How common was it for un-documented ships (including bypassing common ports of entry) to bring settlers to the northern American / Canadian colonies 1700-1750?

I am looking for some basis (facts, examples, and / or estimated statistics) for the theory and any additional sources that perhaps they traveled to the 'new world' on an undocumented ship or arrived at an common port which would have brought them assuming to a degree that the ship was of reasonable size as referenced in an answer to this question.

For example, being they were undocumented there is still I would expect some sort of approximation on the number of undocumented immigrants just like we do today.

Background: I have been attempting for some time to locate the passage of several different individuals in the earlier days of northern American / Canadian colonies, particularly the New York's Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania regions.

I am aware that younger individuals under 16 as well as women sometimes were not documented on ship or crew manifests and individuals changed their name upon arrival.

As far as I am aware they did not arrive through the forced in-debtedness, otherwise a convict, and considering their documented life once arriving in the colonies I have ruled out they came from a life of piracy or privateering.

I have read several books on the time period and region, and contacted some of the authors such as Henry Jones on the Palatine migration to this area during these periods and they have also not found them so I am exploring other possible theories and sources to track them down.

  • 7
    Surely a key problem of establishing how common un-documented arrivals were is that, by definition, there are no historic records of their arrival? I also suspect that if their arrivals were undocumented then their departures from Europe might also have been undocumented (or, at least, their passenger manifests and destination would be vague enough to be useless as proof).
    – Steve Bird
    Mar 8, 2016 at 6:26
  • 1
    Many "undocumented" journeys were probably documented at some point, but the record just hasn't survived, is illegible, or has not yet been indexed online. Mar 8, 2016 at 23:43
  • @SteveBird the documented ancestry can be used to infer a proportion of how many of the de-facto arrivals (who survived and had descendents) had their arrivals documented or undocumented.
    – Peteris
    Mar 9, 2016 at 11:34
  • 1
    @Peteris I'm not sure I agree with that. If an entire volume of Ellis Island immigrants was lost, those persons would now be considered undocumented, when in fact they were. (This is just an example idea of why I don't believe you can safely infer numbers of documented vs undocumented from the number of documented. but then I'm often wrong about things)
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 9, 2016 at 19:15
  • 1
    Was "documented", in the sense of government permissions & records (rather than manifests for the use of ship owners &c) even a concept in that time period?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 26, 2018 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


You can't really answer that. There was no central ship and immigrant register. The British and all other sea faring nations had separate registers, so from France's point of view a ship was unregistered, while it was a registered in a British register. Not even the countries themselves had all ships registered.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.