Below is an excerpt from a recent article in the IHS publication, Traces.
By 1900 there were vibrant Arabic-speaking communities across Indiana, including in Indianapolis, Terre Haute, and Michigan City. But Fort Wayne was special, at least according to its Syrian residents. Alixa Naff, who developed the Smithsonian Institution’s collection on Arab American history, wrote that Fort Wayne “was among the largest and most flourishing [Syrian] peddling settlements in the United States.”
The immigrants who settled in Fort Wayne, like other people from Greater Syria, which included modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, were part of a mass immigration of perhaps half a million people—one out of every five Syrians—from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Americas before 1920. The reason they arrived in Fort Wayne was because it was a quickly growing community that offered economic opportunity, especially for those going into the peddling business.
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