Emigration from Switzerland

It is only since comparitively recently that Switzerland has been able to feed all its inhabitants, and this inevitably led to a continual stream of emigration over the years. The last major waves of emigration were after the great famine of 1816/1817, between 1845-1855, and between 1880-1885.

In 1819, the colony of Nova Friburgo was created in Brazil by emigrants from the canton of Fribourg. In 1846, there was massive overseas emigration from the canton of Glarus.

During the 19th century, many Jurassiens and Neuchâtelois left Switzerland to start a new life in America. The local council gave them a financial incentive to do so (typically 400 Swiss francs, or 6 months wages for a working man), in order to have one mouth less to feed during a period of economic recession. The money was given to the emigrants on the condition that they never returned to Europe. If they ever returned to their native land, they would be obliged to reimbourse it, along with annual interest at 4%, calculated from the day of departure. Work was very hard to find in Switzerland, and America seemed like a paradise where men could grow rich and acquire their own land.

Advertisements appeared regularly in local newspapers, placed by travel agencies based at Basle, Bern, or Belfort, in neighbouring France. These agencies offered organised crossings of the Altlantic from Le Havre for 80-100 Swiss francs, depending on the number of passengers. Food on board cost 40 Swiss francs, and consisted of biscuits, flour, butter, ham, salt, potatoes and vinegar. With this the emigrants prepared their own meals. In addition, there was the cost of transport to Le Havre (about 60 Swiss francs) and food for the 4 or 5 days spent in the diligence. Clippers such as the "Savanah" and the "Sirius" now crossed the Atlantic in less than 20 days, making the crossing far less of an ordeal than for the earlier pionneers

In 1857, the agency of André Zwilchenbart at Basle advertised regular packetboat sailings for New York, and 3-mast American ships sailing to New Orléans. 33 years later, in 1880, the same agency advertised steamship passages to North America, Canada and South America.

Towards the middle of the 18th century, a great number of the inhabitants of the valley of Lauterbrunnen emigrated to the United States, and in particular to the state of South Carolina. Worried at this depopulation, Bern ordered a comission to examine the problem and suggest an answer. Their "Responsa prudentum" of 1744 was less than complimentary. They announced that the inhabitants of Lauterbrunnen, Sigriswil, Battenberg, Habkern, Gsteig and Grindelwald were abandoning their fields and their work for delinquancy, dragging their children down with them! Although some of the commission's more radical suggestions were not adopted - separating children from their parents until they were 9 or 10 in order to teach them a trade, for instance - one positive result was an encouragement of local craft and industry.

The majority of emigrants came from the agricultural cantons, and mostly preferred to continue a rural existence in their new homeland, rather than accept a subordinate place in the national industries. The colonies of New Glarus in Wisconsin and those founded by Italian-speaking emigrants from the canton of Ticino in California show this spirit of independance.

Sometimes the Swiss authorities took advantage of the situation to get rid of the local undesirables - the indigent poor and the work-shy - by placing them on a boat with the emigration subsidy in their pocket. It is doubtful whether this cheap and effective method of reducing population pressure on the local councils was appreciated at the unwilling emigrants' port of destination! Many local councils in Aargau (Argovia) adopted this strategy in the middle of the last century.

If Swiss emigrants were settlers of your home town, we would be interested to hear from you, and to include brief details on this page.

Do you recognise these names?

We would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has any information about the following people:

Jules-César Huguenin (Virchaux) (b. Le Locle 20 December 1840) received three different passports for America. The first was issued on 17 May 1864 (No.313) in the name of Huguenin, the second on 6 July 1866 (No.348), also in the name of Huguenin, and the third on 16 January 1867 (No.20) in the name of Huguenin-Virchaux. His brother and sister, Bernadotte-Iwan (b. 26 January 1843) and Louise-Amélie (b. 8 September 1839), followed him to the US in 1872. Their brother, Adolphe-Aloïse-Reding (b. 30 May 1845) received an initial passport (No.336) for America via France on 2 July 1866, and 7 years later, on 7 April 1873, he received a second passport (No.145) for himself and his (unnamed) wife for Pennsylvania. Jules-César apparently married Pauline Montandon in San Francisco in 1877, but we have no further trace of any of this family. Their parents names were Daniel-Henri Huguenin-Virchaux and Emilie Racine.

Jean Huguenin emigrated from Switzerland to Holland in the early 1700's, and his descendants served in both the Dutch and Prussian armies. His grandson, Ulrich, was ennobled by the Prussians, and part of this line consequently became known as Von Huguenin.

Frédéric-Alexis Huguenin (Dumittan) (b. St-Blaise 14 April 1839), emigrated to America in 1858. His second cousin, Sophie-Lina Huguenin (Dumittan) (b. Le Locle, 28 October 1828), received a passport for America in 1861.

Jules Huguenin (Vuillemin) (b. Le Locle 9 October 1807) returned to Switzerland from New York to take his first communion at Christmas 1825. Jules' brother, Edouard, received a pasport for America on 4 February 1864. Their parents were David-Louis Huguenin-Vuillemin and Emélie Dubois. Jules became a military officer and member of the court of justice of Le Locle, where several of his children were baptised between 1836 and 1845. One of his sons, Jules-David, received a passport for America on 22 August 1873, when his domicile was given as New York.

Louis Albert Huguenin (Virchaux) (b. La Brévine, 7 January 1827) received a passport for New York in 1850. His parents were Charles-Philippe Huguenin-Virchaux and Charlotte Courvoisier-Piot.

Lucien Huguenin (Elie) (b. La Brévine, 10 October 1828) received a passport for New York in 1852. His parents were Philippe Henri Huguenin-Elie and Catherine Anderegg.

Known emigrants

Alcide Perrenoud (b.22 November 1861) and his sister, Mélina (b.13 February 1863), emigrated to the US in the late 1800's. Their parents were Louis Théophile Perrenod of Les Ponts-de-Martel and Charlotte Virginie Aellen. Their paternal line has been traced back to Guillaume Perrenoud, who lived in the canton of Neuchâtel in the early 1500's. Many of Alcide's descendants in the US are also known.

Aimé Grandjean Perrenod Comtesse (b. Les Ponts-de-Martel, 05 February 1792) went as a mercenary to the Netherlands, married a Dutch woman called Jacoba Wilhelmina Walraaven, and established a branch of the family there. His parents were Simon Grandjean Perrenod Contesse and Julie Petremand. His paternal line in the canton of Neuchâtel has been traced back to Jehan Perrenoud alias Contesse, who died before 1510.

Some other emigrants to the USA and Australia whose descendants have been traced can be found on the HUGUENIN page.

If you know anything about any of the people listed here, we would be most interested to hear from you, and may be able to tell you more about your Swiss ancestors.

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