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Immigration

Immigration

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish and Italian immigrants significantly changed the political, religious, and cultural life of the predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant city of Boston. In the early twenty-first century, Roman Catholics make up Boston’s largest religious community, and the Irish play a major role in Boston politics. Non-European immigrants have transformed Boston into a racially diverse city with a significant minority population.

Immigrants coming into Boston were originally of European descent

Immigrants coming into Boston were originally of European descent

Growth of city neighborhoods between 1715 and 1912

Growth of city neighborhoods between 1715 and 1912

 

The economic and political environment in Ireland—widespread evictions and the potato famine beginning in 1845—created the conditions necessary for the first large immigrant group to make their new homes in Boston. Irish immigrants were too poor due to the cost of transportation to move on once they reached Boston. The dramatic influx of Irish immigrants—the Irish population in Boston grew from four thousand in 1840 to more than fifty thousand by 1855—permanently changed the city socially, culturally, and economically. Cheap Irish labor transformed Boston from a commercial to an industrial economy, with the native Bostonians reaping the benefits as owners, while low wages left the Irish crowded into the city’s first tenements. There were cultural conflicts with the native Bostonians, especially over religion, since the vast majority of the Irish were Roman Catholic, while the most natives were Protestant, and politics, since the Irish tended to be Democrats focusing on labor opportunities, while the natives tended to be Republicans focused on successful business ventures. By 1880, a new native-born generation of Irish descendants secured a place in the community with a distinct group identity. Some Boston neighborhoods such as South Boston and Charlestown continue to be largely Irish in population, with such events as the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade becoming a permanent part of Boston’s culture. The Catholic Church in Boston is influential and retains an Irish majority in spite of the presence of Italian, French, and German Catholics. Most importantly, in the early twentieth century Boston politics were dominated by the Irish, with figures like Mayors John F. Fitzgerald and James Michael Curley and President John F. Kennedy being Irish leaders in the community and in the nation.

In Boston, Irish clam diggers pose on a wharf, 1882

In Boston, Irish clam diggers pose on a wharf, 1882

The North End, one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods, had been predominantly Irish for two generations. At the end of the nineteenth century, conditions in eastern and southern Europe stimulated two new groups of non-English-speaking immigrants: the Jews and the Italians. By 1895, the North End was dominantly southern Italian, with Russian and Polish Jews close behind in numbers.

Map of the North End, 1852

Map of the North End, 1852

The Jewish immigrants considered education essential for social integration and economic advancement. (The North End’s Eliot School was two-thirds Jewish in 1906.) They were focused on business, opening their stores of all kinds, and quickly moved into the mainstream of commercial and education-oriented Boston. The North End, which remains Boston’s “Little Italy”, was 90 percent Italian in 1920. The southern Italians, like the Irish before them, arrived in Boston with little money and few prospects, and found work as cheap labor in the factories and on the docks. In the North End, they created a community that was similar to an Italian village. Italian culture— street corner and café life, restaurants and markets specializing in Italian ethnic foods such as pizza and pasta, the religious feasts, with processions and a festival atmosphere on summer evenings—was introduced to Boston and is still present there today. By 1910, the Italian influence in the Massachusetts legislature led to the institution of Columbus Day as a holiday. Since the second half of the twentieth century, several Massachusetts governors and Boston mayors have been Italian.

 

Older Italian men sweeping Boston streets, 1909

Older Italian men sweeping Boston streets, 1909

 

Sources on page –

Beine, Joe. “Boston Passenger Lists 1820-1891 (with Gaps).” Boston Passenger Lists 1820-1891. National Archives, 2000. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <http://www.germanroots.com/bostonlists1820.html>.

“Boston.” Immigration in America. Immigration in America, July 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <http://immigrationinamerica.org/387-boston.html>.

 

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The Economics of Bostonian Trade

The Economics of Bostonian Trade

As a colony of Great Britain, all products coming in and out of Boston’s docks were meant to benefit the English economy. Just like all territories of England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was forced into the practice of mercantilism, the economic theory that claimed the amount of wealth a nation had directly impacted the strength of the country, making colonies necessary for imperial powers. Under mercantilism, Boston was mandated to follow English regulations, including providing raw materials to the Crown and accepting goods from its mother country to sell to colonists. Severe taxes and duties were forced on vessels that carried foreign goods, and legislation like the Navigation Acts and the Sugar Act of 1764 further restricted colonial economic powers.

While the port of Boston traded many items across the globe, the biggest imports to the market are listed below –

  • Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Salt
  • Tobacco
  • Spices
  • Cotton
  • Indigo

How was wealth distributed in the city of Boston?

  • In Boston, 1687…
    • Of a population of 6,000 people, about 1,000 or 1/6 owned Chart of Wealth inequality in Colonial Americaproperty.
    • Of these, about 50 people, or 1% of the population, owned 25% of all the wealth in Boston.
    • Of the white adult males, 14% were extremely poor, had no property, and could not vote.
  • In Boston, 1770…
    • Of the top 1% of the population, 44% owned all the city’s wealth.
    • Of the white adult males, 29% were extremely poor, had no property, and could not vote.

This graph demonstrates that throughout much of the colonial period:

  • In 1690, the wealthiest 10% of all the colonists owned about 47% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned about 65% of all the wealth.
  • In 1690, the next 30% owned between 37% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned 28% of all the wealth.
  • In 1690, the poorest 60% owned between 16% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned 7% of all the wealth.

For most of the colonial period for the top 10%, the percentage of wealth steadily increased while for the remaining 90% of the colonists, the percentage of wealth steadily decreased. This was a direct result of the influences that foreign imports (see the “Exports and Imports” page) had on the port of Boston and the people residing there.

Sources used in page –

“Mercantilism.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 14 July 1995. Web. 25 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/lessonplan/mercantilism.asp>.

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Then and Now

Then and Now

The Boston trade markets started from humble beginnings, but became a top port in the early Americas. Even after the 19th century, Boston was a hub of international trade. Shippings vessels can be seen coming into the harbor from across the globe today, and the ships docked bring back memories of days past.

 

Population chart of the city of Boston

Population chart of the city of Boston

Graph of Growth and Population of Boston and Bostonian Churches

 

With the growth of population came the growth of churches in the city. Immigrants who came into Boston brought with them their religious beliefs, and new churches were built to support the large number of people attending services. The majority of people in Boston were Catholic, as those were the dominant religions in Italy and Ireland, but Jewish synagogues and Protestant buildings emerged soon after.

Pie chart of Boston's economy

Pie chart of Boston’s economy

Today, Boston remains a central city in Massachusetts and America. Its diverse economy as demonstrated in the chart above reflects the unique population and industries based in the city. The area’s many colleges and universities make Boston an international center of higher education and medicine, and the city is considered to be a world leader in innovation for a variety of reasons. Boston is placed among the top 30 most economically powerful cities in the world, and continues to be a leading area for growth and development in the US.

 

Sources on page –

“Boston Discovery Guide: Plan Your Next Boston Vacation.” Boston Discovery Guide: Plan Your Next Boston Vacation. Boston Discovery Guide, 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://www.boston-discovery-guide.com/>.

“United States Census Bureau.” Boston (city) QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau, Mar. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/25/2507000.html>.