In January 2018, I wrote about Ellis Island where so many of our Immigrants saw the new land of hope and promise for the first time. I thought it might be a good thing to look at them again and their struggle. I highly suggest that if you have not seen The Emigrants featured on PBS, that you settle in for a long, but fascinating presentation. If you are a descendant of one of those immigrants, you will never think of them the same.
TO ELLIS ISLAND: The trip was terrible in most cases as the ships came into the New York harbor. Isolated on an Island called Ellis was a building of hope for freedom from about every imaginable circumstance. Yes, this was my relative and possibly yours unless your relatives were brought by force on a slave ship.
The following pictures are from the New York Public Library, photographed by A. Sherman.
Herded off the ships and onto Ellis Island, where they had to answer questions and be examined for diseases, the people were part way to a new life.
What exactly is the history of Ellis Island? (Taken from History by Evan Andrews)
“On November 12, 1954, the once bustling immigration inspection port at Ellis Island was shut down after more than 62 years in operation. Opened in 1892, the small island in New York Harbor served as the processing center and point of entry for more than 12 million new arrivals to the United States. The island has since become a storied and often controversial symbol of the plight of the immigrant, and it is estimated that more than one-third of all Americans can trace their lineage to someone who passed through its doors.”
Even after arriving and allowed to enter the city and the country, living conditions were harsh. Many died. Others faced persecution from others who did not understand them, their language or their culture. For those who managed to adjust to a new way of life, generations would follow them.
A Couple facts of interest about Ellis Island:
- Used for Hangings: Long before it became a way station for people looking for a new beginning, Ellis Island—named for its last private owner, Samuel Ellis—was known as a place where condemned prisoners met their end. For most of the early 19th century, the island was used to hang convicted pirates, criminals and mutinous sailors, and New Yorkers eventually took to calling it “Gibbet Island” after the wooden post, or gibbet, where the bodies of the deceased were displayed. It reverted to the name “Ellis Island” in the years after the last hanging in 1839, and later served as a Navy munitions depot before being repurposed as a federal immigration station.
- Three unaccompanied children were the first immigrants: Ellis Island accepted its first new arrivals on New Year’s Day 1892, when the steamship Nevada arrived with 124 passengers from Europe. The first would-be immigrant to set foot on the island was Annie Moore, a teenager from County Cork, Ireland who had crossed the Atlantic with her 11 and 7-year-old brothers en route to reuniting with family in New York. A U.S. Treasury Department official and a Catholic chaplain were on hand to welcome Moore, and Ellis Island’s commissioner awarded her a $10 gold piece to mark the occasion. Today, a statue of Moore and her brothers is kept on display at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
Moore became the public face of the immigrants who had passed through Ellis Island, but it turned out that the face put forward was a case of mistaken identity.
For years it was thought that Moore had married a descendant of the Irish nationalist Daniel O’Connell, moved to New Mexico and met a tragic end in a 1923 streetcar accident in Fort Worth, Texas, that left her five children orphaned. For years, the woman’s descendants were invited to ceremonies at both Ellis Island and Ireland. (from History)
Take a look at these pictures and the faces of those who came from all over the globe:
Today we live with concern over illegal immigrants who have not come here legally. We worry that they have a belief that they should overthrow the very country that welcomes them or destroy the American belief of freedom of choice. It is a difficult decision on how and where to limit those who come. It probably was also difficult in the early 1900’s when so many fled persecution, famine, and no future.
Those who first came had to prove themselves that they truly wanted to be Americans and live by the laws of this country. Nothing was perfect in receiving these previous immigrants. Some slipped through and did not contribute to society. Even today we are being forced to make difficult choices concerning the future of many.
Those in charge of immigration during the early years took a chance. Our country and the people of Europe in modern times have taken a chance with some difficult results. It sometimes takes years for people to assimilate into the American way of life and our society. They have to want to do so. It can be done, however, if those who come want to truly be American and give their best efforts and talents to being a part of a free nation even with all its blemishes. Had there not been those in charge of receiving the first immigrants…our ancestors.. and taking a chance on them, we would probably not be living here today.
The American values are not often the values of people of other countries. We may ask ourselves many questions with mostly unknown answers.
- Do the immigrants of today look at the Statue of Liberty or the meaning of Ellis Island the same as those who first came?
- Does it truly stand for Liberty for All?
- Will they be willing to immigrate legally and follow those who do so?
- Will they be grateful for a land of opportunity and contribute to society?
- How do we protect our borders from drug dealers and criminals?
Probably the hardest question of all for us today is: What about the children born here or brought here by illegal means? What to do about the young people who have known no other life but living in America and were taken by the hand to cross the border by an adult who knew they were breaking our laws?
Difficult… most difficult decisions will be coming to our nation. Prayers are needed for our government leaders to have wisdom as we struggle with these issues here in the United States and abroad. Is the Immigrant struggle today different from those of the past?
Click on this link: Tells of the making of the film, The Emigrants