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Robert P. Swierenga -- Publications

Faith and Family: Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the

United States, 1820-1920


Robert P. Swierenga

Frontmatter of book published by Holmes & Meier, New York, Copyright 2000





Part One Immigration Patterns

Chapter  1  Old Country Environment

Chapter  2  Delayed Transition from Folk to Labor Migration

Chapter  3  Anatomy of Migration

Chapter  4  Journey Across

Part Two Religion

Chapter  5  Religion and Migration Behavior

Chapter  6  Social Factors in the 1857 Dutch Reformed Schism

Chapter  7  Dutch Jewish Immigration and Religious Life

Chapter  8  Religious Localism--Chicago, Cleveland, and Rural  Indiana

Part Three Work and Politics

Chapter  9  Migration and Occupational Change

Chapter 10  Pella Dutch Voting in the First Lincoln Election

Part Four  Statistics and Sources

Chapter 11  Dutch International Migration Statistics, 1820-1880

Chapter 12  Sources and Methods

Bibliographic Essay



                                    John R. Swierenga (1911-1999)
                                    Bouko (Robert) Swierenga (1887-1949)
                                    Jan Hendriks Swierenga (1847-1898)
                                    through whom I trace my roots.
                                    And to my children who carry on:
                                    Robert Jr., Sarah, Celia, Daniel, and Suzanna


            For thirty years my research on Dutch immigration has been a pioneering effort, following the pathfinders, Jacob van Hinte and Henry Lucas, who blazed the trail.  Herbert Brinks, Elton Bruins, Henry van Stekelenburg, Pieter Stokvis, and Yda Schreuder shared the path and encouraged me to keep focused.  Students who stimulated me and opened new trails are Harry Stout (a co-author), Larry Wagenaar, Hans Krabbendam, Annemieke Galema, David Vanderstel, William Van Vugt, Richard Doyle, Suzanne Sinke, and David De Vries. The archives at Calvin College and Hope College opened their rich holdings freely. I thank the staffs for many kindnesses. The Kent State University Department of History, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Computer Services, and Inter-library Loan staff facilitated my work in countless ways, notably Bette Sawicki, Eugene Wenninger, Dolly Lowe, Steve Tapp, and Michael Cole. The late Jerome Kemp kindly used his skills to convert older printed texts into machine-readable text by optical scanning.  I acknowledge all this assistance with heartfelt gratitude.

            My thanks also go to the editors and publishers of the following journals and books for permission to reprint all or part of my essays here:

Chapter 1: "Dutch International Labour Migration to North America in the Nineteenth Century." In Dutch Immigration to North America, eds. Mark Boekelman and Herman Ganzevoort, 1-34. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1983.

Chapter 2: "Socio-Economic Patterns of Migration in the Netherlands in the Nineteenth Century" (with Harry S. Stout). In Research in Economic History: An Annual Compilation of Research, vol. 1, ed. Paul Uselding, 298-333. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1976; "Exodus Netherlands, Promised Land America: Dutch Immigra­tion and Settlement in the United States." In A Bilateral Bicentennial: A History of Dutch-American Relations, 1782-1982, eds. J. W. Schulte Nordholt and Robert P. Swierenga, 127-47. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff International; New York: Octagon Books, 1982; "Dutch Immigrant Demography, 1820-1880," Journal of Family History, 5 (Winter 1980): 390-405; and "The Delayed Transition from Folk to Labor Migration:  The Netherlands, 1880-1920." International Migration Review 27 (Summer 1993): 406-24.

Chapter 3: "Local Patterns of Dutch Migration to the United States in the Mid-Nineteenth Century." In A Century of European Migrations, 1830-1930, eds. Rudolph J. Vecoli and Suzanne M. Sinke, 134-57.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Chapter 4: "The Journey Across: Dutch Transatlantic Emigrant Passage to the United States, 1820-1880." In Connecting Cultures: The Netherlands in Five Centuries of Transatlantic Exchange, eds. Rosemarijn Hoefte and Johanna C. Kardux, 101-33. European Contributions to American Studies, ed. Rob Kroes. Amsterdam: VU Press, 1994; and "Dutch Immigration Patterns in the Nineteenth and Twentieth     Centuries." In The Dutch in America: Immigration, Settlement, and Cultural Change, ed. Robert P. Swierenga, 15-42. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1985.

