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For many, the journey that brought them under the watchful gaze of the Statue of Liberty was often a difficult one; some fled tyranny and oppression, others impoverished conditions, but all came to America hoping for a better life for them and their loved ones. The road was not always an easy one for the country’s future citizens, but the stories that continued to grow with each ferry crossing the waters of Upper New York Bay are a historical reminder of why the United States means so much to Americans from sea to shining sea.
The first view of America would come from the deck of a commercial steamship as it entered New York Harbour. Steerage passengers would board ferries at the East River or Hudson piers, where they would be shuttled to Ellis Island. This ferryboat arrives in New York in the early 1900s, while the U.S. Customs House is under construction.
Some were fleeing political oppression or famine. The family pictured above is believed to have left Legnava, in modern-day Slovakia, sometime between 1906 and 1914.
For others it was violence and religious persecution. Reverend Joseph Vasilion, pictured above, was a Greek Orthodox priest who arrived in America in 1910. He is wearing traditional garments, including his kalimavkion hat usually worn during religious services.
On its first day of operations 700 immigrants arrived via three large boats and were processed. The first through the doors was Irish teenager Annie Moore and her two brothers, all of whom were on their way to a reunion with their parents who had already successfully arrived in New York and then sent for their children. During peak times, 5,000 immigrants daily were being processed. On a record-setting day, 11,747 people were processed (April 17, 1907).
In its first twenty years open the majority of immigrants landing at Ellis Island were there from Northern and Western Europe. In this timespan nearly nine million people arrived on the island’s docks. Many early Scottish immigrants, like the children pictured, settled in New Jersey and Charleston, North Carolina.