Beyond Ellis Island: Immigration at the Port of Philadelphia

In 1681, William Penn received a charter from King Charles II of England to develop the colony of Philadelphia in North America. The proposed society would be built on religious liberty and principles of peace. Beginning in the 1700s, some 1.3 million immigrants bound for America arrived at the Port of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia was more than 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and 200 miles longer than the journey to New York. Ships sailed past Cape May at the foot of New Jersey to the Delaware Bay and then up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. The Delaware River often froze during winter, limiting Philadelphia arrivals to May through November.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: April 26, 1976

Germans and Scots-Irish immigrants were among the majority of early immigrants headed to Philadelphia, with more than 150,000 arriving before 1776. Many were poor and came as indentured servants or “redemptioners.” They were required to work and pay off their passage upon arrival. Following a yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, construction began in 1799 on a quarantine station about ten miles outside the city called the Lazaretto.  The station acted as a hospital and disinfecting station, and immigrant ships were required to stop there for inspection. Officials used steam to sterilize the clothing of anyone who was sick.

In the 1820s, ships brought 20,000 immigrants to Philadelphia. Even more came in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1838, the city bought an ice-breaking boat, increasing the number of immigrants to 120,000 between 1847 and 1854. The Irish Potato Famine, political unrest in Europe, and workers protesting poor conditions brought many immigrants at this time.

The Portage Sentinel: December 27, 1854

Tragedy struck in 1854 when the steamship City of Glasgow, headed from Liverpool to Philadelphia on March 1, 1854, disappeared with 480 aboard. Anxious relatives waited for word on the ship’s fate, but their hopes were dashed when, seven months later, portions of her bow washed ashore in Scotland.

In 1873, the American Line steamship company opened an immigration station in Philadelphia at the pier on Washington Avenue. In cooperation with the railroads, they offered immigrants an easier immigration experience than New York, with quick access to all points of the country via railroads. Tens of thousands of immigrants arrived at this station and additional stations at Fitzwater Street, Callowhill, and Vine Street. Immigrants disembarked and boarded trains to other destinations. By this time, Philadelphia’s immigrants had become more diverse, with immigrants originating from many different countries.

In 1884, the federal government opened a second quarantine station at Cape Henlopen in Delaware (about 120 miles from Philadelphia and at the mouth of the Delaware Bay). Initially, only ships that sailed from infected ports were required to stop for inspection. However, with mounting concerns over a cholera outbreak, the government required all ships to stop for a screening. Officials soon decided they needed another quarantine station closer to Philadelphia. In 1893, a station opened on Reedy Island, some 50 miles outside the city. The station was equipped with boilers to sanitize clothing and a sulfur generator that produced sulfur dioxide fumes to sanitize the ships.

Weary passengers had to endure inspections at both Cape Henlopen and Reedy Island. If any sickness was found, officials detained and quarantined the ship. In 1893, officials stopped the British steamship Annie at Reedy Island after a cholera outbreak during the voyage. They sanitized the ship and kept her in quarantine for a week until she was deemed safe and released.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: October 27, 1893

Immigration to Philadelphia slowed significantly following the Immigration Act of 1924. The act set immigration quotas that limited the number of immigrants allowed into the country.  If you would like to learn more about immigration through the Port of Philadelphia, search™ today.

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50 thoughts on “Beyond Ellis Island: Immigration at the Port of Philadelphia

  1. Are there any sources listing immigrant passengers who arrived at Philadelphia? Especially in the 1860s? Thank you.

    1. You can search Ship’s Passenger Lists at Ancestry. Com. Most of them have been indexed, I believe.

    2. has a lot of passenger lists back to the 1730’s or so. Not all but many.

  2. My newly-married ancestors entered through Philadelphia in 1757. Married in London, they immediately emigrated to the colonies. Once there, they went west through Old Fort Redstone (now Uniontown Pennsylvania) and thence to Limestone, Kentucky (now Maysville).

    1. I have a volume ” Emigrants to Pennsylvania 1641-1819 ” : A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists from the Pennsylvania Magazine of History an Biography” Edited by Michael Tepper . Published 1975 By Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.