Chapter 5: "Religion and Immigration Behavior: The Dutch Experience." In Belief and Behavior:  Essays in the New Religious History, eds. Philip R. VanderMeer and Robert P. Swierenga, 164-88. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991; "Religion and Immigration Patterns: A Comparative Analysis of Dutch Protestants and Catholics, 1835-1880." Journal of American Ethnic History 5 (Spring 1986): 23-45; and "Pioneers for Jesus Christ:" Dutch Protestant Colonization in North America as an Act of Faith." In Sharing the Reformed Tradition: The Dutch North-American Exchange, 1846-1996, eds. George Harinck and Hans Krabbendam, 35-55. Amsterdam: VU Press, 1996.

Chapter 6: "Local-Cosmopolitan Theory and Immigrant Religion:  The Social Basis of the Antebellum Dutch Reformed Schism."   Journal of Social History 14 (Fall 1980): 113-35.

Chapter 7: "Dutch Jewish Immigration and Religious Life in the Nineteenth Century." American Jewish History 79 (Fall 1990): 56-73; "Samuel Myer Isaacs: The Dutch Rabbi of New York City." American Jewish Archives 44 (Fall/Winter 1992): 604-21.

Chapter 8: "Calvinists in the Second City: The Dutch Reformed of Chicago's West Side," in Rethinking Secularization: Reformed Reactions to Modernity, eds. Gerard Dekker, Donald A. Luidens, and Rodger R. Rice, 45-60. Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1996; "Religious Diversity and Cultural Localism: The Dutch in Cleveland" Northwest Ohio Quarterly 67 (Summer 1995): 1-23; "The Low Countries." In Peopling of Indiana: The Ethnic Experience, 2 vols., ed. Robert J. Taylor, Jr., 1:102-23. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1996.

Chapter 9: "Dutch International Migration and Occupational Change: A Structural Analysis of Multinational Linked Files." In Migration Across Time and Nations: Population Mobility in Historical Contexts, eds. Ira A. Glazier and Luigi De Rosa, 95-124. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986.

Chapter 10: "The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election," Civil War History, XI (March 1965): 27-43. Reprinted in Ethnic Voters and the Election of Lincoln, ed. Frederick C. Luebke, 129-50. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.

Chapter 11: "Dutch International Migration Statistics, 1820-1880: An Analysis of Linked Multinational Nominal Files." Inter­national Migration Review, 15 (Fall 1981): 445-70; and "Under-Reporting of Dutch Immigration Statistics: A Recalculation." International Migration Review 21 (Winter 1988): 1596-99.

Chapter 12: "Het bestuderen van de Nederlandse emigratie naar de Vereenigde Staten." Jaarboek van het Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie (The Hague) 36 (1982): 252-68; and "Studying Dutch Immigration to the United States: New Methods and Concepts." Ethnic Forum: Journal of Ethnic Studies and Ethnic Bibliography 4 (Spring 1984): 8-20.

Bibliographic Essay: "Dutch Immigrant Historiography," Immigration History Newsletter, 11 (Nov. 1979): 1-9; and "Archival Materials and Manuscripts in the Netherlands on Immigration to the United States." In Guide to the Study of United States History Outside the U.S., 1945-1980, 6 vols., ed. Lewis Hanke, 3:195-215. Washington, DC: American Historical Association, and Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1985.


            Dutch immigration to the United States has fascinated me ever since my days as a neophyte graduate student at the University of Iowa in the 1960s era of rising ethnic consciousness. Having grown up in a Dutch neighborhood on Chicago's West Side in the cocoon of its Reformed churches, private schools, and social clubs, I also wanted to explore my roots.

            Since the "Iowa school" of behavioral political historians dominated the history department, my initial research quite naturally traced the voting behavior of the pioneer Iowa Dutch colony of Pella in the tumultuous decade before the Civil War. Pella, where I was teaching at the time, had long maintained its unique ethnic character and celebrated its heritage with a renowned "Tulip Time" festival each spring. "The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election," published in Civil War History in 1965 (Chapter 10) reported this research and was the first of some thirty-five articles and ten books on Dutch immigration and settlement in the United States.

