A timeline of immigration in Buffalo

Irish immigrants disembarking at New York, 1855.


Immigration in Buffalo has long been a reflection of the United States as a whole. Our city was once the largest grain transshipment port in the world, and a manufacturing center with many unskilled jobs available for new arrivals to the country.


New York State, according to US Census data, has always been a hub of immigration activity, due in large part to Ellis Island as the most heavily used entry point. In Buffalo’s early days, those landing at New York Harbor could easily travel north and east to Buffalo via the Erie Canal. As immigrants flowed west through the state, grain and raw material flowed in the other direction, to feed and clothe the rapidly expanding coastal cities.  Buffalo, having been laid out by the Dutch, was first settled mostly by northeastern Americans of English descent. Next came the Germans, then Irish, then Poles, Swedes, Italians, Hungarians, Ukranians, Armenians, and, more recently, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Thai, Ethiopian, Sudanese, and Pakistani. African-Americans came to Buffalo in small numbers initially, whether as enslaved or free persons. They arrived in greater numbers with the Great Migration from the American South. 


Today, we have a community in Buffalo that (mostly) recognizes and celebrates the contributions of its various immigrant groups. May Shogan of International Institute of Buffalo says, "Grant Street and Hertel Avenue are becoming more vibrant with a refugee and immigrant presence. You can travel the world in your own community. The world is changing."


In regard to the most recent refugee crisis in Syria, Shogan notes, "International events should be of interest to Americans and others in the world because we are affected by them. We can’t turn a blind eye to the effects of our policies in other places. Our ancestors, in many cases, might have been considered refugees [rather than immigrants] because of the situations in their home countries."




Joseph Ellicott, employed by the Holland Land Co., begins plans to lay out Buffalo.



Northeastern Americans of English descent come to Buffalo.



The US government adopts a rule that ship manifests with immigrant passenger details must be kept.



Post-War of 1812 Buffalo is home to under 2,500 white settlers, 23 non-naturalized foreigners, 7 African-American slaves, and 24 free people of color. Slaves are not counted in the general population; they are listed on separate census schedules. 



Mordecai Noah, politician and playwright, attempts to establish a Jewish state on Grand Island called Ararat. 



Buffalo has 8,435 native residents of European descent, 48 foreign-born, and 178 free people of color.



Irish immigrants, escaping the famine, settle in the Flats and First Ward. German Lutherans also come to Buffalo.



Numerous German and Polish Jews arrive.1860 Over 1.6 million Irish-born people reside in the United States.



Jaime Nuno, writer of the Mexican National Anthem, moves to WNY.  



Polish immigration to Buffalo begins in earnest.



The Exclusion Act is passed by the federal government; it is designed to keep out Chinese contract laborers, convicts, and prostitutes.



A wave of Ashkenazi Jews from diaspora settlements (Russia, Poland, Belarus) arrives in Buffalo, fleeing pogroms and economic hardship.



Italian immigration to Buffalo begins in modest numbers; Polish immigration surges.



Ellis Island opens in New York Harbor, replacing the outmoded Castle Garden. Immigrants find their way up the Erie Canal to Buffalo, or overland through Pennsylvania and Canada.



Armenian emigration is sparked by anti-Christian pogroms in their homeland.



Three-quarters of Buffalo’s population is foreign born.



Near East Relief forms in Niagara Falls to aid Syrians and Armenians after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.



International Institute is founded, originally as a part of YWCA, to care for the needs of newly arrived immigrant women and girls, and help them assimilate. 



The African-American Great Migration is well underway, with those fleeing the Jim Crow south heading to northern cities for the hope of greater opportunity.1924  The Johnson Immigration Act drastically cuts immigration quotas.



More than 36,000 Armenians arrive in the United States between 1920 and 1930. 



Italian settlement in Buffalo peaks at around 20,000; untenable farming conditions, few jobs, and economic disparity drive them.



International Institute becomes independent from the YWCA.



The Bracero Program brings Mexican workers to the States to stem the agricultural labor shortage during WWII.



Operation Bootstrap allows Puerto Ricans into the United States for migrant jobs, following the collapse of their sugarcane economy. Meanwhile, Displaced Persons Act allows only 100,000 people who were displaced by WWII to come to the United States, and they are required to prove they have housing and employment.



Puerto Rico becomes a US Commonwealth.



The Immigration Act is amended, removing specific nationality quotas, but still including a ceiling for entrance from eastern/western hemisphere.



The Refugee Act passed, allowing those fleeing persecution to be classed differently than other immigrants, paving the way for Buffalo and other American cities to become home to large groups of immigrants from South Asia, Africa, and other areas. 



Refugee arrivals into New York State include Burmese: 12,379 Bhutan: 6,720 Somalia: 4,740 Iraq: 3,493

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