Why Did People Leave?

Immigrants left their homes to live in the United States for many reasons. Below are excerpts from the correspondence of early Iowans.

"There [in America] I shall certainly meet with the same wickedness which troubles me here; yet I shall find also opportunity to work. There I shall certainly find the same, if not still greater, evidence of unbelief and superstition; but I shall also find a constitutional provision which does not bind my hands in the use of… the word of God. There I shall find no Minister of Public Worship, for the separation of Church and State is a fact." (1846)

"One sees and hears of such favorable treatment of Hollanders not only at the hands of individual Christians but also at the hands of State officials and State Assemblies. I myself had an experience of this sort at Albany, where the legislature had just convened and I wished to look on for a moment. Recognized by one of the members, I was compelled to take a seat in the midst of them. How different from Holland. In the land of our birth, branded and treated as a despised congregation, misunderstood by everyone, shoved aside, trampled upon and bruised; in the land of strangers and above all in its most respectable place, honored and treated as a costly gift of God to improve their country!"

-Hendrik Peter Scholte, Pella, a Dutch immigrant (1848)

"Although we were very happy [in Sweden]… one is always trying to better one's condition and way of living. My father had friends and relatives in America who kept writing about the wonders of this new land. So, being an adventurous person, for many years he had been wanting to try his fortune in the new land of the free, which seemed to be a chance for prosperity, but mother was not of the same mind. She thought that it would be too much to give up her home and her friends. At last, after much persuasion, she was won over. I know that it must have been hard since she was not of the same nature as he, but she cut herself adrift from all ties, and started to get us ready for the long trip, which was to change our lives so much."

-John M. Stromstern, Corydon, a Swedish immigrant

"Departing from you, dear father, was very hard on me… But oh, dear father, we did not leave to get away from you, as you know very well. It was for the purpose of going to a country where we, by working hard, could expect a better way of life than in Vriesland [a province in the Netherlands]. And we have not been disappointed… for if we remain healthy, within a few years we can start on our own farm, which would never have become a reality in Vriesland… Considering everyone in his own trade, there is not one person who, by moving to America, does not earn more than a common laborer over there. If we had stayed in Vriesland very likely within a few years we would have been reduced to utter poverty."

-Sjoerd Aukes Sipma, Pella, a Dutch immigrant (1848)

"…The greater part of the land in England is owned by the high aristrocratic families. The population is still increasing while demand for labour is less because of the ever-increasing productions of mechanical power. The desire to emigrate to a place where every man may with little difficulty become an independent landowner, will increase."

-An English immigrant (1850)

"Every farm, especially in the southern part of Sweden, had as many tenants as, was possible without encroaching too much on the best portion of the estate which was always kept by the owner himself. Each tenant was allowed a patch of ground from half an acre to ten or fifteen acres. The larger tenants paid their rent in money, the smaller in labor to the land owner. In a great many instances he had to labor every day in the year excluding Sundays and holidays, the tenant furnishing his own board. Where one had a large family to support it was slavery in a most aggravated form."

-D. A. Peterson, Casady's Corners, Iowa, a Swedish immigrant.


  • Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “Why Did People Leave?,” The Goldfinch 3, no. 2 (November 1981): 5.


"It was for the purpose of going to a country where we, by working hard, could expect a better way of life..."

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