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Immigration of Cofrancescos to the United States

  The Immigrant Ports
Prior to 1820 statistics for immigration into the United States were not officially recorded. Immigration control was not even considered to be a Federal responsibility, and the individual States handled immigration as they saw fit.

by John Cofrancesco
with contributions by Pacifico Cofrancesco


Photo Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Early Immigration Controls

New York Immigrant Processing Centers

Port of Boston Immigration Station

Port of Philadelphia Immigration Station

Related Paper
The Cofrancescos who Immigrated to the USA (1881-1926)
A paper by Pacifico and John Cofrancesco with the result of  comprehensive research of the records of the Cofrancescos immigrating to the USA
Early Immigration Controls

In 1820 the federal Department of State began to keep official statistics, but there was still no federal control as such. During the period 1860-1865 National sentiments was favorable toward foreign immigration. Immigrants played an important part in our expanding need for labor, and in 1864 the importation of contract labor was sanctioned. This proved to be unpopular however and in 1868 the 1864 act was repealed.

This was the start of an anti-immigrant movement, because the States were seeing problems among the foreign born of pauperism, vagrancy, crime, and care for the insane, and they looked to the Federal government for assistance with the immigrant problem. In 1874 a Federal investigation found that foreign governments were deporting convicts, paupers, those with mental problems, and others who were not able to support themselves. In 1876 the Supreme Court ruled that all State laws regulating immigrants were unconstitutional, and that this was a Federal area of responsibility. However it was not until 1882 that the first Federal immigration law was enacted. A more comprehensive Act was passed in 1891 that, among other things, prohibited the immigration of people with certain mental problems or communicable diseases, provided for the deportation of those who might become a public charge, created an Office of Immigration in the Treasury Department, and required medical examination of arriving aliens by officers of the United States Marine Hospital Service.

The United States Marine Hospital Service had been established on July 16, 1798 when John Adams, the second President of the United States, signed the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. The Service was responsible for the medical care of seamen, including every officer and sailor of the United States Navy, and was authorized to construct and operate hospitals. It was natural therefore to place responsibly for medical examination and care of arriving immigrants with this Service in 1891 with the passage of expanded federal law. In the ensuing years the authority and responsibility of the Service was greatly expanded, and it was renamed the United States Public Health Service on August 14, 1912.
Italian Immigrants
Italians immigrants on the cover of a popular Italian magazine (1901)
New York Immigrant Processing Centers      

While there were a number of United States ports receiving immigrant ships, the port of New York was by far the biggest and busiest, and more Cofrancescos entered through New York than any other port.

Port of New York - Mid 1800s
The Port of New York (Currier & Ives print) in the 1850s
Castle Garden, which was then being used as a public cultural center
and theater, is in the center

Prior to 1855 there was no facility to receive immigrants. The captain simply presented his ship’s manifest to the Collector of Customs, the immigrants made a customs declaration similar to what is done today when US citizens return from outside this country, and that was it!
New York Immigrant Centers Timeline
  Castle Garden
August 1, 1855
April 18, 1890
  Barge Office
April 19, 1890
December 31, 1891
  Ellis Isand 1
January 1, 1892
June 14, 1897
  Barge Office 2
June 15, 1897
December 16, 1900
  Ellis Island 2
December 17, 1900
Late 1956
 Castle Garden      
In 1855 the State of New York opened the first facility designed for the processing of immigrants. It was Castle Garden, located on a small island off the southwest tip of Manhattan. Its prior use was as a public cultural center and theater.

Subsequently the space between the island and Manhattan was filled in and the Castle Clinton National Monument now marks the site of Castle Garden.

Castel Garden
Castle Garden was the first facility opened in the State of New York
for the processing of immigrants

As noted earlier the Supreme Court ruled in 1876 that immigration was a federal responsibility, but the states continued to operate their own immigration program until 1882 when the Federal Government began to contract with the states to enforce the newly enacted Federal law. The Secretary of the Treasury entered into a contract with the State of New York to handle immigration at Castle Garden as a joint Federal/State operation until 1890, when the Federal Government ended the contract and assumed direct control. The State of New York refused to let the Federal Government use Castle Garden so they established a temporary facility in the old Barge Office.
    While the Castle Garden facility was in operation 13 Cofrancescos entered the United States through this station. The first to enter was Raffaele (Raffael) Cofrancesco in 1881 while the station was under direct State operation. The last to be processed there was Pietro Cofrancesco (I1189) in early 1890 in the era of joint Federal/State operation.

Castle Garden Castle Garden at the end
of the 19th century

Castle Garden today
Castle Garden, now Castle Clinton National Monument
 The Barge Office No. 1      
The Barge Office, located at the end of Whitehall Street near the southeast tip of Manhattan, was in operation from April 18, 1890 until December 31, 1891 when the newly constructed permanent facility on Ellis Island was completed.

