Wednesday, April 26, 2017
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Before the Mass Migration of Poles to America

The vast majority of Polish Americans are descended from the immigrants who came here during the mass migration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries "za chlebem," for bread, or economic opportunities. But when they arrived in the United States they did not find a country devoid of Polish nationals. Decades before these poor peasants arrived, a different class of Poles had settled in America. See the article about Polish Emigration: Historical ReviewPolish Immigration to America: The Early History

These were political exiles who had taken part in patriotic actions against the foreign occupiers in partitioned Poland, mainly in 1830-31, 1846-48 and 1863-64. Their lives and liberty being in danger, they escaped abroad and many made their way to the U.S. These emigres were well educated and not of the agrarian or working class as were the later migrants.

The Polish political emigres in America numbered only in the several thousands and were dispersed throughout the country in places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco and other cities. And they were not concentrated in distinct neighborhoods within these communities. Prior to their coming, persons of Polish descent constituted only a tiny and unorganized portion of America's population. These new immigrants were intent on continuing to promote the cause of freedom and independence for Poland.

In the 1830s the Association of Poles in America was founded, the first formal organization of Polish Americans in this country. Its purpose was to establish formal communication among the members and with other Polish exiles in Europe, and to publicize the cause of freedom and independence for Poland in America. As more Polish exiles arrived after the 1830s, other organizations were founded, such as the Democratic Society of Poles in America, the Polish Slavonian Literary Association, Polish Roman Catholic Union and Polish National Alliance. Names connected to these groups included Civil War General Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, Juliusz Andrejkowicz, Paweł Sobolewski, Jan Tyssowski and Chicago city treasurer Piotr Kiołbassa.

To help keep in touch with each other and to disseminate news in their native tongue, these early Polish immigrants also founded several Polish language newspapers, including Echo z Polski, Pielgrzym, Zgoda and Orzeł Polski, among others. In addition, musicians, singers and actors in early Polonia performed concerts and plays for their own enjoyment as well as to spread Polish culture in America.

Cooperation with other European exile groups came out of a sense of strength in unity. The Poles participated in events held by liberal German, Irish, French, Italian and other ethnic groups in this country. In return, these other groups sent speakers to Polish commemorations of, for example, the Insurrections of 1830 and 1863 and the Third of May Constitution. Poles also joined the Union of Liberal Societies, a kind of umbrella organization of political exiles in America.

In this way the Poles were able to keep a spotlight on their efforts toward freedom in their homeland. In the 1840s and 1850s the Poles held public meetings in venues in various American cities. The goal was to garner financial and political support. They were able to draw many prominent Americans who were sympathetic to their cause. These included author James Fenimore Cooper, inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, Texan Sam Houston and future Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase.

The political immigration had included many priests in its number. They had been chaplains to the insurrectionists in Poland or otherwise provided them aid and comfort. They joined together to keep alive Polish religious traditions in America and ultimately to establish ethnic Polish parishes. These clergymen included Antoni Rossadowski, Franciszek Dzierożyński, Wincenty Barzyński and Józef Dąbrowski, all important names in early Polonia. Reverend Dąbrowski introduced the Felician Sisters into America and co-founded the SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary with Reverend Leopold Moczygemba, who had founded the first Polish settlement in America in Panna Maria, Texas. Please, read: Panna Maria - Difficult First Years.

The efforts of these religious people established a support base for the huge influx of Polish immigrants to come. Perhaps no institution was so important in aiding the people of the mass Polish migration than the Roman Catholic Church.

Thanks to the work of these earlier Polish political emigres, the Poles who arrived in the U.S. in the mass migration beginning in the 1870s found Polish organizations, newspapers and parishes already here to help them adjust to life in America. These later immigrants took these entities and grew them into ever more vibrant support groups for themselves and later generations, preserving Polish culture, history and traditions.

Recommended reading(s):

Jadwiga's CrossingJadwiga's Crossing: a story of the Great Migration by Richard J. Lutz

"Panna Maria, an Image of Polish Texans", by Joseph Jaworski

If you are searching for your roots in Poland this book written by Rosemary A. Chorzempa will be very helpul: Polish Roots

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