Virginia Emigration and Immigration

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United States  Gotoarrow.png  U.S. Emigration and Immigration Gotoarrow.png  Virginia  Gotoarrow.png  Emigration and Immigration

The original European settlers came in the early 17th century from the midland and southern counties of England. They first settled in Virginia's tidewater (coastal plain). Many colonists had connections to Barbados. Although the first blacks arrived in 1619, large numbers of blacks were imported beginning about 1680. It has been estimated that 75% of white colonial Virginia immigrants arrived in bondage. Small landholders moved westward to the Piedmont, where they were joined by a new wave of English and Scottish immigrants.

In the early 1700s, French Huguenots arrived, followed by German workers imported between 1714 and 1717 to work iron furnaces in the Piedmont area. During the 1730s and 1740s, a large number of settlers of Ulster Scot and German descent moved southward from Pennsylvania down the Allegheny Ridges into the Shenandoah Valley.

Beginning in the late 18th century, Virginia lost many residents as families moved westward to new states and territories. There was very little foreign immigration to Virginia after 1800.


Overseas Immigration

Colonial Ports

Accomack (Accomack County) Leedstown (Westmoreland County)
Alexandria (Fairfax County) Norfolk (Norfolk County)
Belvoir Plantation (Fairfax County) Port Royal (Caroline County)
Bermuda Hundred (Chesterfield County) Portsmouth (Norfolk County)
Dumfries (Prince William County) South Quay (Southampton County)[1]
Falmouth (Stafford County) Suffolk (Nansemond County)
Fredericksburg (Spotsylvania County) Tappahannock (aka Hobb's Hole) (Essex County)
Hampton (Elizabeth City County) Urbanna (Middlesex County)[2]
Jamestown (James City County) Williamsburg (James City County)
Yorktown (York County)

Ships commonly docked along riverside plantations on the Elizabeth River, James River, Potomac River, Rappahannock River, and York River.

Colonial Records

Very few passenger lists exist for immigrants entering colonial Virginia. There are quite a few sources; however, that include immigration information. Most records have been published. The place to start is P. William Filby, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index (available online at Ancestry ($)). Available library copies can be located through WorldCat. See also Passenger and immigration lists index. Supplement.

The major port in Virginia was Norfolk, but many settlers arrived at Baltimore, Philadelphia, or other ports and then migrated to Virginia. In the eighteenth century, ships selling indentured servants and transported convicts often docked at ports along the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers.

It is often quite a challenge to determine whether or not a Colonial Virginian was an immigrant. Headright grants identify a certain percentage (particularly before 1720), but require special attention to correctly interpret.[3] Colonial sources describing individuals as indentured or convict servants further develop a list. Military records kept about soldiers in the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War (particularly pensions) may identify further overseas births.

McCartney completed a 20-year scholarly study of all persons known to have resided in Colonial Virginia between 1607 and 1634. She published the results in 2007 to celebrate Virginia's 400th anniversary:

  • McCartney, Martha W. Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007. FHL Book 975.5 D36m.

The families of early settlers who left descendants are charted in:

  • Dorman, John Frederick. Adventurers of Purse and Person, Virginia, 1607-1624/5. 3 vols. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2004-2007. FHL Books 975.5 H2j v. 1 - v. 3.

Other studies establishing the identities of early Virginia immigrants include:

  • The Biographical Dictionary of Early Virginia, 1607- 1660 lists many immigrants. See Virginia Biography.
  • Greer, George Cabell. Early Virginia Immigrants 1623-1666. Richmond, Va.: W.C. Hill Printing Co., 1912. Digital book at Google Books.
  • Standard, W.G. Some Emigrants to Virginia: Memoranda in Regard to Several Hundred Emigrants to Virginia During the Colonial Period Whose Parentage is Shown or Former Residence Indicated by Authentic Records. Richmond, Va.: The Bell Book & Stationery Company, 1911. Digital versions at Ancestry ($), Google Books, and Internet Archive. Free online surname index and purchase details for 2005 reprint at Mountain Press website.

A comprehensive list of about 140,000 immigrants to America from Britain is:

  • Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1776, and Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775. Novato, California: Brøderbund Software, 1996. Available in Ancestry's Immigration & Travel Collection ($); (Family History Library compact disc no. 9 pt. 350 [does not circulate to Family History Centers].) Includes numerous Virginia immigrants. May show British hometown, emigration date, ship, destination, and text of the document abstract.

