The Immigration to the USA

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History of the Lebanese migration to the USA

Compiled by Joseph Iskandar Abou Rjeily -

The story goes back to the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when Lebanese and Syrians people migrated massively escaping the Turkish persecutions.

Lebanon was a Turkish province part of Greater Syria (Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) and subjugated to Ottoman dominion, which granted the Mount Lebanon area autonomous rule. The people of Mount Lebanon had struggled for several years to gain independence from the Ottoman rule. The Mount Lebanon area was a troubled region, due to the various outside and foreign interferences that fostered religious hatred between the Christian, especially the Maronite sect, and Moslem populations.

Throughout the period of maximum emigration from the Middle East (1890—1918), the Turkish Empire encompassed the entire are. Hence, immigrants from the region frequently found themselves identified here, in terms of national origin, as "Ottomans" (or "Turks"). However, aside from nation of residence, the issue of ethnic identification, and of group loyalties, throughout the Middle East has long revolved about the twin axes of religion and mother tongue. Thus, several "Lebanese christians" immigrants of the early 1920s might more properly be identified as "syrians"—. In view of the harsh treatment they often experienced at the hands of their nomadic Moslem neighbors during the late nineteenth century, these people cling tenaciously to their religious identity; and they continue to emigrate to this date. Similar cycles of oppression and emigration launched the exodus of masses of Armenians during the same period. Whereas the United States has admitted over a quarter million of these people, even larger numbers emigrated to Latin America, especially to Brazil and Argentina.

Despite popular American notions ascribing a general "sameness" to all Middle Eastern peoples, the various cultural units of that region are very much aware of their respective differences. (The Millet system, wherein each faith maintained its own laws, courts, schools, welfare agencies, and systems of taxation contributed to this awareness.)2 This is especially true of those elements that began to migrate to the New World during the late nineteenth century: the Christian Lebanese and the Armenians, who are still arriving in United States ports in modest numbers. All of the peoples native to the Middle East have long displayed a fierce attachment to faith, family, cultural tradition, and their home soil. Therefore, despite the great upheavals suffered by many peoples, particularly the Christian minorities, of the area during the nineteenth century, emigration remained relatively subdued in terms of absolute numbers. Moreover, restrictive policies on emigration among the states of the region and limited immigration quotas set for their nationals by the United States combined to discourage migrations of the scale witnessed in Europe throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. Further, the Middle East as a whole has not suffered the strains of overpopulation and consequent pressures on the available arable land, with the obvious exceptions of Egypt and Lebanon, until recent times.

On the other hand, two relatively small but distinctive ethnic units of Middle Eastern society, the Armenians and the Christian Lebanese, have demonstrated over a period of centuries a readiness to emigrate in the face of adverse living conditions at home, or of opportunities for self-improvement abroad. A diaspora of both peoples had already commenced well before the launching of the great European exodus to the Western Hemisphere. Armenian merchants and tradesmen had founded colonies from London to Bombay by the turn of the seventeenth century; and Muhammad Ali Pasha, in the course of his founding of the modern Egyptian state, imported thousands of Christian Lebanese and Armenian clerks and petty officials during the early decades of the nineteenth century.3

An early attachment to western educational traditions among the urban elements of both peoples, reinforced throughout the nineteenth century by continuous infusions of western Christian missionaries among their urban and rural segments, plus high rates of literacy and a flair for learning western languages, especially French and English, facilitated the mobility of both the Lebanese and the Armenians. Significant numbers of both groups, by virtue of education and linguistic versatility, found employment and even dual citizenship among the western commercial firms that burgeoned throughout the Middle East during the nineteenth century.4 Thus, the stage was set for large overseas migrations among the Armenians and Lebanese when strife broke out between them and their neighbors in the latter half of the nineteenth century.



Although the Christians of Lebanon comprise one of the major ethnic groups of the Middle East to emigrate to this country and elsewhere commencing in the late 1880s, a great deal of confusion regarding national origins persists among such immigrants, and among United States immigration and census officials as well. Much of this confusion stems from the late arrival of Lebanon within the society of independent nations (1943). More specifically, many of the Lebanese settled in the United States and elsewhere were identified upon arrival in their new homelands as "Syrians." Many such immigrants continue to this day to think of themselves as such—whereas their native land was, in fact, Lebanon. United States immigration and census statistics persist in reflecting a far larger "foreign stock" of Syrian origin than justified by current realities.

The full "Syrian" immigration statistics will never be known, because many Syro-Lebanese entered this country sub rosa, via Vera Cruz and a surreptitious northward crossing of the Rio Grande River. These were principally diseased persons and victims of horror tales of Ellis Island, told by steamship agents in Beirut, Naples, and Marseilles, plus a substantial number of people already refused entry for a variety of reasons at eastern port cities.5

An eminent Syro-Lebanese scholar, himself an immigrant, records a loss of one-quarter (one hundred thousand) of the entire population of autonomous Lebanon through emigration between the years 1900 and 1914;6 the Christians of the coast, the south, and the Beqaa must have departed in even greater numbers. Almost all of the many Lebanese families in Utah interviewed by the writer hail from the latter regions, more specifically from the vicinities of Zahle in the Beqaa and of Saida and Sour on the southern coast. However, a few did emigrate from the slopes above Beirut and from modern Syria proper.

