Immigration in New York State, 1650-1950

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

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 and injustices, immigrants’ experiences, knowledge, and cultures have enriched our state and shaped our history. Immigrants will continue to build a vibrant, diverse, and modern New York State.

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 and as its developer, the Empire State Library Network (ESLN) acknowledges that New York State was founded upon unceded land appropriated from the Haudenosaunee, Lenape, Abinaki, Mohegan, Poospatuck, Shinnecock, Mohicans, and other peoples who have stewarded it for generations. Conflicts that arose upon the arrival of the European immigrants resulted in exclusions, erasures, and genocide of many Indigenous peoples. Generations of enslaved African peoples were subjected to horrific conditions and exploited in the establishment of the state and nation. Other people were subjected to indentured servitude or subjugated. Our history bears all of these imprints. 

Like much of the general documentary record, New York Heritage Digital Collections lacks significant representation of immigrant groups from around the world, including those arriving more recently. To address this, we are actively prioritizing the addition of materials from under-represented groups, including those from historically oppressed and marginalized peoples. If you or your institution has materials to help us build a more inclusive resource, please reach out to us.

The goal of New York Heritage is to shed light on all stories of New York through inclusive 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.

Credits:

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).

Citation:

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.