The Barge Office
The Barge Office opened on April 18, 1890
    While the Barge Office was in use 6 Cofrancescos were processed there. The first was Filippo Cofrancesco on May 1, 1890 and the last was Anna Cofrancesco Sarro (I1194) with her son Marco Sarro on December 30, 1891. 

The Barge Office in an old print
The Barge Office in an old print

 Ellis Island No. 1      
Ellis Island, which in reality was three small islands in Upper New York Bay, owned by the Federal Government since 1808, was transferred to the Immigration Service to be used for the site of a major facility to receive and process immigrants. One island was used for an administration building, a second for a very large general hospital, and the third for a small communicable disease hospital. An annex for mental patients was later built at the general hospital.

Ellis Island (1892)
The first Ellis Island station (1892)
    In the five and one half years that the original Ellis Island facility was in operation 5 Cofrancescos passed through its halls.  The first to arrive was Michele Cofrancesco on April 26, 1892 and the last was Pasquale Cofrancesco (I1969) on June 8, 1896   
Walter Wyman, Surgeon General of the Marine Hospital Service took charge of directing the medical inspection of all immigrants. He detailed surgeons as inspectors at four ports; Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The new Ellis Island facility became operational on January 1, 1892. Arriving immigrant ships continued to dock in New York. First and second-class passengers were processed by immigration staff on board ship but the third class (steerage) passengers were transferred to barges that took them to Ellis Island. It was not unusual for more that 1000 immigrants to arrive daily. The senior surgeons taught the young doctors on their staff how to separate on sight the victims of leprosy, ringworm, and trachoma. They learned to detect diseases responsible for epidemics; smallpox, plague, typhus, cholera, and yellow fever. They also wrote letters or symbols on the immigrant’s clothing with chalk to designate any medical problems.

Passengers who showed no obvious signs of mental or physical illness or disease, and met all administrative requirements, were loaded back on the barges for transfer to New York and admission to the United States. Those not so fortunate were detained for further questioning and examination. If problems were not resolved the individual could be denied entrance to the United States, or for those with medical problems, admitted to the general hospital or the communicable disease facility. While admission to a hospital was a traumatic experience for immigrants due to family separations and language difficulties, the quality of medical care was good, and state of the art treatment was provided. Many patients were admitted to the United States after successful treatment, while others were deported.

There was great concern that immigrants suffering from a contagious disease could start a major epidemic in the United States. In fact in August of 1892 cholera started to appear among the steerage passengers arriving at Ellis Island, and one death occurred. Surgeon General Wyman blocked the importation of rags used to make paper because they could carry the cholera organism, and ordered all ships and passengers to be disinfected before they departed for this country. The public demanded that all immigration be temporarily suspended until pre-departure control mechanisms were in place, but it was found that there was no law that could make this possible. However Surgeon General Wyman found authority in the National Quarantine Act of April 29, 1878 to quarantine arriving vessels for at least 20 days. Since no ship line could afford to allow its vessels sit in the harbor for 20 or more days before discharging their passengers, all shipping was disrupted. This had the effect of stopping immigration for about 10 weeks. Thus the possibility of a major cholera epidemic in the United States was avoided.

On June 13, 1897 a major fire engulfed Ellis Island, burning the original wooden buildings to the ground. It destroyed all administrative records for Castle Garden from 1855 to 1890 as well as most Barge Office and Ellis Island records. Fortunately copies of the passenger lists were held by the Customs Collector, so many partial records remained available.
Walter Wyman
  Surgeon General
   Walter Wyman

Finer Screen
The Americans asked for laws restricting the access of immigrants
to the USA
 The Barge Office No. 2      
The Barge Office was again pressed into service from June 14, 1897 to December 16, 1900 while the Ellis Island facility was being rebuilt.

    During this period of time 22 Cofrancescos arrived. The first was Alessandro Cofrancesco on April 19, 1897 and the last was Emilio Cofrancesco (I1611) on October 3, 1900.
 Ellis Island No. 2      
Ellis Island No. 2 The Ellis Island Immigration Station was rebuilt with brick and other fire resistant materials and reopened on December 17, 1900.

The second Ellis Island immigrants station
The second Ellis Island immigrant station
after the re-opening on December 17, 1900

It was used to process immigrants until July 1924. After this date only those immigrants who were detained went to Ellis Island. The majority of immigrants were processed on board ship.

