This Upcoming Week in Immigrant History: July 11-17

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XpatNation’s weekly immigrant history report looks to examine some of the lesser talked about moments in history in the US and around the world. Immigrants and expatriates have been contributing to the US and the world as a whole for centuries, bringing culture, knowledge and expertise as they adapt and thrive in the new worlds they enter.

Zheng He Sets Sail to Explore — July 11, 1405

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Chinese explorer Zheng He ought to be in the history books in our high schools between Leif Erikson and Christopher Colombus. A lifetime before the latter sailed west in search of Asia, Zheng He (a Muslim incidentally) sailed west from China seven times.

“In 1405, Zheng was chosen to lead the biggest naval expedition in history up to that time. Over the next 28 years (1405-1433), he commanded seven fleets that visited 37 countries, through Southeast Asia to faraway Africa and Arabia. In those years, China had by far the biggest ships of the time. In 1420 the Ming navy dwarfed the combined navies of Europe.”

“The fleet consisting of giant nine-masted junks, escorted by dozens of supply ships, water tankers, transports for cavalry horses, and patrol boats. The armada’s crew totaling more than 27,000 sailors and soldiers.”

China by 1433, however, was undergoing a revival of Confucian traditionalism. China’s national security issues stemmed not from ocean-going vessels of hostile powers but from land-based raiders and invaders – the Great Wall was an attempt to stop them. So, the Chinese viewed naval assets as adjuncts at best to its army. It was a case of Yellow River defeating blue water.

“With the death of Yongle, the Emperor who sent Zheng He on his voyages, the conservatives began their ascendancy. China suspended naval expeditions. By century’s end, construction of any ship with more than two masts was deemed a capital offense. Oceangoing vessels were destroyed. Eventually, even records of Zheng He’s journey were torched. China’s heroic age was over; its open door had slammed shut.”

How very different would the settlement of the Americas have been had Zheng He been followed by other explorers, perhaps even one who believed you could reach Europe by sailing east.

Governors of New Amsterdam Buys Ellis Island – July 12, 1630

575d0557bf954c2d02e0b4dae470e8cbImage Source: Pinterest

Ellis Island lies at the heart of the American immigration story. Roughly 12 million people passed through it to become Americans. From 1892 to 1954, it was the busiest immigrant inspection station in the country. Today, it is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

But before there was a New York, there was a “Nieuw Amsterdam”. It was a Dutch settlement on the island of Manhattan. Dutch colonist Pieter Minuit is alleged to have spent $24 to acquire it. The joke was on him, though, because he made the deal with the Canarsees although the island was controlled by the Weckquaesgeeks.

In any case, the Dutch were in the land-buying business. So on this day in 1630, “The Colonial governors of Nieuw Amsterdam purchased a small, 3.5-acre mud bank in Upper New York Bay, near the New Jersey shore. The Indians called it Kioshk, or Gull Island, after the birds that were its only inhabitants. The Dutch settlers called it Oyster Island, after the many surrounding oyster beds. The Island barely rose above the surface at high tide.” It became Ellis Island when title passed to Samuel Ellis, long after Niew Amsterdam changed hands in 1664 to become New York.

Alexander Hamilton Dies — July 12, 1804

duel-hamilton-1890Image Source: All in one High School

Alexander Hamilton was, as the play on Broadway tells us, “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten Spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor.” Yet he moved to America at 14, and wound up an aide to General Washington, author of most of the Federalist Papers, first Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the American financial system.

In the play and in history, Hamilton had an arch-rival, a nemesis, named Aaron Burr. In 1791, Burr won a Senate seat over Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s powerful father-in-law. Hamilton, then Treasury secretary, would have counted on Schuyler to support his policies. In 1800, Burr published a monograph by Hamilton that criticized President John Adams most forcefully. And when Burr and Jefferson tied in the electoral college for the presidency, Hamilton helped persuade the House of Representatives to choose Jefferson (Jefferson and Burr ran on the same ticket, but there was no provision for separate ballots for the presidency and vice presidency). In 1804, Hamilton helped defeat Burr’s effort to win the New York governor’s race.

