DJ Weber, original author of this post, kindly gave me permission to pass it along to you. I think may of you will find it interesting. Remember, this is about emigrants and NOT colonists. Their ships went to whatever colony they were going to.

When you think of emigrants arriving at North American ports you need to think of the historical times of their arrivals.

First, we may need to know from which port our ancestors left Europe. Prior to 1783 as a result of British Maritime laws governing its North American colonies no ships legally might arrive in North American unless their port of departure was in Britain, usually Hull, London, Bristol or Liverpool.

In addition, considering that within the British Empire of that time, Philadelphia was the second (or third) largest town after London (depending on which historical source you find, either Calcutta or Philadelphia was number two or number three but there is no consistency in records as to which was in which position), the port of Philadelphia was an early important port of arrival. English port to English port!

For Colonial times, therefore, think PHILADELPHIA, BOSTON and NEW YORK.

After 1783 ships could leave from most any European port, from LeHavre, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Emden, Bremen (and later Bremerhaven) and dozens of other sea ports eastward to Stettin and Danzig as well as numerous Scandanavian and Mediterranean ports. While this time period is later than the era when the European Hansa was of high importance, many of those ports were still quite active and only the ability to receive a cargo was necessary for the ship to return to North
America with a return cargo of emigrants. You may think Hamburg as a vital European port and it was but not one of the early-time European ports.

This era also increased the potential of North American ports. New York grew while Boston and Philadelphia became less of importance. By the middle 1800s, you would have had New York, Baltimore and New Orleans as the major ports of arrival. New Orleans was very important prior to the American War of the Rebellion as its shipments to Europe were loads of cotton and the then, empty ships had ample space for return emigrant cargo.


There were many smaller ports, particularly if for some reason the ship from Europe stopped in the West Indies first. Galveston and Charleston are noted for smaller arrivals. Often it was cheaper to arrive through Halifax.

The cost of emigration was a particular problem. Did the emigrant pay his passage, was the passage paid by his town (many towns “weeded out” financial distressed families during times of crop failures, heavy taxes, famine and other almost-regular European disasters) or perhaps handled by an agent for a North American activity. Each of these might be a reason for using certain ports in Europe and in North America

We might think of a trip up the Rhine as the logical method of transportation to a sea port but just from the Alsace area on north, there were over thirty toll locations on the river. It was costly enough that many south-western Germans, Swiss and others walked, barged, horse-backed their way across France to LeHavre as that route could be cheaper to reach a sea port and a ship headed for North America. This route, as a result of the American War from 1861 to 1865 became less of value.

If you have a 1900s arrival, think NEW YORK. If you have an 1800s arrival, think NEW YORK, BALTIMORE or NEW ORLEANS. If you have a very early 1800s arrival or a 1700s arrival, think PHILADELPHIA, NEW YORK or maybe BOSTON.

Many smaller ships which were not direct from Europe disembarked their passengers at most any port along the shores of eastern United States and Canada. These came from the West Indies, from Cuba and from South America, normally. Any port is possible.

Remember that long after the area of the Louisiana Purchase lands its animals were trapped and its lands were occupied by French Canadians. Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and other of those eventual states were all areas where the lands were native to those who had migrated westward from French Canada. There was no border. In many towns, those French Canadians were the original settlers. Records for Canadian emigrants of the eastern provinces were not recorded until the 1900s.

The true question should be of what nationality were your ancestors, what might be their logical ports for a ship from Europe to the Americas and during what time period did they emigrate. Then keep in mind that if they did emigrate normally and legally during a time period for which there would have been records, many of those Manifests bit the dust through fire, water damage, rat gnawings, deterioration and every excuse which can be identified by NARA before its predecessor activity started to microfilm those Manifests. Many records do not exist.

If you want to go on to migratory routes through the United States, the Mississippi river and its tributaries (Tennesse, Ohio, Missouri and all the rest) were excellent routes from New Orleans. From New York for the Erie Canal, by 1823 navigation was possible from Genesee River to Albany and Lake Champlain and on October 26, 1825, the first complete passage was recorded. From Philadelphia and Baltimore for the National Road (Cumberland Road/National Pike) actual construction stated in 1815 and by 1818 the road had reached Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia) by 1833 Columbus, Ohio and by 1841 Vandalia, Illinois.

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