Posted by Juliana Szucs on May 29, 2014 in Ask Juliana, Moments in Time, Research, Website
Immigrant receiving piers, Locust Point, Baltimore, 1892 (From the Library of Congress Photo Collection, 1840-2000)

We hear a lot about the Port of New York because of the sheer volume of immigrants who passed through it. There’s so much focus on New York that it can be easy to forget about other important ports.

In my own family, my grandfather proudly told me how his father passed through Ellis Island. True to his word, I found a record of him arriving in October 1902. What he didn’t tell me, though, was that the New York arrival was his second—he had also arrived in July of that same year through the port of Baltimore. That arrival was especially interesting from a family history standpoint because he was traveling with his future brother-in-law.

Over the next few months, we’ll take a look at some of the other ports of entry to the U.S. But in honor of Great-Grandpa Szucs, today we start with Baltimore.

1. Colonial Immigration

The first immigrants arrived in Maryland in 1634 from England and Ireland on board the “Ark” and the “Dove.” Slaves from Africa were brought in great numbers to work the tobacco fields, and by the mid-1700s, they represented more than a quarter of Maryland’s population.

2. Privateering

During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Baltimore was a bustling port for privateers. The fledgling U.S. government needed naval power and turned to the private sector. Letters of marque and reprisal (government licenses) authorized private ships to prey on merchant vessels sailing under enemy flags, in what amounted to legal piracy. Captured ships were brought to port, where they were condemned in the Admiralty Court and sold at auction. After taxes and court fees, the proceeds were split among the privateers at a pre-determined rate.

3. A Transportation Network is Born

During the 19th century, a robust transportation network began taking shape in Baltimore. By 1818, the National Road (also called Cumberland Road) linked Cumberland, Maryland, with Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia). Baltimore completed a series of turnpikes in 1824 which ultimately connected the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) began serving passengers in the late 1820s and by 1852 had reached Wheeling as well. These inland transportation routes, coupled with Baltimore’s geographic location as the westernmost seaport on the East Coast, made Baltimore an attractive port of entry for immigrants seeking a route to the U.S. interior.

4. The Immigrants

Immigration waves through Baltimore reflected that of other eastern U.S. port cities, like Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Irish famine immigrants began arriving in the late 1840s and continued to stream in during the ensuing decades. Even larger numbers of German immigrants were also arriving around this time. Other ethnic groups followed, although in smaller numbers.

In 1867, immigration jumped when the North German Lloyd Steamship line entered an agreement with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, allowing immigrants to purchase one ticket that would take them across the ocean to Baltimore and inland by train. Ships laden with tobacco, lumber, and cotton goods from Baltimore’s textile industries arrived in Bremerhaven and returned with European immigrants and goods. That year more than 10,000 people passed through the port, more than doubling the 4,000 immigrants of the previous year.

5. The Immigrant Experience

In 1868 immigrants began arriving at the new B&O piers at Locust Point. Immigration inspections required of steerage passengers were conducted on board the ships as they made their way into Chesapeake Bay. When they docked at the pier, immigrants could go directly to the B&O trains that would take them on the next leg of their journey.

For those who had to wait for trains, the Immigration Station contracted with Mrs. Augusta Koether who ran a large boarding house. She was paid 75 cents a day for each immigrant who stayed with her. According to Forgotten Doors: The Other Ports of Entry to the United States, her boarding house was a haven for immigrants for close to half a century.


Immigration through Baltimore peaked at about 40,000 per year when World War I stopped the flow of immigration, but not before close to two million immigrants had passed through Baltimore’s port.

Search for your ancestors in Baltimore Passenger Lists.

Baltimore Immigration Memorial Foundation

M. Mark Stolarik, ed. Forgotten Doors: The Other Ports of Entry to the United States, “Chapter 3: Immigration through the Port of Baltimore,” by Dean R. Esslinger (Philadelphia, Pa.: The Balch Institute Press, 1988.)

Learn About Other Ports:

Juliana Szucs

Juliana Szucs has been working for for more than 19 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program.


  1. skeptic

    Sorry, but Baltimore was NOT where the Ark and the Dove landed in 1634. They landed further south in what is now St. Mary’s county, and established St. Mary’s City. Baltimore wasn’t settled until 1661.

    • Juliana Smith

      You are absolutely correct. I included the mention because it marked the first colonial immigrants to the area that would become Maryland. I should have worded that better though to put it in context. Thanks for keeping me honest. 🙂

  2. Marian

    Juliana – love to see attention to ports other than New York! Baltimore is so interesting too regarding the immigration system. The NGL agent there in 1882–Schumacher, I think–tried really hard to fight in court to prevent any regulation of immigration by the government. Augusta Koether was a contractor to the SS Co early on, but later became a contractor to the US Gov’t, both contracts for official legal detention. She is one of many widows of Civil War vets who contracted with the gov’t for immigrant detention at their boarding houses. All just fascinating (at least to some of us!).

    • Juliana Smith

      Thanks for the additional insights Marian! It is fascinating. I love researching these kinds of things. Turns that passenger arrival record into so much more!

  3. cjkbentlEB57

    My greatGrandfather born Germany arrived 11 Nov 1892 on the SS America. He then journeyed to Chicago.

  4. dbf

    Thank you for this post. You have led me to find my 3rd great grandfather’s entry into America at Baltimore in September of 1837. I found his wife and 2 sons and traveling with them is my 3rd great granduncle and his wife. An arrival in 1837 is contrary to the my belief that they arrived in 1834.

    It is no a wonder, no one has ever found their entry records, the surname spelling is nothing like I could have guessed. I found the traveling party of 6 by searching for my 3rd great granduncle surname which was spelled as I expected. The remaining first names and ages match everything else I have found.

  5. SandyQ

    Thank you so much for your post. My families in Baltimore go back to the mid 1700’s, and I’m familiar wiith the Port of Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun would post a daily column describing the arrivals each day – how many people, where they were from, how many were barred entry, and any interesting tales to tell. One of my uncles from Russia was described as “a tall, strong young man denied entry because he stuttered.” How sad.
    So many people assume that ALL immigrants came through Ellis Island. I even have friends on the West Coast who think their Asian ancestors had to come through Ellis Island – which obviously makes no sense, but I’m sure they saw it in a movie.
    Baltimore is a wonderful city full of rich history. Thank you for reminding everyone about this critical port of entry!

  6. Juliana,

    I’m another one who searched in vain at Ellis Island only eventually find my grandparents coming in through Baltimore. I stumbled across a second cousin whose grandfather came through Baltimore and I though why not have a look. Eureka! They didn’t show in a search because the indexer misspelled the name (due to bad handwriting).

    BTW, on the other side of the family, did I see somewhere that the Szucs family has ties to Belmont Co., OH? My mother’s family (Lendon) has been there since about 1860.

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