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HISTORY CORNER: Coming to America

by SYD ALBRIGHT
| November 7, 2021 1:00 AM

Millions of people from around the world have left their ancestral homes to come to America, believing their lives would be better and that they could build their American Dream.

“People come here penniless but not cultureless,” said Mary Pipher, best-selling author and clinical psychologist. “They bring us gifts. We can synthesize the best of our traditions with the best of theirs. We can teach and learn from each other to produce a better America.”

Many of those immigrants fit the tired, poor “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” inscribed at the Statue of Liberty and written by Emma Lazarus — whose great-grandfathers were Jewish immigrants from Germany and Portugal.

Anthropologists say the early ancestors of Native Americans were really the first immigrants, coming to Alaska from Siberia over the land bridge that once existed across the Bering Strait, and preceding the Europeans by some 12,000 years.

During that long period of time, they migrated throughout what's now North and South America, developing their varied cultures, communities and civilizations.

That journey was often a struggle of survival amid nature and mankind.

Immigration remains a contentious and divisive social and political issue.

Immigrants are those who come to a foreign country to live permanently. The early explorers were not all immigrants. And those who followed and stayed to build communities, raise families and live out their lives did not always succeed.

Ponce de León and Jamestown were early examples of that in American history:

Ponce de León was a Spanish nobleman, much in favor with King Ferdinand II who appointed him governor of the eastern province of Hispaniola and then first governor of Puerto Rico.

Then he began a search for a rumored fountain of youth said to be on the island of Bimini, though most historians doubt that story.

In his travels, he ended up on the east coast of Florida, near today’s St. Augustine in 1513, thinking it was the island. Eight years later, he returned with two ships and 200 settlers, intending to start a colony there.

It failed, however, when local natives attacked the party, mortally wounding de León with an arrow in his thigh. He was taken to Havana, Cuba, where he died several days later.

It was the Spanish who brought the first African slaves to the Americas, landing them at St. Augustine, the first European settlement in the future United States.

“When Pedro Menéndez de Avilés established St. Augustine in 1565, he was accompanied by free and enslaved Africans,” the National Park Service says. “They worked on early fortifications, sawed timber and built several structures, including a church, a blacksmith shop and an artillery platform. They also cleared land for planting and harvested the crops.”

In 1619, slaves were also brought to Jamestown in Virginia Colony — England’s first successful permanent English settlement in colonial America. Founded in 1607, it lasted nearly 100 years, and was only abandoned after the capital of Virginia Colony was moved to Williamsburg in 1699.

Those Jamestown slaves were captured in Angola and chained aboard a Portuguese ship carrying them to Veracruz, Mexico, when it was intercepted by two British privateers flying the Dutch flag, owned by the Duke of Warwick.

Twenty or 30 of the slaves were taken to Jamestown and sold.

By 1680, there were some 7,000 Africans in the American colonies, and that number grew to 700,000 over the next century. Finally, Congress outlawed importing slaves in 1807 — but people continued doing it anyway.

Dark circumstances at home are almost always a catalyst for immigration.

Since the end of the Roman Empire, Europe had been in turmoil with warring nations and battles between church and state. The people were worn out and life was bleak.

Then things got better with the Renaissance, followed by the Age of Enlightenment which German philosopher Immanuel Kant described as a time to “Dare to know — and have the courage to use your own reason.”

Discovery of the "New World" opened the door to endless opportunities that still continue.

In Europe, people seeking more freedom, better economic opportunities and living conditions, greater social mobility and escape from danger, oppressive governments and religious persecutions started leaving for American soil — some to join family and friends who had already emigrated.

The first wave of immigrants to America took place during the Colonial Era from the 1600s until the Declaration of Independence — those times dominated by the British building their colonies, with the Industrial Revolution approaching.

The Pilgrim Separatists in England suffering religious persecution escaped to Holland and then eventually came to America on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth, Mass., in 1620.

Ten years later, an even larger Puritan group also fled England for similar reasons and started a settlement in Massachusetts Bay, their numbers reaching 20,000 within the first decade.

Concurrently, French immigration to the New World was taking place throughout the 1600s, starting with explorers looking for a northwest sea passage to Asia, and they were followed by French colonizers — with all of them failing.

The explorers didn’t find a northwest passage, and the colonizers trying to start settlements across eastern North America from Canada, the Great Lakes to Florida and Gulf of Mexico also failed at first, mostly because of weather, hostile Indians, disease, illnesses and conflict with other competing European powers.

Eventually, French settlements survived and more colonialists came — in both modern-Canada and the now-U.S.

During that time period, the British and Dutch had similar stories to tell.

It would be the 1800s when the U.S. would see a huge wave of immigrants that continues to this day — though interrupted from time to time by wars and economic conditions.

A blight on potatoes in Ireland in the 1840s caused famine and disease, and coupled with indifference to the plight by the ruling British Government, drove 1.5 million Irish to leave for America, where they prospered, despite at first facing prejudice and job discrimination.

Europeans joined the escape from political turmoil at home, and were joined by Chinese immigrants drawn by the Gold Rush of 1849.

They too faced prejudice and considerable violence because they were willing to work hard for low wages, competing with other workers.

They eventually prospered — primarily in mining, helping build the nation’s railroad system, and in commerce.

Soon the Japanese, Filipinos and other Asians also came to America.

In the late 1800s, more European immigrated to the U.S. — Germans, Scandinavians, Italians, Greeks, Poles, Slavs, Russians and others, including Jews from many countries, escaping persecution.

