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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.
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Pre-1790 1790 1820 1880 1930 1965 2000
The Industrial Revolution has begun, the slave trade is nearing its end, and America is pushing westward. Thousands of immigrants find work on the trans-continental railroad, settling in towns along the way. Word of the California Gold Rush has spread around the world, drawing immigrants from both Asia and Europe.

Although many new immigrants came in pursuit of a dream, nearly all the Irish immigrants from the 1840's and 1850's came to escape a nightmare - a devastating famine back home. As one immigrant recalled, "I saw the crop. I smelt the fearful stench… the death sign of each field of potatoes…the luxuriant stalks soon withered, the leaves decayed…" The Great Hunger would leave 1.5 million dead, and just as many would flee to America.

The Irish weren't the only newcomers. Rapid population growth, changes in land distribution, and industrialization had stripped many European peasants and artisans of their livelihoods. Departing from Liverpool and Hamburg, they came in through the major Eastern ports, and New Orleans. Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the 1850's, entering through San Francisco.

As in the past, the immigrants of this period were welcome neighbors while the economy was strong. During the Civil War both the Union and Confederate armies relied on their strength. But during hard times, the immigrants were cast out and accused of stealing jobs from American workers. Some of the loudest protests came from the Know-Nothings - a political party of the 1850's famous for its anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic leanings.

But it was the pro-immigrant voices of this era that would be most influential. The Republican platform of 1864 stated, "Foreign immigration which in the past has added so much to the wealth, resources, and increase of power to the nation … should be fostered and encouraged."


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