John Camden Hotten first published The Original Lists of Persons of Quality – his compilation of documents relating to seventeenth-century migration to New England, the Chesapeake, and the Caribbean – more than a century and a quarter ago, and it remains one of our most valuable and accurate sources for that period. He included in the volume the surviving records from the London Port Books, along with lists from some of the English outports. In addition, he included some muster rolls from Virginia, and other items listing early settlers there.
Agents of the crown at London and at the lesser English ports maintained registers of those passengers boarding ships for ports outside England. These were not like the passenger manifests of the nineteenth century. In the 1630s they were, rather, attempts by the English authorities to ascertain that those departing were loyal to the crown, and were not departing without paying any of the national taxes that had been assessed on them. (In these years Charles I was ruling without Parliament, and had to employ extraordinary means to collect revenue.)
For example, the London port book for 1635 provides extensive information on those passengers boarding vessels bound for the New World. The port book was originally compiled in chronological order, and that order has been maintained by Hotten. All those boarding a given ship on a given day are grouped together with ages and, in some cases, occupations also provided. Passengers are sometimes listed in family groups, and sometimes not. Passengers for each ship arrived over a period of many days or even weeks, so a complete passenger list for each ship must be compiled by gathering together the shorter lists entered day-by-day.
These records published by Hotten have been one of the most important sources utilized in the compilation of the published volumes of the Great Migration Study Project. In the course of more than two decades of research on that project, there have been frequent opportunities to check Hotten’s reading of these records against the original, with the result that the version published by Hotten has always been deemed to be accurate.
Despite the passage of more than a century, and despite the publication of several more versions of some of these records in the intervening years, this volume by Hotten remains the best source for seventeenth-century passenger records, and should be preferred to all others.
Adapted from the foreword to the new NEHGS edition of John Camden Hotten’s Original Lists of Persons of Quality.