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The white colonists of Grand Rapids were immigrants, coming chiefly at first from the New England States, New York and Ohio. There has been a steady tide of immigration from that day to this, not only from other States but from foreign countries; insomuch that as late as 1870, of a total population of 50,540 in Kent County, 12,094 were born in other countries, and only 19,856 were born in Michigan. In 1880, of a total in the county of 73,253, the foreign born numbered 17,420, the native born 55,833, and of the latter only 34,368 were natives of Michigan. In 1870, of the foreign born 3,664 were from British America; 1,108 from England and Wales, 2,093 from Ireland, 296 from Scotland, 1,722 from Germany, 2,554 from Holland, 60 from France, and 213 from Sweden and Norway. Of the native population of the county in that year, 11,040 were born in New York State, 2,434 in Ohio, 1,040 in Pennsylvania, 401 in Indiana and 725 in Vermont. In 1880, of the county population 4,312 were born in British America, 1,400 in England and Wales, 2,236 in Ireland, 356 in Scotland, 2,511 in German Empire, 5,186 in Holland, 66 in France, 513 in Sweden and Norway, 11,452 in New York, 3,102 in Ohio, 1,587 in Pennsylvania, and 724 in Vermont. Without going into details of smaller numbers, this may give a general idea of the diversity and relative proportions of nativities of persons in this county for the years mentioned. Something like this has been the mixed character of the community of Kent county from the beginning up. In the city, since the date of its incorporation, the proportion of foreign to native population has been somewhat greater; being, for example, 5,725 foreign to 10,782 native-born in 1870, leaving out 100 colored persons---for other years there is a lack of exact data.

A few Irish came to Grand Rapids in 1835, to work at digging the canal or mill race, and in the early years a few French people, in addition to those connected with the fur trade, joined the settlement. Again in 1841, or about the time of the enlargement of the canal, came more Irish workers, but aside from these the accessions from foreign countries during the first dozen years were not numerous. In 1842, a public meeting was held in Grand Rapids and a local society formed for the promotion of immigration, and John Ball was appointed the resident agent. In the following year the newspapers began to complain that there was not enough effort made to induce immigration to Michigan --immigrants were slipping by into Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. This was due partly to the influence of the boatmen on the lakes, and partly, no doubt, to the very discouraging reports which had been made in previous years by Government officials and others, of the character of the soil and climate of Michigan. One of those reports made at an early day described the country as abounding in lakes, swamps, marshes, and narrow, sluggish streams, with spaces of poor, barren sandy lands bearing scarcely any vegetation. It said further: "Taking the country altogether so far as has been explored, and to all appearances, together with the information received concerning the balance it is so bad there would not be more than one acre out of a hundred, if there would be one out of a thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation." This extract is from a report of a surveyor, under an act of Congress requiring that 2,000,000 acres of land be surveyed in the Territory of Michigan, to be set apart for soldiers of the War with Great Britain. It is doubtful if that surveyor came far into Michigan.

John Almy was appointed immigration Agent by Governor Barry, in the spring of 1845, and the State that year made an appropriation of  $700 to encourage immigration. John Almy and Edmund B. Bostwick, of Grand Rapids, issued a pamphlet setting forth in glowing terms the inducements and advantages here for settlement, copies of which they sent east for distribution where it would do the most good. These initial efforts materially aided in attracting attention to the Grand River Valley.

In 1846 came the advance company of the Holland Colony under the leadership of Dr. A. C. Van Raalte--seventeen families. They landed in New York November 4, but did not reach Holland until February, 1847. In March, 1847, about 150 more arrived, and hundreds more came that season. the majority of these Holland colonists settled in or  near where now is the City of Holland, Ottawa county, on the tract which Dr. Van Raalte had selected for them. But a very large number, in search of employment or business, came to Grand Rapids and settled here. Large additions were made to their numbers in 1848-49. July 4, 1849, the Enquirer said: "Some one hundred or more Dutchmen (Hollanders, we believe) arrived at Grandville last week. They are the advance guard of about 500 who have come in a body to this river." And again, September 19: "During the past week our streets have been 'taken by the Dutch.' The Hollanders have resorted here in uncommon numbers, and their ox teams have made quite a caravan." From that time to the present, almost yearly, there have been large accessions of this class of hardy, industrious people to our population. In 1854 the Hollanders of the city formed an immigration society to aid poor people in their native country, desiring to emigrate, to come here. In 1880 and 1881 especially, came colonies of from 200 to 300 each, of whom doubtless more than one-half stopped in Grand Rapids, the others going west or north. As to the number of Hollanders now here, there are no data set down in the State census reports; but according to the United States census they outnumber in the county any other class of foreign-born residents. In the manufacturing establishments of this city are large numbers of Holland nativity or parentage; steady, careful and trusty workmen.

