Immigration in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

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Compare and contrast immigrants in the late 1800's with indentured servants.

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There are perhaps more differences than similarities between these two groups, other than the fact that both originated from Europe and came to America hoping for a new beginning which may or may not have been realized, as well as the poor treatment that both received.

Indentured servants came as a result of an overabundance of labor and scarcity of opportunity in Europe. Some were given the choice of prison or travelling to America, and chose the latter. They typically sold themselves to a boat captain who then transported them to America where he auctioned them off, much as one would auction off a slave, to the highest bidder. He was then obliged to work for his new master for a term of years, normally five to seven, after which he was entitled to his freedom and land of his own. Although some indentured servants fared quite well (Benjamin Franklin's grandmother came as an indentured servant and married her master) most were treated cruelly; so much so that many did not survive their indenture. If they ran away, they might be sentenced to an additional term of years, much like a prison sentence. The following excerpt, written by an indentured servant, is illustrative:

This is to let you understand that I, your child, am in a most heavy case, by reason of the nature of the country, [which] is such that it causeth me much sickness, as the scurvy and the bloody flux and diverse other diseases, which make the body very poor and weak. And when we are sick, there is nothing to comfort us. For since I came out of the ship, I never ate anything but peas and loblollie . As for deer or venison, I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef. A mouthful of bread, for a penny loaf must serve four men, which is most pitiful, if you did know as much as I, when people cry out day and night, O that they were in England without their limbs, and would not care to lose any limbs to be in England, yea though they beg from door to door.

Immigrants of the 1800's came in two waves, the first in the early nineteenth century came from Ireland and Germany and other parts of Northern and Western Europe; the later immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe. Neither group was well received, and were generally mistreated. Many businesses and factories posted ads for workers with the phrase NINA ("No Irish Need Apply") added. They were moderately successful in integrating into the community, however, mostly in large cities. Those who came later were treated even more severely, often being forced to live in filthy conditions and were subject to mistreatment at such jobs as they could find. They met with tremendous discrimination; however over time they were able to assimilate into American mainstream society, not without a great deal of difficulty.

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