Tennessee Emigration and Immigration

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Migration Trends[edit | edit source]

European. Pre-statehood settlers of Tennessee generally came from Virginia and the Carolinas by way of the Cumberland Gap and other land routes. Some settlers from Pennsylvania and New England poled keel boats from the Ohio River up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Most of these early settlers were of English and Ulster Scottish origin, although some were of German, Irish, and French ancestry.

Tennessee continued to attract settlers from the Atlantic Coast into the 1830's and received Irish and German settlers during the European immigrations beginning at that time. However, most of the overseas immigrants preferred the industrialized North rather than the agricultural South. Many settlers moved from Tennessee to areas further west, most notably to Arkansas and Texas.

African. The African-American population comprised about 10 percent of the total population in the first federal census and is only a little above that percentage today. For information on African-Americans in Tennessee, see African American Resources for Tennessee.

Native American. The Chickasaw and Cherokee Indians had nearly all been exiled from the state by 1839. For further information on the tribes and their records in Tennessee, see Indigenous Peoples of Tennessee. For information on specific settlement patterns, see county and local histories.

Major Ports of Entry. Most foreign-born immigrants arrived at the ports of New Orleans, New York, or other Atlantic and Gulf ports. The major port of entry for the Mississippi River was New Orleans. Passenger lists for these ports are at the Family History Library and the National Archives. Tracing Immigrant Origins and United States Emigration and Immigration articles give details about those records.

Immigrants from Europe[edit | edit source]

Many British immigrants were not afraid to venture out into the wilds of frontier Tennessee. Speaking of English convicts transported to the American colonies in the 1770s, Maryland customs official William Eddis stated "the stamp of infamy is too strong upon them," after they serve their time, many "remove to a distant situation." One of these "distant situations" where ex-convicts started new lives, and where neighbors didn't know their pasts, was undoubtedly frontier Tennessee.

During the War of 1812, American officials required each state to submit lists of British aliens living within their bounds and to publish the lists in local newspapers to make Americans aware of their identities, for fear they might join British forces. Tennessee reported 154 British aliens to the State Department in Washington, D.C. Many of these immigrants had families. Of those 154, 102 lived in the East half of Tennessee and 52 in the West half. These individuals are identified in the following book:

  • Scott, Kenneth. British Aliens in the United States During the War of 1812. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979, 372-378. FHL book 973 W4s digital version at Ancestry ($).

Migrants from the Eastern United States[edit | edit source]

In his well researched article "The Tennessee Constitution of 1796: A Product of the Old West" (1943),[1] John D. Barnhart concluded that because of better road access, the largest percentage of East Tennessee pioneers had come to the area from Virginia. This, he believes changed over time. To reach this conclusion, he did a statistical analysis of the origins of Tennessee Constitution delegates and places of enlistment for Revolutionary War pensioners.

The Natchez Trace started as a footpath before 1742 to connect Nashville, Tennessee with Natchez, Mississippi. This sunken section is near Port Gibson, Mississippi.

Origins of Tennessee Constitution Delegates (1796)

Origin No.
Virginia 16
Unknown 12
Pennsylvania 8
North Carolina 7
South Carolina 4
Maryland 3
Ireland 3?
England 1

Revolutionary War Tennessee Pensioners (1818)

Place Enlisted %
Virginia 47
North Carolina 27

Revolutionary War Tennessee Pensioners (1832)

Place Enlisted %
Virginia 37
North Carolina 45

Barnhart concludes that these numbers reveal that the earliest settlers (there by 1818) had come principally from Virginia, while between 1818 and 1832, once road access improved, a larger influx of North Carolina migrants settled in Tennessee.[1]

This early history may have influenced many of our ancestors to venture out to this newly opening area of settlement:

  • Smith, Daniel. A Short Description of the State of Tennessee: Lately Called the Territory of the United States, South of the River Ohio; to Accompany and Explain a Map of that Country. Philadelphia: Printer for Mathew Carey by Lang and Ustick, 1796. Digital version at Internet Archive.

How did your ancestor find the correct destination out West? Quite possibly they had a copy of Brown's book:

  • Brown, Samuel R. The Western Gazetteer or Emigrant's Directory, Containing a Geographical Description of the Western States and Territories, viz. The States of Kentucky, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi: and the Territories of Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Michigan, and North-Western. Auburn, N.Y.: H.C. Southwick, 1817. Digital versions at NIU Library Digitization Projects and World Vital Records ($).

Records[edit | edit source]

Some published sources about migration to Tennessee include:

  • Lightfoot, Marise Parrish. Let the Drums Roll: Veterans and Patriots of the Revolutionary War Who Settled in Maury County, Tennessee. [Columbia, Tennessee]: Maury County Historical Society, 1976. FHL book 976.859 D3L. This record contains maps, historical information, biographical sketches, and an index.
  • Peden, Henry C. Marylanders to Tennessee. Lewes, Delaware: Colonial Roots, 2004. FHL book 973 W2pm.
  • Williams, Mike K. Virginians in Tennessee, 1850. Signal Mountain, Tennessee: Mountain Press, 1988. FHL book 976.8 W2w. This book is divided into two parts: the first contains an alphabetical list of Virginians with their ages, county of residence, and the birth date and place of the spouse; the second part contains historical and genealogical information. There is an index.

For the history and location of some of the old roads in Tennessee used by immigrants, see:

  • Daniels, Jonathan. The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, with Map and Headpieces by the Dillons. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, [1962].FHL book 976 B4d.

For a brief history of the pertinent treaties, roads, waterways and railroads of Tennessee, see:

  • "Transportation," in Tennessee: A Guide to the State. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Tennessee. American Guide Series. (No Place: New Deal Network, 1996) Original published: Tennessee: State of Tennessee. Department of Conservation, Division of Information, 1939. Available online. This chapter briefly describes the pertinent treaties, roads, waterways, and railroads of Tennessee.

Westward Migrants[edit | edit source]

The Ozarks Migration Patterns Project by Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, CGL, FASG and Gale Williams Bamman, CG, CGL, determined that 74% of the original 1000 land purchasers in Greene County, Missouri had migrated there from Tennessee.[2]

Free native-born Tennesseans, alive in 1860, who had left the state, most popularly resettled in:[3]

State Persons Born in Tennessee
Missouri 73,594
Arkansas 66,609 
Texas 42,265 

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

Robertson made a study of Tennesseans and other Easterners who had settled in Kansas by 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 ($).

United States Emigration and Immigration article lists several important sources for finding information about immigrants to this country. These nationwide sources include many references to people who settled in Tennessee. The Tracing Immigrant Origins FamilySearch Wiki article introduces the principles, search strategies, and additional record types you can use to identify an immigrant ancestor’s original hometown.

See the Tennessee Archives and Libraries article for facilities with regional collections which might include emigration and immigration records. Other sources on emigration and immigration can be found in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



Web Sites[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 John D. Barnhart, “The Tennessee Constitution of 1796: A Product of the Old West,” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Nov. 1943): 532-548. Digital version at JSTOR ($).
  2. Marsha Hoffman Rising and Gale Williams Bamman, "Forging Links in a Surveyor's Chain: Samuel M. Scroggins of Missouri and Tennessee," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 4 (December 1995):268-276. FHL Book 973 B2ng
  3. William O. Lynch, "The Westward Flow of Southern Colonists before 1861," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Aug. 1943):303-327. Digital version at JSTOR ($).