            After completing doctoral studies that year, I joined the history faculty of my alma mater, Calvin College, the college of the (Dutch) Christian Reformed Church, founded in 1886 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the largest Dutch urban settlement in North America. Calvin's rich historical archives included a complete microfilmed copy of the original Netherlands government emigration lists for the eleven provinces in the years 1847 to 1877.  These lists included personal information on 21,000 persons and were tailor-made for my newly acquired expertise in computer-aided research.  In keeping with the methodology of social history first developed by James C. Malin in the 1930s, that is, to work "from the bottom up," I decided to create a machine readable file of the entire population.  With the help of data-entry staff at Calvin's computer center and students fluent in the language, funded by the college under the federal work-study program, I soon had the complete nominal file transferred to IBM (Hollerith) cards ready for preliminary "number crunching" in a counter sorter machine. This 1960s technology now graces the Smithsonian Institution.   

            In 1968 I joined the faculty of Kent State University and took advantage of the superior computing environment and graduate student minds that a research institution affords. The first results of that research were published in 1975 and 1976, co-authored with Harry Stout, who has since gained recognition for seminal studies in American religious history. In 1976 a Fulbright research fellowship at Leiden University enabled me to scour Dutch archives for additional emigration lists in the years before 1847 and after 1877. The augmented file was published in 1983 as Dutch Emigrants to the United States, South Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, 1835-1880: An Alphabetical Listing by Household Heads and Independent Persons.

            By this time I was fully involved in phase two of the research, finding all Dutch-born persons enrolled in the ship passenger manifests collected by U.S. customs agents beginning in 1820.  By 1983 more than 55,000 names had been abstracted from more than 1,000 reels of microfilm in the National Archives collection for all Atlantic and Gulf ports through 1880. This information was also published in 1983 as Dutch Immigrants in U.S. Ship Passenger Manifests, 1820-1880: An Alphabetical Listing by Household Heads and Independent Persons (two volumes). Currently this file is being extended for the years after 1880. Linking the United States ship passenger manifests with the Netherlands emigration records provided the first reliable critique of the published government statistics. The findings reported in 1981 (Chapter 11) alerted students of immigration to the fact that both Dutch and United States official statistics grossly undercount migration. A comparison of occupations before and after immigration also offered a clear picture of economic mobility in overseas migration (Chapter 9).

            Simultaneously with this linkage project, in the late 1970s I began phase three of my research plan, which was to abstract from the U.S. federal population census manuscripts of 1850, 1860, and 1870, the Dutch-born and their children residing throughout the country. The Center for Research Libraries in Chicago lent more than 1,000 reels of microfilm through the Kent State Library Inter-library loan department, which tedious clerical task both staffs fulfilled without complaint. The census file of 116,000 names was published in 1987 in three volumes as Dutch Immigrants in U. S. Population Censuses, 1850, 1860, 1870: An Alphabetical Listing by Household Heads and Independent Persons. The final step was to link the three files in order to provide a complete profile of Dutch immigrants for the period 1835 to 1870 that identifies households in the village of origin and tracks them to their American destination.

            In the United States-Netherlands bicentennial year of 1982 two international conferences, one in Amsterdam and one in Philadelphia, encouraged original research on Dutch-American history. The late J. W. Schulte Nordholt organized the Amsterdam meetings, as I did the Philadelphia sessions. Schulte Nordholt and I co-edited the collection of Amsterdam papers, published as A Bilateral Bicentennial: A History of Dutch-American Relations, 1782-1982 (1982), and I edited the Philadelphia papers under the title, The Dutch In America: Immigration, Settlement, and Cultural Change (1985). Portions of my contributions to both conferences are contained in Chapters 2 and 4.  

            In 1985 popular interest in the history of the Dutch in America received a boost with the publication in English translation of the seminal 1928 Netherlandic work of Jacob van Hinte, Netherlanders in America: A Study of Emigration and Settlement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in the United States of America. With the translation expertise of my colleague at Kent State University, Adriaan de Wit, I edited this massive 1,150 page work, which Baker Book House published under the shepherding hand of editor Gordon De Jong.

            A second Fulbright research fellowship at Leiden University in 1985 permitted me to complete the archival work begun in 1976 on the emigration records. Subsequent trips filled in lacunae, including research for The Forerunners: Dutch Jews in the North American Diaspora (1994), which is the first account of this unique immigration.

