Friday, September 10, 2010

Annie Moore, First Immigrant

 “In 1892, she was the first foreigner to arrive at Ellis Island.  By 1893, she was an American mystery.”  This are the words of Jesse Green in his 2010 article titled Immigrant Number One. In my research of the history of the naturalized citizen process I ran across this story about the first immigrant to enter the United States through the famed Ellis Island.  According to the article called Ellis Island published in the 2008 edition of The World Almanac and Book of Facts, “Ellis Island was the gateway to America for over 12 mil immigrants between 1892 and 1924.”
The Statue of Liberty as seen from Ellis Island.

Betty Johnson
Southeast Community College

 This is a story, not about a person who achieved greatness, but rather a person that by becoming an ordinary citizen achieved her family’s ultimate dream, American citizenship. I would like to take this opportunity today to acknowledge Annie Moore, an immigrant, and a run of the mill American citizen. Because Ms. Moore represents the American dream she is worthy of our acknowledgement and respect.

Annie Moore made the long trip from Ireland to the United States in 1892.  Can you imagine such a journey over one hundred years ago; it must have been a long, hard trip. Annie made her way to Ellis Island aboard the S.S. Nevada with her two brothers, Anthony and Phillip. The three Moore children were coming to the U.S. to meet their parents and older siblings, a brother and sister (Green, 2010).

How the tale goes, the Moore children understated their ages.  Many speculate they did this to lower their cost for the trip.  Regardless of why, Annie’s age was reported to be 15 at the time of the trip, in fact the day they landed at Ellis Island was supposedly her 15th birthday. Later it was discovered that she had actually turned 17 several months earlier (Green, 2010).

Imagine being left behind in your homeland while part of your family traveled to a far off, foreign land.  Then you follow, by taking a long hard trip, months later; a young child yearning to be reunited with her parents.  But, there is much more to her story. 

Annie Moore just happened to be the first passenger to depart the S.S. Nevada, which made her the first immigrant to be welcomed through the brand new Ellis Island facility.  Can you imagine the excitement?  She was about to be reunited with her family and then to find out that she, by luck, was part of something special!  With the grand opening of Ellis Island happening, many dignitaries were on hand to welcome the ship’s passengers.

A representative of the Treasury Department, the agency tasked with oversight of the immigration process at that time, from Washington, D.C. was on hand.   A chaplain welcomed Annie and blessed her. And, to continue the pomp, the Commissioner of Ellis Island handed her a gold liberty coin (Green, 2010), ten dollars, a lot of money for the times.

Annie became a legend that day in 1892, when she stepped foot onto Ellis Island, a legend that quickly faded into obscurity. After arriving in the United States, and becoming a naturalized citizen, Annie began her days as an American.

Elllis Island today. The door through which Annie would have entered the United States can be seen in the mid picture.

Like all of us, she went about her business of living her life.  A few short years after arriving on Ellis Island, Annie met and married her husband, the son of a German baker, Joseph Augustus Schayer, Gus for short. Over the next several years Gus and Annie gave birth to 10 children, six boys and four girls. As happened to many families during that time period, five of the Shayer children died before reaching adulthood.

Annie’s life was not sensational.  It was similar to many of that era, hard and difficult. She, herself passed away at the young age of 50, from what has been reported as heart failure. After living her life in obscurity a short distance from Ellis Island right there in New York City (Green, 2010).

Once Annie left the ship that day in 1892, she left behind the pomp and slipped into anonymity.  In Jesse Green’s (2010) words she became an Annie that “was not the kind of hero American stories are made of.”

Today I have taken the opportunity to acknowledge that Annie Moore is an American that is worthy of praise. Not because she was a great American, but rather because she is representative of the American dream and the American way of life.  She was one of us, albeit the first to come through Ellis Island, but, at the end of the day, one of us, an American who was given the opportunity to go about living her life. After hearing Annie’s story, hopefully you share my admiration for her, not because she was a great person, but rather for what she represents to us and to our country.


Ellis Island. (2008). The World Almanac and Book of Facts

Green, J. (2010, May 17). Immigrant number one. New York, 43, 16, 38-43. 

1 comment:

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak said...

Thanks so much for writing about Annie Moore! Those interested in learning more about her might want to visit:

Among other things, you can learn about how she was rediscovered in 2006 after another Annie Moore had usurped her place in history. I recently had the privilege of visiting her last home in Cork, seeing her baptism record in the church where she was christened, and so forth. Was a delight to walk in Annie's footsteps and am very glad she's reclaiming her first-immigrant status.