Headright grants document the importation of settlers into the colony. "Although it was possible to secure land on the headright system throughout the whole of the colonial period in Virginia, after about 1720 few of the land patents were issued on this basis."[4] They are kept at the Library of Virginia. They have been abstracted and digitized:

  • Nugent, Nell M. et al. Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants (1623-1782). 8 vols. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1934-200. FHL Books 975.5 R2n v. 1-v. 8. Volume 1 (1623-1666) is available on Ancestry ($).

Once the patentee's name is known it is possible to retrieve digital images of the original land office patents on the website of the Library of Virginia, see: Virginia Land Office Patents and Grants.

Murphy's research guide to tracing the English origins of Colonial Virginia indentured servants is available online: "Origins of Colonial Chesapeake Indentured Servants: American and English Sources," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 93, No. 1 (Mar. 2005):5-24.

The Virginia Colonial Records Project at the Library of Virginia can help American trace their European immigrant origins. Scholars visited European archives searching for references to Virginians. Their reports are available online and searchable by name; description: About the Virginia Colonial Records Project. They also microfilmed many of the records they located. The microfilms are held at the Library of Virginia.

For a genealogical description, see:

  • Riley, Edward M. "The Virginia Colonial Records Project," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 2 (June 1963):81-89. FHL Collection 973 B2ng v. 51

Withington, like the Virginia Colonial Records Project, sought out references to Virginians in English archives:

  • Withington, Lathrop. Virginia Gleanings in England: Abstracts of 17th and 18th-Century English Wills and Administrations Relating to Virginia and Virginians. FHL 975.5 P28w

For English passenger lists, 1773 to 1776, which include emigrants destined for Virginia, see:

English officials kept records of payments made for the transportation of Anglican ministers to America, see:

Records of ethnic groups, including Huguenots, Mennonites, Scots, Germans, and blacks, are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the subject heading VIRGINIA - MINORITIES. The following contains abstracts and indexes to wills, mentioning about 5,000 immigrants to Virginia:

  • Nugent, Nell M. Early Settlers of Virginia. Baltimore:  Genealogical Publishing Company 1969 (lists pre-1616 settlers)
  • O'Brien, Michael J. Irish In America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company 1965. FHL 973 F2oi

English Immigrants

In lieu of colonial passenger lists regarding early settlers of Virginia, genealogists must rely on evidence gleaned from a variety of sources to successfully trace immigrant origins.

Scholarly articles published in The American Genealogist, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and The Virginia Genealogist illustrate strategies that will help Americans trace their colonial Virginia immigrant origins.

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury in London proved the wills of many residents of Virginia. For access, see Virginia Probate Records. Heraldic visitations list some members of prominent English families who crossed the Atlantic. Expert Links: English Family History and Genealogy includes a concise list of visitations available online. Online archive catalogs, such as Access to Archives, can be keyword searched for place names, such as "Virginia" to retrieve manuscripts stored in hundreds of English archives relating to persons and landholdings in this former English colony. These types of records establish links between Virginia residents and England, which can lead researchers back to their specific ancestral English towns, villages, and hamlets.

The multi-volume Calendar of Colonial State Papers Colonial, America, and West Indies (1574-1739), which is available for free online (see discussion in Virginia Public Records), highlights many connections between England and Virginia.

A standard work on early Virginia immigrants, which includes some passenger lists, is now also widely available on the Internet:

  • Hotten, John Camden. The Original Lists of Persons of Quality: Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels; Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices; Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, with Their Ages, the Localities Where They Formerly Lived in the Mother Country, the Names of the Ships in which They Embarked, and Other Interesting Particulars; from MSS. Preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty's Public Record Office, England. London: the author, 1874. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books and Internet Archive; 1983 reprint: FHL Collection 973 W2hot 1983

Brandow published an addendum to Hotten's work:

  • Brandow, James C. Omitted Chapters from Hotten's Original Lists of Persons of Quality ... and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001. Digital version at Ancestry ($).

Peter Wilson Coldham has published several volumes of English records that identify, among other American immigrants, those destined for Virginia. Many English indentured servants completed labor terms in Virginia. Coldham's works are indexed in Filby's Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s (digital version at Ancestry ($)).

Runaway advertisements for colonial indentured servants often yield immigration data. The Geography of Slavery in Virginia: Virginia Runaways, Slave Advertisements, Runaway Advertisements indexes these records (for both white indentured servants and black slaves). These records can also be found in the digitized Virginia Gazette 1736-1780, available online through the Colonial Williamsburg website.

