Slovak American

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Slovak American

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Total population

Slovak
797,764 Americans
[1]

0.27% of the US population
Regions with significant populations
Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey
Ohio, Indiana, Illinois
Languages
American English, Slovak
Religion
Roman Catholicism, Greek Catholicism, Lutheranism
Related ethnic groups
Slovaks, Czechs, Hungarians, Poles

Slovak Americans are Americans of Slovak descent. In the 1990 Census Slovak Americans made up the third-largest portion of Slavic ethnic groups. There are currently about 790,000 people of Slovak descent living in the United States. [1]

History[edit]

Eighteenth century[edit]

Isaacus Ferdinand Sharoshi was the first known immigrant from the territory of present-day Slovakia, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Sharoshi arrived in the religious colony of Germantown, Pennsylvania, founded by Mennonite preacher Francis Daniel Pastorius, to serve as a teacher and a preacher. Sharoshi apparently returned to Europe after two years.[2] In 1754, Andreas Jelik, an ethnic German from the village of Baja,[3] left the Kingdom of Hungary to train as a tailor. After some travel in Europe, he eventually reached South American shores, via the West Indies, on a Dutch trading ship.

After being proclaimed emperor in Madagascar, and bearing letters of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin and funds from a descendant of Ferdinand Magellan, Maurice Benyovszky whose origin is regarded as a Slovak, as a Hungarian, and as a Pole depending on sources, came to America and fought with American troops in the War for Independence. He joined a cavalry corps led by General Pulaski and fought in the siege of Savannah. He died in Madagascar in 1786, but his wife, Zuzana Honsch, spent the years from 1784 until her death in 1815 in the United States.

Another Slovak fought in the American Revolution; Major Jan Polerecky, who trained at the French Royal Military Academy of St. Cyr, came to America from France to fight with George Washington's army in the War for Independence. He was in the company of the 300 "Blue Hussars" to whom the British formally surrendered their weapons after the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. When the war was over, Polerecky settled in Dresden, Maine, where he served in a number of public positions.

Nineteenth century[edit]

During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln approved a request to organize a military company named the "Lincoln Riflemen of Sclavonic Origin." This first volunteer unit from Chicago, which included many Slovaks, fought in the Civil War and was eventually incorporated into the 24th regiment of the Illinois infantry. Slovak immigrant, Samuel Figuli, fought in the Civil War, owned a plantation in Virginia, and later joined an exploratory expedition to the North Pole.

Large scale Slovak immigration to the United States began in the 1870s with the forced magyarization policies of the Hungarian government.[4] Because U.S. immigration officials did not keep separate records for each ethnic group within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is impossible to determine the exact number of Slovak immigrants who entered the United States. Between 1880 and the mid-1920s, approximately 500,000 Slovaks immigrated to the United States. More than half of Slovak immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. Other popular destinations included Ohio, Illinois, New York and New Jersey.

Twentieth century[edit]

Distribution of Slovak Americans according to the 2000 census,

In 1914, Štefan Banič, a Slovak inventor, constructed and tested a prototype of a parachute in Washington, D.C., by jumping from a 41-floor building and subsequently from an airplane. His patented parachute became standard equipment for U.S. pilots during World War I. Banič worked in the United States from 1907 to 1920, with two interruptions.

In 1915, the leaders of the Czech National Alliance and the Slovak League of America signed the Cleveland Agreement, in which they pledged to cooperate for the common goal of independent statehood for the Czechs and Slovaks. The agreement's five articles laid out the basics of a future joint state for the two nationalities. Three years later, the Pittsburgh Agreement was concluded by representatives of Czechs and Slovaks at a meeting of the American branch of the Czechoslovak National Council in Pittsburgh. The agreement endorsed a program for the struggle for a common state of Czecho-Slovakia and agreed that the new state would be a democratic republic in which Slovakia would have its own administration, legislature, and courts. On October 18, 1918, the primary author of the agreement, T. G. Masaryk, a Slovak, declared the independence of Czechoslovakia on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was elected the first President of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1920.

Communists took control of Czechoslovakia's government in 1948, leading to a mass migration of Slovak intelligentsia and post-war political figures. Another wave of Slovak immigration was fueled by the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviet response to the cultural and political liberalization of the Prague Spring. Many members of this wave belonged to the intelligentsia.

Demography[edit]

Most Slovaks emigrated to cities, especially to those where industries were expanding and felt the need to acquire cheap and unskilled labor. For this reason, the majority of Slovaks settled in the Eastern United States (with special attention to Pennsylvania) where more than half of them settled in milltowns and coal mining districts in the state's western region. Today, almost half of all Slovak Americans reside in Pennsylvania (233,160) and Ohio (137,343).[5] Other important areas where Slovaks settled include New Jersey, New York, and Illinois. Most Slovaks settled in places where there are already Slovaks residing. In fact, between 1908 and 1910, the percentage of Slovaks who settled in places already inhabited by family and friends was 98.4 percent.[6]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • M. Mark Stolarik, Where is My Home? Slovak Immigration to North America (1870-2010). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2012.