CHAPTER TWO 

Auswanderer nach Amerika

or Immigration to America

Given the complicated political history of Luxembourg, the massive emigration movement of the nineteenth century seems inevitable. During the course of the nineteenth century one in five Luxembourgers immigrated to the United States. Five waves of emigration covering the time period of 1828-1925 have been described, but the major influx of Luxembourg immigrants to the United States occurred during the periods of 1845-1860 and 1861-1875. Significant political changes, both in Luxembourg and the United States, took place during these periods. These changes influenced who emigrated, why and where they settled.


New York Harbor, Library of Congress.

Some of the push factors for both time periods included overpopulation, high taxes, conscription into foreign armies and agrarian adversities such as floods and crop failures. Another contributing factor was a practice put into place during the egalitarian rule of Revolutionary France which stipulated each child in a family inherited equally from their parents. This custom, coupled with the Catholic Luxembourgers tendency towards large families, reduced individual farms to a few acres in a generation or two. The Bon Pays region with its more fertile soil was home to many farms. The fertility of the soil would become a very important factor in determining who was able to emigrate in the nineteenth century as many Luxembourgers, dissatisfied with foreign rule and trying to support large families on small parcels of land, began looking to the horizon for better opportunities.

Selling their belongings in the old country helped the immigrants pay the ship fare as well as acquire a surface of land considerably larger than they could ever hope to call their own in Luxembourg. Hence it was not the poorest (the agrarian proletariat) that left - a candidate for emigration must needs own at least a few acres of land so as to finance his trip. This is the reason why the Oesling, the rugged Northern half of Luxembourg has hardly contributed early settlers to the emigration movement. [1]

Pull factors included the availability of cheap land in the United States, higher wages, social equality and the general spirit of adventure that letters, advertisements and guidebooks instilled in the downtrodden and disenchanted. An oft-repeated refrain in letters to the old country included a sentence to the effect that "we eat meat every day in this country." [2] The industrial revolution did not reach Luxembourg until the 1880's, long after the pattern of emigration had already begun.

The differences characterized between these two periods include the foreign, military and political threats at the time. For the period 1845-1860 the greater threat was the recently independent Belgians. From 1861-1875 the threats were Germany and Prussia. As a result, many emigrants in the earlier period were from western and southern Luxembourg. During the later period it was residents from the east side of the country who emigrated. The threat of conscription was valid for both time periods. During the earlier period extended families, even small communities, emigrated en masse. By the later period, chain migration had more impact with individual families joining earlier emigrants in the United States.

For most Luxembourgers, after selling what little property they owned and many of their personal effects, the port of departure was Antwerp. Many of the immigrants during the 1840's were from the former Luxembourg province of Luxembourg, which had been ceded to Belgium in 1839. The proximity of Antwerp made it a convenient port and it also provided some familiarity for the travelers.

   
Left - Reproduction poster for the Red Star Shipping Line.
Right - Advertisement for the Red Star Shipping Line from Antwerp to New York, Library of Congress.

During the period of 1861-1875 children of immigrant Luxembourgers began moving away from the original settlements in Chicago, eastern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa to western cities, Kansas, North and South Dakota. Luxembourgers tended to settle where other Luxembourgers could be found, or where settlers from the Letzebürgesch speaking regions formerly part of Luxembourg were living. The areas included Bitburg, Trier, Thionville and Arlon. This practice led to culturally distinct settlements in Wisconsin (Belgium, Holy Cross and Port Washington), Iowa (Dubuque, Luxembourg and St. Donatus) and Minnesota (Rollingstone and St. Cloud). These settlements have a unique Luxembourg flavor that is evident to this day. [3]

An excerpt from a journal kept by Johann Weyker, a Luxembourg farmer who settled in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, is representative of the immigrant experience.

In the year 1845, I, Johann Weyker, a native of Oberpallen, bade farewell to Germany, i.e. the village of Sterpenich in the Province of Luxembourg and county of Arlon together with my family made up of my wife and four children, and we came hither to America. We left home on May 15th of that year and went aboard ship in Antwerp, whence we left on May 25th. The sea voyage took us 40 days and we landed happily in New York on July 4th. The fare cost 75 franks per person. And from New York to Milwaukee we travelled in a fortnight using steamer and railroad. The fare was 12 dollars per person. In Milwaukee we stayed up to four weeks. And each day we went out to have a look at the land, and finally we discovered this beautiful country near Port Washington. It deemed us most proper and so we bought land from Congress for 10 shillings per acre. That year we were indeed the first settlers in the area around Port Washington. And in the fall of the year following we numbered already 60 German families. My implements in these early days were a few tools, some pieces of furniture like a stove, etc. and they cost me $160; add to this 6 cows for $14-15 a piece, a team of oxen for $50, a chariot for $58 and victuals to start with for $150. [4]

The Weyker family, who arrived in New York aboard the ship Silvanus Jenkins along with fifteen other families, were among the first Luxembourg settlers of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. [5] All of the families were from villages along the new border between Luxembourg and Belgium and from the Belgian province of Luxembourg, which had been part of Luxembourg until six years prior to the Weyker emigration. Whatever their professions in the old country - the majority were Tagelöhner, "day laborers" - nearly all immigrants became farmers upon their arrival in America. [6]


Table of Contents || Introduction || Chapter 1: Luxembourg || Luxembourg Timeline || Chapter 2: Immigration
Chapter 3: Wisconsin || Wisconsin Timeline || Chapter 4: Ney Family || Chapter 5: Ney Children


NOTES - CHAPTER TWO

1. Muller, Jean-Claude. "Luxembourgers in the New World" Voila Luxembourg, April 1992, pg. 145.
2. Muller, pg. 150.
3. Thernstrom, Stephan, editor. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups. s.v. Luxembourg. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1980, pg. 688.
4. Muller, pp. 142-144.
5. Ensch, Jean. Muller, Jean-Claude. Owen, Robert E. Luxembourgers in the New World: A reedition based on the work of Nicholas Gonner "Die Luxemburger in der Neuen Welt", Dubuque, Iowa, 1889: published with a complete index ... Esch-sur-Alz ette, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: Editions-Reliures Schortgen, 1987, pg. 137.
6. Muller, pg. 146.


Last Updated: 14 November 1998
Lisa Oberg || lisanne@eskimo.com || www.eskimo.com/~lisanne