The immigration from Ireland has been constant from the beginning. Many Irish, about 1848, fled from the mother country as fast as they could get away, being under the displeasure of the British Government on account of the revolutionary movements of O'Brien and other patriots of that period. Considerable numbers of Irish families had previously settled about the Rapids and in this vicinity, and from that time for several years their accessions from newcomers were steady and large. There had been in fact as early as 1846 Irish relief movements here, and liberal contributions of funds (considering the smallness and comparative poverty of the place) in aid of the suffering classes in Ireland, who had been brought to great distress by the prevalence of potato-rot and other disasters, as well as by political complications. The comers here had great affection for and strong sympathies with those left upon the old sod, and were constantly sending such relief supplies as they could spare not only, but funds to enable them to come over and share the advantages of free government in a new country. The later Fenian troubles, and the difficulties on account of the exactions of landlords, familiar to everybody, have served also to keep up a steady stream of immigration from Ireland, of which the Grand Rapids region has taken its full share. They form a not inconsiderable factor of the population, assimilate readily under our customs and institutions, and in the main become a patriotic and energetic class of citizens.

The German people in large numbers seem to have taken a great liking to this country and its institutions, almost equal to that which they have for their national beverage. A few of them settled in and about Grand Rapids before 1840. Among the earliest here were the Cordes family, Anthony and Elizabeth, with seven sons and one daughter, of whom and their descendants a large number are now living in the city and neighboring towns. They came from Westphalia, Germany, in 1836, and settled in Clinton county, and there started and named the town of Westphalia. From there they came here in the "hard winter" of 1842-43. Prior to 1850 also came the Thomes, Kusterers, Christs, Tusches, and other German families who have since been more or less prominently identified with the history and development of the city. As a class of German immigrants are a stalwart people; intelligent and enterprising, and withal eminently social and musical. In point of numbers they form a large and influential class of those who have come across the seas. Among the skilled mechanics and expert workmen in our factories are many of German nativity or descent. From the refugees of 1848 to the latest free comers they are alike fervid and enthusiastic in their love for the country of their adoption.

October 6, 1883, the Germans by nativity and descent of this city held a bicentennial celebration of German immigration to this country---of the landing at Germantown, now a part of Philadelphia, October 6, 1683, of their first colony, of thirteen Quaker families. It was a notable occasion among enthusiastic anniversary jubilees in Grand Rapids. A procession over two miles long paraded the streets, in which the city officers, policemen, bands, military companies and Grand Army Posts joined, and the local German societies were out in full numbers. There were large delegations from abroad---Kalamazoo German societies came in uniform. The Michigan Staats-Zeitung and Sanntags-Blatt of this city were in line with displays, the former representing a wilderness in Pennsylvania, with William Penn and two Indians in consultation, the latter a modern printing office. The Grand Rapids Turn Verein represented the first German immigrants in costume. There was also a very large trades display--workmen dressed according to their avocations, butchers, brewers with big casks, maltsters with big shovels, coopers, bakers, a Vienna bakery turning out old bread and new, and almost every variety of store and shop. Prominent native as well as German tradesmen and merchants joined in the jubilee.

Crops in Norway and Sweden had been poor for about seven years prior to 1870. Much distress prevailed there, and emigrants from those countries were going through Michigan to Wisconsin and Minnesota and other western points. Those people came largely in colonies. Rev. J. P. Tustin, in 1871, went to Europe, under an arrangement with the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad Company and others interested in foreign immigration, and succeeded in directing the attention of  many of the Scandinavians to Michigan. Through his and other similar efforts nearly a thousand Swedes and Norwegians have become residents hereabout, a large proportion of them at Grand Rapids. There is quite an admixture here also of Polanders. In the census tables, British America is given as the country from which a very large portion of our foreign-born population came here. But undoubtedly a great number of these also were born beyond the Atlantic. Our community is made up of a mixture from many nationalities and bloods; the natives outnumbering the total of the foreigners, however, in the ratio of about three to one. But the immigrants assimilate rapidly, generally take immediate steps for naturalization, and on becoming citizens show equal readiness with the Yankee people to vote and accept office, with the duties and responsibilities attaching thereto. They heard of this valley and its attractions at a very early day, and for the last forty years there has been little need of immigration societies. They needed not much the difficulties in the way of getting here, they have come freely and they like their new home.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/21immigration.html
Created: 2 August 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]