Economics and Immigration

 Hartford, which was dwarfed by Boston 106 miles away to the north, and New York 117 miles to the south, believed that it too would become a city that was destined to expand and flourish, a cultivated forward looking urban center. When Hartford first settled in June 1636, little changed with the city for nearly 200 years. (Andrew Walsh, Associate Director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.) The population was growing in short numbers, and Hartford was known as “an intensely rural frontier place with a subsistence economy.” (Andrew Walsh, Associate Director of the Leonard Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.) A subsistence economy is a non-monetary economy which relies on natural resources to provide for basic needs, through hunting, gathering, and subsistence agriculture. The city of Hartford emerged as a “river town” in the early 1800’s as trade became a major economic driver and the early stages of the Industrial Revolution seemed to bypass the city. However, the advancement of the city quickly changed with the development of steam power, allowing new industrial technology to flourish. Alongside of manufacturing taking hold of the city, financial services industries, such as insurance and banking also started to develop which countered the decline of the agrarian economy. Hartford’s economy during the mid-1800’s and the early part of the 20th century, was fueled by manufacturing and waves of immigrants- beginning with Irish, 70% of Hartford’s immigrated population was Irish, (Xiangming Chen, Nick Bacon)  and then including Italians, French Canadians, Germans, and eastern European Jews.. The railroad arrived in Hartford in 1839, which also triggered economic growth. The city boundaries expanded in 1859, encompassed an area three and a half miles in length and two miles east to west along the banks of the Connecticut River.

               It is crucial to understand the impact immigrants had on the economy. By 1850 about 10% of Connecticut’s population consisted of immigrants. Then by 1870 it increased to 25%. Out of the 113,000 immigrants living in Connecticut in 1870, more than half were Irish (Robert Ellis). The city of Hartford was already trying to establish itself, so for flocks of immigrants to enter and within a short period of time become the best craftsman, skilled factory workers, and tailors, stripped the opportunities away from the people already living there. The situation with immigrants became prominent, therefore, “a meeting of the Connecticut Congregational Club on March 21, 1893, MIT president General Francis A. Walker called on the government to tighten immigration restrictions to stop the ‘pollution of the natives,” was organized to enforce rules with immigrants. Immigrants were taking over and consuming the area, the jobs, and even the tradition of the city, to the point where they were no longer welcome.

               In 1884, Hartford’s “most noted black citizen” Holdridge Primus passed away. Primus lived in a two-story frame house on a 41-foot lot on Wadsworth Street valued at $3,924. Wadsworth Street is 0.8 miles away from Sheldon Street where Ada Brown was murdered. Primus and Brown lived very different lives in the same city. Primus was an uneducated, non-professional African American man. In his early days, Primus worked for William Ellsworth, who later became governor of Connecticut. Supposedly it was reported that Primus went to Washington with Ellsworth served in Congress in 1829 to 1833. He was a working man who was employed in a grocery firm successively known as Nichols and Col., Humphrey and Symes and Seyms and Co. He was active in church affairs and an officer of the Black Masons. He was widely known in both the black and white community as a “genial and dependable friend and a pillar of church and community.” “Colored People,” Courant Oct. 24,1915, and Elihu Geer, Geer’s Hartford Citv Directorv for 1860-61, (Hartford: Elihu Geer, 16 State St., 1860) 440. The 1860 census recorded 111 black household in Hartford, which averaged 5.12 occupants each. Fewer than half of Hartford households consisted of a nuclear family or a family and one elderly parent or in-law, therefore the remaindered included relative or others who boarded.

               Ada Brown lived in a strange time for Hartford. A time where the city was trying to build itself a steady economy but a time where the classes seemed to become more distance, and race became a bigger issues within the dividing classes. Next week we will be going deeper in Hartford’s staggered classes and the differences between the races within each class.


Beeching, Barbara J., “The Primus Papers: An Introduction to Hartford’s Nineteenth Century Black Community” (1995). Hartford Studies Collection: Papers by Students and Faculty. Paper 8.

W.(n.d.). Recasting Hartford: The Transformation of an American City.


-Ashley, Anxhela, Lauren



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