For our American Immigrant Experience final project, the class has been split into groups. These groups will focus on immigrants of different nationalities who came to the United States and settled in the city of Alexandria Virginia. The Immigrant groups that have been assigned include individuals from England, Italy, Ethiopia, and Bolivia. The focus of this work will be on immigrants who came to Alexandria from the country of England during the late nineteenth century. Beginning after the end of the American Civil War, immigration to the United States increased rapidly. Many of the immigrants that arrived from England came between the years 1870 and 1890. Many English immigrants settled into jobs as farmers, and a major concern of theirs was acquiring land to own. Because living expenses were much cheaper in the United States, many English immigrants decided to settle in America once they moved. This particular area of our class website will be focused upon the factors that pushed English individuals to move out of their country, and motivated them to chose Alexandria Virginia as a new home.
Any historian studying American history knows that the Gilded Age was a time where racism towards anyone who was foreign was rampant in the United States. Believing that it was their duty to civilize other ethnic groups, those of Western European decent viewed themselves as the superior culture of the world. If one is to understand English immigrants in the United States, one must first understand English culture during the Victorian Era as well. Looking at a work entitled Fear, Loathing, and Victorian Xenophobia, one can clearly see that the culture of England was very similar to that of the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Looking at what is focused upon in this book, it is clear that the similarities in culture made immigration to the United States much more appealing to individuals coming from England. Speaking the same language, having the same skin tone, and also sharing social values helped for the English to adapt much more easily to the United States. The United States of America was one of the top five choices for people looking to leave England. Most English immigrants found new homes in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Flocking to areas of the globe where the majority of the individuals living there were, in a way, English; those from England took comfort in the fact that they would be around their own kind.
A major push factor for those wishing to leave the United Kingdom was economic. Much like the United States during this time period, the districts in England developed differently from one another. During the nineteenth century, England was home to urban, as well as rural, areas. According to historians, “socioeconomic inequalities among districts provide a good explanation for their migrations.”[i] Researchers can divide individuals from England into about six socioeconomic categories, and asses their reasons for emigration based upon their occupation. Charts show us that the areas of England that individuals were leaving the most were rural areas.[ii] With the nineteenth century marking the height of the industrial revolution, it comes as no surprise that individuals would flock to urban areas in search of the wealth promised by big business.
Many immigrants from England were attracted to Alexandria Virginia due to its “heterogeneous socio-economic elite”[iii] population. As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the United States, Alexandria Virginia became the home of many local industries and trades. Residents, many of them immigrants, found great success providing a multitude of different goods and services. Because Alexandria Virginia is located on the Potomac River, it was an excellent area for businesses to develop and export their goods. The ties between civilization and water go back to the beginning of human evolution. Water provides both transportation and power, and these are both needed in a society during the industrial revolution. With Alexandria having immediate access to this renewable resource, it is no surprise that it developed as an urban area during the nineteenth century. Before the American Civil War, Alexandria was a very large area that was involved in the slave trade. It was easy for ships to arrive on the Potomac that brought new arrivals from Africa and other parts of the United States. Following the abolition of slavery in the American South, many diverse businesses opened up in Alexandria. Many of these entrepreneurs were immigrants from Western Europe, building Alexandria’s economy with their creativity.
The desire to create new businesses and dive into a new economy was what push many individuals in England to make the crossing to America. The city of Alexandria allowed for those of English decent to escape the over crowded streets of London, while at the same time being able to succeed in urban business ventures. During the Nineteenth century, the United States was filled with people wanting to acquire wealth. America was the land of prosperity, and those who worked hard could rise through the ranks of society. Although many immigrant groups experienced hardship when they arrived, the English had a more pleasant experience. Pushed by economics and the drive to create something great; English immigrants were a very important part of American history, and the backbone of Virginian society.
[i] Friedlander, Dov. “Occupational Structure, Wages, and Migration in Late Nineteenth Century England
and Wales.” Economic Development and Cultural Change (40, no. 2, 1992): 295.
[ii] Friedlander, Dov. “Occupational Structure, Wages, and Migration in Late Nineteenth Century England
and Wales.” Economic Development and Cultural Change (40, no. 2, 1992): 301.
[iii] Hurst, Harold. Alexandria on the Potomac. (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991) 22.