Peasants and, to a lesser degree, petty artisans and clerks, formed the great bulk of Syro-Lebanese emigrants in terms of numbers. Young males held a heavy majority among those bound for the New World, and many of them harbored initial intentions of returning to the Levant with their savings. Thus, many—if not most—left wives and children behind in the care of the extended family. On the other hand, a few years of the "good life" on these shores, plus the general devastation of the Levant by the Young Turks during the First World War,7 sufficed to make permanent Americans of most of the "Syrian" immigrants. An extraordinary talent for adaptation among the Syro-Lebanese, born of centuries of politico-economic vicissitude and constant association with diverse peoples in their native land, greatly facilitated their cultural absorption in the United States and elsewhere. This trend was especially true of those who did not congregate in the large "Syrian" ghettos of New York, Boston, Patterson, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Chicago. The ghetto-dwellers usually managed to import their respective churches—and even their Arabic presses—and thus maintained a modicum of their former culture on the new continent, so much so that New York, in 1905, saw a brief outbreak of "Syrian" intra-communal violence of the sort long since deemed endemic among the varied ethnic elements of the Levant.8

As suggested above, the vast majority of Syro-Lebanese immigrants settled in areas east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River.9 Nonetheless, the modern Levantines remain the cultural heirs of their Phoenician forebears insofar as commerce is concerned, and business or employment opportunities have impelled them to migrate widely throughout this continent. One can find a "Lebano-Syrian" colony, however small, in every American city boasting a population of 500,000 or more. Although most of the Levantines who settled in New England and the Atlantic Seaboard found work in the textile mills of those regions, many, if not most, of those who migrated south and west started their new lives as peddlers of "notions"—souvenirs of the Holy Lands, laces, embroidered linens, and silk goods (especially lingerie and kimonos).

Many of the native housewives of rural America first learned of the existence of these luxuries through the door-to-door visits of wandering "Lebano-Syrian" merchants. Blessed with world-famous business acumen, these peddlers soon discovered that access to American housewives in the sale of "personal" goods was generally more open to women than to men and they began to employ their own womenfolk in this role. Moreover, many a male peddler, who had hoped to return to the Levant eventually, sent for or acquired a mate in the homeland. Hence, the web of migrant "Lebano-Syrian" involvement in America slowly grew taut, and dreams of seeing the motherland again gradually receded with the establishment of families here. In the meantime, Syro-Lebanese frugality generated capital among the peddlers, and many of them opened dry goods and grocery stores, particularly in the Midwest and the West. Probably the most successful of such ventures was that of the Farah and Aborjaily families of El Paso, Texas.

Even a decision to settle permanently in New York, Texas, or Utah, however, did not signal a clean break with the Levant. The ties of kith and kin remain strong among Syro-Lebanese immigrants, even into the second generation of the native-born. Hence, the initial waves of "Lebano-Syrians" to surge upon American shores, having decided to remain here rather than to return, began to import relatives of both sexes. The modest resources of immigrant families imposed severe limits to the numbers of persons they could sponsor for emigration, and many family members preferred to remain in the home country. As a result many Levantine-Americans retain a strong attachment to their native towns and villages to this day. Philip K. Hitti has portrayed this attachment in simple but vivid terms in citing the many Lebanese villages renovated or expanded, especially after the depredations of the First World War, through the massive cash remissions of concerned expatriates.10 Moreover, like their Greek counterparts, many Levantine immigrants have visited their former homes and taken their American-born children to meet "Lebanese" cousins and grandparents. Some naturalized Syro-Lebanese here even retain dual citizenship, a status actively encouraged by the government of Lebanon.11

Like most immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin, the Middle Easterners in this hemisphere have tended to flock to and remain in the large cities of their new homelands. On the other hand, relatively few of the latter group have undertaken heavy labor as a means of family support. As already suggested, most Levantine stock sought employment in the manufacture or sale of textiles. This is hardly surprising in view of the extent to which spinning and weaving are still known and practiced in rural Middle Eastern households. Textile work, or sales, appealed to many unskilled and frequently illiterate immigrants who might otherwise have found only the most menial positions in heavy industry.12

A marked departure from this trend, however, was blazed by the earliest Syro-Lebanese to settle in Utah. The very first of these identified by the author, ‘Brahim (Abraham) Howa, having arrived in Carbon County as a peddler of carpets and jewelry about 1896, tried his hand at both mining and farming. He conformed with other immigrant Levantine patterns in sponsoring the immigration to Utah of three brothers and a sister. Their descendants here have adhered to the general urbanizing trend and gradually migrated to Price, Provo, and Salt Lake City.13

‘Brahim Howa's niece, Sarah George, came from Dibbel, Lebanon, in 1907 with her uncle John Howa and his wife, landing in Mexico and traveling from Texas to Utah. Sarah was thirteen years old and had been betrothed in Lebanon to sixteen-year-old John Attey, already in Utah. John and his father painted boxcars in the railyards, later managed an ice cream shop, and worked at the Garfield smelter and in a brickyard. Sixty-eight years later Sarah Attey said:

Yes, I wanted to come to America. Streets paved with gold, everyone said. I was so homesick when I come. I cried all the time for my parents and home. My father had a farm. He raised melons, grapes, silkworms. Two years after, I married my husband in the Salt Lake Catholic Cathedral. We had big dinner at my aunt and uncle's house. Roast lamb, pilaf, dolmas [meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves], chicken, honey pastries. Dancing, music.