            This book went to press after I assumed the position of research professor in the newly created A. C. Van Raalte Institute at Hope College, Holland, Michigan. The Institute, named after the clerical leader of the Holland colony, is devoted to the study of the Dutch in North America and provides a fitting venue for my continuing research, which Kent State University supported so generously for twenty-eight years. Now I enjoy the ample support of the Institute and its able director, Elton J. Bruins. 

            The story of Dutch immigration has been told comprehensively and even brilliantly by others, notably by Jacob van Hinte (1928) and Henry Lucas in Netherlanders in America: Dutch Immigration to the United States and Canada, 1785-1950 (1955). But the standard narrative accounts, good as they are, suffer from some serious deficiencies. They focus primarily on the study of individual experiences, rather than on the process of immigration, the broader stories of which individual lives were parts.  Before asking why people emigrated and the impact of the resettlement on future generations, we must know who emigrated and when, how they transplanted themselves, and which social structural forces were impinging on their decisions.

            Previous histories relied almost solely on sources produced by elites, the first person accounts--often published--of clerics, colonial leaders, and prominent pioneers.  These were produced on the various anniversary celebrations of the founding in 1847 of the Holland, Michigan colony, especially the semi-centennial commemoration of 1897.  Thus, they bear the marks of fallible memories and the filiopietistic panegyrics such celebrations elicit.  Only in the last two decades have Dutch immigrant letters been collected systematically so that the voices of the masses can now be heard.

            Until the computer age it was also difficult to treat the immigration story collectively and to weave the multitude of individual stories together to form a coherent pattern.  Published immigration statistics, on which previous scholars had to rely, are notoriously unreliable, and this has given rise to erroneous conclusions about the nature of the Dutch immigration.

            Finally, earlier historians were emotionally tied to one or another colony or religious community, which produced a distorted picture of the Dutch presence in America.  Van Hinte, for example, praised Albertus C. Van Raalte, the founder of the Holland, Michigan colony, but castigated Henry P. Scholte, the founder of the sister colony of Pella, Iowa.  Lucas, a native of the Holland colony, gave less attention to the Dutch settlements in New York, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, even though these antedated the settlements in Holland and Pella and played equally important roles in the life of the Dutch in America.  Finally, in previous accounts the economic and social forces are subsumed under theological and religious affairs and personalities.  As central as religion was in the Dutch immigrant story, it is only one aspect.  Agricultural crises in the countryside and social changes also pushed people to seek new opportunities in North America.

            New questions must be addressed concerning Dutch immigration.  First, were the newcomers colonists or immigrants? Colonists seek to transplant their communities and to keep themselves culturally self contained; immigrants try to integrate into the cultures of the receiving communities.  Did the Dutch need and desire interaction, and if so, to what extent and in what communities?  Second, what factors "explain" the Dutch emigration of the nineteenth century?  Did more families emigrate from rural peasant communities in the northern Netherlands, or from protoindustrial communities on the Belgian border in the south, or from the western maritime-commercial region around Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam?  Third, what forces directed the migrants to specific destinations?  Fourth, did the various communities that the newcomers formed in the United States display different developmental patterns? 

            In order to reconstruct Dutch immigration patterns at the individual level, I have identified discrete emigrant subgroups of families, friends and neighbors, and congregations in their particular Dutch villages and cities, met them at the ports of departure and entry, traced them to their final destinations in the United States, and observed their initial settlement patterns and work experiences.  This approach reveals who emigrated when from each Dutch municipality (gemeente), which major routes were used for the transatlantic crossings, the initial settlement places, entry occupations, and the subsequent geographical and social mobility patterns.  The United States population censuses illuminated for each Dutch settlement the nature of its economic development, social stratification, education and literacy levels, and family kinship and marriage patterns.

            The social statistical side of the immigration story is complementary to the traditional narrative surveys.  The expectation is that the meshing of social structural and historical aspects of Dutch immigration will lead to a greater understanding of the complexities and the commonalities of the Dutch diaspora.

