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  • A BRIEF HISTORY OF IMMIGRATION INTO THE US

    Native Americans

    Immigration in colonial times

    Immigration in the first half of the 19th century

    Immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

    Immigration from the 1920s to the Present

    Native Americans

    The earliest inhabitants of North America are the Native American ethnic groups, whose

    ancestors arrived from Siberia across the Bering Strait (which was not covered by water at

    the time due to lower sea levels) at least 12,000 years ago, and gradually spread across

    the whole continent down to the tip of South America. In North America, the most

    sophisticated cultures emerged in Central Mexico and in the Yucatn peninsula: no high

    culture comparable to the Aztecs or the Maya developed in the territory of the present US.

    North American Indians lived in small communities called tribes which consisted ofclans (group of related families). Their lifestyle strongly depended on their natural

    surroundings.

    Most tribes living in the woodlands east of the Mississippi combined hunting and fishing

    (practiced by men) with the gathering of nuts and berries as well as hoe agriculture

    growing corn, beans and squash (practiced by women). They typically had temporary

    villages and their population remained relatively small, scattered over large territories.

    Native American tribes living on the Great Plains developed a nomadic lifestyle. They

    followed and hunted the buffalo herds that roamed the prairie, and utilized almost all

    parts of the animals, eating their meat, using their hides for clothes and tepees (Indian

    tents) and their bones for tools. After the Spanish colonizers brought horses to North

    America in the 16th century (earlier, the largest domesticated animals in the continent

    had been dogs and llamas), Plains Indians living west of the Mississippi quicklyadopted them, which made their nomadic lifestyle significantly easier.

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  • Square Tower House in Navajo Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park

    The

    Native American tribes living in the Southwest lived in pueblos, or permanent villagesconsisting of stone buildings, and practiced subsistence agriculture. Their architectural

    skills were the most advanced in North America, but their social and cultural

    development was limited by the dry climate and the poor soil. After 1500 nomadic tribes

    moved into the region from the north: they mostly kept herds of sheep and goats which

    could survive on the poorer vegetation.

    Despite the variety of their lifestyle, the North American Indians shared several key social

    and cultural traits. They knew how to make clay pots and dishes, and made their tools out

    of stone, wood and animal bones. Their typical weapons were spears, knives, bows and

    arrows. After they came into contact with European colonists, they adopted many of their

    domesticated animals and their more advanced metal tools and weapons. But Native

    Americans in North America never learned metalwork or other advanced technologies,

    never practiced intensive agriculture, they never developed any writing system on their

    own, and did not build any cities or large permanent settlements. As a result, they were

    seen by European colonists as culturally inferior people who occupy far more territory

    than they need or make use of. This way, whites felt justified to occupy unused land and

    chase away Native Americans from their traditional habitat. The history of European

    settlement in North America is also the history of the decline of Native American ethnic

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  • groups. Some of them were almost wiped out by diseases brought in by Europeans

    (especially smallpox), others were killed in wars against colonists, or were forced to move

    into areas which were less suitable for their way of life (e.g. the removal of Indian tribes

    from the South to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s). In the late 19th century, all

    remaining Native Americans were ordered by the federal government to move into

    reservations, areas reserved for them and overseen by federal authorities. Most of these

    reservations were located in areas with the least favourable conditions (mountains and

    deserts), where they were dependent on government supplies. As a result, the number of

    Native American population in the US became almost insignificant by the 20th century.

    For further information on Native Americans, see

    Immigration in colonial times

    In the two centuries after the discovery of the American continent by Europeans, three

    nations took the largest part in the colonization of North America: Spain, France and

    England (see Timeline of US History). Spanish conquistadors were the first to establish a

    permanent settlement in Florida, which remained a Spanish colony until the early 19th

    century, and they also explored the Southwest of the US, creating settlements in

    present-day New Mexico. But besides these two areas of the present US, Spain

    concentrated its efforts on Mexico. The St. Lawrence river was discovered French

    explorers, and subsequent French colonization focused on the river valley and the Great

    Lakes area (called Canada), and from the 18th century, to the lower Mississippi valley

    (called Louisiana). Since both the Spanish and the French were rivals of the English in the

    colonization of North America, the English colonies received very few immigrants from

    these two countries: the only significant group of French-speaking Americans live in the

    state of Louisiana.

    The English colonies were established along the east coast of the North American

    continent between Canada and Florida during the 17th and 18th centuries. The two

    earliest settlements were Virginia in the south (where Jamestown was founded in1607) and New England in the north (where Plymouth was founded in 1620), andother areas were gradually occupied (for details, see Timeline of US history). Although

    the majority of the settlers came from England, and later from Britain (including a

    significant proportion of Scottish and Protestant Irish immigrants), the population of the

    colonies was never purely English-speaking or purely white. A significant number of

    Dutch people lived in and around New York, while Protestant Germans made upone-third of the population of Pennsylvania, and all the Southern colonies imported a

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  • large number of black slaves from West Africa and the Caribbean. New England, thenorthernmost group of colonies, remained the most homogeneous in ethnic character,

    populated mostly by English Puritans.

    At the time of the first American census in 1790, about 3.9 million people lived in thenewly independent United States. About 750,000 or 19% were blacks, mostly slaves. Of

    the 3.15 million whites, 2.45 million identified themselves by nationality: 83% of them

    had English or Welsh origins, 7% Scottish, 6% German, 2% Dutch and 1% Irish (For

    source, see ). As the data show, American society during and after the War of

    Independence was dominated by English-speaking people who were almost exclusively

    Protestant. The oldest European immigrants remained an elite group within US society,

    often referred to as WASPs, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

    Immigration in the first half of the 19th century

    In the early years of the 19th century, European immigration to the United States was

    insignificant. Britain was hostile to its newly independent colony, whereas the Napoleonic

    Wars in Europe (17981815) and the subsequent British blockade on Continental ports

    made immigration very difficult. The importation of black slaves was also banned by

    Congress in 1808, and even though illegal smuggling continued, large numbers of blacks

    no longer arrived from West Africa or the Caribbean.

    Immigration began to increase after 1830, but the first huge wave of Europeans reached

    the US in the 1840s and 1850s. The main reason was the Potato Famine in Ireland

    (184549), which caused mass starvation, and forced millions of people to emigrate from

    the country. Between 1840 and 1860, about 1.7 million Irish came to the US. The second

    largest source was Germany, which at this time was divided into many small states, and a

    lot of people felt disappointed after the failure of the 1848 revolutions which tried to

    reunite the country. Between 1840 and 1860, about 1.4 million Germans arrived in the

    US. Significant numbers came also from Great Britain. As a result of the big wave, the

    proportion of foreign-born people within US population grew from an estimated 5% in

    1840 to more than 13% in 1860 (and it would remain around that figure until 1920). The

    immigrants who arrived between 1840 and 1860 are sometimes called OldImmigrants, since they are seen as the earliest large group of immigrants in the historyof the independent US (those whose ancestors had come to the British colonies befo