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Family Histories
The Peopling of America
The Peopling of America
A timeline showing forces behind immigration and their impact on the immigrant experience.
Click the time period you'd like to explore.
Pre-1790 1790 1820 1880 1930 1965 2000
It is six years since the United States won the War of Independence. America is becoming, in Thomas Paine's words, "the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe."

The first Census is underway and of the 3.9 million people counted, the English are the largest ethnic group. Nearly 20% are of African heritage. German, Scottish and Irish residents are also well represented. Census takers didn't count Native Americans.

The early Congresses could do little to affect immigration - the Constitution gave that power to the states. However, Congress was given the authority to ban the slave trade after 1808 - which it did - and the authority to establish rules for naturalization.

In 1790 it passed the first Naturalization Act, which stipulated that " any alien, being a free white person, may be admitted to become a citizen of the United States...."

In the early years of the republic, immigration was light - 6000 people a year on average, including French refugees from the revolt in Haiti. By 1806 the flow of immigration was reduced to a trickle as hostilities between England and Napoleon's France disrupted Atlantic shipping lanes.

The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain slowed immigration even further.

With peace re-established in 1814, immigration from Great Britain, Ireland and Western Europe resumed at a record pace. Major port cities of this era - New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston - were overwhelmed with newcomers, many of them sick or dying from the long journey.

Congress responded with the Steerage Act of 1819, requiring ship captains to keep detailed passenger records and provide more humane conditions for those on board.


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