The Age of Mass Migration map

The Age of Mass Migration

Indigenous dispossession
and displacement

Jane, Elizabeth. “The Trail of Tears.” 1938. Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 authorized the president to negotiate (and/or coerce) treaties that forcibly transferred Cherokee, Muskogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations to territories west of the Mississippi River, known as reservations. Resistance efforts failed, resulting in the “Trail of Tears” in 1838, during which thousands of Cherokees died. Many other tribes faced similar displacements and loss of life. 

In 1887, the Dawes General Allotment Act upended centuries-old Indigenous systems of communal land stewardship by opening 100 million acres of “surplus” lands to private sale. These policies disrupted Indigenous communities’ relationship to traditional food sources, replacing fishing, hunting, and gathering with distributions of food rations that forced reliance on government-provided food.

The Age of Mass Migration

In the nineteenth century, a variety of global developments converged, sending millions of people on the move. The Industrial Revolution transformed economies across the world. That industrialization unleashed widespread social and political unrest and upheaval. Around the world, centuries-old dynasties faced revolution and sustained movements for emancipation and democratic reform. At the same time, European empires expanded their colonial realms, incorporating more territories into systems of extraction, plunder, and subjugation. 

Many of those displaced by this widespread instability left their homes, ushering in a period of mass migration, during which about 24 million people migrated to the United States. This fundamentally reshaped how Americans understood hunger and poverty. Poverty became more widespread and more visible than ever before. Hungry migrants, particularly children, became symbols of the inequalities of the age and catalysts of debates about how (or whether) to address those inequalities.

The Age of Mass Migration