The Colonial Period of Immigration
The colonial period is often the period most researchers are trying to crack. The period leaves 150 years when families came to our shore, most of which were undocumented. If documented by anyone, the task was left to the whim of port authorities, shipping lines, captains or a family member scribbling down the names in a family bible. A strong effort has been exerted over the years to find the surviving passenger lists and cargo manifests which ended up in various archives and museums around the U.S.
The search for immigrant names and the ships they arrived on, became harder and harder to find prior to 1820. One source online is the Library of Congress where you will find a guide to published sources of immigrant arrivals. If you study the passenger list titles that were last revised in 2001, you will see that this list of compiled lists has one of three searching criteria. Most of the lists either concentrate on 1) a particular port of entry during a particular time period, 2) concerning a particular national or ethnic group migrating to the U.S. by way of several ports, or in some cases, 3) the final location or region in America where the immigrants were headed. In the third criteria, they were often of one particular faith and belonged to the same church that documented the individuals and families who settled in the area.
Additional sources of such ships and passengers can also be found at http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/immigration/passenger-arrival.html. Lists are also available on CD sold by Broderbund and other publishers. A good book is the "New World Immigration" published in 1980 by Michael Tepper and can be found at Amazon.com for $33.50. There is microfilm at the National Archives and the Family History Library. Ancestry.com, a commercial site, also has an accessible database.
The ports listed at the Library of Congress site include Canada in general, and ten ports in the U.S. American ports were: Boston, Philadelphia , Houston, Galveston , Mobile, Charleston, New Orleans, New York, Baltimore and San Francisco.
Each port attracted its unique share of ethnic and religious groups and the lists of ships and passengers are not necessarily in the same locations in present day as they were when first scribed. Each port was in operation at various times, some being much earlier than others. My research of each of these U.S. port is in Part III of this article.
The colonies of New England which included, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut had harbors throughout the region. It was not an area of good farming and tended to rely on natural resources like fur, lumber, fish and ship building. It was not until 1643 when the New England communities formed a confederation in order to provide defense against Indians. This was the site of the Pilgrims and the famed Mayflower in 1620. The Puritans eventually settled around the main harbor of Boston.
In the middle colonies, which includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, there were excellent areas of farming and natural harbors. Natural harbors, which is the sheltered part of a body of water deep enough to provide anchorage, was extremely important to strategic and economic concerns. The Dutch surrendered New Netherland in 1664 to the Duke of York while New Jersey did not become a royal colony until 1702 and Pennsylvania had long since remained the domain of Quakers.
The southern colonies, which included: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, grew most of their own food and had cash crops of tobacco, rice and indigo for primary trade with England. It was the demand for labor in the south which fed the need for immigrants and later the use of slaves. Jamestown was the first English settlement in America in 1607, but it was not until 1624 before it was made a royal colony. A handful of men received charters in 1663 to settle in the area called Carolina, the main port being Charleston which was first known as Charles Town. In 1729, the Carolinas separated into two royal colonies and Savannah, Georgia became a colony in 1752.
This left four ports in the Gulf of Mexico which included; Mobile, New Orleans, Houston and Galveston, and the earliest main port on the pacific coast which was San Francisco. The further you are led away from the Atlantic seaboard to the west coast, the later the dates are for the first use of ports. Florida was held by a foreign power for quite some time, as was Louisiana and Texas. Their respective ports of call or harbors were not recognized as being part of the United States until after 1800, though they had settlers under different flags, many would have had later generations patronized as Americans. Thus is the history of the French quarters of New Orleans or the Spanish missions of California.
All these exceptions further muddy up the picture of when ancestors first stepped on shore. The best which can be rendered, is a timeline which gives the researcher some idea of the occupying authority and the conditions present when an ancestor stepped out of a row boat and felt what would later become the soil of the United States of America.
Other Articles in This Series
Immigration History & the U.S, Part 1 - Historical Influences on U.S. Immigrants
Immigration History & the U.S, Part Part 3 - History of Early American Ports
Immigration History & the U.S, Part 4 - Immigration after 1820