Immigration is a hot topic in today’s world where Americans are conflicted over whether the nation should build a wall on the US-Mexico border, or have open borders. There are strong feelings toward both opinions; after all, our country was built by immigrants. While Christopher Columbus has been credited with discovering America, there were already Native Americans occupying the area. In fact, migrants started coming to the land about 15,000 years ago and have been settling ever since. It wasn’t until the USA fought for and won independence in 1776 that restrictions on immigration started to come into place.
The Statue of Liberty is a beacon to many, representing freedom and the opportunity to build a new life. In 1892, this symbol of hope shone bright and strong for the first registered immigrants who were processed into America. Ellis Island in New York became the country’s first official immigration center, designed to help manage the many people seeking to make a life in the New World.
First Immigrant: Annie Moore
On January 1, 1892, the first immigrant through Ellis Island was processed. She was Annie Moore, a 17-year-old girl from Ireland who had been on a ship for several days along with her two younger brothers. Annie’s mother and father had already moved to the new land and had been living here since 1888.
Imagine how Annie must have felt on that day when her ship, the Nevada, sailed into the harbor and docked with other ships. She was waiting to disembark and start her new life. The ship arrived at night, so the 148 passengers had to wait until the morning before they could leave the ship. Annie and the other passengers eventually boarded the John E. Moore immigrant transfer boat. The craft was decorated to celebrate the momentous occasion, and as it sailed close to the island bells and whistles clanged and shrieked to welcome the newcomers.
Once the boats had docked, the travelers were led to the Registry Room where doctors would check to see if they had any physical problems and officers would look over their legal paperwork to make sure everything was in order.
Annie was soon registered and the Superintendent of Immigration, Colonel Weber, presented the youth with a shiny $10 gold coin in honor of her being the first official immigrant to be registered in America. Annie said that was the first United States coin she had ever seen and was the largest sum of money she had ever possessed, The New York Times reported. The teen vowed she would never part with it and planned to keep it as a memento.
The young immigrant later married Joseph Augustus Schayer, a son of German Catholic Immigrants who worked as a salesman at Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market. The pair had at least ten children together. Today, there are two statues in Annie’s honor, both sculpted by Jeanne Rhynhart. One is located in her home country at her port of departure in the town of Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in Ireland, which depicts Annie and her two brothers. The other statue is at Ellis Island, Annie’s port of arrival in the USA.
Ellis Island continued to process immigrants; between 1892 and 1954, more than 12 million people entered the United States through this center.