddenly found themselves under Russian rule.

By the late 19th century, the Jewish people found conditions harsh and restrictive. They were confined to the Pale of Settlement, a section of western Russia between the Black Sea and the Baltic. Opportunities for employment were limited, as the Jews were only permitted to work in certain occupations. Most worked as artisans, tailors, metal workers, or carpenters. Many Jewish boys were forced into the Russian army, where they were required to serve for 25 years, facing a high risk of death and guaranteed brutality.

The local population was hostile, actively barring Jewish children from public schools, and increasingly forcing Jews out of villages into smaller towns. In 1882, the May Laws were passed, which forced the Jews in the Pale of Settlement to live in only a few select towns.

These towns were severely overcrowded, and the Jews had to compete fiercely for the few available jobs. Due to the intense competition, wages dropped far below the poverty line. Those not confined to towns fared little better, scratching out a meager existence on tiny farms.

Because they were so pressed, the Jews formed tightly-knit communities. They spoke Yiddish before learning Polish or Russian, and religious customs were strictly observed.

Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the persecution of Jews took on a new vengeance. A young Jewish woman was associated with the assassins, and this spurred the population on to violent attacks on Jews during the 1880s. Jews in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe lived in constant fear of violence, theft, and ever harsher restrictions.

This spurred a mass emigration to freedom as the Jews sought to escape the dangers and persecution of Eastern Europe. Between 1881 and 1914, over 2 million Jews left Eastern Europe looking for a new home.

Many, in fact, intended to go to America; however, upon arrival in England, over 120,000 Jews settled and stayed. Once again, Spitalfields drew an incoming population. The Jews were attracted by the opportunity for cheap living, and by 1900, a huge percentage of the Spitalfields population was Jewish.

Unfortunately, the Jews did not receive the warm welcome that the Huguenots had enjoyed. Overcrowding was horrific as the beautiful Huguenot structures were subdivided to house the huge population. Sanitization was a nightmare, and living conditions (in many cases) were scarcely better than those the Jews had left behind.

The huge Jewish immigration caused some friction amongst locals. The Jews were accused of taking local jobs and aggravating the already appalling working conditions present in many of the local businesses. Because the Jews were willing to accept overcrowded conditions, rents in the area shot up, further irritating the local population. Because of the unrest, the first Aliens Act was put into effect, restricting immigration into the country.

Soon, however, the Jewish population began to thrive, making themselves a distinct and prominent presence in the East End. Their tight-knit communities allowed them to hold on to their cultural heritage, with Yiddish being predominantly used as a spoken and written language.

The Jewish population developed into a vibrant community, centered in the East End. Small synagogues popped up throughout the community, providing a focal point for the Jewish population. Kosher butchers and food providers found huge success with acceptable foods being in high-demand. The Jewish Chronicle newspaper was widely read and Jewish trade unions flourished.

In time, much of the Jewish population became integrated into London society. People spoke Yiddish less and less, religious rituals were less distinctive, and Jewish children were noted to be “almost indistinguishable” from English children.

In time, the Jews too, moved away from Spitalfields. Unlike the Huguenots, the Jews left little to mark their time in the East End. Though the Jewish East End shows little of its history, the Jewish legacy and heritage has carried on to new generations throughout the UK.

London played host to a substantial number of French Protestants throughout the sixteenth century. France – a staunchly Catholic country – heavily stigmatized Protestantism, making the country somewhat uncomfortable for deviants from the Catholic Church. It wasn’t until the 1680’s however, that the Huguenot migration began en masse.

Christ Church Spitalfields. Photograph taken b...

Christ Church Spitalfields. Category:Images of London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many years, the Edict of Nantes had granted the Protestants the freedom to worship as they chose in designated areas, providing a measure of safety. This marginal security came to an end with the Dragonnades, a policy introduced in 1681 by Louis XIV. Dragonnades were coercive tactics intended to make France increasingly uncomfortable for the Huguenots by forcing them to re-convert to Catholicism. Finally, in 1685, King Louis overturned the Edict of Nantes, resulting in heavy-handed laws and severe persecution of the Protestants.

Hundreds of thousands of Protestants were forced to flee the oppressive rule in France. Many found new homes in the Netherlands, others in America, and others still finding refuge near the Cape of Good Hope.

In keeping with the strong British anti-Catholic sentiment of the day, King Charles II flung open the doors of England, offering a place of refuge to the fleeing Huguenots. Thanks to widespread propaganda depicting the persecution inflicted on French Protestants, the refugees arrived to a warm welcome by the English people. In fact, they were the recipients of generous charitable support from the British monarchy throughout the end of the seventeenth century.

By 1710, between 40,000 and 50,000 refugees had made their way to the safety of England. Historians estimate that around half of that number settled in Spitalfields where housing was cheap and the London trade guilds held less economic power.

The Huguenots came from all walks of life, though many were intellectuals and highly skilled tradesmen with backgrounds in weaving, clock making, and financial services. Textile manufacturing, in fact, was the prevalent occupation amongst the refugees, and they found their services in high demand among the British upper class.

