Emigration and shipping lists

It is not hard to find whether someone emigrated to early Pennsylvania. They turn up in various records—they bought land or went to court or served on a committee for their local Friends meeting. It is harder to tell exactly when they arrived or what ship they came on, at a time when there were no official ship’s passenger lists. There are three sets of records that help to fill this gap: shipping lists, arrival registrations, and certificates of arrival at Friends meetings.

The shipping lists are a rich source of information, unearthed in England by Marion Balderston, and published in two articles in Sheppard’s Passengers & Ships prior to 1684. When emigrants left England with personal goods they were not required to pay customs duty on them, but they were required to pay duty on goods for resale. Each port such as London or Liverpool kept a set of officials who examined goods before they were loaded, and listed any subject to duty. These lists are an amazing glimpse into the world of the emigrants. We learn how much cheese they brought, or how many nails or pairs of stockings, or tobacco pipes. As Balderson put it, “One thought occurred to many emigrants—the Indians smoked pipes, and the gift of a pipe might make a friend.” 1

Balderston listed the people who shipped goods on each of the ships that left England for Pennsylvania in 1682 and 1683. (Remember that these lists only included goods for sale, not for personal use, so they are not complete passenger lists.) For each ship she discussed whether the shippers were merchants or possible emigrants, using other evidence such as the civil arrival registries of Philadelphia and Bucks County, as well as Quaker arrival certificates. If someone applied for a warrant a few days after the ship landed she suspected that they came on that ship. Peter Coldham found additional shippers in other port books, published in a series called the Complete Book of Emigrants, although he did not attempt to identify them as Balderston did.  2

The civil arrival registrations are frustratingly incomplete. The province passed a law in 1684 requiring all residents to register their arrival. Phineas Pemberton, deputy registrar for Bucks County, kept a book of arrivals for his county, and Christopher Taylor, register general for Philadelphia County, probably kept the one for his. These were not complete lists of arrivals. Most people ignored the law, and it was not enforced. For the people who did register, the record shows which ship they came on, when they arrived, spouse’s name if there was one, names of children and servants—another rich set of information for family historians.

The existing arrival lists are held in manuscript form at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Bucks County Historical Society. Each one, for Bucks and Philadelphia Counties, has been published in two versions. They were originally published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, volumes 8 and 9. Hannah Benner Roach revised and edited the lists and published a more careful version in Passengers and Ships prior to 1684. 3

The third source of information for arrivals is the practice of the Quaker meetings of recording certificates of arrival. (See the blog post on Quaker records.) The next post will show where to find these certificates for the earliest meetings.

  1. Balderston, “Goods to start a colony”, in Walter Lee Sheppard, Passengers and Ships prior to 1684, p. 128.
  2. The relevant Coldham volume for early Pennsylvania is Volume 2, 1661 to 1699.
  3. Her version is probably more accurate, but the PMHB articles include an informative introduction.