The Emigrant's Handbook and Guide to Wisconsin, 1851 | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

The Emigrant's Handbook and Guide to Wisconsin, 1851

The Emigrant's Handbook and Guide to Wisconsin, 1851 | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeFirst page of the Hand Book to Wisconsin

The Emigrant's Hand Book and Guide To Wisconsin, 1851. Buy a copy of this image: WHI 54095 View the original source document: WHI 54095

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

The Emigrant's Handbook and Guide to Wisconsin was one of many immigrant guidebooks published to lure Europeans to the state. Many of these publications were written in foreign languages to attract specific nationalities, including Danes, Norwegians, and Germans. In the Emigrant's Handbook, Freeman hoped to attract well-to-do English-speaking immigrants. In this lesson, students will take a closer look at selected text from this document to better understand the challenges and motivations of potential immigrants to Wisconsin.


Students will:

  • Analyze a primary source document
  • Learn more about immigration to Wisconsin
  • Analyze the motivations of the author and immigrants to Wisconsin in the 1850s


In 1851 Milwaukee resident Samuel Freeman published the Emigrant's Handbook, three years after Wisconsin joined the Union. In western and central Europe, a series of crop failures, political unrest, and the consolidation of farmland had triggered the first great wave of nineteenth-century European immigration to America. Yet despite the boom in European immigration, many of Wisconsin's political and business leaders were worried about the possibility of a decline in population. The lure of the California gold fields resulted in a population loss of approximately 50,000 residents. The depopulation was especially evident in the lead-mining region which may have lost as much as one-third of its population. In addition, fertile prairie lands further west had begun to attract many easterners, European immigrants, and Wisconsin residents.

Despite the attraction of the Far West, Wisconsin's population swelled in the 1850s. Between 1850 and 1860 the population increased from 305,000 to 775,000, a 213 % increase. Although a state for only twelve years, by 1860 Wisconsin's population ranked fifteenth among the thirty-four states.

Resource Materials

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is the intended audience for this document?
  2. What was the author's objective in preparing this essay?
  3. How would you characterize the author's views and opinions? Do you think he had any prejudices? If so, provide a few examples.
  4. In your opinion, what are the author's three most important recommendations for potential immigrants?
  5. If you were assigned to write a paper about Wisconsin in the 1850s, what information within this essay would you find the most useful?
  6. Does this essay support or challenge any popular interpretations or explanations concerning American history? Explain.
  7. How does this information connect with other historical events of U.S. history in the 1840s and 1850s?
  8. Do you think Samuel Freeman believed in the idea of Manifest Destiny? Explain.
  9. Can you infer how Freeman would have felt about the rights of American Indians?
  10. What historical questions did this document help answer for you? What questions did it raise?


Have students prepare a set of written instructions and advice for individuals wanting to emigrate to your community. Prior to writing, encourage students to consider how the economy and American society have changed since the 1850s.


  • Emigrant
  • Immigrant
  • Manifest
  • Destiny
  • Messrs.
  • Yankees
  • Homogeneous


This lesson plan was developed by the Office of School Services for the secondary-level classroom. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.