Some History





Leaving Alsace for North America

In order to understand the historical aspect of Alsatian emigration, it is necessary to consider it as being part of the great exodus from the southwestern regions of Germany that consisted of Baden - Württemberg, Hessen and Palatinate. Usually named "Palatine" in the colonial America, these immigrants, nearly all of them were Protestant, escaped an economic distress that was amplified by the frequent war destructions. The Alsatians often mingled with the other candidates to the emigration during their coming down of the Rhine and the crossing towards America.

It is not possible to determine precisely how many Alsatians arrived in America before 1775. The "Palatine" emigrant lists often mention people coming from Alsace, from Alsatian cities or villages. Most of them got settled in the East of Pennsylvania, but some scattered in other regions, like those who founded in 1719 a colony on the Mississipi to some kilometers of the New Orleans, named the "German Coast". The colonists of Louisiana were joined by a group of Alsatian Lutherans about 1750. As a victim of religious persecution in France, this group was exiled in Louisiana by the French government. But the Alsatian immigrants of the 18th century in Louisiana, as elsewhere, melted among more important German groups and lost their distinctive features.

Between 1775 and 1825, few European emigrants arrived in north America. But later, the flow from the southwestern regions of Germany enlarged in a significant way and about 1850 it took the proportions of an invasion. Alsatians took part in this movement and Alsace became a region of important French emigration. In Louisiana a great majority of the French immigrants of the decade that preceded the Civil War were for example, Alsatians. As during the colonial period most Alsatian immigrants got settled in German enclaves, there was an important number of marriages inevitably between them, especially among the people who shared the same religious convictions.

The reasons for the emigration

The most serious local problems were met in the regions of Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-Comté. During the Napoleonic Empire, these provinces had become important centers for trading with the regions of central Europe that had fallen under French military control. However, the invasion of 1814 and the military occupation of the region in 1815 had not only interrupted this trade, but they had ravaged agriculture in the region (in 1815, between September 23 and December 5, 288,634 soldiers and 93,938 riders settled in the departement of Bas-Rhin). By the end of the military occupation, the once flourishing border cities discovered that they had been supplanted in their position of trading centers by the newly created harbors of the Atlantic ocean and the Mediterranean sea.

The resulting economic crisis had been aggravated by an important increase of the population that brought to the young people growing difficulties to find an occupation and a home. The growth of the Alsatian population was especially important, changing from 800,000 in 1814 to 914,000 in 1830, then to 1,067,000 in 1846. The important increase of the population always generated a growing number of people who could not get any land in this mainly agricultural region. Even those who were lucky enough to be able to cultivate some land underwent an implacable decline of their life style because of the restriction of access to the once common forests and because of the increase of the fines for wood 'poaching' that entailed some supplementary expenses for the heating of their homes.

Leaving and suffering to survive.

Unscrupulous captains of ships were expeditious in taking advantage of the misery of the Alsatian population. From 1817, Alsace was visited regularly by Russian and American recruiting agents - who were in fact agents of various shipowners - feigning they were English, Dutch or French travelers and spreading fabulous accounts about the economic opportunities that waited for the Alsatians who were impatient to leave to the United States, or to Poland that was occupied by the Russians and to Ukraine. Anxious to take advantage of these promises, which were unfortunately only fictional, and to give up waiting for a long time a passport that was sparsely delivered by authorities that were reluctant to let them leave, scores of Alsatians left their province for the home ports of the employers of these recruiters. When they arrived to these harbors, the Alsatian emigrants, that a contemporary observer described as people who had reached "the extreme deepness in poverty" or who "were hardly in better condition", were at the mercy of the captains of ships who let to the fugitives only a choice between the arrest because of illicit journey, or the crossing in return for a contract of true slavery. Created to provide a new source of workers to the planters of Louisiana after the end in 1807 of the African slave importation, this system had been used with so much abuse in 1816 and 1817, that in 1818 the Assembly of Louisiana decreed laws that specifically protected the rights of the immigrants who were brought in the country as "redemptioners". "A law for liberty and for protection of people brought in this State as redemptioners", for example, gave some power to the "guards" who were paid by the State to protect the immigrants who had been forced to sign some contracts and to pursue the captains of ships who were guilty of the extortion of their signatures.

The endeavours of the State in order to inflect the unbridled exploitation of the immigrants were crowned with success, but they dragged new efforts from the shipowners that tempted since 1818 to request exorbitant sums for the journey to third class passengers (steerage).

