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Settlement in America



” My Dr Father I must only say that this is a good place

 and a good Country for if one place does not suit a man

he can go to another and can very easy please himself”


Mary McCarthy, a young Irish girl, sings the praises of the new country in her first letter to her father. Many emigrants, are very positive about life in America. They praise the freedom, the good farming land and the opportunities to get a better life. But there are also a lot of letters from emigrants, telling about problems and sadness. In some of them the writers warn their countrymen not to follow them.


Where the emigrants chose to settle down in America was due to a number of different factors. It’s characteristic that people seeked their fellow countrymen. It was common for relatives and friends to help each other initially. In a new country with foreign language and customs it felt safe to start off in an environment where they felt at home, at least to some extent. This is what a man from Trentino wrote about how his brother took care of him in America.

”When I arrived I went to see my brother who was at work and he received me really well. He gave me everything I needed to sleep and eat and dress, and told me I could rest as long as I wished because while at my brothers place I am secure”

Gradually mixing with other nationalities became necessary, which was not always easy. An Irishman from Iowa writes:


”Snakes, squirells, wolves, indians, negros, Germans, Swedes and Norwegians and Yankees…They all hate an Irishman, but there is no love lost, an Irishman does not care much for them.”


The descriptions differ a great deal from each other. Some are positive, others less so. Some emigrants most likely avoided negative comments out of consideration for those at home. One of the first Swedish emigrants, Peter Cassel, described America in 1845 in a way that probably aroused curious thoughts among those who read the letters.

” Now I know that many wished to learn from me how it is in America, concerning both material and moral matters, but here I can give no description that can be grasped by anyone who has not himself seen this Land of Canaan.”


Other letter writers were more down-to-earth and also wrote about troublesome experiences. One of the first Czech emigrants wrote about an Indian attack:

”In Meade, the red people attacked the cattle farmers, killing a lot of

men and wounding even more.  Women and children were not spared and cattle were chased away."

Religion was very important to most emigrants. In many places in America there was a mix of churches and congregations. In their letters home they tried to explain to their worried fellow countrymen how, after all, they managed to stick to the church of their childhood. Jakub Balatowski in Fishkill, New York, proudly wrote home to his wife in Poland:


“ New York, a city 12 miles away from us, which has 1 miljon citizens, there are 80 Roman Catholic churches and in these 80 Roman Catholic churches 392 holy masses are celebrated every Sunday, in which there are 411 700 sitting places and about 146 470 standing places… As you can see my dear wife, we have here more than numerous and better roads to heaven than at home…”


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