We lived on the west side, by Greek Town, with Lebanese neighbors. You know, when you are far from home, you want to be with your people. Lebanese Town it was called. Three Lebanese were very successful. Bonos Shool had a grocery store in Greek Town, on Second South. George Katter and Kalil Fadel also, dry goods, stores. George Katter got men jobs at Bingham copper mine.

Lebanese men peddled, sold lot of jewelry to Greeks. They peddled lace, linens, cloth, bedspreads all over Utah. They bought from New York stores. Lebanese men in some labor jobs made ten cents an hour for ten hours a day. That's why some Lebanese women took in boarders. They had to.

When the Greeks had weddings and baptisms in their first church on Fourth South, we used to go there to watch them dance in the churchyard. Namedays [saints' feast days] were big holidays for us, but Easter was the great holiday of the year.14

Other early arrivals among the Levantine settlers in Utah, the Malouf family of Salt Lake City and Logan, first entered a variety of mercantile ventures in and around Richfield before gravitating to Provo, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Logan. The Maloufs constitute a classic example of the products of Syro-Lebanese frugality, commercial shrewdness, and passion for education in a milieu of opportunity. Although their earliest arrivals were virtually illiterate, in a single generation they established several flourishing businesses in Richfield, before moving to Salt Lake City to found the Western Garment Manufacturing Company, subsequently developed by Anees B. Malouf and his kin as the nationally known Mode O'Day, a women's garment manufacturing and sales firm. Meanwhile, both physicians and university professors of note, not to mention the current leadership of Mode O'Day, have emerged from the ranks of the first and second generations of the native-born Maloufs of Utah.15 Similarly, both the Howa and Sheya families of Carbon County have produced conspicuously successful members among the professions—again reflecting the trend toward urban migration among the Syro-Lebanese of Utah's central counties.16

Later arrivals, those who came to Utah after 1905, seem to have concentrated in Salt Lake and Weber counties and comprise the bulk of the state's current "Syrian" element. Although a substantial number among them started life here as peddlers of clothing and notions in the mining and farming communities of northern Utah, perhaps even more males eventually took up labor at the Utah Fire Clay Company, formerly located at 1078 South First West in Salt Lake City. And, in consequence, a miniscule Little Syria blossomed during the 1920s and 1930s in the vicinity of the residences and stores centered on Third South and Fifth West. Among the most prominent members of this colony the late Gibran (George) Katter, who arrived as a peddler in 1901, founded the Salt Lake Grocery and Dry Goods Company (now defunct) and opened a boardinghouse for miners in Bingham Canyon. His involvement with labor recruitment for the Utah Copper Company continued until his death in late 1937. His marriage to the former Mary Elizabeth Hussoun Boyer in 1915 marked one of the major social events among the entire foreign-born community of Salt Lake City for that year. Extensive news coverage of this occasion presents a vivid description of all-night Lebanese dancing, music, and food. The entire neighborhood was invited as were all of the local police.17

Although both Syro-Lebanese immigrants and their United States-born children have demonstrated a strong preference for marrying among their own kind, to include religion, in all districts of Utah, the degree to which the traditions of the homeland have been preserved in home life varies sharply between the relatively large colonies of Salt Lake City and Ogden on one hand, and the dispersed elements of the rest of Utah on the other. As one might expect, "Syrian" lifestyles prevail far more among the former group than among the latter. Were it not for their surnames, one would scarcely recognize the children of the latter group as first-generation native-born. Most of them profess to know little Arabic, and, in consequence, they speak flawless Utah folk-English. Many of the first generation native-born among the former group still reveal traces of a "Lebanese" accent when speaking English, and, perhaps more significant, they cling tenaciously to the values and customs peculiar to their forebears. The author has encountered here a sprinkling of such individuals who appear to have strayed less from the lifestyle of late nineteenth-century "Lebanon" than relatively recent arrivals from that area or the current inhabitants of the region. One finds among the children of the Salt Lake City enclave of Levantine immigrants many who continue to serve "Lebanese" dishes at home and who can play the oud, the def, or the tabla—or dance the dabke to the strains of these ancient musical instruments.18

Whereas Hitti has anguished at considerable length over the clannishness and individualism of his countrymen and the consequent lack of cohesion among them,19 Levantine fraternal associations, newspapers, and churches founded in America have served to enhance and preserve the memory of native customs and traditions among United States—born offspring. Since the Syro-Lebanese immigrants found themselves engulfed everywhere amidst other, larger ethnic elements, they derived much comfort and a sense of solidarity from their own organizations. The sole entity of this sort formed in Utah to date is the Phoenician Lodge of Salt Lake City, originally chartered in 1936 as The United Syrian-American Society. Membership, since the inception of the club, has varied between thirty and forty persons and includes several residing in Ogden and Provo. The major social events of the association, however, frequently command attendance by as many as ninety from the Levantine community.20