Thanks to the hard work and skill of the Huguenot weavers, the textile trade thrived, and Spitalfields soon became known as “Weaver Town.” The influx of silk and French styles had quite an impact on the fashions of the British upper class. Many workshops were opened, and their owners soon became extremely wealthy with many hundreds of employees. The wealthy Huguenots built large, distinctive houses in Spitalfields – many of which still remain today.

The Huguenot Churches were a binding quality in the community, providing both a connecting point for the immigrants, as well as a support system for the poor and new arrivals. Two churches in particular became very well-established. A very strict, Calvinist church thrived on Threadneedle Street in the City, while a more Anglicized worship took place at the Savoy in the West End. These two churches became focal points for the many refugees, and led to the development of two distinct communities.

Due to the high concentration of French immigrants, they managed to retain much of their distinct culture and language for several generations. Their high fashion and language set them apart somewhat from the general population, and over time they achieved a level of respectability – particularly in contrast to the squalor and immorality of many Londoners.

In time, however, the Huguenots gradually assimilated into British culture and society. The strict Calvinist Protestantism drifted gradually toward a more Anglicized form of worship, and the Huguenots eventually took on Anglicized surnames (though this was often due to English clerical error in record-keeping).

As Indian and Chinese silks became more readily available, the Spitalfields silk weaving went into decline. This seriously affected the community in Spitalfields, and though the industry struggled on, the 30,000 workers were reduced to starvation wages. The ebbing prosperity, along with the introduction of new machinery, led to violent clashes between factory owners and their workers.

By 1801, the “Spitalfields Acts” were passed in an attempt to improve wages and working conditions, and to protect the domestic market. Eventually, however, many Huguenots moved away from Spitalfields, settling in the suburbs.

The Huguenot impact on Spitalfields remains today though, with many French-sounding street names, and many well-preserved Huguenot houses. In fact, it is estimated that Huguenot blood still runs through a quarter of London’s population.

English: Plate to commemorate the abolition of...

English: Plate to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade by the British Parliament in 1807. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Slavery in the British Isles dates back to the times of the Roman Empire; however, the British really perfected the Atlantic slave trade throughout the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. As the demand for black slaves grew in 18th century England, so did the industry of buying, transporting, and selling slaves. As the slave trade expanded, as many as 1700 and 1800 British merchants jumped on the lucrative bandwagon, committing ships and seamen to the transport of slaves.

The Transatlantic slave trade was the single most lucrative element in Britain’s trade during the 18th century. Ships never sailed empty, and profits were enormous. For a long while, very little consideration was given to the morality of the slave trade. James Houston, an employee of an 18th century slave merchant, noted, “What a glorious and advantageous trade this is. It is the hinge on which all the trade of this globe moves.” And, in fact, in many ways it did. It is estimated that nearly 70 percent of the government’s total income at that time came directly from taxes on goods from its colonies.

As money poured in through the slave trade, that money was in turn invested into British industry. The industrial landscape of Britain and other European countries involved in the slave trade was changed forever, as massive wealth poured in. In fact, the profits gained through the slave trade contributed hugely to financing the Industrial Revolution.

However, while some grew obscenely wealthy off of the trade in human chattel, others suffered greatly: namely, the slaves themselves. Uprooted from their homelands thousands of miles across the sea, they were forced into labor in a culture, language and country that was not their own. Transportation of slaves subjected them to appalling conditions for many months as they were packed tightly onto ships with little concern for comfort or well-being. Many, in fact, died before ever reaching British soil.

It is estimated that nearly three million slaves were forced across the Atlantic and into a new culture and lifestyle far from the home, people and places they knew. As the slaves were integrated into the culture, some were eventually freed and others escaped. By the final quarter of the 18th century, many thousands of black people had become part of the population of the British Isles. Some of them worked in domestic settings, yet many more worked in port cities and industrial hubs.

At that time, black domestic servants were seen as a sign of great wealth. In some cases, the African immigrants were paid workers and were free to leave their employers at will. In many other cases, however, black slaves were treated little better than property and were kept, sold, or traded at will. As time went on though, many African immigrants were free and worked as tradesmen, sailors, and even businessmen and musicians.

Interestingly enough, while the British indisputably gained nearly immeasurable wealth through the slave trade, they ended up being the leaders in the struggle to end slavery completely. In only 46 short years, the slave trade was outlawed completely by the British government. In one of the most successful reforms of the 19th century, the British government went on to abolish the practice throughout every one of their colonies.

The years directly following the Second World War saw a huge transfer of the Caribbean Islands population. It was, in fact, the largest outward movement of people from the British Caribbean Islands, with many thousands ultimately moving to Britain in search of a better life.

The war was a major factor that stimulated migration to England after 1945. Because the British armed forces and the merchant navy were forced to expand considerably, labour shortages became a very real problem on the home front. Women and Irish workers stepped up to fill the gaps, but this was only a partial remedy. Thus, the Empire reached out to its colonies, recruiting thousands of Hondurans and West Indians, among others. Not only were workers recruited for labour on the home front, but 10,000 West Indians were recruited by the Royal Air Force, and thousands more joined the Merchant Navy as well as becoming the workforce keeping the London buses moving.

