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Ethnic Origins of Southwark Residents

The population of Southwark has undergone constant change in ethnicity since it was first settled in the early 17th century. The evolving rolls Philadelphia's immigrants have been recorded in generations of city directories and in the US Federal Population Census.

The first wave of immigrants were the Swedes. The Swedish Lutheran church they founded, Gloria Dei, or Old Swedes' Church, can be found today on Swanson Street. Dating from 1700, it is the oldest church in Pennsylvania and a National Historic Landmark and a part of the Independence Hall National Historic Park (http://www.nps.gov/glde/).

HABS (Historic American Building Survey): PA-120. VIEW FROM SOUTHWEST. Taken January 21, 1937. HABS PA,51-PHILA,174-1

After William Penn received his charter for lands in Pennsylvania and Delaware in the latter part of the 17th century, the region began to undergo its next wave of change. Ethnic origin for these early residents is not clearly identified in either 18th century city directories or the early census data. By the 1790's names on the census roster give little indication of any but British origin. Names like Bickham, McCeever, and Penrose line the roster of Almond Street residents.

By the 1840's, the population had begun to undergo another noticeable change. The influx of Catholics to the area was the source of ethnic friction among existing residents who feared for their jobs and way of life. The Southwark Riots of 1844 at nearby St. Philip Neri Church, seen below in an image reproduced from the St Philip Neri web site, records the turmoil of the Southwark Riots. In spite of the ethnic tensions, the influx of immigrants continues into the 1880's with census records showing nearly half of the immigrants on Almond Street arrived from Ireland and the other from Germany.

H. Butchholtzer for J. Baillie and J. Soule, Riot in Philadelphia, July 7th 1844. Lithograph, 1844. Image reproduced from the St. Philip Neri web site - http://churchofstphilipneri.org/history.htm

By the 1890's, immigrants were beginning to arrive from different points of embarkation. Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory for 1890 began to report names like Luke Lezzikofski, John Stiner and Moses Blabofski interspersed among the more familiar British sounding names of Almond, now Kenilworth Street residents. By the 1920 US Federal Population Census the dramatic change in the make-up of Southwark was clearly in evidence.

While not every family on the street was an immigrant, census records show that the vast majority were. Whereas in 1880, roughly 25% of the residents along Almond Street were recorded as immigrants, roughly 35% of the people identified on the street were born outside the US. This growth can be clearly seen in the map below comparing proportion of immigrants listed in 1880 and 1920 census records.

DATA SOURCE: 1880 and 1920 US Federal Population Census.

Nearly half of the immigrant residents on the street in 1920 had roots in Poland, with the remaining arriving from Romania, Germany, Austria, and Spain. Entire families are recorded as having traveled to the US from abroad within the preceding 10 to 15 years. The map below shows the change in point of emigration between 1880 and 1920. Mouse over the image to see the transition or click the links to see the enlarged 1880 or 1920 illustrations.

DATA SOURCE: 1880 and 1920 US Federal Population Census.

In spite of the ethnic influx and variety, the street remained racially homogenous over the years, with no Black residents listed in the Philadelphia Census Directory for 1811 and only one listed in the 1880 census at #144 Almond Street. Jane Carney's occupation is recorded as 'Servant'. Again in the 1920 census there were with no Black residents reported along Kenilworth Street.

With increased cultural diversity came a shift in religious affiliation. Stephens's Philadelphia Directory for 1796 recorded one Swedish Lutheran and two Methodist churches in Southwark. In 1839, McElroy’s Philadelphia Directory lists no Lutheran churches in Southwark. By this time, the congregation at Old Swedes' Church had become aligned with the Episcopal Church. There were two Episcopal churches in Southwark and one each identified as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Mariners' and New Jerusalem. According to Gopsill's Philadelphia City Directory, by 1890 the Mariners' and New Jerusalem (aka Swedenborgian) churches were gone and the Presbyterian church was vacant. Greater diversity was becoming evident, with two Baptist, one Evangelical, two Methodist Episcopal, three Protestant Episcopal (including Old Swedes'), and two Catholic churches in Southwark.

At the turn of the 20th century there was an influx of Jewish immigrants to the neighborhood. This can be clearly seen below in the development of religious institutions like schools, synagogues, churches and community centers dotting the streets of Southwark by 1920.

SOURCE: Levy, Paul R. Queen Village, The Eclipse of Community: A Case Study of Gentrification and Displacement in a South Philadelphia Neighborhood. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Civic Values, 1978.