Despite their small numbers and their reputation for adaptability, the Levantine settlers of Utah have endured the full range of nativistic hostility and bigotry shared by immigrant Italians, Greeks, Blacks, and other "swarthy" peoples at the hands of the culturally dominant Anglo-Saxon majority of the population. Thus, bitter memories of cries of "dago" and "greaser" and "nigger" still linger among the Middle Eastern residents of Salt Lake City and Ogden; and, under the pressures of such treatment, much of the mutual distrust and suspicion that divided the various religious sects in the motherland has gradually vanished, and sectarian mobility and intermarriage has ensued among Christians. A few Levantines have even entered the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Although the Maronites (who use the Syriac liturgy, are governed by the patriarch of Antioch, and acknowledge the Roman pope as supreme) boast the largest sectarian membership of the "Lebanese" Christian groups, the entire Maronite population of Utah is not sufficient to warrant the importation of a priest of that denomination; and the Utah Maronites have merged with the local Roman Catholic diocese. Nor have the Greek Orthodox or the Protestant Levantines banded together to form their own ecclesiastical communities. Like the Maronites, they too have joined local churches of their respective faiths.21 Again, due to the modest size of the "Lebanese" element in Utah, no Arabic publications have emerged here nor any media of any sort or language directed at Middle Eastern peoples. The only attempt to perpetuate local knowledge of the Arabic language uncovered by the writer, other than informal instruction in the home, was undertaken by Michael S. Allam, formerly a young schoolteacher in southern Lebanon, when he voluntarily conducted classes in Salt Lake City. This instruction lasted for only a few months. Allam remains the chief link in correspondence between many Levantine residents of Utah and their relatives in the motherland. He is frequently asked by the former to translate their messages into the Arabic language and script and to read and translate letters from the latter.

Other than their remarkable achievements here in the spheres of business and the professions, Levantine immigrants and their children have accrued a most enviable reputation for respect for law and order. Even during the violent strike at the Utah Fire Clay Company in 1910, the "Lebanese" laborers there emerged without mention in either the newspapers or the police "blotters" of the time.22 Further, as a dramatic indication of the continuing strength of family ties, one finds that divorce among Utah Levantines is extremely rare. Their traditional respect for their women and their elders, moreover, seems undiminished by their long residence in the states. However, a steady trend toward migration to the Pacific Coast and elsewhere, increasing intermarriage, and other inevitable forces of cultural absorption even now foretell the eventual extinction of the Syro-Lebanese Utahns as a communal entity. In the meantime, the impact of their coming here upon the lives of many outside their own ranks stands out far more significantly than mere demographic data would suggest.

The staff and faculty of the University of Utah probably boast the largest Middle Eastern work force in the state. A survey of the staff and faculty portion of the campus directory reveals many Middle Eastern names, spread throughout every college and major staff agency. Finally, the university claims one of the few Middle East centers founded in recent years among American institutions of higher learning.36 Although the Middle Eastern ethnic faculty of the center is quite small, they spark some of the major social events today among the entire Middle Eastern community of Utah and, through courses, publications, and public appearances, contribute to American understanding of the Middle Eastern peoples.

1 The 1910 Census reflects the entire Middle Eastern population of Utah as merely "Turkey in Asia" or "Turkey in Europe" with a net strength of only 361 foreign-born (215 from Asia), comprising a mere 0.5 percent of the total foreign-horn element of Utah. When combined with their 36 offspring as the Middle Eastern "foreign white stock" of Utah, however, they encompassed only 0.2 percent of that same total. These percentages closely match nationwide trends for the same census. The above source sets the foreign-born from all of Turkey in Utah for the previous census (1900) at a mere 18 persons. The 1910 Census reveals the following county distribution of the Middle Eastern-born of Utah: Salt Lake 229, Carbon 31, Weber 30, Utah 30, Summit 15, Sevier 8, Uintah 7, Juab 6, Morgan 2, and 1 each for Grand, Wasatch, and Washington.

Although failing to record any speakers of Armenian or Turkish, the 1960 Census does set Utah speakers of Arabic at—1960: 94( all urban). 1940: 100, 1930: 144, 1920: 162, 1910: 118. Thus, if all the above statistics are accurate, it seems reasonable to assume that the hulk of the state's SyroLebanese immigrants arrived in Utah between 1900 and 1920. The 1920 Census confirms the presence of eighty foreign-born Armenians in Utah.

2 For further details on the Millet System, plus identification, population, distribution, and doctrinal differences of the various sects contained within it, see: Sir Harry Luke, The New Turkey and the Old (London, 1955), pp. 66—101; A.H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon (London and New York, 1954), pp. 121—45, 386; George Haddad, Fifty Years of Modern Lebanon (Beirut, 1950), pp. 10—19; Harvey H. Smith et a!., Area Handbook for Lebanon (Washington. D.C., 1969), pp. 45—57, 59—65, 123—33, 159—79; Richard F. Nyrop et al., Area Handbook for Syria (Washington, D.C., 1971), pp. 55—100; Philip K. Hitti, The Syrians in America (New York, 1924), pp. 35—43. The author is particularly indebted to Professor Hitti and the last cited work for much of the content of the Syro-Lebanese portion of this chapter.

