The earliest waves of settlers to the
Americas, up through the first half of the 19th century,
constitute the era of "old" immigration. There
are some distinctions between those settlers who came
prior to the Revolutionary War and those who choose to
settle in the newly free America, however they share
many common traits.
Are the Old Immigrants?
These settlers came to the
Americas mostly from western and
northern Europe, predominantly from England
and English territories during the
Scotch, Irish -
settlers who were English citizens or lived
in English territories
German, Swedish, Scandinavians -
many western and
northern European nations contributed to the
early growth of the colonies and the newly
formed United States
early immigrants came to the Americas as
slaves, to work the plantations of the
agricultural south, this continued until the
ending of the slave trade in the early 19th
Why Did They
Immigrants came to America
during these eras for a wide variety of reasons,
political social and economic. While not all immigrants'
reasoning fit neatly into one type, the general listing
below is a good overview of the motivations for many.
- Many of the governments of Europe
were dominated by nobility and landed
elite, the common man found that he had little
to no say in the government of his homeland. As a
result many came seeking a political voice or freedom
from an oppressive government.
Others such as the Germans and French
in the early 1800's were seeking to escape
political unrest and violent political
turmoil at home.
- Religious freedom is the greatest
example of social motivation in immigration. The Pilgrims,
the Quakers and many other groups came to
the Americas seeking freedom from religious
intolerance in their homelands. This tradition of
religious freedom had become a fundamental
principle in American government.
- Seemingly the greatest motivating
factor for most immigrants. Vast numbers of the
earliest American Settlers came to America seeking
land, as much of the land in Europe was
controlled by nobles or the church, leaving little
opportunity for the common farmer to achieve
success. The vastness of the Americas and easy
access to land, drew many of these opportunity
The Irish immigrants of the early 1800's
sought land and escape from the deadly potato
famine that gripped their homeland.
African slaves were brought over for
economic reasons, ones that did not serve them,
but instead served the economic interests of the
Issues Did They Face?
- The earliest roots of Nativism
or anti-immigrant feelings in American society
surfaced during this era. While not as severe as
during the wave of "new immigration" this
nativist thinking can be seen in the anti-immigrant platform
of the Know Nothing Party of the mid 19th
Impact Did They Have?
The contributions of early
immigrants cannot be overstated. The very foundation of
America is built upon the ideas, skills and culture they
brought with them. The English settlers formed
the governments, language and major cultural
traditions that would become America. Many Irish
workers constructed transportation routes
(railroads, etc...) and the Germans and others
brought farming techniques and education