Finnish Immigration to America

William Shakespeare

Emmigration

History of Finnish Immigration to America
This article contains interesting facts, statistics and the history of Finnish Immigration to America.

To understand the reason for Finnish immigration it helps to have an overview of the history of the people of Finland. The Finns are described as being of Baltic descent or closely linked to Norse, North Germanic and Scandinavian tribes. Other Scandinavian countries include Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. The Christianization of the Finnish people during the period of the Crusades replaced the early tribal structures. In 1323 Finland became part of the Swedish realm. Finland remained part of Sweden but was subjected to a reign of terror from Russia during the 1700's. In 1809 Finland it was ceded to Russia by the Swedes. Finland remained part of Russia until the 1917 Russian Revolution when the country declared its independence and became a republic in 1919.  The early history of the Finnish Immigration to America is inextricably linked to Swedish and Russian history and difficult to trace as a separate entity as many were classified on records as either Swedish or Russian. The Finnish Immigration to America began in the 1600's as the European powers clamored to obtain lands in the New World.

History of Finnish Immigration to America: Religion
The first Christian religion of Finland was Roman Catholic but in 1517 Martin Luther initiated the Protestant Reformation which resulted in the majority of Northern Europe coming under the influence of Protestantism. Between 1554-1557 Mikael Agricola was the leading figure in the Finnish Reformation. The history of immigration to America began with the immigration of the Finnish Protestants who accompanied the Swedes in their attempt to colonize the New World.

History of Finnish Immigration to America: The Reasons for Finnish Immigration to America
Why did people want to leave Finland and why did they want to move to America? The early immigrants of the Colonial era wanted to acquire new lands and profit from new opportunities for trade. It was also the opportunity for Finnish immigrants to make a life on a new continent in which they had not been conquered nor would be subservient to another country - first to Sweden and later Russia. The Finnish immigrants were therefore motivated to emigrate due to political and financial reasons. Reasons for the Finnish Immigration to America in the 1700 and 1800's were disasters such as wars, crop failures and poor harvests leading to dire poverty and hunger. The agricultural revolution caused unemployment and the financial need to seek a better life. Others emigrated to escape religious and political persecution in Finland or to be closer to family or friends who had already settled in America. Also refer to Examples of PUSH and PULL Factors of Finnish Immigration.

History of Finnish Immigration to America: The Major Waves of Finnish Immigration
The history of Finnish Immigration to America began when Finns settled the colony in America called New Sweden. There were two major Finnish immigration waves to America in the 1800's:

  • The second major wave of Finnish immigration occured between 1866 - 1873. The surge in immigration was caused by the devastating Finnish Famine of 1866 - 1868 