At the same time, the West Indies had been much neglected and had become the “slum of the Empire” with high levels

Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands.

Map of the Caribbean Sea and its islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of poverty and unemployment. As the war ended and West Indians returned, the men who had fought hard for the Empire knew that there was little opportunity for employment at home.

The men who had been recruited during the war were eligible for repatriation and gratuities. The government made a valiant effort to send many of them home, and about a fifth of the West Indians were repatriated to Jamaica; however, most quickly returned to Britain. Others simply refused to leave Great Britain at all, instead settling in various parts of England and Scotland.

Following the war, Britain was busy rebuilding and was in dire need of labourers. Initially, however, the British government was reluctant to allow migration from the West Indies, preferring instead to invite workers from the European continent. Many, in fact, felt that West Indians would be lazy or would turn to an easy life on the welfare system. Despite a huge influx of Poles and Italians, the need was simply too great and the UK turned to its colonies.

Finally, the decision was made to allow all British subjects entry. It was widely felt that since all subjects of the Empire had contributed equally to the war effort, there shouldn’t be restrictions on certain groups or nationalities.

In 1948, a Jamaican newspaper featured an advertisement stating that 300 places were available on board the ship Windrush, headed for England. Anyone hoping for better career or education prospects was welcome to travel aboard the ship. This voyage, which landed at Tilbury docks on June 21st, 1948, was the beginning of a major migration from the West Indian Islands to Britain. From 1948 to 1955, over 18,000 immigrants had moved from the Caribbean to Britain. The migration did not slow until 1962, by which time over 98,000 West Indians had made Great Britain their new home.

While many of the migrants were simply grateful for the opportunities available to them, most did face substantial challenges. Many were severely limited in their skills, and thus were forced to take low-paying jobs. The housing many migrants inhabited was of the poorest quality, yet they remained and formed a tightly-knit ethnic group with shared cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions. Social prejudice and discrimination was a challenge as well, as many British workers felt that migrants were taking over the job market and causing unemployment.

Fortunately, however, the West Indian migrants soon settled and became valued contributors to the rebuilding efforts. In many ways, they became a replacement population, inhabiting areas that were previously sparsely populated. Ultimately, the huge influx breathed new life and diversity into the British culture – ethnic diversity that is now widely celebrated. It marked a massive change in British society, and was the start of more wide-spread immigration to the UK.

It is estimated that around 4000BC there were just 3000 people in Britain, slowly rising to around 500,000 by 50BC. Clearly this is not just a case of procreation but natural immigration following game animals. Migration therefore has been a focus of our population from very early times but not one that can be recorded except in the DNA of individuals to show which migration pattern their ancestors followed.

DNA profiling can therefore can be of use to the family historian in determining in which wave of migration their ancestors arrived in Britain and also whether there is a relationship between individuals that have the same name and yet no documented relationship can be determined.
The next people to occupy Britain were the Celts who developed their own language around 1000BC. There is little evidence of migration during the iron age and by the time of the arrival of the Romans in 43AD, the Celts descending from the Neolithic population were already present in Britain.
The Roman period from 43AD to 410AD saw the arrival of some 20,000 combat troops and a similar number of auxiliaries and camp followers. This period in our history was a disaster for the indigenous population in the south with virtual total destruction of the Celtic societies in the south and subsequent migration westward to Wales and Cornwall. The population in AD200 was thought to be between one and two million.

Territories inhabited by East Germanic tribes ...

Territories inhabited by East Germanic tribes between 100 BC and AD 300. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The end of the Roman occupation saw the arrival of the Anlo-Saxons a term defining a number of Germanic tribes, mainly, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes but also the minority tribes of Franks, Frisians and Suevi. This means that we have an ethnic diversity and cultural elements coming from an area as diverse and as far apart as from the Jutland peninsula to the Lower Rhine. There must have been oral traditions passed down by the various tribes but these appear not to have survived into recorded history.
Frisians were from the Frisian Islands and the area to the north of the Netherlands, and the Franks were from areas along the Rhine and Merovingian Gaul. The Suevi were from Sweden.

The next wave of immigrants brought death, destruction and abject terror amongst the indigenous population. The first Viking raid was recorded in 789 AD and then in 793 AD with an attack at Lindisfarne. The Wessex king, Alfred repulsed the Danes at the end of the 9th Century but the Vikings were too strong to remain defeated and Canute the King of both Norway and Denmark defeated the English in 1016. The Norsemen remained in power for another 50 years when their migration was ended by William at the Battle of Hastings. Their reign in Scotland lasted longer with Magnus Barefoot‘s seizure of the Western Isles between 1098 and 1104.

With William the Conqueror we have the beginnings of recorded history that is of use to the average family historian and so our story of British migration from, to and within the British isles our story can begin.

 

 

 

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