Home News Rockland County Immigration: A Timeline History and Diversity

Rockland County Immigration: A Timeline History and Diversity


Rockland County Immigration: Rockland County, located in New York’s Hudson Valley region, has long been defined by waves of immigration. Starting with Native Americans who first inhabited its shores to Dutch, English, French settlers who colonized it; Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, African American migrants arriving during the 19th and 20th centuries; to Hispanic, Asian Caribbean Middle Eastern newcomers enriching it today; Rockland County has long been a melting pot of cultures, languages, religions, and traditions that has come together over time to create its rich diversity and character.

The Native Americans and the European Colonists

Rockland County Immigration
Rockland County Immigration

Rockland County was initially settled by a group of Native Americans known as Lenape who spoke the Algonquian language, living in villages along the Hudson River and its tributaries. These people called their land Shawangunk or “in the smoky air”, due to the misty mountains that surrounded its valley. Trade was conducted with Dutch traders who arrived during the early 1600s at Fort Orange (now Albany). Dutch officials purchased land from Lenape tribe members including today’s Rockland County that they called “Oranjen”, meaning “orange”.

Soon after the Dutch, English forces conquered New Netherland and renamed it New York in 1664, and issued land patents to wealthy families such as Philipses and Van Cortlandts who built large estates and manors throughout Rockland County. Meanwhile French Protestant Huguenots fled religious persecution back home and sought sanctuary at New Rochelle and nearby areas; all brought with them their languages, laws, customs, and religions such as Dutch Reformed, Anglican, Quaker and Lutherans among others.

The 19th Century: The Industrial Revolution and the Civil War

Rockland County experienced significant transformation during the 19th century due to the Industrial Revolution. Construction of Erie Canal and Hudson River Railroad connections allowed Rockland County to connect to other parts of its state and nation for trade and transportation purposes, becoming a center for manufacturing of iron, textiles, paper products and shoes. Rockland also welcomed immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Germany who came to work factories, farms and mines; though some residents faced discrimination as native-born people feared these foreign workers might take their jobs and threaten culture.

Rockland County was deeply divided by the Civil War in its entirety and nationally, which fractured both it and the county itself. Most residents in Rockland County sided with the Union but some sympathized with Confederacy. Rockland sent thousands of men into battle at Antietam, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville; thousands more lost their lives or were wounded defending Rockland against Confederate forces; various camps, hospitals and prisons housed prisoners of war and held them while many more soldiers and prisoners of war stayed put within its borders – impactful war in terms of social and political issues of that period such as slavery abolition & suffrage.

The 20th Century: The Suburban Boom and the Civil Rights Movement

Rockland County experienced rapid development throughout the 20th century as it transformed from an agricultural community into a suburban haven, appealing to city-dwellers seeking respite from overcrowding and pollution. Thanks to an expanded road and bridge network – such as Tappan Zee Bridge opening in 1955 linking Rockland with Westchester and New York City – as well as new industries including pharmaceuticals, electronics and education sprouting up throughout Rockland County. Meanwhile immigrants primarily from Italy, Eastern Europe and Russia joined existing Irish, German and Jewish communities within Rockland County.

The 20th century marked an era of the Civil Rights Movement, which addressed racial and social disparities throughout America. Rockland County was home to many notable African American figures, such as John W. Towt – the first black lawyer in Rockland County – and Aaron Copland (renowned composer and music teacher). The county experienced various racial tensions and conflicts, including the Nyack Race Riot of 1940 which began after a white police officer shot and killed an African American man, and East Ramapo school district controversy which involved conflicts between public school system and Orthodox Jewish schools in East Ramapo. Furthermore, its residents also participated in national campaigns such as March on Washington in 1963 and Voting Rights Act in 1965 for civil rights.

The 21st Century: The Globalization and the Diversity

Rockland County has seen many new challenges and opportunities arise during its globalized and diverse development in recent decades, including recession of 2008, foreclosure crisis, COVID-19 pandemic, climate change. Rockland County has also taken great strides in celebrating its multicultural and multiracial identity, welcoming more immigrants from Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean and Middle East who bring different languages, cuisines, arts and religions that enrich its heritage. Events like Rockland County Bicentennial in 1998; Pride Month in June; and Diversity Day in September are held annually to acknowledge these contributions to its history and culture.

Rockland County is a place that has been shaped by both history and future; one which draws strength from both influences; both external to itself and internal contributions made; rich with diversity yet striving for unity; with both past and future influences evident here.

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