Published by EH.NET (October 2001)
Marianne S. Wokeck, Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to
North America. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press,
1999. xxx + 319 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-271-01832-1; $21.50 (paper), ISBN:
Reviewed for EH.NET by Simone A. Wegge, College of Staten Island – City
University of New York.
Trade in Strangers presents an in-depth account of two prominent
migration movements to the British colonies in the eighteenth century, one
from the southwest area of Germany and another from Ireland. Most of the book
discusses the larger emigration of Germans from the Palatinate region to
Philadelphia. A whole chapter, however, is devoted to the smaller emigration
of Irish from the Ulster ports and from the southern area of Ireland, who also
landed and presumably settled in the Delaware Valley region. This work
contributes to our understanding of the nature of transactions in the business
of overseas transportation of these emigrant groups.
Wokeck’s historiographical approach is a valuable one. Emigrants leaving from
southwest Germany through Holland to the American colonies ventured through
three distinct regions with three distinct languages. To tell this story,
Wokeck has gathered evidence from primary sources scattered among various
British, Canadian, Dutch, German, and American archives and libraries. Only a
historian versed in the Dutch, English and German languages and armed with
tenacity could accomplish such a carefully researched chronicle. Particularly
in the case of the German emigrants, her account makes use of archival
documents from the emigrants’ homelands, the places through which they
journeyed and finally the places in which they settled.
Germans who made the audacious decision to leave their homeland were
successful largely because of a transportation network that arose among ship
owners and merchants in Rotterdam, London, and Pennsylvania. Ship owners in
the business of transporting goods from the colonies to Europe were happy to
find ways to charge for space on the return voyage, space that otherwise would
have been empty. Irish emigrants seem to have had an easier time of migrating
than these Germans, because they lived close to ports and thus existing
information and trade networks between Ireland and North America — “no new
transportation system had to be invented” (p. 218). Further, a more direct
trade network between Irish merchants and businesspeople all over the colonies
provided a wider variety of destination choices for the Irish, and resulted in
an immigrant population much more spread out than the German immigrants who
mostly ended up in Pennsylvania.
One of the main contributions of Wokeck’s work is her vivid account of exactly
how migrants moved from their homelands to ports and then to Pennsylvania. As
fruit of an incredible amount of detective work, Wokeck provides all kinds of
information on the voyages of the German and Irish emigrants bound for the
colonies. Included are ship names, ship captains, merchants, tonnage,
disembarkation port, and dates of departure and arrival. From this she
estimates the likely number of emigrants who landed at various ports and
argues persuasively that her new estimates of German and Irish immigrants to
the British colonies are the most accurate.
Even more interesting from an economic standpoint is what one learns about the
various business incentives and perspectives of all players involved,
including passengers, ship captains, ship owners, middlemen, merchants in
Holland, England and Pennsylvania, and established immigrants in Pennsylvania.
Wokeck carefully explores the incentives of these participants in the
trans-Atlantic passenger market. The details supplied pay off in the analysis
of how contracts and trading methods evolved over time, some of which
transferred risk from transportation providers to purchasers of indenture
contracts or improved the welfare of passengers en route.
Most immigrants arranged for travel with long-term players in the market.
Wokeck has described many of these businesses in detail and accounted for
their share of the market. There were many short-term transportation
providers, mostly businesspeople who tried it once and who were more than
happy to make off with as much money from the emigrants as possible. Those in
the business of shipping passengers for the long term, usually businesspeople
with large interests in the business of importing and exporting goods, had
reputations they wanted to protect. Such individuals and firms tended to have
a greater incentive to make sure that the emigrants’ experiences were
successful, particularly when their profits were tied to the money from
indentured servitude contracts.
Over time, more and more emigrants showed up in Rotterdam and in Irish ports
without the cash resources to pay for their passage. Credit arrangements
evolved to provide the financing such that emigrants could arrange to pay
outstanding balances upon arrival in the British colonies. Emigrants then used
various methods, selling goods from Europe, using money from a relative or
friend at the destination or selling the rights to their labor for a specified
amount of time.
Wokeck’s work helps us to understand the self-selection aspects of emigrants,
how the early waves were a different subset of the general population than the
later waves. In the early decades of the German emigration, most left in
family groups and paid the transportation costs with personal funds.
Gradually, more Germans left without family members and also without the
financial resources to pay the transportation costs. Irish emigrant cohorts
changed over time in similar ways. Overall, however, Irish emigrants were more
likely than German emigrants were to finance the trip up front. Contract
prices differed, depending on gender, nationality and skill. Here a reference
to other work in the literature on the econometric and multivariate analysis
of indenture values would have been useful.
Interesting work typically provokes new questions and in turn suggests new
projects for future research. I describe here just two examples. Wokeck’s
findings suggest that successive emigrant cohorts relied increasingly on
previous migrants in the colonies who were family members or friends. More
people moved to North America once family and friends who could help finance
the move existed at the destination. This suggests that chain migration
effects were important in generating more migration and helping the later
arrivals to afford it. An issue for future consideration would be to show this
more specifically by demonstrating numerous links between old and new
immigrants as a percentage of all immigrants. It is important because the
explanation of financing for many immigrants, namely through reliance on
family and friends, rests on the assumption that many family connections
existed between new and old immigrants.
Secondly, and at the risk of asking that Wokeck’s work be all things to all
people, I believe that the author could have incorporated more of the recent
research on eighteenth century labor contracts. In particular, readers would
have welcomed more discussion from Wokeck about where she stands on the debate
concerning the demise in the early nineteenth century of the indentured
servitude contract. Rightly so, as Wokeck explains, the institution of prepaid
tickets was a typical way to pay for overseas migration in the nineteenth
century. Migration scholars, however, are more confident of this for the
latter part of the century, especially in regards to German emigrant
populations. It would also help readers to appreciate more fully Wokeck’s
argument that nineteenth century migration institutions were similar to those
developed in the eighteenth century.
Trade in Strangers introduces many new findings on the migration of
Germans and Irish from Europe to the British colonies. In particular,
carefully researched emigration flow series are presented. From her
microeconomic analysis of the market for overseas transportation we learn a
great deal about the nature of various contracts used by emigrants to achieve
their migration goals. Wokeck’s work is an important contribution to the
literature and valuable reading for anyone doing research in similar areas.
Simone A. Wegge’s research focuses on migration decisions in nineteenth
century European migration. Her recent work includes “Chain Migration and
Information Networks: Evidence from Nineteenth-Century Hesse-Cassel,”
Journal of Economic History, 1998); and “To Part or Not to Part:
Emigration and Inheritance Institutions in Mid-Nineteenth Century Germany,”
Explorations in Economic History, 1999); as well as a chapter on female
migrants in Women, Gender and Labour Migration: Historical and Global
Perspectives, edited by Pamela Sharpe (Routledge, 2001).