Research In The Lonestar State

Immigration to Texas

  • To outline the typical patterns of immigrants, understanding how and why they chose their homes and their jobs
  • Understand interaction with others. Be aware of the unwelcome immigrants.
  • With the knowledge of these objectives, you will be able to use new sources and better place families in their lives.

    The First
    The first Texans were immigrants of Asiatic origin who followed game into the area perhaps 40,000 years ago. Evidence was uncovered by workmen building a dam in north Texas.

    The first Texan that has been identified is known as "Midland Minnie". She was discovered near Midland in 1953. Evidence suggests that she lived between 8,000 and 18,000 years ago.

    In 1528, the first Texas Indians to come in contact with Europeans were the Karankawas. Other Indian groups found in Texas were the Caddos, Coahuiltecans, Lipan Apaches, Tiguas, Tonkawas, among others. Later groups included the Alabama and Coushattas, Cherokees, Comanches, Kiowa-Apaches, Kiowas, and the Wichitas. The struggle between the Indians and the Anglos began in the 1820's.

    The Indian presence in Texas has been increasing. In 1900, the State had 470 persons with Indian ancestry. By 1960 the number was 5,750. There are two resident tribes in Texas, the Tiguas and Alabama-Coushattas. Both have stayed together and have preserved their old customs.

    To view a map of the Indian tribe locations, click here.

    The Italians
    The first Italian to view Texas was in 1497 in search of trade routes. Coronado and his group traveled across the area in 1541. Italian immigration increased after 1875, leaving behind poverty and military service. They were noted for their musical skills and culinary talents. The population in Texas was small and most lived in the Galveston-Houston area and in the Dallas area.

    The Spanish or Latin American
    The first foreign settlement was by the Spanish in 1519. Prior to this time, Texas was settled by Indians. An increasing number of ships left the Spanish ports for New Spain. The immigrants invisioned wealth, glory, adventure, and the lost souls to be saved by the missionaries.

    Spaniards ruled Texas for three centuries. Two-thirds of the recorded history of Texas is Spanish. This influence continues strongly in Texas today. The Spanish Empire in North America ended in the beginning of the 19th century. Texas became Mexican territory. Many Spaniards remained in Texas.

    To view a map of the Latin American Population, click here.

    The English
    Captain Sir John Hawkins set sail in 1567. A storm pushed the ships into the Gulf of Mexico. They landed at Veracruz and were attacked by the Spanish navy. Some 114 set ashore to begin a 3,000 mile adventure across the wilderness. Part would later become Texas. Only three survived to return to England, and only one was alive in 1582 to report on the size, wealth, and natural beauty.

    Stephen F. Austin began to lead the Anglos to Texas in 1821. Many of these colonists were of English birth. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas was a direct descendant of the Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the Bill of Rights.

    Several early attempts were made to colonize Texas, but all failed. In 1839-1840, the first such group landed at Galveston to learn they did not have title to lands they thought they had bought.

    Most of the English immigrants were farmers and came to Texas as independent, single families instead of groups.

    The Afro Americans
    The Afro Americans arrived with the first European exploration. The Spanish expeditions traveled with both slave and free blacks. They were navigators, soldiers, merchants, and draftsmen. The first known to set foot in Texas was in 1528 with the Navaez expedition. Esteban landed near Galveston Island and was enslaved by Indians. His rudimentary medical knowledge and gift for languages increased his influence over them. After eight years, he and three others went to Mexico City to find the Seven Cities Of Gold.

    Under Spanish rule in Texas, freed blacks were accepted socially and were free to work in professions or skilled trades. They could also marry whomever they chose. Under Mexican rule, a free Negro had all the legal and political rights of citizenship. The pre-revolutionary Texas accepted an individual on his personal merit. During the revolution, blacks and slaves fought beside the white colonists to establish the Republic. The Republic was dependent upon slave labor and maintained slavery in its constitution.

    To view a map of the African American Population 1880, click here.

    The French
    The French were early traders with the Indians and Spanish in Texas. La Salle landed near Sabine Pass in 1685 and established Fort Saint Louis. La Salle was murdered by his own men near Navasota in 1687. Many Frenchmen came to Texas after the Louisiana Purchase to escape Anglo-American domination.

    The early French settlers included Creoles, Cajuns, refugees from the slave uprisings in Santo Domingo and emigres from the French Revolution. These immigrants were farmers, businessmen, slave traders, pirates, and soldiers. A pirate community was established on Galveston Island by Jean Lafitte. The community contained more than 1,000 persons at its peak in 1818.

