Immigration in Warren County

               In the eighteenth century, the Seneca Indians lived in what is now Warren County. By the 1790s, the new United States government made agreements, called treaties, with the Senecas and took this land for its own settlers. New groups of people slowly began to move into the county. Many of Warren County’s early settlers were originally from Scotland and Ireland. When they came to this country, they found that most of the land east of the Appalachian Mountains was already owned by other people. Many of them moved west to find land for themselves. Warren County was west of the Appalachian Mountains and land was available here. One of the first known settlers, Daniel McQuay, an Irish immigrant, came to Warren around 1798 to work for the Holland Land Company in Warren.

               Many other early settlers in Warren County were from the New England states of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Most New Englanders were descendants of immigrants who had come to North America from England. The New England states had been settled for a long time and there was very little land left. Many New Englanders moved west to find better, less expensive land. Even though these settlers were not immigrants, because they were only moving from one state to another, they must have felt like immigrants. Roads were very bad, and travel was difficult. There were no telephones, and it would take weeks or even months for a letter to reach a person. New Englanders who left their homes to come live in Warren might not see friends and family for years.

               Beginning in the 1820s, a number of immigrants began arriving in Warren from different German states and parts of France. In 1828, there were 80 German and French immigrants living in Warren Borough. Unlike the Scotch, Irish, and New Englanders, these new immigrants did not speak English when they arrived. Many of these immigrants were very successful in Warren. They found skilled jobs, operated businesses, and they and their children came to think of Warren as their home. Most of these people lived in the heart of town, between the Conewango Creek and Laurel Street.

               Through the next century and a half, immigrants from many different countries came to settle in Warren County. Numbers of English, Danish, Swedish, Polish, Greek, and Italian immigrants came to Warren, as well as others. For our purposes the information in this teaching kit will focus on the main immigration groups: English, Scotch-Irish, French, German, Swedish, and Italian.

               The first Swedish immigrants came to Warren County in 1848. Swedish immigrants had been coming to the United States for many years, but most had settled west, in such states as Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. In 1846, a group of Swedish immigrants, who had just arrived in America, were heading west when they found themselves stranded in Buffalo, New York with no money to continue their trip. Thus began the first Swedish settlement in the county. More Swedish immigrants continued to follow until there were Swedes throughout the area, many working in the oil and lumber industries. They were considered unskilled workers living mainly on the east side of Warren. Within the county, Swedes also settled on farms in Chandler’s Valley and Scandia.

               A number of Irish had settled in the United States very early in this country’s history. However, most Irish immigrants arrived in the second half on the nineteenth century. In 1845, a famine began in Ireland, the result of a blight which killed the potato crop, the most important food in Ireland. During the next five years, over a million people died from starvation and sickness. Another million and a half people left Ireland, and many came to live in America. Some of these men and women came to live and work in Warren County. They were mainly unskilled laborers and generally lived in the west end of town.

               Italian immigrants began arriving in Warren County during the first years of the twentieth century. Life in Italy, particularly the south, had been hard for many people. Little land was available, taxes were high, disease was common, and even volcanic eruptions meant that life was uncertain. Most Italians were very poor and many were hungry. For these reasons, many Italians chose to come to the United States, and some settled in Warren County. Most of the Italians who moved here found jobs in Warren’s many manufacturing companies, or the oil and lumber businesses, and found homes on the west side of Warren. The many tanneries in the area also provided employment for immigrants from Italy.

               Life for immigrants has never been easy. The first immigrants to arrive in Warren faced physical hardships as they attempted to build houses, schools, and businesses where there were none. Life for immigrants who came later could be just as difficult. Some immigrants in Warren faced prejudice. Because they looked and acted differently from their neighbors, immigrants were sometimes treated poorly by others. The story of Warren County’s immigrants is largely a success story, however. Many left their homelands to find a life that was better than the one they had known. Most were able to see their children and grandchildren become happy, healthy citizens of the United States. In order to feel at home, many immigrants chose to live in neighborhoods with other people from their own country. Being around people who spoke the same language, had similar customs, and had many of the same experiences made people feel better. But immigrants also found themselves “stuck” in certain neighborhoods because they could not afford better houses, and because others did not want immigrants in their neighborhood.

               When immigrants arrived in the United States, they were in a strange new place, but they tried to make themselves and their families as comfortable as possible. Many immigrants continued to speak their own language at home, and to celebrate their own holidays. Groups of immigrants from the same country often lived near one another on special streets and in special neighborhoods. Immigrants often took jobs with their friends and families. They built their own social clubs, churches, and synagogues where they could meet, socialize, and worship in their own language with their own customs. In all of these ways, people tried to make themselves feel more comfortable and more at home in a new and different place.

               People often joined and built special clubs and organizations where they could meet and socialize. The first volunteer fire department in the City of Warren was begun by a group of German immigrants. Organizations including the Sons of Italy, the Marconi Club, and the Danish Sisterhood of North America allowed immigrants to speak their own language, socialize, and celebrate together.

               Religion was very important to immigrants. People came together to worship. At first, people usually held services in private homes. As soon as they were able to afford it, immigrant communities built their own churches. There are many churches in Warren County that were built or influenced by groups of immigrants. Services were often held in the immigrants’ own languages. Until 1819, there were no regular religious services in Warren County. Occasionally, services were conducted by a preacher traveling through the area. Studying the churches that began in Warren also indicates the immigration groups that settled in Warren County.



Resources for added information:
Patterns of Progress: Social Mobility In a Pennsylvania Oil Town, 1870- 1910
Michael P. Weber, BS, ME             Carnegie-Mellon University May, 1972

History of Warren County, Pennsylvania
J. S. Schenck       C. Mason & Co., Syracuse, NY 1887


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society