      1. Nancy, thank you so much for posting this info. I’ve been at a brick wall on John Kennedy, 5X grand father, who came from Ireland to Philadelphia in the early 1700s. Maybe this can open some doors for me

        1. A possibility…
          “Servants and Apprentices Bound and As signed before James Hamilton Mayor of Philadelphia, 1745
          ( contributed by George W. Neible, Chester, Penna.)
          P. 58
          John Kennedy :
          Restore Lippincott assigns John Kennedy for remainder of his time, four years from Sept. 22, 1745 to Joseph Barr, in West Jersey. consideration £16 -customary dues…

        1. Ezekiel Forman …..?

          I found an Ezekiel Forman of East Jersey who accepted James Mayan,
          From Ireland in ship Bolton, in consideration of £16, paid for his passage, indents himself to Ezekiel Forman of East Jersey for 3 year’s eleven months& 20 day’s, —- two suits of apparel, one to be new, and forty shillings proclamation money.( p 63)

        1. I have no idea where the contents are available. I picked it up somewhere long ago…Some people have sent me names to look for….the print is small but I often find a reference….

      2. It turns out the Pennsylvania historical society sends out a quarterly publication. I get them in the mail with my membership. It looks like the back issues are on their website

    2. Old Fort Redstone isn’t “now Uniontown, Pennsylvania”. Fort Redstone is now Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Uniontown (Beesontown, earlier, didn’t have a fort.). Fort Redstone (or Ft. Burd) certainly was on the migration path to the West because it was poised on the Monongahela River, a tributary of the Ohio River system, an important “highway” in the absence of roads.

      1. Thank you for your input. You are correct.
        When I first learned about Old Fort Redstone in 1980, it was referred to as Red Stone Old Fort in Pittsburgh. It took some time to sort out the real name, and in my searching the next “bad clue” was that it was in Uniontown. In 2000 we visited Uniontown (without success) and were referred to Brownsville. Given this new (to us) information, we successfully reached the site. Although I now remember the correct name for the fort, I still sometimes slip and refer to Uniontown. Thanks for reminding me of the correct location.

        1. People tend to generalize in their geographic descriptions, picking a the most recognizable city in an area. (That’s why you got “Pittsburgh” at first.)
          This tendency has thrown me a few red herrings in my own ancestral research. Just something we all need to be aware of.

  3. I am still searching for the immigration records for my mother’s O’Connor family.
    They arrived in Philadelphia around 1853.

    1. Me too. Not quite sure when my O’Connors arrived though.went on to Virginia and Tennessee I think.

    2. Hi Valerie, I have O’Connors (some later went by Connors) that arrived 1851-53 in Philadelphia. Ancestry is probably your best bet, there were other sources, one being olive tree genealogy. Family Search which owns ancestry (or vice-versa) is still free to use I believe.

  4. My great grandfather Thomas Green landed there in 1854 from Cavan Ireland. Lucky enough not to be on the City of Glasgow that same year. Will now look up the ship’s records from Philadelphia.

  5. My Crist ancestors came in through Philadelphia as far as we know. The original people were from southern Germany and Switzerland and were part of the Protestant movement and the family members eventually became part of the Brethren communities in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Jacob Crist (Christ) was on of the earliest in 1710 or thereabouts. Where do I search for that early?

    1. I also have a brick wall ancestor arriving from Germany/Switzerland in the early 1700’s. His name is (Johan) Peter Zollinger and I have been unable to find him in any ship’s list. He lived and died in Abbottstown, York, PA. If anyone has a suggestion of a source I would be so glad to hear it.

      1. There are many Zollinger family members living in Pennsylvania just above the city of Hagerstown in Maryland. There might be some information for you if you research that area of Pennsylvania, I believe it is called Zollinger, Pennsylvania.

      2. I have Zollingers in my family tree also and sometimes, it’s spelled Sollinger. That may help?

      3. List of Passengers
        Casper Zollinger & wife & 2 children ( Benjamin) arrive on ship” America” from Amsterdam to Phila. 29 June 1792 William Campbell Master

  6. My 3rd great grand parents came from Germany in 1845 or 1846. I have searched every year and every name and ship in Philadelphia and Baltimore and even New York for them with no luck. They came with 4 children and the 5th children was born in Philadelphia in Jan. 1 1847 the 6th son was born in Somerset County Paint Township Pennsylvania in 1850. Any suggestions where I could look to find them.

    1. Have you tried the family search program run by the Church of Jesus Christ?

      1. This site has a wonderful resource called the Research WiKi located under the search tab. You could try searching for “Pennsylvania Immigration” there will be a lot of links to sources at FamiySearch and other sites with records. Sites like Ancestry, Findmypast and MyHeritage can be access for free at a local FamilySearch Library.

