Baltimore's Little-Known Immigration History





From the Washington Post (June 18 2004):

NOT EVERY immigrant coming to America sailed past the Statue of Liberty. For many Europeans making the voyage in the 18th and 19th centuries, coming to America meant landing in or near Fell's Point in Baltimore.

But that city's role in"the peopling of America" is not widely known, says immigration historian Melanie Shell-Weiss. So the Baltimore Immigration Project, a group of interested citizens, business people and academics, is trying to" correct this hole in the story," according to Shell-Weiss, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University.

One of its first efforts to publicize Baltimore's historic role is an immigration walking tour of Fell's Point, a joint project that the group developed with the Fell's Point Preservation Society. My husband and I, with our three daughters, ages 5, 7 and 9, took the two-hour tour last month and spent a delightful day walking, eating, shopping and water-taxiing around Fell's Point and the Inner Harbor. The tour may have been a bit too advanced for my younger girls, but they enjoyed walking around and hearing the personal stories. My 9-year-old understood the subject matter much better, and most children 10 and older will probably have studied some form of immigration and can put the facts in even greater context.

Tours are led by either a historian or costumed"historic figure." Our tour guide, Denise Whitman, an antiques storeowner and associate director of the Preservation Society, took on the accent and corset of Bridget O'Malley, an Irish indentured servant from the 1770s. While much of the historical information that she explained was beyond my daughters' understanding, she did an admirable job of drawing them in with props and vignettes they could relate to. The first thing Bridget did was hand us all freshly cut leaves of apple mint, horehound and lemon balm herbs from the Preservation Society's Colonial garden. She explained that many of the immigrants came in steerage class, under horrible conditions, so they didn't smell too good. The girls sniffed their herbs throughout the walk. Bridget explained that the land now called Fell's Point was actually purchased by shipbuilder William Fell from Lord Baltimore about 1730. Several street names in the neighborhood, including Ann, Aliceanna and Bond, were named after members of the Fell family.

Since the buildings on the tour are not in chronological order, the snippets of history Bridget presented came across a bit jumbled. A useful immigration timeline from the Baltimore Immigration Project's Web site (www.immigrationbaltimore.org) helped put it all in perspective for me afterward.

According to the Baltimore Immigration Project, more than 2 million immigrants landed in Baltimore from 1754 through the outbreak of World War I. Most came from Germany, Ireland and Eastern Europe. Since there was no direct steamship service from Mediterranean ports, most Southern Europeans came to Baltimore via other American cities....


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