Immigration in New York State, 1650-1950

Cover Image:
Ellis Island Building, New York
Ellis Island Building, New York - Image Source

Immigrants built a vibrant, diverse and modern New York State.  However, the arrival of European immigrants was also incredibly disruptive.  Indigenous people were pushed off of their lands.  Enslaved, indentured, and otherwise subjugated populations were exploited in the establishment of the state.  Our history bears those imprints, as well as many more positive outcomes.  Immigrants have come to New York for many reasons: to escape persecution, to improve their economic outlook, and to build new lives.

Even in a nation built by immigrants, new arrivals were not always welcomed.  Throughout our history, laws and policies restricted immigration.  New arrivals have faced discrimination and unsafe environments.  Despite these challenges, immigrants’ experiences and cultures have enriched our state and shaped our history. 

This exhibit focuses on historic immigration to New York State from 1650 to 1950.  Our story begins with the arrival of Dutch settlers and continues through the end of the World Wars.  Like much of the general documentary record, New York Heritage Digital Collections lacks significant representation of immigrants— particularly more recent immigration to New York.  To address this shortcoming, New York Heritage is actively prioritizing the addition of materials depicting under-represented groups.  If you or your institution has material of note, please reach out to us.

As a prelude to this exhibit, we would like to acknowledge that New York State is located on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Abinaki, Mohegan, Poospatuck, Shinnecock, Mohicans, and other peoples who have stewarded this land for generations.  As the developer of this exhibit, the Empire State Library Network (ESLN) acknowledges that New York State was founded upon exclusions and erasures of many Indigenous peoples, as well as upon the enslavement of generations of peoples from Africa.  

The goal of New York Heritage is to shed light on all stories of New York through the historical records, so that current and future generations will learn and understand the complexities of the human interactions throughout time that have brought us here today.


This exhibition was curated by David Hochfelder (SUNY University at Albany) and Karen Pastorello (SUNY Tompkins Cortland Community College), with project management and additional contributions from Julia Corrice (Cornell University), Claire Lovell (SCRLC), Ryan Perry (CLRC), Nicole Menchise (LILRC), and Heidi Ziemer (WNYLRC).


David Hochfelder, Karen Pastorello, Julia Corrice, Claire Lovell, Ryan Perry, Nicole Menchise, and Heidi Ziemer. Immigration in New York State, 1650-1950. New York Heritage Digital Collections, July 1, 2021.