June 2018

Our Polish Heritage

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Irish immigrants were the first non-British to come to Suffield. They came in the early 1800s to make money working on the canal system. When the potato famine devastated Ireland, they emigrated in great numbers. The next group to diversify Suffield was from Prussia. Several were listed in the 1870 and 1880 Censuses but by 1900 they only numbered 45. In these early censuses, some claimed their previous residence as Prussia but there is no way to know if Poland had been their heartfelt homeland.

It is difficult to say exactly when the first Polish immigrants arrived in Suffield. The 1880 Census for the town does not list any Polish born residents and there is little enumerated data available for the 1890 Census. Most of the original, and only, copy of that was destroyed by fire in 1921. (A tremendous loss for all genealogists.) Although summary data for 1890 indicates that a relative few Connecticut residents were born in Slavic countries, it seems unlikely they would have come to Suffield.

The first snapshot of the Polish community in Suffield, therefore, comes from the 1900 Census. By then, 140 immigrants from the Austrian and Russian Partitions were identified as Polish. Russian Poles were the largest subset, with about 100 emigrating from that region.

The first of Suffield’s Polish residents immigrated to the U.S. in 1886, but that is not necessarily when they arrived in Suffield. We do know they were mostly single men who averaged 23 years old when they made their ten-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. And about two dozen single women were approximately 18 years old when they arrived in the U.S. By 1900, eleven couples got married here and produced five first-generation Polish American children in Suffield.

Given that our ancestors had escaped their status as serfs, it seems poignant to note that most of the Polish immigrants were identified as a ‘servant’ of the head of a household, working as farm laborers or domestic servants. These immigrants typically lived on the property of those for whom they worked but by 1900 the Census identified 14 men as the head of an owned or rented house or farm. All adult Polish men were farm workers, except one.

In the future, we will look at how the Polish adapted to their new home and impacted the community of Suffield.


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