    2. Could it be possible that your ancestors changed their family name? There are immigrants who adopted a new name at the suggestion of compatriots because their original name was difficult for English speakers to pronounce. Or had an undesirable meaning in another language.
      You could select in the ship’s manifests by family composition and the place the family indicated as its final destination

    3. Have you tried the port of New Orleans, LA? My German ancestors immigrated through that port before travelling North around the same time frame.

  7. Louis-Jacques Houlette, my 4th great grandfather, and his brother Jean-Baptiste Houlette arrived in Philadelphia on 9 July 1791. On 13 July their names along with those of several other passengers from the ship Pennsylvania appeared in an article in The Philadelphia Gazette bearing “honorable witness” to the polite and humane treatment provided by Capt. David Harding.

  8. My Scotch-Irish ancestors arrived in Philadelphia in 1783, coming from Ulster. Where might I find any records of their immigration? We know only the family name Logan and the name of one child (my 4x great grandfather) who was William. We believe the parents died from yellow fever in the 1790’s, and we have no idea what happened to the other children. Any suggestions as to how we might find their immigration records? (or records of their deaths—there are no Logans listed in the 1794 pamphlet by Matthew Carey that named the victims of the 1793 outbreak.)

    1. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is a great resource. If you know the county that will help. It should be on the census.

      1. Neither FamilySearch nqor Ancestry own each other. They have done some collaboration on some projects in the past. I have no idea if they are doing that currently.

    1. Mine too ( George Maris 1682). I found on Ancestry a publication called “Passengers and Ships Prior to 1684” published by The Welcome Society. I haven’t explored it completely yet (only read the part about GM) but it looks interesting, maybe you’ll find some information there.

  9. My great great grandparents, John and Bridget (Burke) Ryan, gave birth to my GGF John B.H. Ryan, baptized 1847 in Cappawhite Parish, Tipperary Co. Ireland.

    John died, Bridget remarried a Crane (either in Ireland or the US) and immigrated 1850ish to the US (John BH followed his mother 1870ish) and he lived with his paternal uncle for about 4 years somewhere in PA before all moved on to Iowa, where I’m from.

    That’s what I know about my Irish roots, any thoughts/suggestions for how I might know more ??

  10. While more specifically related to the United Kingdom emigrants, there a series of books by Peter Wilson Coldham titled “The Complete Book of Emigrants” copywrited in the 1990s. The books cover the period from 1607 to 1776. The books are listings taken from British public records include names, places they left from, and where they arrived. Included are indentured servants. The publisher is the Genealogical Publishing Company. The company’s website is There are many otheruseful books they sell.

  11. My grandmother was from Newry, County Down and arrived in Philadelphia on the Haverford around 1920 – she turned 15 on the voyage here and came alone. No one was here to meet her.
    They detained her we were told because of her age but how and where? There must be records but where and how to obtain?

  12. My 5GGF Manassas (or Manasseh) McBride came from Derry Ireland sometime in early 1700. The earliest record I have for him is in Virginia in 1747. By that time, he had 2 sons who both fought in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. I have also found him listed as a member of a Quacker meeting so he may have come in through Philadelphia.
    I have been unable to find his immigration record.
    Any suggestions will be appreciated.

  13. My 2nd great-grandmother, Margaret Murphy, came to Philadelphia, departing from Liverpool, and arriving aboard the Hibernia January 12, 1850, with her sons, Thomas, Patrick and James Murphy and her daughter Margaret Murphy, all born in Ireland, we think in County Monaghan, for the children. She was coming to join her husband Michael Murphy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. All six of the children were with their parents in 1850 in Northhampton, Bucks, County, PA–Mary Murphy 22, John Murphy 19, Thomas Murphy 16, Margaret Murphy 13, Patrick Murphy 11 and James Murphy 8. it would see that Michael, Mary and John preceded them to Philadelphia, however I have not yet found the ship that the latter 3 arrived upon.

  14. My Huguenot ancestral couple escaped France to London. They married in a French Church in 1687. As indentured servants to Dr. Daniel Coxe), they sailed to America at the end of that decade or early 1690’s. They lived, worked (shipwright), and owned property in Burlington, NJ until end of century, then moved to Philadelphia, where they died (he, 1719; she, 1729). I have not found any ship listing in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cape May, Salem, New Castle, or anywhere else. The records that far back may not exist — that is true in the smaller ports in their historical archives. I am hoping for advice to see if such records still DO exist.

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