District of Columbia Emigration and Immigration

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Portal:United States Emigration and Immigration >District of Columbia


The first land grants to English settlers, in what is now the District of Columbia (then Charles County, Maryland), were made in 1663. Scottish immigrants founded Georgetown in 1751. Only a few people lived in the area when the federal government offices were moved there from Philadelphia in 1800. The city grew slowly until the 1860s, when the population more than doubled during and after the Civil War.

The District of Columbia did not attract much overseas immigration during the nineteenth century, but a large transient population came from all parts of the nation to work as government officials and congressional staffers. Permanent residents also came from all of the states, but especially from the middle Atlantic region and from the upper tier of southern states.

Black Americans constituted about one-fifth of the population prior to the Civil War and one-third after. By 1970, the population of the District of Columbia was 70 percent black. Slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia in 1862. Records of slave emancipations and manumissions from 1851 to 1863 are listed in the Family History Library Catalog Locality Search under DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA - SLAVERY AND BONDAGE. Additional records on blacks are in the National Archives.

Passenger Lists

The port of entry in the District of Columbia was Georgetown, but most ship passengers whose official arrival records date from 1800 landed at Baltimore and Philadelphia. The Family History Library and the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/  have passenger lists for Georgetown only for the years 1820 and 1821 (FHL film 830234). More detailed information on immigration sources is in the United States Research Outline.