Ellis Island main hall
"View of the interior of the main building, Ellis Island,
showing detention pens, and emigrants passing doctors
for examination, etc."
(Original caption from an Ellis Island brochure)

After 1954 Ellis Island was not used for any immigration purposes, and fell into disrepair. In 1990 a program to preserve and restore the buildings was started. While much work remains to be done, some buildings have been restored and they are open to the public as a museum and visitors center.
    More Cofrancescos arrived here than all other immigration ports and stations combined. During its lifetime 146 Cofrancescos were processed here. The first was Raffaele Cofrancesco on April 5, 1901 and the last was Vincenzo Cofrancesco on December 20, 1926.

Ellis Island Plan
Ellis Island plan
with the structural development
from 1890-1935

In darker green the natural island.

Ellis Island today
Ellis Island today


Conway, Lorie
Forgotten Ellis Island

This DVD and book tell the extraordinary story of the hospital built on Ellis Island and the immigrants who were examined and treated at the facility. They include actual interviews with elderly immigrants who tell in their own words their experiences on the Island. 
To read about or purchase this DVD and book click on:
Forgotten Ellis Island
To see and hear highlights:
Link Forgotten Ellis Island Highlights

Port of Boston Immigration Station      

Boston Harbor was not a main port of entry for immigrants until the Irish Potato famine of 1847 brought a wave of Irish immigrants. By 1875 Boston was second only to New York as a port of entry. By 1900 the Irish immigrants waned and the Italians predominated. The first Italians to arrive were the Genovesi, who were merchants selling foodstuffs. The Southern Italians who started to arrive late in the 19th century displaced them. The immigrants arrived and were processed at Long Wharf. An excerpt from a letter written by George B. Billings in 1909 provides a comparison of the immigration process between New York and Boston, with a description of the facilities in Boston.

The Long Wharf
The Long Wharf as it appeared in 1927

"One of the great advantages Boston is supposed to have over New York - - and one which is widely advertised by the steamship companies of this port, is the fact that incoming passengers are not obliged to go to one central point like Ellis Island. To illustrate this point, for instance: Passengers arriving on incoming vessels at the port of New York - - this is, steerage passengers - - after arrival at the dock are conveyed on barges to Ellis Island, entailing quite a delay in procuring baggage and being conveyed across the bay to the Island. After passing the inspection on the Island those passengers who are discharged and destined to Western points must be again transported on these flatboats, or barges to the various railroad docks. Not only does this consume a great amount of time, but it is not at all relished by the passengers. Here, the conditions are deemed much better. Upon the arrival of a vessel at Boston the steerage passengers are landed at the dock, inspected, and those detained given a hearing before the Board of Special Inquiry. Those still detained by the Board are conveyed to the Immigration Station at Long Wharf, while those admitted either at the primary inspection or at the first Board hearing, walk out into another part of the steamship dock where they receive their baggage and directly proceed to the city proper or suburbs, excepting those passengers bound for the West. These, right there on the dock are placed aboard special trains, or cars, as the occasion demands, regulated by the number of people, and proceed directly to the West."
Letter from George B. Billings, Department of Commerce and Labor, Immigration Service, Boston to the Commissioner-General of Immigration, Washington, D.C. on May 11, 1909, accessed NARA, Northeast Region, Waltham, MA, August, 2008
    Fourteen Cofrancescos arrived in the United States by way of Boston. The first to arrive was Silvestro Cofrancesco (I1533) on March 13, 1906 and the last was Erminio Cofrancesco (I0322) on August 20, 1920

The Long Wharf in the 18th century
The Shawmut Peninsula of early Boston had many wharves that jutted out into the Harbor like fingers.
Long Wharf, as its name implies, was the longest of those wharves.

Boston - Long Wharf
The Long Wharf, Boston

Port of Philadelphia Immigration Station      
In the 18th century Philadelphia was a very important immigrant port. In the 19th century New York was becoming the Nations chief port of immigration. One reason for this was ice. The waterways used to reach Philadelphia froze over in winter while New York remained accessible year round. Also it took longer for trans-Atlantic ships to reach Philadelphia, compared with New York and the approach was more hazardous, particularly for sailing vessels.

Philadelphia Harbour Docks
  Docks of the Philadelphia harbor

Never-the–less by the late 19th century and the advent of more seaworthy steamships, there was a re-growth of immigrant ship traffic and Philadelphia resumed its place as the 4th largest immigrant port. In the 19th century small groups of Italians from Northern Italy moved into South Philadelphia. However it was not until after the Risorgimento before large numbers of immigrants began to arrive. By 1900 there were 45,000 immigrants. This was the third largest Italian community after New York and Brooklyn.
    Only two Cofrancescos arrived at the Port of Philadelphia. They were Giovanni Cofrancesco and Alfonsina Cofrancesco (father and daughter?) on September 4, 1913.   

Route to Philadelphia
The difficult route from the Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia Harbor

Last Updated ( Monday, 01 June 2009 )
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