3 Abstracts of the Egyptian census, contained in: Edward Lane, The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (New York, 1963), p. 23; and J.C. McCoan, Egypt (New York, 1900), p. 23, estimate 5,000 "Syrians" and 2,000 Armenians for the census of 1847—48 and 7,000 "Syrians" and 10,000 Armenians for the census of 1859, respectively. Also see: Philip K. Hitti, Lebanon in History (New York, 1967), pp. 473—74.

4 This is not to claim that the Syro-Lebanese who came to America were an educated group. On the contrary, they were more often illiterate than not, because most of them were from the peasant class.

5 U.S., Commissioner-General of Immigration, Annual Report for 1903, pp. 86, 88—89; and Lawrence Guy Brown, Immigration: Cultural Conflicts and Social Adjustments (New York and London, 1933), pp. 194—95. The former source alleges that a constant stream of 500 "Syrians" per month sailed to Mexico for ultimate destinations in the United States.

Ottoman Nationals Admitted to the United States, 188 1—96.
YearTurkey in AsiaTurkey in Europe (total/males)(total/males) 18815/572/54 188615/14176/132 18912488/1774265/224 18964139/2915169/118
Compiled from Imre Ferenczi, ed., International Migrations (New York, 1969), vol. 1, Statistics, pp. 418—31.

6 Hitti, Lebanon in History, p. 474.

7 For accounts of the devastation suffered by the "Syrians" during the war, see: Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 483—86; Zeine N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism (Beirut, 1966), pp. 23—40; George Haddad, Fifty Years of Modern Lebanon (Beirut, 1950), pp. 46—50; Salom Rizk, Syrian Yankee (Garden City, N.Y., 1943), pp. 1—47; and George Antonius, The Arab Awakening (Beirut, 1955), pp. 185—91, 202—42. Additional data on "Syrian" emigration from the Levant are available in: Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 473—77; Haddad, Fifty Years, pp. 10, 18—19, 134-36, 163; Smith, Area Handbook, pp. 47—48; Elie Adib Salem, Modernization without Revolution: Lebanon's Experience (Bloomington, Ind., 1973), pp. 27—29, 44-45, 139; and Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 47—61. Subsequent to the completion of this chapter, an entire issue of ARAMCO World Magazine 26 (March—April 1975), was devoted to Arab immigrants in America.

8 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 84—85.

9 Ibid., p. 64, presents a valuable map depicting the distribution of "Syrian" immigrants throughout the United States in the year 1919. However. this map reflects no such immigrants in Utah, nor in any of the Intermountain states.

10 Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 474—76. Haddad, Fifty Years, p. 136, states that the expatriate remissions of 1924 exceeded the value of all Lebanese exports for that year.

11 George Grassmuck and Kamal Salibi, Reformed Administration in Lebanon (Beirut, 1964), pp. 43—44. According to this source, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a benevolent surveillance over expatriates and assists them in protecting their interests (e.g., real property) in the homeland. However, under U.S. law dual citizenships are not recognized.

12 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 69—73; on p. 67 of his work, he has compiled a list of the nation's fourteen largest "Syrian" urban colonies with estimated populations.

13 Interview with Joseph P. Howa, June 25, 1974, Salt Lake City.

14 Interview with Sarah Attey, April 29, 1975, Salt Lake City.

15 Interview with Dr. Phelon J. Malouf, December 3, 1974, Salt Lake City.

16 Most of what follows is a synthesis of many interviews with Utahns of Lebanese extraction. To cite all of them would prove tedious to both reader and writer. Nonetheless, the author wishes to acknowledge the valuable assistance and keen perception of the following persons who were interviewed at length: Interview with George Haddad, August 2, 1974; interview with John L. and Helen S. Anton, September 16, 1974; and interview with Michael S. Allam, September 23, 1974.

17 Interview with Helen F. Jones (nee Katter) and Frieda Katter, August 10, 1974, Salt Lake City. Salt Lake Tribune, December 20, 1915, and December 4, 1937.

18 Respectively, the forerunner of the lute, the tambourine, and the bongo-drum. The dabke, national folk dance of Lebanon, is a communal activity wherein the performers form a line, side-by-side, hold hands, and follow the movements of a leader.

19 Hitti, Lebanon in History, pp. 476—80; Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 23—24, 94—97.

20 Hitti, Syrians in America, appendices A-F, pp. 125—35, lists "Syrian" churches of all denominations and publications extant in the United States as of 1924. He discusses fraternal organizations on p. 90, citing a few in Boston and New York.

21 The author's estimate of the present sectarian composition of the Levantine community of Utah is 70 percent Maronite, 10 percent Greek Orthodox, 10 percent Protestant, 5 percent Mormon, and 5 percent Moslem.

22 Hitti, Syrians in America, pp. 82—87, displays obvious pride in this aspect of the "Syrian" experience in America.

23 For a detailed exposition of this issue, with extensive bibliographic notes, see the author's forthcoming article, "Britain and the Launching of the Armenian Question," in The International Journal of Middle East Studies 7 (April 1976).


