Graphic by Victoria  2011

South Carolina Ships' Lists
by Victoria Proctor


Colonization of South Carolina began in 1670 with the settlement of about 150 people at Albemarle Point, on the west bank of the Ashley River -- across from modern day Charleston. The fortified settlement was named Charles Town. In the earliest days (1600's), established English colonists on Barbados were lured by the Lords Proprietor to emigrate to Carolina. A group of Dutch settlers came to South Carolina in 1671 from New York. By 1680 the colony's population was about 1000 and growing. In that year (1680), French Huguenots came, followed by English Dissenters and Scots.

In the 1700s, many sailed directly from the Old World to the Carolinas, encouraged to immigrate to the Province through promises of free land (example: Bounty Act of the General Assembly passed 25 July 1761). Many others, however, migrated overland into South Carolina from other colonies -- particularly from North Carolina and Virginia, both before and after the Revolutionary War.

The major port of entry to South Carolina is Charleston, but other major ports were Beaufort and Georgetown.

Please keep in mind that early settlers arrived in South Carolina in a variety of ways and you may need to look in the records of states like Virginia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, etc. to find your immigrant ancestor.

NOTE: passenger lists, as we know them from 19th and 20th century U.S. records, do not exist for the Colonial period except for a few lists to be found in the Journals of the South Carolina Council. Ship names, arrival dates and passenger information can be found in petitions for land by individuals but these, of course, do not constitute a complete list of those who arrived on a particular ship on a specific date.

Other clues and partial information can be found in colonial newspapers, and in records of the (British) Colonial Office stored at The National Archives (formerly the Public Records Office) in Kew, England.

Passengers to the Carolinas - 1600s

Passengers to the Carolinas - 1700s

Passengers to the Carolinas - 1800s

See also Naturalization and Citizenship Records

National Archives Microfilm - Passenger Lists

Until January 1, 1820, the U.S. Federal Government did not require require captains or masters of vessels to present a passenger list to U.S. officials. Thus, as a general rule, NARA does not have passenger lists of vessels arriving before January 1, 1820.

Early records relating to immigration originated in regional customhouses. The U.S. Customs Service conducted its business by designating collection districts. Each district had a headquarters port with a customhouse and a collector of customs, the chief officer of the district.

An act of March 2, 1819 (3 Stat. 489) required the captain or master of a vessel arriving at a port in the United States or any of its territories from a foreign country to submit a list of passengers to the collector of customs, beginning January 1, 1820. The act also required that the collector submit a quarterly report or abstract, consisting of copies of these passenger lists, to the Secretary of State, who was required to submit such information at each session of Congress. After 1874, collectors forwarded only statistical reports to the Treasury Department. The lists themselves were retained by the collector of customs. Customs records were maintained primarily for statistical purposes.

On August 3, 1882, Congress passed the first Federal law regulating immigration (22 Stat. 214-215); the Secretary of the Treasury had general supervision over it between 1882 and 1891. The Office of Superintendent of Immigration in the Department of the Treasury was established under an act of March 3, 1891 (26 Stat. 1085), and was later designated a bureau in 1895 with responsibility for administering the alien contract-labor laws. In 1900 administration of the Chinese-exclusion laws was added. Initially the Bureau retained the same administrative structure of ports of entry that the Customs Service had used. By the turn of the century it began to designate its own immigration districts, the numbers and boundaries of which changed over the years.

In 1903 the Bureau became part of the Department of Commerce and Labor; its name was changed to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization when functions relating to naturalization were added in 1906. In 1933 the functions were transferred to the Department of Labor and became the responsibility of the newly formed Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Under President Roosevelt's Reorganization Plan V of 1940, the INS was moved to the Department of Justice.

Passenger and Immigration Lists for South Carolina Available on Microfilm from NARA:

  • Copies of Lists of Passengers Arriving at Miscellaneous Ports on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and Ports on the Great Lakes, 1820-1873.
    NARA Microfilm: M575 (16 rolls).
    The passenger lists are arranged by port, then chronologically by date.
    Roll M575-2 contains passenger arrival records for Charleston, South Carolina from 1820-1828. This film is also available at Family History Libraries as microfilm #830232.

  • Supplemental Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Atlantic and Gulf Coast Ports (Excluding New York), 1820-1874.
    NARA Microfilm: M334. (188 rolls).
    Contains index cards arranged alphabetically by surname, then by first name.
  • Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Ports in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, 1890--1924.
    NARA Microfilm: T517. (26 rolls).


    The Ships List (web site)
    Ships Lists (mailing list)
    Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG)
    National Archives (NARA)

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