Belgian Immigration to America until 1880.

The first “Belgian” settlement in America dates back to 1624, when some thirty Protestant families, “for the most part Walloon,” landed at Manhattan island aboard the “Nieuw Nederland”.1 They had fled religious persecution in the Spanish Low Countries (present day Belgium), and sought refuge in the town of Leiden in the Netherlands. There some of them had come in contact with the West India Company, who organized and financed their emigration to the New World.2

Since the seventeenth century, Belgian Catholic missionaries also traveled to North America. They helped explore the country (e.g. Father Hennepin), worked among Indians (e.g. Father Pierre-Jean De Smet), and, in some cases, stimulated colonization.3

Rev. Father Pierre Jean Jan De Smet (1801-1873) Catholic Missionary to Indian Territory, ca. 1860-1865.4

Belgian emigration to the United States began in earnest during the nineteenth century. Three types of migratory movements characterize the earliest phase of Belgian immigration to the United States. First, from the beginning of the nineteenth century onward, individual pioneers ventured into the New World to explore and settle the land. For example, as early as 1816, a small Walloon colony existed in Missouri, called “Nouvelle Liège; nothing was heard of the settlement after 1833.5

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How many Belgian-Americans are we talking about?

Today, about 356,405 people in the United States claim Belgian ancestry, an estimate which appears to be low, especially when compared with the estimated number of Dutch Americans: 4,289,116.(1) Did that many more Netherlanders immigrate to the United States?

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