    France was the first European power to recognize the independence of the Texas Republic. A treaty was proclaimed between France and the Republic of Texas in 1840. This treaty continued until 1846.

    The French were very helpful to Texas by adding education, culture, and business into the area. The French missionaries founded churches, schools and hospitals in Texas. After the Civil War, the French helped settle the western section of the state.

    Those who immigrated to Texas made their way in small groups or singly until the 1840's. At this time, Henri Castro established a colony in Castroville. In 1876, the Franco-Texan Land Company was was the most successful effort to bring the French to Texas.

    The Belgians
    The first Belgians came with LaSalle in 1685. Most were farmers desiring freedom and wealth. Their greatest immigration was in the 19th century. The Texas Republic was deeply in dept after the war and sought European loans. The Belgians were interested in Texas as a market and colonization, but did not want to lose their Mexican trade. Help did not come from Belgium, but prompted the U.S. to annex Texas.

    There were few Belgians in Texas prior to the arrival of colonists in 1854. These immigrants faced natural hardships in La Reunion and decided that the utopian colony would not materialize. A separate colony was planned at Louvain, but this too was unsuitable. Most decided they could not handle the rustic life and moved back to Dallas. Most Belgians were engaged in agriculture.

    The Anglo Americans
    In 1820, Texas had approximately 4,000 immigrants. Most of these were from Spain and Mexico. Immigration was opened to Americans in 1821. By 1836, there were 38,000 settlers in Texas. Most of the Anglos were second or third generation North Europeans. The Anglos controlled all the social, political, and economic affairs. Their legal, educational, and religion prevailed.

    The Anglos were attracted by cheap land and since three-fourths were from the agricultural South, they were familiar with the land.

      There are four main routes they traveled:
    • Sea route from New Orleans
    • The southerly Atascosito Road crossing the Sabine river at Gaines' Ferry
    • From Arkansas crossing the Red River to north Texas
    • The north road through Nacogdoches crossing the Trinity River

    To view a map of the grants, click here.

    The Swiss
    The Swiss began immigrating to Texas in 1821. They had several plans to settle large groups, that failed to materialize. The Swiss had little reason to immigrate to Texas. They did come on their own and contributed to the Texas independence. They slowly arrived until 1880. Many settled in north Texas communities. Their careers were farming, ranching, banking, and dairy. There were few Swiss in Texas, however more than other neighboring states.

    The Swedish
    The first Swedish settler, S. M. Swenson, a twenty-two year old who made a fortune in cotton, arrived in Houston in 1836. He set off a stream of migration to Texas. Sweden at that time was poor, overpopulated, and with little food. Swenson offered free passage to anyone who would work for him for a year. This continued for sixty years.

    Most Swedes landed in Galveston and then continued to Houston. A number settled in Central Texas, especially in Austin. The Swedes valued education and mastered English to become good citizens and achieve economic security. They were a successful group of immigrants. They did not stay within distinct communities, but did maintain their association through church. Most were Lutheran or Methodist.

    To view a map of the Swedish settlements, click here.

    The Norwegians
    This first Norwegian settler in Texas was John Nordboe, who was sixty-four years old, a farmer and physician. He settled in 1841 near Dallas. The first Norwegin settlement was in 1845 in Henderson County. Other settlements followed in Kaufman and Van Zandt Counties. Many Norwegians moved to Bosque County in 1854.

    The Wendish
    The first immigrant group to arrive in Texas was from Saxony and Prussia in 1854, landing in Galveston. They consisted of 500 settlers. The largest group came to Texas to avoid ethnic and religious problems. The Wendish immigrants were usually bilingual with German. Many joined German settlements. They settled in Lee County and established a church and school. The Texas Wendish Heritage Museum and Library in Serbin specializes in their history and genealogy.

    The Polish
    Polish immigration to Texas began early in the 19th century. Before the 1850's, Poles came singly or in small groups. During the 1850's, Polish immigration increased. Many of these immigrants were farmers and businessmen. The first organized group of immigrants to America sailed from Bremen and landed on Galveston in 1854. Their destination was Karnes County. The Polish immigration continued after the Civil War mostly to East Central Texas. The immigrants were escaping poverty, political, cultural, and religious hardships. Houston held the largest concentration of Polish immigrants.

    To view a map of the Polish settlements, click here.