The English port of Whitehaven, in northwest England, had extensive trade dealings with Virginia and Maryland during the colonial period. For an excellent study of this trade and the families involved, see:

  • Lawrence-Dow, Elizabeth and Daniel Hay. Whitehaven to Washington. Copeland, England, 1974. FHL Book 975 H2d.

African Immigrants

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database Internet site contains references to 35,000 slave voyages, including over 67,000 Africans aboard slave ships, using name, age, gender, origin, and place of embarkation. The database documents the slave trade between Africa, Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Scottish and Irish Immigrants

Many Scottish merchants established stores where British goods were imported in eighteenth-century Virginia.

Scots-Irish settlement was particularly concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley during the eighteenth-century in places such as Augusta County, Virginia.

David Dobson has dedicated many years to establishing links between Scots and their dispersed Scottish cousins who settled throughout the world. For Virginia connections, see publications by David Dobson.

A helpful book about Scottish Highlanders in America is:

  • MacLean, J.A.P. An Historical Account of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America Prior to the Peace of 1783 Together with Notices of Highland Regiments and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland, Ohio: The Helman-Taylor Company, 1900. Digital version at Internet Archive.

German Immigrants

A group of Germans created a settlement called Germanna in early eighteenth-century Virginia. Several books have been published about the history and genealogy of these families, such as:

Herrmann Schuricht wrote a chapter titled "The first Germans in Virginia" in:

  • Lohr, Otto et al. The First Germans in America: With a Biographical Directory of New York Germans. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1992. FHL Book 973 W2Lo.
  • Schuright, Herrmann. History of the German Element in Virginia. 2 vols. Baltimore, Md.: T. Kroh, 1898, 1900. Digital versions at Google Books: Vol. 1; Vol. 2; 1977 reprint: FHL Book 975.5 F2gs v. 1-2

The Palatine Project, sponsored by ProGenealogists, includes annotated passenger lists for Germans entering Colonial Virginia.

Colonial Ships

Though they do not include names of passengers, records kept by the Board of Trade and stored at The National Archives (Kew, England), document ships' arrivals and departures from Virginia ports between 1698 and 1774. FamilySearch microfilmed these records. They are useful for learning about the history of ships entering the colony:

Ports and eastern seaboard towns were divided into customs districts. In 1770, there were six:

Accomack District  · James River Lower District  · James River Upper District  · South Potomac District  · Rappahannock District  · York River District[5]

Ships mentioned in the Virginia Gazette between 1736 and 1780 have been identified in the free online index produced by Colonial Williamsburg. The index links to scanned newspaper images.

Information about ships can also be gleaned from colonial county court order books and English State Papers Colonial, American and West Indies.

If you believe your ancestor's ship was shipwrecked, Shomette compiled a "Chronological Index to Documented Vessel Losses in the Chesapeake Tidewater (1608-1978)" as an appendix to Shipwrecks on the Chesapeake (FHL Book 975 U3s) that can lead you to further information.[6]

English Voyages

Peter Wilson Coldham compiled a list of convict ships travelling between English and Virginia ports during the eighteenth century. See appendix to:

Many English ships that voyaged to Colonial Virginia are also mentioned in:

German Voyages

Dr. Marianne S. Wokeck created a detailed list of "German Immigrant Voyages, 1683-1775" to Colonial America. Destinations include Virginia (1730s-1750s). She published the list in an Appendix to:

  • Wokeck, Marianne S. Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to North America. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. FHL Book 970 W2w.

Irish Voyages

A list of Irish ships that made voyages to the English colonies in America is included in:

  • Griffin, Patrick. The People With No Name: Ireland's Ulster Scots, America's Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Scottish Voyages

Dr. David Dobson has compiled a detailed list of ships voyaging between Scotland and America. Volume 4 includes information gleaned from the Virginia Gazette:

1783 to Present

The Family History Library and the National Archives have many of the post-1820 passenger lists and indexes for Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other major ports. These are listed in the Family History Library Catalog Locality Search under [STATE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION.

The Family History Library and the National Archives also have incomplete passenger lists for the following ports.

