About the Project
This ongoing project introduces a novel approach for spotting early American immigrants in Colonial American and European sources. The basic thesis is that most indentured servants were European immigrants. This project aims to create a reconstructed passenger arrival list for people who came to Colonial America as indentured servants, redemptioners, and transported convicts between 1607 and 1820. A random sample taken from among the database’s first 10,000 immigrants revealed that approximately 50% do not appear in Filby’s multi-volume Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Check back regularly for updates.
Read about this project in:
- The Library of Virginia’s VA-HIST List
- Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter
- Afrigeneas’s Slave Research Forum
- Leland Meitzler’s Everton Publishers’ Genealogy Blog
Nathan W. Murphy announced the techniques he is using to identify these immigrants in a 2005 article published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Following in the spirit of Peter Wilson Coldham’s work to locate evidences of these individuals in British and Irish archives, the Immigrant Servants Database is collecting similar documentation from American archives. To learn more about the sources we are using, visit our Bibliography page. In the future, we hope to merge the American and British sources.
Historians estimate that more than 75% of the colonists who settled south of New England financed their voyages to the New World as servants. Nine out of ten individuals identified as indentured servants, convict servants, and redemptioners in colonial sources were immigrants (see the section below on Inclusion in the Database). It is predicted that the database will eventually include more than 100,000 immigrant servants who are clearly identified in extant sources. Another objective is similar to Robert Charles Anderson’s Great Migration series: to identify and chronicle the lives and families of these American immigrants, using all primary and secondary sources available.
Project supporters are encouraged to donate knowledge and funds to expedite the database’s creation.
Project leadership is grateful to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions:
- Robert Charles Anderson, Genealogist, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists; Director of the Great Migration Study Project
- Robert W. Barnes, Archivist, Maryland State Archives
- Edmund Berkeley, Jr., M.A., Head of Robert Carter Project
- Chester County, Pennsylvania Archives
- Professor Tom Costa, Ph.D., University of Virginia’s College at Wise
- Robert Dawson, Gypsiologist, Specialist Genealogist of British Travellers and Gypsies
- John Frederick Dorman, Genealogist, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists
- Christine Eickelmann, Independent Researcher, Mountravers Plantation, Nevis, West Indies Project
- Robert L. Giannini III, Museum Curator, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia
- Helen Hinchliff, Ph.D., Genealogist, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Brent H. Holcomb, Genealogist, Publisher of early South Carolina records
- Roger D. Joslyn, Genealogist, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists
- JoAnn Riley McKey, Publisher of early Virginia records
- Gordon L. Remington, Genealogist, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists
- David E. Rencher, Genealogist, Former Director of the Family History Library; Fellow of the Irish Genealogical Research Society, London
- The Sparacios, Genealogists, Owners of Antient Press (publishers of early Virginia records)
- Mary V. Thompson, Research Specialist, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Mount Vernon
- Gail Walczyk, Genealogist, Owner of Peter’s Row (publisher of early Virginia records)
- John H. Wilson and Gary S. Wilson, Early South Carolina Newspapers Database Reports (ESCN)
We also wish to thank the National Genealogical Society for clearing us to reproduce Nathan W. Murphy’s article “Origins of Colonial Chesapeake Indentured Servants: American and English Sources,” Vol. 93, No. 1 (Mar 2005): 5-24. Freddie Spradlin has graciously allowed us to use large amounts of data from his admirable online publication of Hening’s Statutes at Large. The New York Public Library has permitted us to use images from their fantastic collection and selected our site as part of their Best of the Web Genealogy collection. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has given our site the honor of being listed on their Genealogy Immigration/Naturalization page. Dallas Petersen, our Web Developer/Designer, has built a fabulous online database to store, arrange, and present information about immigrant servants. Last, it is due to Richard W. Price’s generosity that this project has been successfully launched.
The Immigrant Servants Database is equipped with three search engines: Simple Search, Advanced Search, and Letter Search.
- Queries all text in the database (site search)
- The Soundex option is available
- A keyword, such as “Hotten” retrieves all servants listed in a particular source, in this case, John Camden Hotten’s famous book on early Americans
- Search by any field in the database, this feature enables users to:
- Compile lists of servants who completed labor terms in specific counties and colonies, such as Accomack County, Virginia, or who served under a particular master, such as George Washington or the more than 150 known servants of the family of Robert “King” Carter (1663-1732) of Virginia
- View the numbers of servants we’ve identified who completed labor terms during specific years or decades to measure immigrant flows:
- Compile lists of servants who were orphans, illiterate, eldest sons, or came from the same regions of Europe, such as the County of Devon, England (where that information is known)
- Identify common migration routes in America used by freed servants by using the Residences field
- The Soundex option is available to identify immigrants whose surnames sound alike, regardless of spelling; for example, a search for “Murphy” retrieves the following: Morphew, Murfee, Murfew, Murfey, Murfy, Murphew, Murphey, and Murphy
- Sorts immigrant servants alphabetically by surname, to help researchers overcome obstacles created by clerical misspellings
- British and Irish place-names are entered into the database using guidelines that may be found on our website
Inclusion in the Database
Special care is being taken to include only individuals who voyaged to the British colonies from Europe as servants. To qualify, the individual’s servant status and name must be clear in surviving source materials – those who are only suspected of being servants are excluded. Exiled British and Irish political rebels and transatlantic apprentices are also included. Efforts have been taken to filter out African slaves, Native American servants, mulatto servants, white apprentices, white hired laborers, and poor orphans bound out by the parish, as these individuals were not necessarily European immigrants. In many instances, it is difficult to distinguish between immigrant servants and these other types of laborers in colonial sources. In cases where that distinction is unclear, it has been noted in the comments section of the person’s biographical profile.
Phase One of this project focuses on identifying the immigrant servants. After a substantial number of servants are identified, the next phase, in which we will develop each person’s biographical profile will begin. Price & Associates Genealogical Services offers to research specific servants. For more information, visit the Research Services page.