The History of American Immigration Prior to 1965 – Part 1

The land of the United States of America was born on immigration, in one way it is the land of immigration and it is immigrants that have built America brick by brick. It was not until that the Pilgrim Fathers arrived on the East Coast of America that a different civilization started to build that was totally different to what existed with the Native American Indians. America experienced major flows of immigration from the first part of the 19th Century, known as the colonial era. And the second major influx of immigration came in the 1880’s and went on for almost forty more years.

The Pilgrims

The Pilgrims set sail for America to escape religious persecution, the Pilgrim Fathers were Puritans and held strong Puritanical Calvanist ideals. Although it is widely believed that they originated from England, many of these pilgrims were actually from the Netherlands who had fled England years before. The immigrants that followed the Pilgrims did so for completely different reasons. They were not fleeing from religious persecution, they were seeking a better economic life and all that comes with that.

17th – 19th Centuries

The flow of immigrants coming into America between the 17th and the 19th Centuries was vastly different, and it is a period of shame for the fledgling nation. This is when the great slave transportation happened from Africa. Hundreds and thousands of Africans were sold into slavery and brought against their will to America. The conditions on board the transportation ships was barbaric and many slaves did not survive the voyage, dying of malnutrition or disease.


1882 was a highly significant year in the history of American immigration, it was the year that the first immigration controls were put into place to restrict immigration. It was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Before then Chinese immigrants had come to work on the great railway construction linking America’s West and East coasts, and were welcome with open arms. Many decided to settle in their new home after the building of the railways finished and went into commerce that was frowned upon.

Ellis Island

Ten years after the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, Ellis Island was created. It was the first federal immigration office in America. Before then every state regulated its own immigration but now in 1892 it was time for change. Up to now the immigration laws in America favored Europeans and the European immigration quota was far higher than any other territory. This changed in 1965 when the quota was stopped and today the United States accepts more immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

The Colonial Era

From its very formative days the U.S has been a nation of immigrants. Even the Native American Indians came from Asia, via the land connection that used to be there thousands of years ago. It was the Europeans who swarmed into America during the Colonial period spearheaded by the French and the Spanish. They began by establishing settlements that would eventually join together to form the United States of America.

It was not until 1607 that the English founded their first permanent settlement which went on to become Virginia. In part two of this blog we continue looking at the history of immigration in America up to 1965.

KMME 2021