Immigrants From the British Isles

An interesting example of English emigration occurred in the 1870s when William B. Close and his brothers bought 30,000 acres of land located in O’Brien, Plymouth and Sioux counties in Iowa and formed what was known as the Iowa Land Company. The company was formed to encourage other British citizens to settle in Iowa. The Closes intended to encourage the younger sons of the British aristocracy to settle in Iowa. These men had monthly allowances but were barred from inheriting the family estates that would pass to their older brothers in the British Isles.

The Close Colony settlers played cricket and introduced other aspects of British life to Iowa although the colony itself was short lived. Members went fox hunting, played cricket and otherwise felt that their community was a British outpost in the middle of the United States.

Other British settlers included the Scottish, Welsh and Irish. Unlike many emigrants these individuals did not have to learn a new language and so blended with the surrounding American culture more easily than other groups. Large settlements of Scottish were in Boone, Tama and Keokuk counties. James Wilson, who was born in Scotland but came with his parents to Iowa, later served as secretary of agriculture in the cabinets of Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft.

Irish emigrants came to Iowa before it had even become a state. Many Irish miners worked in the lead mines around Dubuque. The failure of the potato crop for several seasons in the late 1840s drove many in Ireland to seek homes abroad. Later emigrants came to work on the railroads. In the 1870s a large Irish settlement formed at Emmetsburg named for the Irish patriot, Robert Emmett.

Welsh emigration to Iowa also began at an early date with an important settlement located near Iowa City in Johnson and Iowa counties. Later Welsh emigrants included many miners who settled in Wapello, Mahaska and Lucas counties where they were part of the Iowa coal mining industry.


Immigrant settlers from the British Isles included the English, Scotch, Welsh and Irish.

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Investigation Tip:
Enjoy discovering your pathway. What was it like to be an immigrant in Iowa in the 1870s? Put yourself in history.