After the Civil War, the United States experienced a burst of immigration which would crest in the early 1880s. Many came from southern and eastern Europe. The turn of the 20th century saw a surge in Jewish immigration (particularly from Russia). The Irish continued to emigrate from their sea-tossed island shores; and while many immigrants were headed for the industrial centers of Chicago, New England industries actively cultivated immigrants from French Canada. The result was rapid change in demographics for many cities, including Salem.
By 1875, according to the Historical Sketch of Salem, the population had expanded to 25,958. In 1885, the population, as listed in History of Essex County, was 28,084.
By 1900, immigrants from French Canada, Poland, and Ireland made up the largest portion of the industrial work force in town. French-Canadians largely settled in the "Point" section of Salem (originally called "Stage Point" and historically a center of coastal economic activity). A website hosted by SSU states that French-Canadians and their offspring were, by 1900, twenty percent of Salem's population, "and Salem was one of a handful of U.S. cities dubbed as a "Little Canada."
A 2006 La Revue de Salem (the Franco-American Institute of Salem's newsletter) relates that Salem's Franco-American community began in 1856 with the emigration of Pierre Caisse, born in 1815, from Canada to New England:
"Pierre is said to have "first worked at Marblehead Neck, near the Salem boundary line. He was employed here for many years as a farmer…. It is likely that Pierre cultivated fruit trees and tended vegetable gardens which provided the produce sold at the marketplace near Salem's Old Town Hall….
Pierre may have witnessed the beginning of construction on the second mill for the Naumkeag factory. With the declaration of the Civil War on 12 April 1861, many mill workers were called to serve their country. Mill agents travelled to Quebec in search of workers so that operations could continue. This second mill began operations during August of 1862…
The Charbonneau family arrived later that year and was called "the second French [-Canadian] family to locate in Salem" according to the Salem Evening News of 11 April 1894."
Polish settlers tended to settle in the nearby Derby Wharf area, which, after 1910, was home to the House of the Seven Gables settlement house. In a Salem Maritime National Park Service brochure (2004), "Pickled Fish and Salted Provisions: Polish-Americans in Salem," the author states:
"Polish immigration to the US began after 1830, with early refugees from the upper classes seeking political asylum. Beginning in 1870 and lasting through 1914, however, large numbers of landless agricultural workers began flooding to the US from the three partitioned areas of Poland. By 1900 there were almost 2 million Poles living and working in the U.S."
Thousands of these workers were employed in the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company (Pequot Mills), founded in 1839.
In response to these changes, prejudice reared its ugly head. Just as anti-immigrant, nativist, and Social Darwinist sentiments began to build nationwide during the late nineteenth century, so, too, in Salem. Among other things, by 1854 the city and region was active in the nativist American Party or "Know-Nothings"–albeit relatively briefly. Stephen Palfrey Webb, twice mayor of Salem (1842-1845, 1860-1862), also served as mayor of San Francisco–winning with the strong support of the Nativist party.
One especially notices the absence of immigrants or newcomers, especially those who did not speak English, in the various accountings of Salem life published during the period. The face Salem wished to present to the world was white, Protestant, and "venerable." Immigrant families lived in their own enclaves. Social distinctions remained sharply drawn, as, indeed, they had been in Salem from its founding. There were "several" Salems which never met save in the contexts of employer/employee, charity or social reform.
From the pen of the erstwhile Mr. Bachelor, comes this example of a contemporaneous Teutonic “germ theory” school of historical thought as he describes the settling of New England in his "Introductory" chapter to The History of Essex County:
"Then New England begins to emerge slowly from the vast, unsurveyed bulk of the continent, and to attract the attention of those in whose keeping were the seeds which, for a hundred generations of English and Germanic life, had been preparing to grow into the social, civil and religious institutions of New England. "God sifted a whole nation," said Stoughton, "That he might send choice grain out into the wilderness." He might have said that the civil and religious institutions of the Germanic race were sifted to furnish precedents, aptitudes and the specific religious impulses out of which to produce the Puritan Church and the New England Commonwealth."
Lest we think this attitude is confined to this Unitarian minister, throughout two main local histories, as well as in pamphlets, addresses, and speeches, the "pure" (superior) New England character is often contrasted with the invasive (and inferior) immigrant, sometimes subtly, ofttimes not.
In The Ships and Sailors of Old Salem; the Record of a Brilliant Era of American Achievement (1912) Ralph Delahaye Paine's commentary is also typical of the era:
"Salem is proud of its past, but mightily interested in its present…. But as has happened to many other New England cities of the purest American pedigree, a flood of immigration from Europe and Canada has swept into Salem to swarm in its mills and factories. Along the harbor front the fine old square mansions from which the lords of the shipping gazed down at their teeming wharves are tenanted by toilers of many alien nations…" (emphasis added)
Next week: The landscape of Salem's pride
Musician, educator and lecturer, Maggi Smith-Dalton is the president of the Salem History Society and author of “Stories and Shadows from Salem’s Past: Naumkeag Notations” (The History Press, 2010). She and her husband, Jim Dalton, are co-authoring a book on music in Salem's history and have recorded two new albums of 19th-century music for 2011. Reach her at http://singingstring.org. For information on joining the Salem History Society, go to http://salemhistorysociety.org.
Sources, clockwise: Library of Congress; National Park Service; Illustrated London News (1850); “The Embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool” From Illustrated London News (1850), Courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum/National Museum of American History; Postcard (collection of author); photo, M. Smith-Dalton. Background image: Charles West Cope, "The Pilgrim Fathers Departure of a Puritan Family for New England" 1856 National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. Collage by M. Smith-Dalton.