            The subject of the migration of peoples has become the central concern in United States social history.  As the quintessential "nation of immigrants," international resettlement and community formation are at the crux of the American experience.  Although much of the resettlement was unplanned, it was not irrational and chaotic.  European immigrants followed in the steps of kith and kin, and none more so than the Dutch, a people legendary for their close-knit family life.  In the nineteenth century more Dutch emigrated with family members than did any other nationality group.  And the Dutch migration occurred within fixed, narrowly-focused geographic bounds.  This book explores the salient patterns of that migration experience.  It is an attempt to understand the social processes of migration for an entire nationality group, but at the level of individual experiences.

            No person has captured the attention of immigrant scholars more than the imaginative British historian Frank Thistlethwaite, since he coined the phrase "anatomy of migration" at an international conference in 1960.[i]  Drawing upon the analogy of medical scientists who put tissue under microscopes and break down the undifferentiated mass of cells into a honeycomb of numerous particular cells, Thistlethwaite urged social historians similarly to uncover the "true anatomy of migration" by studying at the individual level the millions of European peasants and artisans who emigrated to North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  This seeming preposterous proposal--to study millions of individual immigrants--caught the immediate fancy of Scandinavian scholars at the conference.  Within a few years with the aid of generous university and government funding, they created elaborate research institutes that eventually dissected at the parish level the transatlantic migration patterns of thousands of nondescript rural folk.[ii]  The Scandinavian research, in turn, spurred and influenced all subsequent migration studies, including this one.  But it was the computer revolution of the 1950s that truly made possible the individual-level research on the vast scale required to understand the complexities and "inner secrets" of emigration.

            In addition to the excitement sparked by the several Scandinavian groups and the innovations of computer-aided social research, the increasing public interest in ethnic identity in the 1960s led to a resurgence of scholarly research in the subject of immigration, which had languished since the 1920s.  Today more than ever before, there is great interest in studying the process of immigration and of community formation in the new land, as well as the effects of migration on both sending and host societies.[iii] 

            Although aggregate statistics abound in official records for the flow of immigration from the mother countries to America, there has been only minimal effort to break down the totals to the more important structural unit of analysis--the individual immigrant.  Beyond raw totals and percentages, historians still have relatively little information regarding the large-scale migration of individuals from the old world to the new world.  The major characteristic of the current work in migration studies is that it is "human centered."[iv]  The goal is to describe how people acted, as well as what they said about themselves.  Migration is viewed as a social process that involved the transplanting of individuals and kin groups from specific sending places to specific receiving places in North America.  In the interchange, the sending and receiving communities were linked in numerous ways.

            To uncover this anatomy of migration, scholars have plundered serial records on both sides of the Atlantic for names of immigrants and biographical information about them.  The best sources, of course, are those compiled by governments or churches for various legal and administrative purposes, such as emigration lists, passport journals, ship passenger lists, census and land records, naturalization records, and parish registers.  The method is to compile biographical information from both sides of the Atlantic on tens of thousands of largely anonymous emigrants who have left only traces of their life patterns in official records.  Necessary behavioral facts include last residence or birthplace (in order to consult parish records), birth date, sex, family status, occupation, religion, social class, date of emigrating, destination, and the like.

            "Hard" biographical data on individuals, families, and networks of families permits one to address the pressing questions surrounding the immigration experience.  First, who migrated?  Were the "steady-rooted ones" more likely to remove overseas or the "restless ones?"  Did farm laborers join the exodus more than farm owners?  Were the poor more mobile than the middle and upper classes?  Second, what demographic, economic, and religious developments in the mother country and local parish "pushed" prospective emigrants to depart?  Third, what was the nature of the immigration experience?  Was it an individual act or did extended family patterns, kinship networks, or religious groups exist, and if so, how long did these persist in America?   Fourth, did the process of migration change significantly over the decades?  Finally, what happened to the people who migrated?  Why did some move up the socioeconomic ladder while others did not?  Biographical data on tens of thousands of migrants are examined here to answer these and other questions.

            The findings can be summarized under the following headings:  cycles and phasing, migration traditions, family and kinship, mobility patterns, and transplanted communities.

