31 January 2016

On This Day: New York Times discusses immigration

The New York Times, in an untitled article in its supplement On This Day in 1897, discussed immigration.

Immigration statistics were not gathered until 1820. The article provides immigration totals by decades for 1820 to 1890. That first decade (1820-1830) saw 128,393 immigrants. From 1830 to 1840, there were 539,391 immigrants. The number more than doubled the next decade as 1,423,337 people immigrated to American between 1840 and 1850. There were another 2,799,423 immigrants from 1850 to 1860. Even with the Civil War going on here, immigration did not slow drastically. Between 1860 and 1870, there were 1,964,061 immigrants. From 1870 to 1880, there were 2,834,040 immigrants. The next decade saw an even greater increase with 5,246,613 immigrants arriving between 1880 and 1890. From 1890 to 1896 (remember this was from an 1897 article), another 2,878,492 had arrived.

As expected, the economy played a large role in the number of immigrants. England suffered a commercial depression between 1826 and 1827. The Great Famine in Ireland was a factor in many Irish families emigrating. In fact, from 1820 to 1840, the majority of immigrants were from Great Britain and Ireland. Many people flocked here with dreams of a better financial life once gold was discovered in California. In 1840 an increase in Germans was seen. The last decade (that is, the 1890’s) saw an incredible increase of immigrants from Austria-Hungary, Russia and Poland.

There have been many laws concerning immigration over the years. The first National Immigration Law was passed in July of 1864. Ironically we were just finishing up our Civil War which would soon abolish slavery. This National Immigration Law however actually encouraged “contract labor.” That law was repealed in 1868 and things just went unregulated. Then, after years of encouraging immigration, the law dated 1882 actually strived to restrict immigration.

The majority of immigrants, The Times notes, came into New York. Castle Garden was the first port used specifically for immigration purposes. State officials misused their powers there and finally it was closed and Federal officials took control, opening a new spot on Ellis Island. The first immigrant was processed there on 1 January 1892.

Immigration inspectors examined the passenger lists. First the cabin passengers were examined, then the steerage. Baggage was also inspected. Baggage was sent to a room on the ground floor while the immigrants were led to an upper floor. There they were numbered and tagged. There they were physically inspected and made their declarations.

Women and children had to met by relatives or friends. They were detained, for their own safety, until someone met them. Officials were able to process 5,000 immigrants daily so rarely were people left in the Island overnight. Immigrants were allowed to to then land in the City once cleared. They would come into the Barge Office at the Battery.

The New York Times. New York, NY. 31 January 1897. Pp 32-33.

On This Day is a prompt to further explore historical events.
© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2016

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