In 2011, John J. Zeazeas wrote a short book about his “Uncle Jim” who emigrated from Greece to the US in 1903. The book can still be purchased for $1 here. Excerpts are below, with additional links added based on my ongoing research
By the time Uncle Jim was 14, he had personal knowledge of older boys who’d left the village earlier. Young men left to escape poverty and to chase the dream of a better life. They
wrote home and sent money to their families. Their letters were long on glorification of the life and opportunities and short on talk of hardship. The letters were shared not only with family members, but in the larger context, the community. Letters home served to grab the attention of Uncle Jim, his brothers and cousins. The news and promise coming out of America of a life light-years beyond what a young man might dare dream of in Greece, was not limited to letters home. Agents of shipping
companies and railroads circulated throughout the villages and motivated boys on the verge of manhood to leave home.
Puffed advertisements reached the villages and spoke of riches in the mines, endless amounts of rangeland, rich farmland, new towns, navigable rivers and water for farming, profitable
fisheries, opportunities for merchants and work – all constituting a glorified image of America. The news and advertising blitz worked. By the age of 16, Uncle Jim and his cousins planned to leave Greece, but they had to wait until after their 18th birthday or they’d be denied entry to the U.S. What remained constituted a question: “how can we do this? Our
families don’t have the money to send us overseas.”
Shipping agents possessed the ways and means to make it work; they loaned the inflated costs of transportation to parents and encumbered their land with the debt. It was a profitable
venture for agents. One by one, the boys cautiously and then boldly approached their parents and expressed the desire of wanting to come to America. The parents were not buying the
sales pitch of shipping and labor agents. Initially, they resisted requests of their young sons and refused to borrow money to finance such a foolish thing. Uncle Jim was disappointed but
equally strong and focused. He and his cousins kept up the pressure; asking again and again until the wall of resistance caved in.
Our grandparents thought long and hard about borrowing funds they would not be able to pay back if Uncle Jim was not successful, just as they would have thought of the future their sons had in store for them by not taking risks that might change their lives. The possibility (however remote) they might make enough money to return to Greece flush with cash, provide their sister with a dowry, buy their own farm, marry, and be prosperous in their home village, weighed heavily on their decision…… Uncle Jim agreed – the funds would be paid back as soon as possible, to relieve the debt against the family
property. Even at that age, Uncle Jim understood the gravity of his sacred duty to family.
By the end of 1902, our Grandparents borrowed the funds to finance the trip to America. The boys possessed no specific plan beyond getting to N ew York City, and had no idea where
they’d end up, for the reason they had not been signed to work contracts by labor agents before leaving Greece. They would focus upon finding work after they were admitted, wherever that led.