Cycles and Phasing

            Although migration was an individual decision, it occurred as part of a stream of human action that had an external and internal dimension.  The external aspect was the long-run trend or "emigration cycle" in the Atlantic community of nations, which was determined by business conditions and political events such as the American Civil War.  The emigration cycle was virtually the same for every western European immigrant group, and the Dutch were no exception.[v]

            Although the migration flow from each European region was strongly influenced by cyclical forces, it also had a self-generating, internal phasing that was unique to each municipality or region.  Each migration area went through several phases, demarcated by changes in the yearly migration rate.  In the introductory or pioneering phase, a few venturesome young men or families, faced with declining opportunities at home, chose the alternative of emigration to America.  These pioneers sent letters home (the so-called "America letters") imploring relatives and friends to join them; but the efforts of the innovators had minimal impact until a major social crisis occurred.  Then friends and relatives followed their example and departed in droves.

            The exodus increased dramatically in this growth phase, because extended kin networks and church congregations migrated en masse.  Soon an emigration mentality saturated many communities, and the decision to leave became a normal action rather than a deviant form of behavior.  Transportation and communication links were secured and ethnic communities were able to absorb new workers permanently or as temporary, seasonal labor.  Eventually, the saturation phase ended when conditions in Europe and North America changed and the need to emigrate declined or the opportunity to do so passed.  This ushered in the final "regressive" phase when the stream of migration ebbed out.  For most European countries including the Netherlands, this was the decade of the First World War, although there was a brief upsurge of emigration in the post-World War Two decades as well.

Migration Traditions

            While the emigration cycles and phases provide an overview, the specific characteristic of the migration streams can only be determined by minute local studies on both sides of the Atlantic and by detailed analyses of the interplay between sending and receiving communities.  It is generally agreed that the onset of mass migration moved across the map of Europe in the years 1840-1900 from the northwest to the southeast, but it is less well understood that within the various nations emigration was region-specific.  Certain communities had extensive out-migration traditions, whereas neighboring communities virtually had none.  In the Netherlands less than a third of the municipalities experienced notable overseas out-migration.  Moreover, if an emigration tradition was established in a municipality early in the growth phase, the likelihood of continuing heavy migration from that area was strong.

            In addition to the relative intensity of emigration, the internal organization differed.  The two contrasting types are chain migration and impersonal migration.  In chain migration, family members and close friends follow one another over time and are accommodated in the new land by previous emigrants from their primary social group who had enticed them to leave by sending the famed America letters.  Impersonal migration occurred when public or private agencies recruited and assisted immigrants.[vi]

            Most continental Europeans followed the chain migration path.  The reasons for this are clear.  Governments in the nineteenth century rarely arranged for the emigration of their citizens.  The prospective emigrants, who seldom knew the English language, were thereafter quite helpless unless they could rely on family and friends for assistance.  The United States and Canadian governments encouraged such private assistance by raising very few obstacles to free migration before World War One.  Chain migration usually included entire families removing together, but after 1880, as poorer families opted to emigrate, fathers and adult sons often left first, and later after working for a time sent passage money for the remainder of the family.  Nearly one-half of all Swedish emigrants in the 1880s traveled on prepaid tickets.[vii] 

            Chain migration also had the significant effect of building homogeneous neighborhoods in the new world, because it recruited families from the same old world villages.  Over long periods of time, these primary fields with an early migration tradition would spread outward from the core area through kin and friendship networks until concentrated recruitment fields emerged.  These first emigrant villages thus had a "stock effect," or a self-generative effect.[viii]  In every European nation, a relatively few recruitment fields provided most of the emigrants and those people followed well-defined routes to specific receiving areas.  This phenomenon of transplanted communities is the inner mechanism of mass migration that is the main focus of this study.

Family and Kinship

            The familial and kinship facets of migration remain least explored.  Indeed, it is still not known what proportion of European emigrants relocated as family units.  Demographic data provide some clues.  The earliest emigrants, the innovators, were usually single males.  Families predominated in the group phase, but in the saturation phase, singles again were numerous.  Sex ratios follow the same pattern--an early period of male dominance, a growth phase with rising numbers of women and children, and a saturation phase with a more equal sex balance. Regarding family size, some scholars believe that the propensity to emigrate was inversely related to the number of children, yet for Dutch immigrants the number of children was not a deterrent; over 80 percent of all emigrating couples or singles were accompanied by children, mostly of school age.[ix]