The immigration of Lebanese came in two waves. The first arrived between the 1870s and the 1920s, when new laws cut off much of the influx to the United States. The second large group of arrivals entered after immigration laws changed again in 1965.

The earliest immigrants that we would call Arabs had Turkish passports because of the reach of the Ottoman Empire. But most spoke Arabic and came from Syria and Lebanon. The majority were not Muslims but Catholics, divided among Maronites and Melchites. There were Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Jews. Once in the states, they were known as Syrians.

This is the community that settled on Washington Street. From the late 19th century until the building of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1940s, Manhattan's Little Syria was home to countless immigrants from Syria and Lebanon, again most of them Christian. They were bankers and publishers as well as manufacturers and importers of lace, linen, embroideries and lingerie.

Philip Kayal, a professor at Seton Hall University who wrote "New York: The Mother Colony of Arab-America, 1854-1924," said, "This community was an entrepreneurial community, it wasn’t an educated community. It had been influenced by French imperialists. They thought like Western Europeans for the most part."

When the immigrants became more affluent, they took the ferry from Whitehall Street to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. There, they found more spacious residences and created the South Ferry community, which encompassed most of the areas now called Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. By 1895, there were 30 Syrian families living in South Ferry. As more arrived, they organized churches and societies and started businesses. Many were merchants or peddlers worked in the needle trades.

What did Brooklyn think of these immigrants? One New York newspaper said, "There is not a more industrious or capable representative of the East than the Syrian. He generally brings money and lives at peace."

But the immigrants also faced discrimination, according to Mary Ann Haick DiNapoli of the Arab American Heritage Association. "There were feuds with the Irish because it was the Irish immigrants whom the Lebanese and Syrians were displacing as they moved into these neighborhoods." And the 1921 immigration act sharply restricted Lebanese and Syrian immigration.

In 1920, half of all Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in the U.S. lived in New York City. And half of those lived in South Ferry. Meanwhile, the original community on Washington Street faded until the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1940s ended the community for good.

The Brooklyn Syrian community, though, entered what DiNapoli calls a golden age in the 1920s, becoming a self-sufficient ethnic neighborhood. By this time, Syrians left peddling and entered any and all industries and professions, although the needle trades continued to be key. The Syrian Lebanese community became autonomous and successful and, because of that, more assimilated. People learned English quickly and many married outside the community.

In the 1950s, most Syrian Americans moved to Bay Ridge. The old South Ferry community changed with an influx of Puerto Ricans and of people wanting to fix up the neighborhood’s elegant brownstones.

Ellis Island Great Hall



Located in the upper New York Bay, a short distance from the New Jersey shore, Ellis Island was originally known to Native Americans as Kioshk, or Gull Island, named for the birds that were its only inhabitants. Consisting of nothing more than three acres of soft mud and clay, it was so low that it barely rose above the high-tide level of the bay.

The island was purchased by the colonist governors of Nieuw Amsterdam (later New York) from Native Americans on July 12, 1630, for "certain cargoes, or parcels of goods." The Dutch called it "Little Oyster Island," because of the delicious oysters found in its sands, and used it as a base for oystering. Because the island was not good for much other than its oysters – certainly it was not a prime building site – it changed independent ownership many times during the next century.

During the 1700s, the island was also irreverently known as Gibbet Island, due to the executions by hanging from a "gibbet," or gallows tree, of state criminals that took place there.

By means never officially determined, ownership passed into the hands of one Samuel Ellis about the time of the American Revolution. Ellis tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the island. A notice in the January 20, 1785, edition of Loudon’s New York Packet offered:

"To Be Sold By Samuel Ellis, no. 1 Greenwich street, at the north river near the Bear Market. That pleasant situated Island, called Oyster Island, lying in York Bay, near Powles’ Hook, together with all its improvements, which are considerable…."

Ellis still owned the island when he died in 1794. In his will he bequeathed it to the unborn child of his pregnant daughter, Catherine Westervelt, on two conditions: that the baby would be a boy, and that the child would be named after him. A son was born, but died in infancy. Title to the island was then disputed by other members of the family.

On April 21, 1794, the city formally deeded the only part of the island that was publicly owned, a narrow strip of mud between the water and the high-tide mark, to the state. (Samuel Ellis had actually drawn up a deed transferring ownership of his island to the state, but died before the deed could be completed.) On this narrow strip, considered and excellent defense for the harbor, construction of the first fort on Ellis Island was begun in fear of new attacks from the British. A few wooden buildings and thirteen 24-pound guns were ordered. As threats of war with Britain increased, the island was also used for training recruits. Amid all this military activity, the island was still privately owned property which was leased for the anticipated military fortifications.

To speed up the transfer of the property, New York State ceded its right of legal jurisdiction over the island to the federal government in February 1808. After several inspections by U.S. Army engineers, it was concluded that Ellis Island’s position in the harbor made it strategically invaluable to the safety of the nation, despite potential construction problems. But the disputed "rights of ownership" battle dragged on, and anything built above the high-tide mark would have to be torn down if the Ellis family members changed their minds about the lease agreement. Finally, a committee of New Yorkers was appointed to estimate the island’s value. The agreed figure was "no less than $10,000," a very large sum for apparently unusable land in the early 1800s.


