The English Experience in Alexandria, Virginia

Map of Alexandria, Image scanned from book,Harold W. Hurst, Alexandria on the Potomac: The Portrait of an Antebellum Community (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991),43.

 

English Immigrants did not emigrate to the United States in the mid to late nineteenth century because of economic or governmental collapse. Immigrants from England immigrated to the U.S. for economic opportunity and the ability to move up in social status. English immigrants believed that gaining success, wealth, and moving up in social standing would be easy. The English immigrants migrating to the United States underestimated the difficulty of succeeding in the United States. Immigrants from England faced their own set of problems when they arrived in the United States. English immigrants did not have as many or as obvious problems that other immigrant groups did because immigrants from England knew how to speak English. The adjustment for immigrants from Great Britain by the similar culture that England and the United States have. This made any problems that the English immigrants had easy to overlook.[i] Problems that the English immigrants had were influenced by several different factors like the wealth available to the when the immigrant arrives, wealth of the immigrant’s family back in England, place where the immigrant settled, and the job the immigrant got upon arrival.[ii]

Where the immigrant settled in the United States had a huge influence on the life of the immigrant.  The place that the immigrant chose had a great influence on what type of job that the immigrant was able to get. By the middle of the nineteenth century Alexandria, Virginia was a burgeoning city, it was not a place where immigrants were not able to find many rural jobs.[iii] The majority of English immigrant that decided to settle down in Alexandria, Virginia worked as skilled laborers, sailors, merchants, clerks, or business owners. The job that a British immigrant had related directly to the wealth that the immigrant was able to accumulate. English immigrants that lived in Alexandria during middle of the nineteenth century can be divided into three separate social classes, the wealthy upper class, the middle class, and the poor lower class.

The English immigrants who lived in Alexandria, Virginia during the middle of the nineteenth century can be divided up into three separate social classes by the amount of property wealth each immigrant had. Wealthy immigrants in Alexandria had at least ten thousand dollars’ worth of property wealth. The middle class of English immigrants had at least a thousand dollars of property wealth. The poor lower class can be divided up into two groups, the poor

James Greens Hotel, 1865, Image scanned from book, James Barber, Alexandria in the Civil War (Lynchburg, VA: H.E. Howard, 1988),76.

and the working class. The poor had more than zero dollars but less than a thousand dollars in property wealth. Working class reported having zero dollars of property wealth. Each social class of English immigrants included immigrants with several different jobs.[iv]

The wealthy upper class of English immigrants is relatively small compared to the other classes. Immigrants from the wealthy upper class was had jobs such as business owners, managers of company, sailors, merchant and druggist. One of the wealthiest man in Alexandria, VA was James Green, he had declared two hundred thousand dollars of property wealth in the 1860s census. James Green made his fortune in the hotel business, his hotel was the grandest hotel in Alexandria. Green employed many people from Alexandria to work at his hotel, he also owned and rented slaves to work in his hotel. Greens hotel was one of city of Alexandria’s wealthiest business.[v]  James Green and other members of the elite class such as Hugh G. Smith, J.H. McVeigh, Charles Calvert Smoot, William H. Fowle, Lewis Makenzie, Robert Jamison, and Edgar Snowden helped to create behavior amongst the Alexandria elite class to be involved in voluntary associations that were dedicated to moral, philanthropic and humanitarian purposes. Harold W. Hurst claims in his article “The Merchants of Pre-Civil War Alexandria: A Dynamic Elite in a Progressive Era City” claimed that the philanthropic behavior amongst the elite helped the city of Alexandria develop at such a fast pace during the middle of the nineteenth century.[vi]

Alexandria, VA. Middle Class, Image courtesy of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia, Voting Via Voce, http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu

The middle class of English immigrants in Alexandria, Virginia during the middle of the nineteenth century was slightly larger than the wealthy upper class. English immigrants in this social class was made up of merchants, painters, rail road treasurers, small business (Poker House), clerks, and tailors. The members of this social class owned their own property and had money saved. Edward Green was a member of the middle class, Green had three thousand six hundred and thirty dollars of property wealth. He was the treasurer of the Alexandria rail road.[vii] Being the treasurer rail road kept Edward Green in the public eye, his name was mentioned any time that the local train schedule.[viii] The middle class did not have excess money to donate to philanthropic causes but the members of the middle class had enough money to live comfortable.

The largest social class of English immigrants is the poor lower class. This social class of English immigrants can be divided into two groupings, the poor and the working class. Poor English immigrants in America usually found jobs as skilled laborers in jobs such as shoe maker, blacksmith, machinist, plumber, cabinet maker, carpenter, and farmer.[ix] The poor lower class did not own their own homes, they were tenants not owners. Philip Park was a member of this social class, declared one hundred fifty dollars of property wealth. Poor immigrants like, Philip Park, were able to save a small amount of money from their wages so they were not living pay check to pay check.[x] The immigrants that were part of the working class during the middle of the nineteenth century worked as laborers, weavers, and stone cutters. English immigrants that were part of the working class were unable to save money, they had to spend all of their wages in order survive.[xi]

English immigrants from the middle of the nineteenth century had advantages that other immigrant groups did not have, immigrants from Great Britain came from a country with similar culture and could speak English.[xii] This did not guarantee the English immigrants success in the United States, some immigrants became very successful while other survived on wage work.[xiii]

 

More about English Farming in the Nineteenth Century

[i] Charlotte Erickson, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaption of English and Scottish Immigrants in the Nineteenth- Century America (Coral Gables Florida: University of Miami Press, 1972), 1-31.

[ii] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, digital image accessed on December 4, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[iii] Harold W. Hurts, “The Merchants of Pre-Alexandria: A Dynamic Elite in a Progressive City.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., 52, (1989): 327-343.

[iv] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, digital image accessed on December 5, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[v] University of Virginia, “Voting Via Voce: Unlocking the Social Logic of Past Politics,” accessed on December 7, http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu.

[vi] Harold W. Hurts, “The Merchants of Pre-Alexandria: A Dynamic Elite in a Progressive City.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., 52, (1989): 342-343.

[vii] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, sheet number 203, line 27, digital image accessed on December 8, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[viii] Edward Green, “Manassas Gap Railroad,” Alexandria Gazette, March 11, 1859.

[ix] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, digital image accessed on December 6, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[x] University of Virginia, “Voting Via Voce: Unlocking the Social Logic of Past Politics,” accessed on December 7, http://sociallogic.iath.virginia.edu.

[xi] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, digital image accessed on December 6, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.

[xii] Charlotte Erickson, Invisible Immigrants: The Adaption of English and Scottish Immigrants in the Nineteenth- Century America (Coral Gables Florida: University of Miami Press, 1972), 1-31.

[xiii] 1860 Federal Census (Population Schedule) Alexandria, Virginia, digital image accessed on December 7, 2016, http://www.ancestry.com/.