The above lists are included in Copies of Lists of Passengers Arriving at Miscellaneous Ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts . . . (in the Family History Library Catalog Locality Search under UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION; FHL 830231-FHL 830246. These lists are indexed in Supplemental Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports . . . (in the Family History Library Catalog Locality Search under UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION - INDEXES; FHL 418161-FHL 418348

During the War of 1812, American officials reported finding a total of 333 British aliens, many of whom had families, living in Virginia. Most British immigrants were settling in the capital, and in towns, and ports at that time. The numbers show that immigration from Great Britain to Virginia had decreased considerably from the high levels reached during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries:[7]

Fairfax, Alexandria
Norfolk, Boro
Charles City
No place
Campbell, Lynchburg
Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg
Elizabeth City
Chesterfield, Manchester
Jefferson, Charles Town
Stafford, Falmouth
Loudoun, Leesburg
Norfolk County
Botetourt, Fincastle
Norfolk, Portsmouth
Cumberland, Cartersville
Elizabeth City, Hampton
Philadelphia [sic]
Prince George
Kentucky, Lexington
Prince William, Dumfries
Princess Anne
Washington, Abingdon
Albemarle, Charlottesville

American Immigration

Many settlers from Maryland and Pennsylvania migrated down into Virginia during the colonial period. The Great Valley Road, which passed through the Shenandoah Valley was a popular route.

Westward Migrants

Free native-born Virginians, alive in 1850, who had left the state, resettled as follows:[8]

Persons Born in Virginia

Many Virginians moved to Georgia immediately after the American Revolution.[9] Barlow published records identifying some of them:

  • Barlow, Lundie W. "Some Virginia Settlers of Georgia, 1773-1798," The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1958):19-27. Digital version at American Ancestors ($).

What was it like to move from Virginia to Kentucky in the early 1800s? Daniel Trabue's journal makes a fascinating read:

  • Young, Chester Raymond. Westward into Kentucky, The Narrative of Daniel Trabue. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. FHL Book 976.9 H2td.

Dorothy Williams Potter in Passports of Southeastern Pioneers 1770-1823 (FHL Book 975 W4p) identifies some migrants from Virginia into territories that are now Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri.

Robertson compiled a list of Virginians in Kansas in 1860:

  • Robertson, Clara Hamlett. Kansas Territorial Settlers of 1860 Who were Born in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina: A Compilation with Historical Annotations and Editorial Comment. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976. FHL 978.1 H2ro; digital version at World Vital Records ($).

British Mercantile Claims identify migrations made by many Virginians during the period 1775 to 1803. The folks listed owed debts to overseas British merchants at the opening of the Revolutionary War and after the War was over, the merchants came to collect their debts, only to find that many of these people had moved. Dorman published these records in The Virginia Genealogist, beginning with Volume 6. Digital version at American Ancestors ($). FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 6 (1962).

Web Sites

  • Immigrant Servants Database 20,000+ colonial immigrants, primary focus: Chesapeake Bay colonies (Virginia and Maryland)
  • Virtual Jamestown Indentured servant registers from colonial period, which identify English indentured servants shipped to America


  1. John Crump Parker, "Old South Quay in Southampton County: Its Location, Early Ownership, and History," The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 83, No. 2 (Apr. 1975):160-172. Digital version at JSTOR ($).
  2. Urbanna: A Port Town in Virginia 1680-1980 (1980).
  3. Richard Slatten, "Interpreting Headrights in Colonial-Virginia Patents: Uses and Abuses," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 75 (1987):169-179. Digital version at National Genealogical Society website ($); FHL Book 973 B2ng v. 75 (1987).
  4. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Cavaliers and Pioneers," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep. 1980):221. Digital version at American Ancestors ($). FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 24 (1980)
  5. Lester J. Cappon, Barbara Bartz Petchenik, and John H. Long, Atlas of Early American History: The Revolutionary Era, 1760-1790 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), Plate 40. FHL Book 973 E7ae.
  6. Donald G. Shomette, Shipwrecks on the Chesapeake: Maritime Disasters on Chesapeake Bay and Its Tributaries, 1608-1978 (Centreville, Md.: Tidewater Publishers, 1982), 242-287. FHL Book 975 U3s.
  7. Kenneth Scott, British Aliens in the United States During the War of 1812 (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979), 320-333. FHL Book 973 W4s; digital version at Ancestry ($).
  8. These statistics do not account for the large number of Virginians who had resettled and died before the year 1850. See: William O. Lynch, "The Westward Flow of Southern Colonists before 1861," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Aug. 1943):303-327. Digital version at JSTOR ($).
  9. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Research in Georgia," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Apr.-Jun. 1981):147. Digital version at American Ancestors ($). FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 25 (1981)