Mobility Patterns

            "America-centeredness," or the estimated proportion of European emigrants who settled in the United States and Canada, has been revised upward in recent years.  It was formerly thought that only three out of five European emigrants came to North America and that as many as one-third subsequently returned to their homeland.  But recent research places the actual figure of America-centeredness above 85 percent for the Swiss, Dutch, Danes, and Germans, and above 95 percent for Swedish and Norwegian emigrants.[x]  Moreover, before 1890 the compensatory counter-stream of return migration was less than half of the one-third estimate.  And for some groups like Jews, Dutch, and Norwegians, fewer than 5 percent remigrated.  Only with the development of an Atlantic migratory labor market after 1890 did the so-called "birds of passage" become commonplace and that was primarily among southern Europeans.  Remigration to the Balkans, for example, was nearly 90 percent in the early twentieth century.

            The actual migration patterns of individuals and families to North America can be determined by tracing them in European and American sources.  Two aspects of the removal process are of greatest interest: the geographical and the social.  Did immigration occur in stages or in one dramatic move?  And did immigrants eventually achieve the promise of American life, that is, upward social mobility?  Studies of the geography of migration have found a high correlation between emigration overseas and internal mobility in the homeland.  Half the newcomers first moved from rural areas in Europe to growing cities, and then after a period of years, removed overseas to a port city or inland staging area, such as Milwaukee for Germans and Chicago for Scandinavians, where they again worked temporarily until they saved enough money to establish themselves on farms.  Some remained indefinitely because their money ran out; others found lucrative employment in the cities and stayed there.

            Perhaps half of the European immigrants moved in one large step from their ancestral homes to their intended destination in America.  Among the Dutch, however, the proportion was above two-thirds because of the strong communal nature of the migration.  Indeed, fully 40 percent of the families embarking for the United States reported to Dutch officials a specific state or city as their destination.[xi] The number of Dutch who actually went directly to their intended destinations can never be known, of course, but the concentrated settlement in the upper midwest and the census reports on children's birthplaces indicate that one-stage migration was the norm.  No Dutch cities served as staging areas in the old country, and in America major cities along the primary Erie Canal and Great Lakes route from Albany via Rochester and Buffalo to Chicago and Milwaukee served only to a minimum extent as staging areas for Dutch immigrants.  Following the initial rooting years, the major colonies of Holland and Pella mothered new colonies, but this provided an outlet primarily for their adult children and for newcomers directly from the Netherlands. 

Transplanted Communities

            The anatomy of migration is best seen in detailed local studies that trace the transplanting of families from their European mother parishes to daughter colonies in the United States.  Since most European immigrants were rural peasant folk from areas generally isolated from the industrial revolution, they valued an ordered, traditional society based on kinship, village, and church.  When these people emigrated, they sought to transplant their village cultures, religion, and kin networks.  Most were not innovators seeking to break free of their past, but conservatives seeking to maintain their culture in a new environment where they could also enjoy greater economic opportunities.  Group identity and the desire for cultural maintenance dictated settlement in segregated communities on the frontier or in urban neighborhoods.  The key to success of so many of these efforts was the migration of communities composed of interrelated, church-centered families.

            Transplanted communities were the norm rather than the exception.  Europeans did not scatter randomly over the American landscape but segregated themselves on the basis of family and village.  Immigrant colonies throughout the United States, both rural and urban, were planted by the Dutch, Westfalians, Prussians, Swedes, Norwegians, Finns, Poles, Slovaks, and indeed every nationality.[xii]  The key to these focused chain migrations is the free information flow between early settlers and family and friends in the old country that created an enduring migration link.  This typical migration process was basic to motivating and directing the flow of virtually all immigrant settlement in the United States.  Family and neighborhood relationships determined both the decision to emigrate and the choice of final destination.  The result was a high degree of ethnic clustering in rural and urban America, such that immigrants were literally surrounded by supportive kin, church, and friendship groups and traditional institutions.

            The Dutch experience further illustrates this pattern.  The emigration occurred in three distinct eras: the commercial venture at New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, the "free migration" of the nineteenth century, and the government-sponsored "planned migration" after World War Two.  The nineteenth century outflow is the most consequential.  From 1820 to 1914, some 200,000 Dutch peasants and rural artisans resettled with their families in the United States.  The movement began in the 1820s when a few individuals and families responded to the lure of American economic opportunities.  The letters these pioneers sent home to attract family and friends fell on fertile soil in the mid-1840s, when a severe potato crop failure caused shortages and when Dutch authorities took legal action against pietistic Calvinists who had seceded from the national church in 1834.  These events, coupled with the general problems of overpopulation, land shortage, high taxes, and excessive government regulations and licensing laws, stimulated emigration by large groups of immigrants, especially Calvinist dissenters and Roman Catholics, who were also a suppressed minority.