In 1892, a major immigrant processing center was established on Ellis Island near the Statue of Liberty. By the time it closed in 1954, they’d welcomed some 12 million immigrants.

After World War II, American policies changed and immigration doors began to open wider.

More immigrants started arriving from southern and eastern Europe, Third World countries and from Asia.

“Whether our ancestors came here on the Mayflower, on slave ships, whether they came to Ellis Island or LAX in Los Angeles, whether they came yesterday or walked this land a thousand years ago our great challenge for the 21st century is to find a way to be One America. We can meet all the other challenges if we can go forward as One America,” said President Bill Clinton.

Radio icon Rush Limbaugh commented, “When they got here, when they successfully emigrated — and not everybody that came through Ellis Island was accepted … If you were sick, you were not allowed in. If you had any kind of a disease, we were in the process of trying to wipe out all these diseases.

“We did that by keeping people who had them out of the country. You might look at it today as, ‘Wow, that was really mean!’

“No — it was putting America first. It was putting the American people first, and it was a realization that we can't take everybody.”

Today, a survey by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank, says, “With about 14% of the population being foreign-born, about as many Americans want to increase immigration (29%) as decrease it (33%) … Thirty‐​eight% want to keep it the same.”

Immigration will no doubt be a contentious subject on the American scene for a long time.

It’s safer to talk about the weather …

• • •

Contact Syd Albright at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

• • •

Trump Family ancestry …

Donald J. Trump is the son, and grandson, of immigrants — German on his father’s side, and Scottish on his mother’s. On Oct. 7, 1885, Friedrich Trump, a 16-year-old German barber, bought a one-way ticket for America to escape being drafted in the army. Less than two weeks later, he arrived in New York and eventually made a small fortune. More than a century later, his grandson became the 45th president of the United States.

— History.com

Irish potato history …

The first wave of Irish Immigrants came to America mainly because of the potato famine in the 1840s. Those potatoes were not native to Ireland. England’s Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to Ireland in 1589 — after 16th century Spanish conquistadors came across them in Peru.

Ellis Island menu for immigrants …

“Bill of Fare for Ellis Island Dining Room November 19, 1906. Breakfast: Coffee with Milk and Sugar, Bread and Butter, Crackers and Milk. Dinner: Beef Stew, Boiled Potatoes and Rye Bread, Smoked or Pickled Herring for the Hebrews, Crackers and Milk. Supper: Baked Beans, Stewed Prunes and Rye Bread, Tea with Milk and Sugar, Crackers and Milk.”

Ancestry nationality in Idaho …

Of the nationalities reported, from the most are: German, English, Irish, American, Scottish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, French, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Scotch-Irish, Swiss, British and Scandinavian. The other 43% are listed as “Other” or “Unclassified.”

— Statistical Atlas

Spanish slavery laws …

Spanish slave laws as early as the 13th century granted enslaved people certain, but severely limited, rights and protections derived from ancient Roman traditions. Known as the Siete Partidas, those laws were not based on race, and established ways in which enslaved people could become free — noting that slavery was an unnatural condition, “For God had created man free.”

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Immigrant ship sailing past Statue of Liberty.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Ellis Island where 12 million immigrants were processed by the time it closed in 1954.

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ELLIS ISLAND IMMIGRATION MUSEUM

If an immigrant's paperwork was in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process lasted three to five hours.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Angel Island in San Francisco Bay was the processing center for immigrants from Asia.

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CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS

Colorized photo of Japanese “picture bride” immigrants arriving at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, the facility operating from 1910 to 1940.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Early Chinese immigrants to the U.S., shown in this photo on right, did well working in mining, building railroads and other occupations but faced discrimination and onerous Asian exclusion laws that didn’t end until 1965.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Spanish explorer Ponce de León was likely the first European to set foot on what is now the U.S. in 1513 — though the Vikings visited earlier — and established a settlement in 1521 that was short-lived because of hostile local Indians.

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NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

First English immigrants settled in Jamestown, Va., in 1607 were mostly men, but years later 57 women that included from gentry to servant classes were sent to be wives, with all of them married by Christmas.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

On Jan. 1, 1892, a 17-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore became the first person processed through Ellis Island.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Slaves from Africa were involuntary immigrants, first arriving in America in 1619 in Jamestown, Va.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Jean Ribault, a French Huguenot sailor, established two of the first French colonies near Beaufort, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., in the 1550s is generally credited with being first to establish settlements in Canada and the U.S.

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GOOGLE IMAGES

When a quarter of Ireland’s population came to America to escape famine and dire economic and political conditions, they were not welcomed.

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

German immigrants arriving in New York (1887).

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Scandinavians comprise about 11 million (3.3 percent) of the ancestry of Americans, with this 1890 image of Danish emigrants about to board ship for America at Larsens Plads port in Copenhagen, painted by Edvard Petersen (1841-1911).

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Crewmen of the USS Durham amphibious cargo ship take Vietnamese refugees from a small craft in 1975, with 140,000 Vietnamese and Cambodians admitted within months after the end of the Vietnam War.

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HARRIS & EWING VIA SHORPY

Greek immigrant George Chaconas at his grocery store in Washington, D.C., near Washington Monument was among southern Europeans that migrated to the U.S. (1915).

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MEDIADRUMWORLD.COM

Photographer Lewis Hine captured this Italian immigrant child after finding her first penny at Ellis Island (1926).

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ASSOCIATED PRESS