Immigration – “To The West!”

To the west, to the west
to the land of the free
where the mighty Missouri
rolls down to the sea

Where a man is a man
if he’s willing to toil
where the humblest may gather
the fruits of the soil

Where children are blessings
and he who hath most
has aid for his fortune
and riches to boast

Where the young may exult
and the aged may rest
away, far away
in the land of the west

Away! Far away!
Let us hope for the best!


In the mid-1800s everyone, it seemed, in New York smoked.  Visitors frequently commented on it and cigar makers were highly sought after in the burgeoning cigar factories.

The best description of the work life of a cigar maker in this period comes from an English born immigrant to America, Samuel Gomperts, the London born son of Dutch Jews.who came to New York with his parents in 1863 at age 13. By this point he had already been making cigars for years.

The Gomperts managed to immigrate to America only because Solomon Gompert’s English trade union offered to subsidize the move.  Their settlement to New York was further facilitated by Sam’s uncle and other Jewish cigar makers from London who had already immigrated.

As soon as they arrived in New York in July 1863, the Gomperts family settled among New York’s German Jews in Kleindeutschland – “Little Germany.”  By this time the German community in New York was the second largest group after the Irish.  Twenty percent of the German immigrants were Jewish.  Of the remainder, most were Bavarian and only a small minority Prussians.  The Prussians tended to live among themselves as did the Bavarians.

Solomon and 13 year old Sam immediately found work in a nearby cigar making shop.

The keys to the trade, Gomperts later recalled, was to hide the less attractive tobacco leaves inside the cigar, use a fine tobacco wrapper and “to use both ands so as to make a perfectly shaped rolled product.  These things a good cigar maker learned to do more or less mechanically which left us to think, talk, listen or sing.”

“Detesting boredom, the cigar makers chose someone to read to  us who was a particularly good reader and in payment the rest of us gave him sufficient of our cigars so that he was not the loser.  The reading was always followed by discussion, so we learned to know each other pretty thoroughly…”

The fellowships formed would last a lifetime.

One of the favorite songs Solomon, Samuel and their co-workers would sing as they rolled cigars while still in England was “To the West” which recounted the desire of millions of Europeans to immigrate to America.

Originally a song by Charles Mackay with music by Henry Russell, it was popular in London and spoke of the Missouri as tens of thousands of Germans left their homeland, came to New York and trekked west to the booming German town of Cincinnati.  After the failed revolutions in Europe of 1848, tens of thousands more Germans came to America and stayed in New York, the Kleindeutschland.

Sam never forgot the words to that song.  Andrew Carnegie too mentions it as the inspiration for his family’s immigration to America.

By the 1870s, Gomperts decided to make his name less Jewish and Dutch.

He changed it to Sam Gompers and he would go on to make that name one of the most famous in the annals of the American labor movement.

And so by 1860 my city had become the city of immigrants.  In 1845 New York did not even rank as one of the 20 most populous cities in the world.  Yet by 1860 only London, Paris and Beijing were bigger.  And there was no city in the world composed of so many nations.  It grew not only because of the record immigration but also because so many of them decided to stay.

By 1860, 69% pf the city’s voting age inhabitants were foreign born.  Of New York’s immigrant population, The Irish and Germans dominated, followed by 27 thousand English, 9 thousand Scots, 8 thousand French.

The 1860 census indicates that there were 1,464 Italians living in New York.


The Atlantic Beer Hall on the Bowery in Kleindeutschland


About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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6 Responses to Immigration – “To The West!”

  1. beetleypete says:

    A melting pot of nations indeed, Frank.
    The women in ‘Carmen’ rolled cigars on their thighs, to ensure a smooth surface. I only found out recently that Merimee based the story on a real woman, Carmen of Triana, and Bizet adapted that for his opera.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. An interesting bit of history, Frank. Those were the days when America was still a young nation in need of young blood, skilled workers, and adventurous souls willing to risk all with “hope for the best.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennie says:

    Ah, “Cigar makers chose someone to read to us…” Smart idea. No one did this better than the cigar manufacturers in Cuba. La lecture spent three hours every day on a soap box reading aloud to the workers. He read the newspaper, and classic literature. He made the difference, because workers were focused on his reading, and that helped them make good cigars.

    I am thinking of Clark, as he is ‘right there’, when reading aloud will make all difference in the world (like it did with Cuban cigars.) When my kids were little I discovered “The Read Aloud Handbook”, and you need to read this book. The stories and statistics are right up your alley, Frank. Big time.

    I love your immigration stories. I’m following the timeline and countries. Why weren’t you teaching history to high schoolers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • toritto says:

      Hi Jennie. My daughter and her husband do read to Clark quite regularly and he has a love of books already. For a kid his age he is quite verbal and doing very well in pre-school. Will check out your book recommendation.
      I know you read my post on the cigar makers reader several years ago.

      Finally, why didn’t I teach history? Well I went to work full time in a bank at sixteen and stuck with it; wound up a senior officer in one of the country’s largest banks. I went to a free college at night and majored in economics. I was always interested in history and was accepted into a graduate program in history at a fairly prestigious university but by this time I was married with children and there was no possibility of attending full time.
      I still enjoy writing about quirks in history that enlighten.

      Many thanks and best regards.



      • Jennie says:

        I fondly remember that post, Frank. It’s good to hear that Clark is being read to, and that he is verbal. You will love the book. The author reminds me of you.

        I understand why you didn’t teach history. You had a great path in life. I think you have a gift of teaching. Who knows, it may just be in conversation with a kid, but that can make a big difference.

        Many thanks. Regards from Massachusetts.

        Liked by 1 person

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