Friday, August 14, 2009

Durham Immigrants

Like the last post, this one is more about documents than maps. I was at the State Archives in Raleigh recently in a quest for some early legal records when I ran across a volume in their Durham County collections that caught my eye. It was conveyed to the state archives along with other older court records from the Superior Court building in Durham and contains bound copies of all petitions for naturalization and citizenship filed in Durham from 1909-22. Curious as to the immigrant makeup of Durham in the years when North Carolina actually saw a drop in total number of foreign-born residents, I decided to flip through and take some pictures.

The volume contained naturalization paperwork for around 63 individuals (there were some refillings so perhaps this number is slightly higher than actual) - this out of a Durham urban population of 18,231 in 1910, 21,719 in 1920. Of course this is only reflective of those who actually filed for naturalization while in Durham and does not include those immigrants filing elsewhere before moving to Durham. Two of those filing for naturalization were born in the United Kingdom (both Scotland I think) three were from Cyprus (then part of the British Empire), nine claimed to be Greek from Greek territories in the Aegean (many escaping from Asia Minor during the Greco-Turkish war), one was born in Belgium, and the vast majority (48) had been born in Russian territories.

Most if not all of these 48 were from the Jewish pale of settlement, including many from today's Latvia and Lithuania. The Jewish immigrants listed in this particular naturalization volume came well after the wave of Jewish tobacco workers of the late 19th century and appear from their petitions and other sources to have been store-keepers and small merchants. For those interested in these immigrants and Durham Jewish history more broadly, Leonard Rogoff's recent (2001) book covers the subject in exhaustive detail (he also cites this naturalization volume on at least two occasions).

I've reproduced a couple of the naturalization petitions to give a sense of what they entailed.



The above is Harry Cohen's 1911 petition, relating that he was born in Russia and had come to the US in 1902. It is witnessed, as was required, by two US citizens who had known him at least five years, in this case two Durham Jewish merchants, including Sam Hockfield, who was then an officer of the Durham Hebrew Congregation. Unfortunately for Harry there is a letter glued to the back of the certificate saying that it had been rendered void because one of the two witnesses seemed to have known him for fewer than the five years required.


Though Rogoff describes the generally un-hostile reception of Jewish immigrants in Durham, the racialization of Eastern European jews is hard to miss in Sam Swartz's 1909 declaration of intent to become a citizen (above). It lists his "visible distinctive marks" as a "prominent nose" and "circumcised." Accordingto Rogoff Sam Swartz and his wife Clara became quite succesful merchants and came to oen substantial real estate in the area by the 1920s.

These last two snippets from naturalization petitions are of more particular interest to me as documents in and of themselves.


This snippet is from an attached certificate to a petition. It was made in New York at the time of Sam Berman's arrival into the US. I like the use of a "Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias" stamp (I would love to get ahold of one!) and the interchangability of the "subject, citizen" line. Rogoff claims Berman was the first permanent Jewish resident of Chapel Hill (in 1914).


While almost all of the petitions and documents in the volume have rather florid and literate signatures attached, Philip Kaplan's signature (above) is decidely rough and indicative of someone less literate (at least in roman characters). Kaplan was a shoemaker from today's Lithuania who later brought the rest of his family to Durham.

And finally, because I had to include a map, below are the addresses of the four people discussed above plotted onto a contemporary satellite view of Durham (must click to enlarge). (1): Cohen (2): Swartz (3): Berman (4): Kaplan.

3 comments:

Marsosudiro said...

Oustanding post.

I've been wanting to do a history of Asian immigrants/residents in Durham between ~1930 and ~1970, but it hasn't made my priority list yet.

Your post gives me some extra inspiration.

Elizabeth said...

Oh my goodness, this is right up my alley (as in, it's in my dissertation)! Latvia and Lithuania, huh? Interesting....

孤單 said...

朋友是一面鏡子..................................................