In short, Burr saw Hamilton as the man who kept getting in his way. He was spoiling for a fight, and dueling was the way a gentleman dealt with this. “In February, 1804, a New York Republican, Dr. Charles D. Cooper, attended a dinner party at which Alexander Hamilton spoke forcefully and eloquently against Burr. Cooper later wrote a letter to Philip Schuyler in which he made reference to a particularly ‘despicable opinion’ Hamilton expressed about Burr. The letter was published in a New York newspaper the Albany Register.” Thus, there was cause for a challenge.

“After Hamilton’s and Burr’s seconds tried without success to settle the matter amicably, the two political enemies met on the dueling grounds at Weehawken, New Jersey on the morning of July 11. Each fired a shot from a .56 caliber dueling pistol. Burr was unscathed; Hamilton fell to the ground mortally wounded. He died the next day”

Sacco and Vanzetti Convicted – July 14, 1921

Sacco-VanzettiImage Source: Crisis ssome Blog

On this day in 1921, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, immigrants from Italy, were convicted of robbery and murder. They were both political radicals, usually referred to as anarchists, and there was an incredible Red Scare going on in America at the time. This was, after all, just a few years after Lenin took over Russia and created the “workers’ paradise” known as the Soviet Union.

They were alleged to have been part of a gang that killed two men in order to steal the payroll of the Slater and Morrill shoe factory in Dedham, Massachusetts. A similar crime had been committed in Bridgewater not long before.

They were arrested and put on trial, and the legal drama went on for six years. In Massachusetts in those days, trials were quick and appeals rarely delayed things very long. “The fact is that a long succession of disclosures has aroused interest far beyond the boundaries of Massachusetts and even of the United States, until the case has become one of those rare causes célèbres which are of international concern.”

Their English was weak, and the translator so biased that they arranged for another interpreter to check on the translations offered. “Although the arguments brought against them were mostly disproven in court, the fact that the two men were known radicals (and that their trial took place during the height of the Red Scare) prejudiced the judge and jury against them.”

The judge, Webster Thayer, instructed the jury “This man, although he may not actually have committed the crime attributed to him is nevertheless morally culpable because he is the enemy of our existing institutions . . . the defendant’s ideals are cognate with crime.” Read that again, slowly. During a Dartmouth football game, he was overheard saying to a friend, “Did you see what I did to those anarchistic bastards?”

Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1929.

Related Content: Why Are Americans so Obsessed with Prepper Conventions?

Russians Land in Alaska – July 15, 1741

Berings_ships_wreckedImage Source: Wikipedia

In school, we are taught that the US bought Alaska from Russia, and that it was seen as a dumb move at time. It was known as “Seward’s Folly” after the Secretary of State who arranged the sale. But how did the Russians come to have possession?

It starts with Peter the Great, the man who founded St. Petersburg (Leningrad in my day). Before becoming Tsar of All the Russias, he traveled in western Europe, including the Netherlands where he worked on building ships. Indeed, he became a member of the shipwrights’ guild, the only royal every to be a union member.

Before his death in 1725, “Peter the Great sent a Dane named Vitus Bering to search for a route to America from Kamchatka. Bering reached Cape Dezhnev in 1728, established that a passage existed, and turned back on being alarmed by the cruelty of the local Chukchi tribes. In 1732, the Russian Admiralty ordered investigations of Siberia and a route to America and Japan, consisting of three parties: a marine expedition to the North Pacific, a land expedition to East Siberia, and a sea expedition to map and describe the northern coast of Siberia, later called the Great Northern Expeditions. Empress Anna put Bering in charge of the five Great Northern Expeditions, which lasted from 1733 to 1742.”

Bering’s right-hand-man in these voyages was Alexei Ilyich Chirikov. The second expedition consisted of two vessels and crew. Bering commanded the St. Peter while Chirikov commanded the St. Paul. During a gale on June 20, 1741, “Chirikov’s ship became separated from Bering’s Vessel, the St. Peter , and thereafter he continued the Voyage on his own. At 55° 21′ N. lat. Chirikov reached the American coast on July 15th, that is 1 1/2 days earlier and about 3° farther south than Bering. It was near Cape Addington, west of the Prince of Wales Island.

“Russian traders and trappers followed. They may have reached as far as San Francisco –Russian Hill “got its name when gold rushers found seven Cyrillic-inscribed gravestones at the top of the hill. Consensus on the identity of the Russian men buried there — they were reputed to be anything from sailors to fur trappers — was never reached, the gravestones disappeared in the late 1800s . . .”


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