United States Immigration: Belgium

Figure 1.--Relatively few Belgians emigrated to America. Many of those that did settled in Wisconsin and Michigan. A Father Henry Syoen, a naturlized Belgian immigrant, in Detroit worked to promote Catholic education. With the outbreak of World War I, he worked tirlessly with the Belgian-American Relief Society to assist the Belgians suffering under German rule and regugees from Belgium. He also adressed the problem of Belgian immigrants separated from their parents. Some immigrants came over without their wives and/or children, planning to send for them later. Father Syoen went over in 1915 to collect the children, working from the neutral Netherlands. The Germans were not cooperative, but the military authorities finally agreed to give Father Syoen 18 days to find and collect the children and assisted him. Here he is in New York with the 108 Belgian refugees including 80 children he brought back to America. A respaper article described the group as a 'robust little brood'.

Belgium is not one of the countries that played a major role in building modern America. Less than 0.4 million Americans identify as being even partly of Belgian origins. [U.S. 2010 Census] That is less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population and less than 0.2 percent of the Belgian popultion at the time (1900). . The first number is affected by the country's small size, but not the first. These are smaller numbers than most European countries, especially the Netherlands to the north. We suspect that the difference was that the Dutch were an independent maritime power and Protestat. Belgians or residents of the Southern Netherlands began arriving in America early in the British colonial era, even before Belgium existed (17th century). Most Belgian Americans are descended from immigrants arriving in the late-19th century and early 20th century. Their primary motivation was economic opportunity. The earliest Belgian communities were in New York and New Jersey, perhaps because of affinity to the Dutch, althoughthe Belgians including the Flemish wre mostly Catholic. The modern state of Belgium was created after the Napoleonic Wars and a brief union with the Netherlands (1830). Through the Census of 1910, some 0.1 million Belgian emigrated to America. There was a brief blip of Belgian immigranrs (1847-49), presumably related to the disorders associatedwith the revolutions of 1848. One source reported disease and economic hardship It was much later than Belgians began arriving in relatively large numbers (late-19th century). Economic opportunity was often the reason Europeans came to America, but in other Euroean countries political repression, conscription were also factors. This was less true of the Belgians. European emogration declined as a result of the First World war I (1914-18) and then Congressionally imposed restrictions. The belgins emigrating during this peak period were farmers, meaning largely landless farm workers. There were also miners, Belgium had important coal mines. Other Belian emigrants were craftsmen (carpenters, masons and cabinetmakers) or other skilled workrs (glass blowers and lace-makers). Belgium was known for its lace industry. The two states with the largest Belgian population are Wisconsin and Michigan. We suspect that these were states where land was still available under the Homestead Act as well as minig was important were factors. Belgian Americans as might be expected were heavily involved in efforts to help their countymen during the German World War I occupation.


"Little Belgian children brought to parents located n middle Nortwest," Reading Eagle (August 10, 1915).


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Created: 1:06 PM 1/8/2016
Last updated: 1:06 PM 1/8/2016