Scores of Alsatians left towards Russia and the United States between 1817 and 1839. In fact, official numbers that include only a tiny part of all Alsatian immigrants, indicate that 14,365 authorized departures towards the United States took place from the departement of Bas-Rhin between 1828 and 1837 -11,069 of them were from the areas of Wissembourg and Saverne.

The unending Alsatian emigration was fed by the continuous instability of the economy of the province. A lot of Alsatians who had first fought against the temptation to leave their home had to regret their decision soon, because after a light improvement of the economic situation in the beginning of the 1820's, the local economy was ravaged by a panic in 1825. In their fruitless tentatives to adjust their economic problems that were getting worse, some Alsatian peasants - many of them were finally forced to emigrate - borrowed money periodically to Jewish peddlers and to lenders of the cities and villages. These lenders - who were often called usurers by the borrowers - became the scapegoats of the decline of the peasantry life style, and periodic crises of anti-semitism drove a big number of Jewish Alsatians to emigrate during the Restoration and the Monarchy of July.

Life was not much better for the workers of the textile factories and the heavy industry of the region. Thanks to the local resources of coal, of ore of iron and to the availability of a workforce that was easily exploited (more particularly women and children), Alsace had become one of the most heavily industrialized regions of France in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In fact, in 1840, one industry worker out of ten was Alsatian. But the life of these industry workers was often more difficult than the one of the peasants, especially in the cotton factories, where women and children worked during long hours in dangerous conditions and for scanty wages. The Alsatian factory wages had increased very little between 1815 and 1848, but "the smallest seasonal or general crisis provoked the unemployment that threatened the life of these workers". [André Jardin and André - Jean Tudesq, Restoration and Reaction, 1815-1848] Like Jardin and Tudesq noted it, " when some factories closed, a whole group of the population was reduced to begging ".

[sources: Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephan Thernstrom (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), p. 29-31. article de Frederick C. Luebke / Foreign French: Nineteenth century immigration into Louisiana, de Carl A. Brasseaux Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, c1990-1992; vol. 1: 1820-1839; vol. 2: 1840-1848.]

And in Lorraine?

The neighboring Lorraine faced less problems in its adaptation to industrialization, merely because this more mountainous border region could only support a less important industrial development. The basic lack of industrial implantation had created socioeconomic problems in this province. The limited agricultural resources of Lorraine, already burdened at the time of the Restoration, could not support the increase of the local population of 1,406,000 in 1821 to 1,648,000 in 1846. The impossibility for the economic infrastructure of the region to absorb the peasants who were chased away of the land by the population increase, as opposed to a greatly industrialized and generally prosperous corridor, situated at the north along the Belgian border, that had a very superior population density (in some places nearly twice the national average) and a bigger demographic stability than the whole France, triggered an obstinate emigration of Lorrainers toward the other regions of France and to other countries.

Reasons for the emigration from Moselle

  • Misery: begging, wages and expenses, crises, loans to the Jewish that one cannot reimburse.
  • Lack of land: (land is rented to the lord), lack of work and forest offense repression.
  • Climate: long and rigorous winters, natural calamities.
  • Epidemics: smallpox in 1826 and 1827, cholera in 1832 and 1849.
  • Wars: were frequent during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Between 1804 and 1814, one tried to dodge the drawing that threatened of a 7 year military service.
  • Religious and political persecutions: Anabaptists and mennonites are among the first arrived in north America, a refuge for the sought-after people, unmarried mothers, former convicted, Mennonites of the canton of Sarrebourg, the region of Dabo and the town of Lorquin who refused to carry weapons.
  • Adventure : appeal of the unknown.

[source: Viva America, by Marie-José Marchal]

French Lines -Le Havre-New York

Compagnie Générale Transatlantique - Lists of passengers (1864-1945)

Germans To America

Lists of passengers who arrived in the American harbors, 1850-1893, A. Glazier and William Filby

For genealogists and for those that are interested in the history of their families, Germans-To-America is the main source for the immigrants or German origin. This source concerns the period of 1850 to 1893. The collection of the published volumes reproduces the information that was recorded on the original lists of passengers of all ships arrived in the harbors of the United States from abroad. Included: the ships that had left from German harbors or those that carried passengers declared of German origin. For every emigrant, one can find the given name and surname, age, sex, occupation and province or village of origin (when it is available). A complete index of surnames is available at the end of every volume.

Access to online passengers lists from the US National Archives.


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