Georgia Passports Illuminate Migrations

Many very early nineteenth-century travelers to the territories that would become the Gulf states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana migrated there from the Southeastern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. If your ancestor is among this group, you know how hard it can be to unwind that migration westward and determine their precise origins. Hidden among the thousands of articles in the NGSQ Archives, however, is one long-running series that may help solve this problem: “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785 to 1820.”[1]

Begun in June 1953 and spanning seventeen installments, this series presents documents related to passports for American citizens who sought to enter or pass through the Indian nations of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole. Those documents consist predominantly of recommendations to the governor and executive orders from the governor, supplemented with material from the American State Papers and letters from Benjamin Hawkins, Principal Temporary Agent for Indian Affairs, 1796–1816.

Only five records in this series represent the earliest years covered: 1785–1802. One of those records was this passport for John Tarvin, which strongly suggests he was a trader and shows that he was already resident in Creek territory by 1789, a rarity.

Augusta 14th April 1789

John Tarvin, a resident among the Creek Indians, has permission to pass from hence, through this State to the Towns of the said Indians. All Officers of Militia and of Civil appointment, are desired to afford to the said John Tarvin the fullest protection, he demeaning himself well, The under written list of papers, made from their respective Superscriptions, are also to be permitted to be carried unbroken; together with the packages of Goods.

Geo Walton
Alexander McGillwray
Timothy Barnard ten letters
Obadiah Low three letters[2]

The bulk of the collection spans the years 1803 (after the Louisiana Purchase prompted westward migration) through 1813 (when the War of 1812 reached the Southern theatre). One such record is this 1804 recommendation to the governor for James Scarlett, which identifies his county of origin, several associates and local officials, the number of family members traveling with him, and his destination. Importantly, researchers of African Americans who have identified the owners of their enslaved ancestors also get invaluable migration information here.

Hancock County

Whereas James Scarlett Esq’r of the County and State aforesaid having intimated an inclination to travel to the Mississippi and Louisiana Country, and wishes to obtain a passport from His Excellency the Governor of this State for himself and Family consisting of Seven white persons and one negro—

These are therefore to certify that the said James Scarlett esquire, has uniformly supported the Character of an upright, honest man and a valuable Citizen—21st Feb’y 1804.

Mar. Martin, Hines Holt, Hen’r Mitchell, A. W. Devereux J. P., W’m Rabun J. I. C. [Justice of the Inferior Court], Jn’o W’m Devereux J. I. C., Brice Gaither J. I. C., Rob’t Raines, Jn’o Crowder J. P., Bolling Hall, David Adams, Cha’s Abercrombie

(On reverse) Recommendation for a pass port for James Scarlett

Acted on 22d March 1804[3]

Orders found in the governor’s Executive Minutes generally combined the essential information for all applicants granted passports on that particular day, sometimes even identifying the relationship of some family members, as this order did in 1810. Notably, former South Carolina and North Carolina residents were among the many who applied for Georgia passports, particularly in the years 1809 and 1810.

Page 101—Sat. 31st March 1810

On application


That passports be prepared for the following persons to travel through the Creek Nation of Indians, to wit, one for Moses Brown and Daniel Brown, the former with his mother-in-law, four children and five negroes from the County of Liberty in this state—one for John Adams and Mallichi Coward, the former with his wife, four children and three negroes, from Barnwell District, South Carolina—one for William Burt, Mathew Lard, and Mathew McCravy, the former with his wife, three children and four negroes, and the latter with his wife and one child all from Barnwell District, South Carolina, and one for George W. S. Pearre from the County of Columbia in this State—which were presented and signed.[4]

The predominant migration westward was not the only pattern represented in these records. This request for William E. Phillips’s passport shows migration directly south from Kentucky to the “Spanish Province of West Florida,” which stretched along the Gulf Coast from the Apalachicola River to the Mississippi River.

Lexington, 13th Apl. 1809


My brother William E. Phillips formerly of this state, & with whom you had some acquaintance, has resided for several years past in the state of Kentucky; but has it in contemplation at present to remove from thence to the Spanish Province of West Florida.

According to the laws, or customs of that Government, it is necessary for every person that goes there, more especially if he wishes to associate with persons of respectability, to carry with him proper Vouchers of his moral character & Standing in society, in the country from which he imigrated. My brother is therefore desirous to obtain from you such a certificate as in your opinion he merits, setting forth his intention of imigrating to W. Florida, & executed Officially[. I]f you think proper to grant him such a one & transmit it to me under cover, it will be thankfully received. For information relative to the character and standing of my brother in society in the County of Greene, where he resided, I beg leave to refer you to John William & Arch’d M. Devereux Esquires.

I am Your Excellency’s Most Ob’t & Very h’ble Serv’t.

Geo Phillips

His Excellency Jared Irwin

[repetitive notations edited for length][5]

Finally, the series concluded in December of 1963 with an index unique to this collection (in a separately paged supplement at the end of that volume).[6] If your ancestor migrated through Georgia and its neighboring Indian Nations during this period, don’t miss this invaluable resource.

[1] Mary G. Bryan, “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 41 (June 1953)–45 (Dec. 1957) with gaps, and 51 (June–Dec. 1963); PDF, NGSQ Archives ( : 11 Nov. 2017).

[2] Mary G. Bryan, “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 41 (June 1953): 34; PDF, NGSQ Archives ( archives : 11 Nov. 2017).

[3] Mary G. Bryan, “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 41 (June 1953): 40; PDF, NGSQ Archives ( archives : 11 Nov. 2017).

[4] Mary G. Bryan, “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820” (Separately paged Supplement), National Genealogical Society Quarterly 51 (June 1963): 64; PDF, NGSQ Archives ( : 11 Nov. 2017).

[5] Mary G. Bryan, “Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 42 (June 1954): 83–84; PDF, NGSQ Archives ( ngsq_archives : 11 Nov. 2017).

[6] “Index [to] ‘Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia 1785–1820’” (Separately paged Supple-ment), National Genealogical Society Quarterly 51 (Dec. 1963): 107–112; PDF, NGSQ Archives ( : 11 Nov. 2017).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *