Ellis Island is well known for being the first stop for many immigrants to their new life in America. It is no longer that, but it does continue to be a very historical place. I went to Ellis Island, after touring the Statue of Liberty, and thought I was going to be learning about German, Italian and Irish immigrants. I was very surprised that instead, I learned about Native Americans, Puritans, Japanese, Mormons, and the slave trade. I was learning about people traveling before Ellis Island even existed! Instead of being disappointed I learned so much!
When entering the main building there is a long row of suitcases with some large photos of the “typical” immigrant I was thinking of. But as stated before, when entering the exhibit I learned about a far different set of travelers. What was nice about this exhibit is not only did it state facts it often shared diary experiences. Here is such one experience:
In 1632, the pregnant Susannah Bell set sail for New England as part of the Great Puritan Migration. This excerpt from her memoir, written later in life, reflects the deep piety of Puritan emigrants as well as the danger and novelty of voyaging on the open sea.
“We were eight weeks in our passage, and saw nothing but the heavens and waters. I knew that the Lord was a great God upon the shore. But when I was upon the sea, I did then see more of his glorious power than ever I had done before…I thought I could never be thankful enough to the Lord of his goodness in preserving us upon the sea, I being big with child, and my husband sick almost all the voyage. After this, my husband would have gone by water higher into the country. But I told him, the Lord having been so good in bringing us safe ashore amongst his people, I was not willing to go again to sea. And it was a good providence of God that we did not, for most of them that went were undone by it.”
Night Wave, 1880s
Peter Nahum at The Leicester Galleries, London/The Bridgeman Art Library
Have you ever heard of “white gold?” I haven’t! Learn how it affected so many lives because of the greed for this white gold:
A Traffic In Humans
By the mid-1600’s, colonial planters were demanding a cheap, plentiful labor supply to satisfy Europe’s growing appetite for cocoa, coffee, tobacco, indigo, cotton, rice, and “white gold”-sugar.
While sugar was certainly sweet, growing and harvesting sugarcane was bitter work-a reality that millions of slaves experienced first hand. Over the course of 350 years, more then 12 million enslaved Africans were herded aboard the grim slave ships of Portugal, Spain, Great Britain, France and other European nations. Most labored on plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. Half a million were shipped to North American colonies-the future United States-where they and their descendants would, in time, be bought and sold as far north as New York and Boston.
It’s sad when so many were forced from their homes and native lands. Learn about another set of people who were either removed or forced to leave their native lands:
In the 19th century, white settlers pushed westward, most traveling on foot, with supplies in wagons pulled by oxen or horses. These journeys set them on a collision course with Native Americans.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, European and colonial governments generally recognized Native American tribes as legitimate entities capable of dealing with European nations by treaty. While this did not prevent conflict, violence and exploitation, it did provide the basis for defining the legal and political relationships among the parties. As the United States expanded in the 19th century, U.S. government policy changed from one of negotiation with sovereign Native American nations to one that subjected Native Americans to federal authority.
The Indian Removal Act, passed in 1830 ordered the removal of all eastern Native Americans to reservations in “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi. Inevitably, white settlers crossed the Mississippi. Soon western tribes were pushed onto reservations as well. During the Navajo people’s forced, 300 mile trek from Arizona-which they called “The Long Walk”-over 200 died, followed by 2000 more when the reservation proved barren. The Nez Perce took matters into their own hands, embarking on a 1700-mile journey to avoid the same fate. Later captured and transported, they saw their story repeated again and again as cultures clashed.
The Trail of Tears
The Cherokee call their forced removal and brutal trek across the country the “Trail of Tears”-a term that has become a metaphor for Indian Removal.
Tennessee, the western Carolinas, and northern Georgia were home to the Cherokee, the most assimilated of all the eastern tribes. They had their own schools, farms, businesses, and a written language. For almost two centuries, they had conducted governmental and diplomatic relations with European and American powers. Then, with the discovery of gold on their lands in 1828, Georgia pressed a claim for the land soon began giving tracts of tribal territory to settlers through a lottery.
Rather then abandon their lands, the Cherokee took their case to the Supreme Court and won. Their victory was short lived. In 1838, President Martin Van Buren ordered the Cherokee removed. Soldiers captured the Cherokee and penned them in stockades for months. Many were raped, beaten, and died during capture and confinement. Ultimately, 16,000 men, women, and children made the forced 1200 mile overland trek to Oklahoma. All through the autumn and into the winter, they marched-4000 died along the trail. With guns at their backs, the pace relentless, the survivors had no choice but to leave the bodies where they lay without a proper burial.
Why did some move west? Read about the Mormons:
A Promised Land
Unlike most who migrated west in wagon trains searching for land and new opportunities, the Mormons sought a place where they could practice their religion free of persecution.
In 1830, Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in upstate New York. He found many converts for the new religion, including thousands of English immigrants. However, the group’s practice of polygamy-with one man taking several wives-incited condemnation. Hostility and violence flared as Smith moved his growing flock first to Ohio, then Missouri, and later to Illinois. In 1844, Smith and some of his followers were arrested in Cathage, Illinois. A mob stormed the prison, killing Smith in the melee.
The group’s new leader, Brigham Young, decided to follow the example of Moses and lead an exodus to a new homeland. In 1846, Young headed for the Great Salt Lake region, then a part of Mexico and beyond the legal reach of persecuting Americans. With 400 wagons, 1800 men, women and children set out across the prairie along what would become known as the Mormon Trail. Ultimately, 85,000 would make the journey.
Young made it official policy that Mormon settlers should establish friendly relations with the surrounding Native American tribes. The Mormons, though, moved into the most fertile lands of the Shoshone people and over-hunted once abundant game. As the Shoshone’s food sources plummeted, they began attacking farms and ranches. The U.S Army retaliated by attacking Shoshone villages near Salt Lake City, killing 224 and removing the surviving members of the tribe to a reservation in Idaho.
How did those coming to America survive? Here is one explanation and a diary experience:
The fate of many immigrants depended on making contact with friends, relatives, and other compatriots already here.
Whether an immigrant prospered or failed often depended on having or making connections to those from their home countries. Most immigrants made plans before they left and arrived clutching letters filled with vital information about locating people from home. These immigrants joined relatives, friends, former neighbors, or friends of friends, already here. Other immigrants-whether in bustling urban neighborhoods or remote mining camps-searched in hopes of finding a familiar face or a fellow countryman.
Those without connection faced uncertain fates. Corrupt ship captains, merchants, and brokers involved in the “passenger trade” exploited destitute travelers, whether from Ireland, the German lands, or China.
During an ocean voyage from Holland to Pennsylvania, German immigrant Gottlieb Mittelberger observed first-hand the harsh conditions poor emigrants experienced during the long sea passage. In his 1754 chronicle, On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants, he wrote that once the ship reached Pennsylvania, some passengers indentured themselves as servants to pay the cost of their passage.
“The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen, and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance-say twenty, thirty or forty hours away-and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe. They select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve three, four, five or six years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.”
What was some of the effects of immigrants?
1848-Immigrant women workers become essential to the young textile industry centered in Lowell, Massachusetts. The Lowell workers were originally native-born daughters of New England farers, but as less expensive immigrant workers replace them, native-born women move to other employment, such as teaching.
1853-The Orphan Trains. As New York’s population swelled, thousands of poor children and youth journeyed west in hopes of a better life. A very different type of passenger rode the trains westward beginning in 1853. A charity organization, the Children’s Aid Society, transported over 100,000 young people-the great majority boys 14 to 17 years old, about half of whom were orphans-from New York City to families in the West. This social experiment was the origin of foster care in the United States.
Thousands of New York children worked in the city’s streets. They salvaged for cast off coal and scrap metal, ran errands, blacked boots, and sold newspapers, matches, and flowers. They were the children of immigrants, unskilled native, and free black workers who, by economic necessity, settled in the city’s poorest, most densely populated wards. Although social re formers and newspapers publicized sensational stories of children who toiled to support alcoholic, abusive parents, the vast majority worked to supplement their hardworking families’ meager incomes.
The social reformers at the Children’s Aid Society extolled the virtues of a country home to poor youth and their parents. Eager for better opportunities, parents, or the boys themselves, signed contracts for the boys to go to the West. Society agents led groups of young people on cross-country train journeys-which became known as the “orphan trains”-and found them homes with farm families in mid-western, and later western, states.
These boys typically worked on the farm along side the famer’s children and went to school in the winter. Many of the boys used this initial placement as a springboard to find paid work in the region. Most boys stayed in touch with their families in New York, and as adults many brought their families to live in the West. Nevertheless, the program did meet with opposition. Irish religious and community leaders accused the organization of trying to convert their children away from Catholicism. They started their own foster programs in the city to care for Irish orphans.
1855-In Wisconsin, German immigrants create the first American kindergarten, based on the German model. Coming from a culture with a strong commitment to education, Germans also bring with them the ideas of physical education and vocational education.
Imagine NOT being able to leave ones country to move to another place. I was shocked when I learned this:
Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii
In 1868, after the Japanese governments ended a centuries-old ban on emigration, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii. By 1890, over 12,000 had made the journey. They were known as Issei, the first generation.
During the 30 years before the United States annexed Hawaii, Japanese immigrants arrived in the islands, hoping to escape overpopulation, poverty, and unemployment. Like countless European immigrants before them, most of the Japanese came as contract laborers. Rather than go to the mainland United States, American-owned companies in Hawaii recruited them to work on sugar plantations for a set period of time. Nothing had prepared these immigrants for the brutality of plantation life. They were overworked, cutting sugarcane for 10 to 12 hours a day, with little rest. Plantation owners housed them in filthy shacks with no privacy. Ruthless overseers severely punished workers who rebelled against the harsh conditions.
To survive, Japanese immigrants depended upon each other and their culture, building a supportive community. They created the Japanese Mutual Aid Association to help with emergencies, such as sickness or injury. Great comfort came from family, religion, and traditional culture. Many immigrants arranged for “picture brides” to come from home. They established Buddhist temples on every plantation. And they retained national customs, such as planting gardens and celebrating the emperor’s birthday. After completing their contracts, some immigrants returned to Japan. Others migrated to California, though by the 1890s there were laws in place to exclude all Asian immigrants. Many, however, chose to settle in Hawaii, making their culture an integral part of their new society.
So as you can see, you can learn about many different types of travelers, immigrants here at Ellis Island. Another nice feature here is to look up your families name. The line was to long for us though,wehad an appointment at the 9/11 museum and had to get running. I wish I had more time to explore the Island but I did get a huge dose of history to contemplate! This is where researching your destination becomes important. I only was able to visit the beginning oftheexhibit. But looking at other travelers experience there was so much more that I missed! The great hall, the board of inquiry mock hearing, peak immigrationyearsexhibit, wall of honor etc. Well, guess I’ll have to make another visit!