On June 8, 1808, the state of New York bought Ellis Island at the committee’s recommended price, and was immediately reimbursed when the federal government took possession of the island on the same day. At last, the task of building the installation that had been approved a year before could begin. After feverish and difficult preparations, Fort Gibson, a full-scale stronghold boasting 13 guns and a garrison of 182 gunners, was in place just before the outbreak of the War of 1812. But Fort Gibson wasn’t needed. As the years passed, the army and navy had little use for the island. It was used only to store ammunition until, in 1890, it was chosen by the House committee on Immigration as the site of the new immigrant Station for the Port of New York.


When Ellis Island was finally selected, $150,000 was authorized for improvements and buildings. To make the small, muddy island usable, every penny – and more – would be spent.

To begin, a channel 1,250 feet long and 200 feet wide had to be dredged to a depth of more than 12 feet. New docks had to be constructed. Landfill (from subway tunnels and from the Grand Central Station excavation) had to be brought in to create the "ground" for the new buildings. And because there wasn’t enough fresh water on the island, artesian wells and cisterns were dug.

The first buildings were constructed of Georgia pine with slate roofs. The main building was two stories high, about 400 feed long, and 150 feet wide. Four-story peaked towers marked the the corners of the building. There were baggage rooms on the ground level, with a great inspection hall above them.

Smaller buildings included a dormitory for detainees, a small hospital, a restaurant, kitchens, a baggage station, an electric plant, and a bathhouse. Some of the old Fort Gibson brick buildings were also converted into dormitories and office space.

Personnel included immigration officers, interpreters, clerks, guards, matrons, gatekeepers, watchmen, and cooks, as well as maintenance staff such as engineers, firemen, painters, and gardeners. The huge medical staff numbered scores of doctors, nurses, and orderlies. The number of employees varied with the number of incoming immigrants; the average staff ranged between 500 and 850 people. Often, as immigration increased, the need was greater than the number of employees available. Most workers commuted to the island by ferryboat from Manhattan.

When the Immigrant Station officially opened on January 1, 1892, its final cost had reached approximately $500,000, and it had become a city unto itself.


As superior as the new facilities were in comparison to the old accommodations, immigrants now faced stricter laws than ever before. A more comprehensive immigration law had been passed in the spring of 891. In addition to the previously established categories of "undesirables, inspectors now also screened for polygamists, people with prison records for crimes involving "moral turpitude." and all "persons suffering from a loathsome or contagious disease." The Contract Labor Law of 1885 was stiffened to exclude immigrants who were entering the country at the encouragement of American employers; it was even illegal for American employers to advertise.

While steamship companies had previously been held responsible for screening their passengers before leaving Europe, now they were also made responsible for returning deportees to their homeland and for the cost of their food and lodging while they were in detention here. Aliens who entered the country illegally or became "public charges within a year of their arrival due to some preexisting condition before they landed were to be deported. Additional amendments were added to the law in 1893.

The combination of this stricter law, a cholera scare in 1892, and the financial panic of 1893, followed by several years of economic depression, began to show its effect. The number of immigrants arriving in New York consistently decreased until the turn of the century. In 1892, Ellis Island welcomed 445,987 incoming foreigners; in contrast only 178,748 immigrants passed through the station in 1898.


Fortunately, there were only 200 people on Ellis Island the night of June 1`4, 1897. Shortly after midnight without warning, a disastrous fire broke out. The buildings of pine went up in flames as if they had been made of paper. The slate roof of the main building crashed in within an hour, and by dawn there was hardly a trace of the station left. Yet, not one life was lost.

Congress immediately appropriated $600,000 to replace the lost structures with fireproof buildings. During the two and a half years it took to rebuild Ellis Island, the processing of immigrants was again conducted at the old Barge office.


The Naming of Ellis Island

Ellis Island was no more than a lot of sand in the Hudson River, located just south of Manhattan, in the 17th century. The island was named Kioshk  (Gull Island) by the Mohegan Indians that lived on the nearby shores. In the 1630's a Dutch man, Michael Paauw, acquired the island and renamed it "Oyster Island"; the island was used as a place to shuck and eat oysters. In 1664, the British took possession of the area from the Dutch and renamed the island "Gull Island". Not long afterwards, the name of the island changed to "Gibbet Island", because men convicted of piracy were hanged there ("Gibbet" refers to the gallows tree).

In the 1770's the island was sold to Samuel Ellis, who developed it into a picnic spot. The U.S. War Department bought the island for 10,000 dollars in 1808. Defenses were built on this and other islands in the area in the years preceding the war of 1812. During the war, Fort Gibson was built on the island to house prisoners. Half a decade later, Ellis Island was used to as a munitions arsenal for the Union army during the Civil War. It was said that there were enough explosives stored on the island to cause significant damage to all of the neighboring areas.

After the Civil War, the island stood vacant until the government decided to replace the Immigration Station at Castle Garden. In 1890, Castle Island, located on the southern tip of Manhattan, was closed. Ellis Island was selected to be the new immigration processing center to facilitate the large number of immigrants coming to America. In 1892, Ellis Island opened and for the next fifty years more than twelve million people came through the island on their way into the United States.


