Ohio Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although Ohio was one of the first territories in the Midwest to become a state, its history of foreign immigration began relatively late, after major conflicts with Native Americans opened the region to settlement.

Ohio’s first immigrants were Native Americans of the Miami, Shawnee, Ottawa, Tuscarora, Wyandotte, Seneca, and Delaware tribes. Many of these people were relatively late arrivals who moved to the region to get away from expanding European settlements to the east and from conflicts with the Iroquois peopleIroquois and CherokeeCherokee peoples. In 1763, during the British colonial era, white settlement in the Ohio region was banned to prevent conflicts with Native Americans. However, after the United States became independent in 1783, restrictions on settlement were lifted. A coalition of Native American forces under the Miami war chief Little TurtleLittle Turtle fought a four-year war against U.S. occupation of the region, but the U.S. victory at the Battle of Fallen TimbersBattle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 effectively ended Native American resistance.OhioOhio[cat]STATES;Ohio[03960]

Immigration Under Statehood

After the United States became independent, the future of the Ohio Territory was defined by the [a]Northwest Ordinance of 1787Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That law’s banning of slaverySlavery;and Northwest Ordinance[Northwest Ordinance] north of the Ohio RiverOhio River profoundly affected the character of all the future midwestern states, especially those which the Ohio River separated from the slave states of Kentucky and Virginia. In 1788, Marietta, a Massachusetts colony on an island in the Ohio River, became Ohio’s first permanent American settlement.

Although Scotch-Irish immigrants[Scotch Irish immigrants];OhioNew England Yankees were making claims on Ohio territory, the first settlers who came in significant numbers were Scotch-Irish immigrants[Scotch Irish immigrants];OhioScotch-Irish. Most of these people were children and grandchildren of immigrants from Ulster in Northern Ireland who had settled in Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. These early immigrants spread out along the Ohio River, northward from Marietta. By 1803, their numbers were large enough to make Ohio eligible for U.S. statehood. The federal government’s liberal land sales policy attracted many more settlers to the southern part of the state. By 1810, Ohio had more than 230,000 American and foreign residents.

The first immigrants to enter Ohio directly from Europe in substantial numbers were six hundred French immigrants;OhioFrench, who were lured to Ohio by a land scheme promoted in France. In 1790, they founded a colony called Gallipolis on the Ohio River and soon assimilated into American culture. More French immigrants came during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Many of them were fleeing political and economic crises in Europe. Ohio also received immigrants from French-speaking Quebec. According to the U.S. Census, in the year 2000, almost 45,000 Ohio residents reported speaking French at home–a number exceeded only by German and Spanish speakers.

German Immigration

After the War of 1812 ended, the first German immigrants;OhioGerman-speaking immigrants arrived in eastern Ohio, where they settled along a ridge of high land nicknamed the “Backbone.” However, these people did not come directly from Europe; they were mostly Pennsylvania Dutch;in Ohio[Ohio]Pennsylvania Dutch who were already American citizens–Amish communities;OhioAmish and Mennonites;OhioMennonites who lived in close-knit communities and maintained their ancestral language. Their communities, their language, and conservative style of dress have survived into the twenty-first century, in both Ohio and other parts of the Midwest. The 2000 U.S. Census recorded more than 16,000 Ohio residents who still spoke the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect of German at home.

Revolutions in 1830 and 1848 helped propel the first German immigrants who came directly to Ohio. By 1850, Germans made up 5.6 percent of the state’s total population and were more numerous even than British and Irish immigrants, who collectively constituted 4.4 percent. The densest concentration of Germans was in the Cincinnati, OhioCincinnati area, along the Ohio River. In 1830, Germans made up only 5 percent of that city’s population, but by 1850 that figure had risen to 23 percent. Cincinnati by then was becoming known for its German breweries and opera. Similar increases in German population occurred in Chillicothe, Dayton, and Portsmouth.

The northern part of Ohio was also receiving its share of foreign immigrants. Cuyahoga County, which included Cleveland, OhioCleveland, was more than one-third foreign born by 1870. Most of its immigrants were Germans. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Germans had been joined by substantial numbers of Bohemians, Canadians,Hungarian immigrants;OhioHungarians, Poles, Austrians, and Italians.

A little-known but important aspect of Ohio’s immigrant communities has been German’s influence on the English spoken in the state. Many of southern Ohio’s first American settlers came from Kentucky and Virginia, but traces of southern accent are mostly confined to rural areas. New England Yankees, who spoke a dialect of English that has been popularly, though mistakenly, called “general American,” settled mostly in cities. There they were joined by German immigrants, many of whom learned their English from Yankee teachers. Because the Germans rarely learned English from Southerners in Ohio, they helped make southern accents less evident in the state’s cities.

Late Twentieth Century Trends

The late twentieth century saw the first waves Mexican immigrants;Ohioof Hispanic immigrants entering Ohio. Most of these people were Mexicans, whose immigration grew even heavier after the turn of the twenty-first century. By 2006, the state’s Hispanic population reached 265,762–about 2.3 percent of Ohio’s total population. Just over 50 percent of these people were Mexicans.

Although Mexicans have constituted a smaller percentage of the total population in Ohio than in some other states, their growing presence has led to a revival of Nativism;and Mexican immigrants[Mexican immigrants]nativism and racism. In October, 2004, an arson fire in Ohio’s largest city, Columbus, burned ten Mexican workers to death. Similar hate crimes have occurred in other cities, and the state has intensified its efforts to reduce illegal immigration.Ohio

Further Reading
  • Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Thorough but readable treatment of groups of immigrants from the seventeenth century through the 1980’s: why they came, where they settled.
  • Frazer, Timothy C., ed. “Heartland” English: Variation and Transition in the American Midwest. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993. Collection of essays that describe the impact immigrants and settlement had on the spoken English of several midwestern states, including Ohio.
  • Izant, Grace Goulder. Ohio Scenes and Citizens. Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1964. Sketches and case histories illustrating twentieth century life in Ohio.
  • Quinones, Sam. Antonio’s Gun and Delphino’s Dream: True Tales of Mexican Migration. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007. Narrates the causes for the economic crisis in Mexico, which led to the large Mexican immigration into the United States that began during the 1970’s. Describes the experiences of eight Mexicans who arrived after 1990.


French immigrants

German immigrants

Irish immigrants

Iron and steel industry

Italian immigrants


Language issues


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