            Following the Civil War, people departed as families rather than as congregations and most left areas earlier affected.  The vast majority were day laborers, farmers, and craftsmen from the rural villages and countryside, where economic prospects were dim.  Less than one in seven were in white collar occupations.  The populous urban, western region and the culturally traditional but industrializing Catholic region in the South witnessed relatively little overseas migration, in contrast to the Protestant clay-soil areas where emigration was strong.  Ninety percent of all Dutch emigrants in the nineteenth century chose to settle in the United States, and the proportion was even higher from rural areas, which is eloquent testimony to the lure of the land.



[i]. Frank Thistlethwaite, "Migration from Europe Overseas in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries," in XIe Congrès des Sciences Historiques, (Stockholm, 1960) Rapports, V: Historie Contemporaine (Stockholm: Almquist & Wilsell, 1960), 32-60.

[ii]. Harald Runblom and Hans Norman, ed., From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976); Bo Kronborg, Thomas Nilsson, and Andres A. Svalestuen, eds. "Nordic Population Mobility: Comparative Studies of Selected Parishes in the Nordic Countries, 1850-1900," American Studies in Scandinavia 9 (1977): 1-156.

 [iii]. The literature is large and growing. See John Bodnar, The Transplanted: The History of Immigrants in Urban America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life (New York: HarperCollins, 1990); Walter Nugent, Crossings: The Great Transatlantic Migrations, 1870-1914 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Dudley Baines, Emigration From Europe, 1815-1930 (Houndmills, Eng: Macmillan Education LTD, 1991); Philip A.M. Taylor, The Distant Magnet: European Migration to the U.S.A. (New York: Harper & Row, 1971); and Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

[iv]. Kronborg et al., "Nordic Population Mobility," 105.

[v]. Brinley Thomas, Migration and Economic Growth: A Study of Great Britain and the Atlantic Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954), 87.

[vi]. John S. McDonald and Leatrice D. McDonald, "Chain Migration, Ethnic Neighborhood Formation, and Social Networks," Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 42 (1964): 82-97.

[vii]. Runblom and Norman, From Sweden to America, 184-86.

[viii]. Kronborg et al., "Nordic Population Mobility," 11;  Norman, From Sweden to America, 31.

[ix]. Kronborg et al., "Nordic Population Mobility," 114, 50.

[x]. Runblom and Norman, From Sweden to America, 117-19; Kristian Hvidt, Flight to America: The Social Background of 300,000 Danish Emigrants (New York: Academic Press, 1975), 162; Reine Kero, Migration from Finland to North America in the Years Between the United Stated Civil War and the First World War (Turku, 1974), 241; Walter D. Kamphoefner, The Westfalians: From Germany to Missouri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 56.

[xi]. Robert P. Swierenga and Harry S. Stout, "Dutch Immigration in the Nineteenth Century, 1820-1877: A Quantitative Overview," Indiana Social Studies Quarterly 28 (Autumn 1975): 25.

[xii]. Yda Schreuder, Dutch Catholic Immigrant Settlement in Wisconsin, 1850-1905 (New York: Garland, 1989), 81-92;  Kamphoefner, The Westfalians, 70-105, 183-89; Runblom and Norman, From Sweden to America, 44-60; Robert C. Ostergren, A Community Transplanted: The Trans-Atlantic Experience of a Swedish Immigrant Settlement in the Upper Middle West, 1835-1915 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 134-37; Jon J. Gjerde, From Peasants to Farmers: The Immigration from Balestrand, Norway to the Upper Middle West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 119-67; John G. Rice, Patterns of Ethnicity in a Minnesota County, 1880-1905 (Department of Geography, University of Umea, Sweden, 1973), 41-48; Josef J. Barton, Peasants and Strangers: Italians, Rumanians, and Slovaks in an American City, 1890-1950 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 48-63.