Tag: New York

Ellis Island: Gateway to America

On January 1, 1892, a 15-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore was granted entry to the United States. She and her two brothers were the first to be processed through Ellis Island. Over the following 62 years, millions would follow Annie Moore through the Ellis Island port of entry.  The island, in Upper New York Bay, would become a major gateway as the busiest immigrant in section station in the United States.

English: Immigrants entering the United States...
Immigrants entering the United States through Ellis Island, the main immigrant entry facility of the United States from 1892 to 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While most connect Ellis Island with immigrants from other parts of the world – particularly southern and eastern Europeans – the port was, in fact, an entry point for many British immigrants as well. In fact, throughout the 1890s, nearly 329,000 emigrants left the British Isles and set sail for the United States. Those who were first and second class passengers were processed aboard ship and weren’t required to pass through Ellis Island – thus, their entry is not recorded there. Many others, however, were traveling in steerage, and they joined the masses flowing through the Island facility.

Before Ellis Island opened, many millions of immigrants had flowed into the country through New York’s harbour. Initially, immigrants were processed by state officials; however, the Federal Government took over immigration control in 1890 and put $75,000 into constructing an official processing facility.

The first facility was a huge Georgia pine structure with several outbuildings and numerous amenities. Three ships full of immigrants docked the day it opened and 700 immigrants were processed. The first year at Ellis Island saw nearly 450,000 immigrants pass through its halls on their way to a new life in America. The first facility was short-lived, however, and in 1897 the entire structure burned to the ground. No lives were lost in the blaze; however most immigration records up to that date were lost.

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries...
Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries–Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plans were put in place for a new, fireproof immigration station, and while construction was underway, passengers were processed at the nearby Barge Office. The newly constructed facility was enormous with the capacity to process as many as 5000 immigrants per day. The red brick building could house a huge number of immigrants at a time, and the dining facility was so large that it could seat 1000 at once.

Thousands passed through daily. Immigrants were given “six second physicals” during which they were checked quickly for any physical ailments, questioned, and then sent on their way. That was only a portion of the process, however, and most immigrants spent up to five hours under inspection. The majority of those processed were steerage passengers. First and second class passengers weren’t required to pass through the various inspection points at Ellis Island because the government assumed that if they had the money to buy a first or second class ticket, they would be able to support themselves sufficiently upon entry.

Between 1900 and 1929, over 1.2 million Britons migrated to the United States, many of whom were processed through Ellis Island before they were allowed entry. By the time Ellis Island closed in 1954, approximately 12 million immigrants had been processed there by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration.


Palatine Migration into England

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.


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