November 2, 2012, Friday, 306

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From The Peopling of New York City

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Welcome to the Elusive Immigrant Wiki, a project undertaken by a rogue branch of the Brooklyn History Detectives. Locating our operations on the campus of Brooklyn College, our members share a number of important traits, including the fact that we represent several waves of immigrants who have made their way to New York City since the 17th century. During the Spring of 2008, this shared historical experience inspired us to investigate the lives of some of the people who had ventured to New York and the United States long before our own family members made similar treks from far-flung corners of the globe.

Realizing that the favored few--those rare immigrants who have risen from rags, to respectability, and then on to great riches--constitute the exception rather than the norm in the United States, we decided that historical detectives should spend much more time attempting to recover the lives of the the vast majority of ordinary, everyday immigrants and migrants who made significant contributions to the unfolding drama of the young United States. Like us, these people went about their daily lives hoping to fulfill their dreams by working hard, connecting socially, worrying about and participating in the political experiment in democracy, and trying to maintain their cultural traditions while also colliding with other groups and attempting to "fit in" to the many different worlds they encountered on the hard-scrabble streets and waterfronts of New York City. Also like us, these historical actors radically altered the worlds they inhabited, even when it seemed that nobody noticed them.

As it turned out, recovering the lives of ordinary, everyday immigrants was no easy task; for, indeed, most ordinary people leave behind few records of their lives. To imagine the worlds they inhabited, our detective work has, therefore, pushed us into myriad locations in Manhattan (and sometimes to other boroughs as well).

Join us on our quest to uncover our elusive immigrants' lives and gain insight into the methodology of the detectives' work.

The Cases

A Slave Execution, 1741
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
Slave Conspiracy

Some of us decided to investigate the lives of 17th-century immigrants who found themselves embroiled in a so-called conspiracy involving slaves and their masters. These slave owners are a part of a very little known and very ugly history of Colonial New York. We have gone where no other detective has gone, hoping that we could shed some light on this historical scene. The search to uncover the lives of our slave owners has not always been fruitful but a good detective never gives up! Our colleague, Araceli Estrada, has provided a gateway into the worlds these immigrants inhabited. Come, follow us there, to the Slave Conspiracy, a universe of people who altered New York City and the lives of residents and visitors alike.
Some of us hoped that understanding the lives of Eastern European immigrants might provide a window into solving some of the problems that still haunt us, including how this nation continues to exploit new immigrants who must toil in illegal sweatshops so that the rest of us might consume more cheaply, and whose sacrifices for family and friends continue to remind us about the shameful circumstances under which so many people must labor in the United States. Join us to find out about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that altered New York City.