    The Danish
    The Danish began arriving in Texas between 1820 to 1920, leaving economic hardships, overpopulation, and better health. The Danes that arrived in the 1850's and 1860's entered either overland from other states or by ship. In the 1860's families began arriving in Lee County. They consisted of farmers and craftsmen. The Danes scattered and intermarried frequently with Germans.

    Land purchased in 1894 by the Danish People's Society made the way for another group of Danes to Texas. These Danes faced problems with the new farming environment, but they changed to growing cotton which was a successful crop in Texas.

    The Germans
    There are the occasional German adventurers and settlers who had been Spanish subjects. But the beginning of the true German settlement in Texas can be dated from the arrival of pioneers Friedrich Ernst, "Father of German Immigration to Texas," and Charles Fordtran in 1831. From 1831 to 1845, Germans came to Texas singly or in small groups.

    In 1842, German migration to Texas was promoted by a society called Adelsverein. Thousands of Germans arrived in Galveston, Houston and the valleys between the Brazos and Colorado rivers. Once in Galveston, they would travel overland to New Braunfels, or by boat to Indianola, Victoria, or New Braunfels. Most settled in in Central Texas. The German migration peaked in 1848 to avoid the political problems in Germany. There were other reasons for their migration to Texas. Some sought economic and social improvement, as well as other reasons.

    To view a map of the German settlements, click here.

    The Jewish
    In 1836, there were only a few Jews in Texas. They came in increasing numbers after this time. Their reason for immigration to Texas was the economic and political unrest in Europe. Jews came from no particular geographic region and represented many nationalities. Some Jews settled in commercial areas and others in small towns. Many Jews entered the port of Galveston sponsored by the Jewish Immigrants Information Bureau.

    The Czech and Slovak
    The Czech and Slovak immigration consisted of Bohemian, Moravian, Silesian, German-Bohemian, Slovak, Ruthenian, Jewish, Austrian or Hungarian.

    Czech immigration to Texas did not begin until the 1850's. The first group arrived in Galveston in 1852. Most of the Czech immigrants had been farmers in Europe and settled in the coastal plains of Texas. They then moved to other parts of the state. The Texas Czechs are known for their methods of cultivation and they played a major part to the Texas cotton industry.

    The first group was organized by Josef Lesikar. He had become dissatisfied with the Austrian rule over his homeland in 1848. Lesikar did not come to Texas until a later time, however he helped 74 people in 1851 come to Texas. Only 38 of these people would survive to see their destination in Austin County. Lesikar came with the second group in the end of 1852. The voyage lasted seven weeks and they reached their settlement at New Ulm.

    The Czechs have kept their heritage alive today in churches, festivals, Czech newspapers, fraternal organizaitons, and radio.

    To view a map of the Czech settlements, click here.

    The Syrian and Lebanese
    The first people arrived just before the Civil War, when the U. S. Army attempted to develop camel transportation between Texas and California. The camel tenders were mostly Arabs, Greeks and Turks. In the 1880's, immigrants began arriving in Texas. Christians were the first. A few Moslems came before 1945. Many left because of overpopulation, economic, religious, political, and social hardships. These immigrants contributed the Phoenician alphabet. Most were peddlers. Immigration was limited after 1924.

    The Greek
    The Greek communities began in the late 19th century. These were fishermen, sailors, and adventurers. On the 1860 census, only two Greeks were listed in Texas. This number has grown. The major immigration into Texas was between 1890 to 1920. Their reason for immigrating to Texas was the economic depression, overpopulation, unstable government, social pressures and wars in Greece. These immigrants settled in cities where they would benefit economically. They frequently worked in cafes until they could speak English and were able to open their own cafes or other businesses.

    The first known Greek that came to Texas with Jean Lafitte, the pirate. He was known as Captain Nicholas. He settled in Galveston and lived until a few days before his 100th birthday. He perished in the 1900 storm.

    The first Greek community was in Galveston. They consisted of fishermen, sailors, and merchants. They joined with Serbians, Russians, and Syrians to build the Orthodox church.

    Immigration Records in Texas

    There are many immigration indexes available for Texas. Many of the indexes in book form are for a specific ethinic group. There are many published lists for the ports of Texas. There are also microfilm of passenger lists available for many ports. Keep in mind that the passenger lists are located at the first port of entry. Many ships first stopped at Galveston before sailing to other ports. As well, also check New Orleans for passenger lists. This was also a common first stop before Texas.

    Proceed to Lesson Four


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