During the American Revolution (1776) Ellis Island proprietor and New York merchant Samuel Ellis caters to local fisherman in his tavern located on the island.

The first federal immigration law, The Naturalization Act, is passed in 1790. This allows all white males living in the U.S. for two years to become citizens.


In 1808 Ellis Island is sold by the heirs of Samuel Ellis to the State of New York, but the name is kept. Later this year, the island is sold for $10,000 to the Federal Government.

There is little regulation of immigration when the first great wave begins in 1814. Nearly five million people will arrive from Northern and Western Europe in the next forty-five years


The potato blight strikes Ireland and the ensuing famine (1846-50) leads to the immigration of over 1 million Irish in the next decade. Concurrently, large numbers of Germans flee political and economic unrest.

Castle Garden, one of the first state run immigration depots, opens in New York City in 1855.


Rapid settlement of the West begins with the passing of The Homestead Act in 1862. Attracted by the opportunity to own land, more Europeans begin to immigrate.

Beginning in 1875, the United States forbids prostitutes and criminals from entering the country.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is passed in 1882. Restricted as well are "lunatics" and "idiots."


The control of immigration is turned over to the Federal Government, and $75,000 is appropriated for construction of the first Federal Immigration Station on Ellis Island. Artesian wells are dug as the size of Ellis Island is doubled to over six acres with landfill created from incoming ships' ballast and the subway tunnels in New York. During the time of this construction, the Barge Office at the Battery at the lower tip of Manhattan serves as the reception site for immigrants.


Ellis Island Opens

The first Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opens on January 1, 1892 as three large ships wait to land. 700 immigrants passed through Ellis Island that day, and nearly 450,000 followed through the course of that first year. Annie Moore, a 15 year old girl from County Cork, Ireland, is the first person admitted to the new immigration station. On that opening day, she received a greeting from officials and a $10.00 gold piece.


On June 15, 1897, with 200 immigrants on the island, a fire breaks out in one of the towers in the main building and the roof collapses. Though no one is killed, all immigration records dating back to 1840 and the Castle Garden era are destroyed. The Immigration Station is relocated to the Barge Office in Battery Park in Manhattan.


On December 17, 1900, the New York Tribune offered a scathing account of conditions at the Battery station including "grimy, gloomy...more suggestive of an enclosure for animals than a receiving station for prospective citizens of the United States." In response to this, New York architectural firm Boring & Tilton reconstructs the immigrant station and the new, fire proofed facility is officially opened in December as 2,251 people pass through on opening day.

To prevent a similar situation from occurring again, Commissioner of Immigration William Williams cleans house on Ellis Island in 1902 - he awards contracts based on merit and announces contracts will be revoked if any dishonesty is suspected. He imposes penalties for any violation of this rule and posts "Kindness and Consideration" signs as reminders.

By 1903 anarchists are denied admittance into the U.S.

On April 17, 1907, an all time daily high of 11,747 immigrants received is reached. Ellis Island experiences its highest number of immigrants received in a single year, with 1,004,756 arrivals. Federal law is passed excluding persons having physical and mental defects as well as children arriving without adults.


World War I begins in 1914 and immigration to the U.S. halts. Ellis Island experiences a sharp decline in receiving immigrants - from 178,416 in 1915 to 28,867 in 1918.

Starting in 1917, Ellis Island operates as a hospital for the Army, a way station for Navy personnel and a detention center for enemy aliens. The literacy test is introduced at this time, and stays on the books until 1952. Those over the age of 16 who cannot read 30 to 40 test words in their own language will not be admitted through Ellis Island. Asian immigrants are nearly all banned.

By 1918 the U.S. Army takes over most of Ellis Island and creates a make-shift way station to treat sick and wounded American servicemen.


The first Immigration Quota Law is passed by Congress in 1921 after booming post-war immigration results in 590,971 people passing through Ellis Island. Only 3% of an ethnic group living in the U.S. in 1910 will be allowed to enter the country in a year.

With the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting further immigration, the annual quota of immigrants reduces to 164,000. The buildings on Ellis Island begin to fall into neglect and abandonment. America is experiencing the end of mass immigration.

The National Origins Act is passed (1929) banning immigrants from East Asia. It also decreases the quota of European immigration to 2% of the figures recorded in the 1890 census.


The passage of the Internal Security Act of 1950 excludes arriving aliens with previous links to Communist and Fascist organizations. With this, Ellis Island experiences a brief resurgence in activity. Renovations and repairs are made in an effort to accommodate detainees, sometimes numbering 1,500 at a time.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, and a liberalized detention policy, results in the number of detainees on the island to plummet to less than 30.

Ellis Island is formally placed under the jurisdiction of the General Services Administration from 1954 to 1964, and all thirty-three structures on the island are officially closed in November, 1954.


After President Lyndon B. Johnson issues Proclamation 3656, Ellis Island falls under the jurisdiction of The National Park Service as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument


Ellis Island opens to the public in 1976. During this year over 50,000 people visit.

Restoration of Ellis Island begins in 1984.

The $156 million dollar restoration of the Main Arrivals Building is completed and re-opened to the public in 1990. Since then millions of visitors have retraced the steps of their ancestors by experiencing Ellis Island.