  • The second major wave of Finnish immigration was between 1890 and 1914 when more than 200,000 Finnish people immigrated to America - it was known as the Great Migration.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: The Colonial Era
Finnish Immigration to America began during the Colonial Era. At this time in history Finland was part of Sweden so the first immigrants consisted of both Swedish and Finnish people. The history of Finnish Immigration to America began as Finns accompanied the first traders and colonists from Sweden to the New World during the Colonial Era.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: The Finns and New Sweden
A group of 50 Finnish and Swedish colonists established the first small colony in Delaware Bay that was called New Sweden (Nya Sverige). The colony grew and established trading links with the Mohican and Algonquian Native Indian tribes for beaver furs. Additional colonists arrived consisting of over 600 Swedes and Finns. Approximately half of the settlers of New Sweden were Finns - but many of them had been transported against their will as indentured servants.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: Indentured Servants
Finnish Immigration to America was supplemented by the Indentured Servants system. The Indenture system was introduced by the Swedish to meet the growing demand for cheap and plentiful labor in their new colony. Sweden ruled Finland and deportation as an indentured servant was a practical form of punishment. Petty criminals, poachers and army deserters were sentenced to indentured servitude for periods between 5 and 7 years. Others also volunteered. The cost of travel to America was completely out of the reach of Finnish peasants. The only way to get to America was to sign a 5 to 7 year contract as an Indentured servant in exchange for transportation and a new life in America.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: Hans Ammundson Besk
Finnish Immigration to America continued on small scale. In 1653 a loyal Finnish Captain named Hans Ammundson Besk was given a huge tract of land in by Queen Christina of Sweden and Finland. The land stretched from present-day Chester Creek to Marcus Hook Creek in Delaware. Captain Besk died en route to the New World but many other Finns, who had accompanied him on the voyage, did settle there.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: Martti Marttinen (John Morton)
One of the first Finnish colonists from Eastern Finland was a man called Martti Marttinen, who arrived in America in 1654 and joined his countrymen in the New Sweden Colony. When it was taken over by the English he changed his name to the anglicized form of John Morton, determined to fit in with the majority of his fellow colonists. He succeeded and raised his family in the New World. He was the great-grandfather of John Morton one of the signers of the US Declaration of Independence.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1600's: New Sweden falls to the English
Conflict developed between the Dutch colonies of New Netherland and those of New Sweden. In 1655 the governor of New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant, attacked and conquered New Sweden for the Dutch. His victory was short lived as all the lands fell to the English in 1657. The original colonists were allowed to remain, the Finnish settlers stayed in America and the colony of New Sweden was assimilated into the English colonies of Delaware and Pennsylvania.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1700's: The Great Northern War and the Plague
Finnish Immigration to America was difficult as the voyage was expensive and the passage could take up to 3 months. But Finnish people were desperate to get away from Finland and face dangers, servitude and uncertainty in preference to remaining in their homeland. The reason for this was the Great Northern War (1700–1721) that erupted between Sweden and Russia. The war led to harsh conditions, poverty and destitution. The armies ravaged the countryside, leading to crop failure, famine and disease. Helsinki was devastated in 1710 by the deadly bubonic plague. Two-thirds of the inhabitants of Helsinki died of the plague. The devastation during the period the Great Northern War led to the loss of nearly 50% the population. By 1721 only 250,000 people remained in Finland.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Finnish Traders in Alaska
In 1809 Finland was ceded to Russia by Sweden. The Russians had claimed Alaska in 1733 and Russian explorers and fur traders had established various Alaskan trading posts from this time. After Finland came under Russian rule a number of Finnish sailors and traders traveled to Alaska. Two Finns achieved great success in Alaska working for the Russian-American Company at this time. Their names were Arvid Adolf Etholén and Johan Hampus Furuhjelm. Many Finns remained in Alaska even after Russia sold to the United States in 1867.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Finnish Famine of 1866 - 1868
Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's began slowly. Sailors took the opportunity to jump ship and migrate to the United States. The 1848 California Gold Rush tempted literally hundreds of Finnish sailors to abandoned their ships to seek their fortune in the Land of Opportunity. The American Civil War (1861 - 1865) broke out and this was followed by the first major wave of Finnish immigrants. The wave of immigration was sparked by the Finnish Famine of 1866 - 1868.  The devastating famine hit both Finland and Sweden. The death toll reached 270,000 in just three years. The Finnish Famine of 1866–1868 was called "the great hunger years", or the  "suuret nälkävuodet". The Finnish Famine was caused by extensive flooding that resulted in potatoes and vegetables rotting in the fields of Finland. About 15% of the population died. Over 146,000 people were forced to leave Finland and Sweden between 1866 and 1873. The wave of Finnish immigration was only halted when the financial panic of 1873 hit the United States which led to the six year period in American history known as the Long Depression.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Great Migration
Finnish Immigration to America in the 1880's to the early 1900's increased significantly, sparked by the increasingly anti-Finnish policies of the Russian government. Finns fled the instability in their homeland and were recruited by companies in the US who needed cheap labor. Small Finnish communities sprang up around the country particularly in Michigan, Massachusetts and Alabama. New York City became home to many Finnish-Americans, particularly Brooklyn's 10,000-strong "Finntown." Between 1890 and 1914, more than 200,000 Finnish people immigrated to America - it was known as the Great Migration.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Ellis Island
As Finnish Immigration to America in the 1800's exploded so did the numbers of immigrants across Europe due to massive levels of unemployment. Between 1881 - 1890 a total of 5,246,613 immigrants flooded into the United States. There were calls for the US government to restrict immigration and new immigration laws were passed to address the problem. The 1891 Immigration Act regulated immigration by introducing the inspection and deportation of immigrants. And in 1892 the Ellis Island immigration center (1892 - 1954) was opened.Preference was shown to the "Old Immigrants" and few Finnish immigrants were turned away.

History of Finnish Immigration to America in the 1900's
The new century brought turmoil and destruction as World War One (1914 - 1918) broke out.  Towards the end of WWI the 1917 Russian Revolution also erupted. After many years of struggle for Finnish independence from Russia it was achieved in 1917 and Finland became a republic in 1919. The great Finnish Immigration to America ended as the situation in Finland stabilized. Finnish immigration declined, the majority of migrants then left Finland to join their families who had already made a home in America.

Finnish Immigration to America
The five states with the largest Finnish populations are Michigan, Minnesota, California, Washington and Massachusetts. According to the 2000 United States Census, 623,000 Americans, claimed Finnish ancestry.

Finnish Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids
Important facts about the history of Finnish Immigration to America and US laws that effected the migrants from Sweden are contained in the following Facts Sheet and history timeline.

Finnish Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids

Fact 1: 1150: The Christianization of the Finnish people during the Crusades of the Medieval period

Fact 2: 1323: Finland is conquered by Sweden

Fact 3: 1638: 50 Finnish and Swedish colonists established the first small colony in Delaware Bay that was called New Sweden (Nya Sverige)

Fact 4: 1653: Finnish Captain Hans Ammundson Besk was awarded a huge tract of land in Delaware by Queen Christina of Sweden

Fact 5: 1654: Martti Marttinen joined the New Sweden Colony and was the ancestor of the politician John Morton who signed the Declaration of Independence

Fact 6: 1655: The lands of the New Sweden colony fall to the Dutch.

Fact 7: 1657: The colonies owned by the Dutch and previously the Swedish fall to the English

Fact 8: 1700: The ravages of the Great Northern War (1700–1721) killed half the population of Finland

Fact 9: 1710: Two-thirds of the inhabitants of Helsinki die of the Bubonic plague

Fact 10: 1809: Finland was ceded to Russia by Sweden.

Fact 11: 1810: Finnish traders travel to Alaska including Arvid Adolf Etholén and Johan Hampus Furuhjelm

Fact 12: 1866: The Finnish Famine of 1866 - 1868, the "suuret nälkävuodet". prompted the first major wave of Finnish immigrants

Fact 13: 1873: The financial panic of 1873 hit the US lasting for six years

Fact 14: 1880's: Anti-Finnish policies of the Russian government led to the Great Migration

Fact 15: 1892: The Ellis Island immigration center was opened where immigrants from Europe, including Finland, were required to undergo medical and legal examinations

Fact 16: 1917: Finland obtains independence during the 1917 Russian Revolution

Fact 17: 1919: Finland becomes a republic in 1919.

Finnish Immigration to America has declined from this time

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