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Population Emigration

Throughout the 19th century, at the same time that foreign service from the Valais was winding down, a new form of emigration came into being that affected a large number of inhabitants of the Valais and that can be called population emigration. Indeed, it no longer involved temporary sojourns in foreign countries in view of a specific mission, but a form of emigration to countries overseas that was often considered to be definitive, and in which the emigrants were called to establish themselves as landowners. Thousands of persons and families left the Valais in the hopes of finding a better life, especially in Argentina (1855), but also in Brazil (1819), Algeria (1851), and Chile (1883). There too, however, they experienced many disillusionments, both during their travels and upon their arrival, such that many returned to the Valais.
Throughout the 19th century, at the same time that foreign service from the Valais was winding down, a new form of emigration came into being that affected a large number of inhabitants of the Valais and that can be called population emigration. Indeed, it no longer involved temporary sojourns in foreign countries in view of a specific mission, but a form of emigration to countries overseas that was often considered to be definitive, and in which the emigrants were called to establish themselves as landowners. Thousands of persons and families left the Valais in the hopes of finding a better life, especially in Argentina (1855), but also in Brazil (1819), Algeria (1851), and Chile (1883). There too, however, they experienced many disillusionments, both during their travels and upon their arrival, such that many returned to the Valais.

Between 1850 and 1914, over 13,000 Valaisans went abroad in search of better living conditions. This estimate was advanced by Antoine and Christophe Carron on the basis of the register of emigrants, harbour registers, documents from emigration agencies and private and official correspondence. According to these authors, this number of emigrants is much too low, and they believe that some 18,000 people left the Valais during this period.

Thus it is a fact that emigration constituted a major aspect of the history of the Valais in the 19th century. The Valais, however, was not alone, for hundreds of thousands of Swiss and millions of Europeans went the same route during this period. The difference is that the emigration from the Valais had its own cycles and specific destinations. While the great majority of Swiss emigrants settled in the United States, most of the emigrants from the Valais chose South America as their destination, in particular Argentina.

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Département de l’Intérieur 356.26
Département de l’Intérieur 194.4.1
Musées Cantonaux, 4350 2016/3 2/7
Musées Cantonaux, 4350 2016/3 2/7
Musées Cantonaux, 4350 2016/3 2/7
Musées Cantonaux, 4350 2016/3 2/7