CASTLE GARDEN: America's First Immigration Center
Castlegarden.org is a free database developed and funded by The Battery Conservancy. It contains and makes available eleven million records of immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York from 1820 - 1892. Today more than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to this early period of immigration.
Castlegarden.org is a resource for educators, scholars, students, family historians, and the interested public.
With the increased volume of immigrants arriving sick or having died in transit, the U.S. Congress in 1819 passed legislation to limit the number of passengers on each ship. The US Customs Service was designated to monitor immigration.
Beginning in 1820, the captain of each arriving ship prepared a Customs Passenger List and filed it with the collector of customs at the port of arrival. This marks the commencement of the systematic collection of data on immigration to the United States—and the starting point for the Castlegarden.org database.
During this period, deceptive employers and unscrupulous money changers preyed on immigrants as they disembarked and attempted to secure work and lodging. In response, the State of New York’s Board of Emigration Commissioners established in 1855 the Emigrant Landing Depot at Castle Garden.
From August 3, 1855 to April 18, 1890, Castle Garden was America's first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City. In 1890, the federal government determined to control all ports of entry and take responsibility for receiving and processing all immigrants to the U.S. The Castle was closed and the reception center was moved to the U.S. Barge Office which was located on the eastern edge of The Battery waterfront. It operated until the U.S. Office of Immigration opened the newly built Ellis Island in 1892.
Today all that physically remains of Castle Garden Emigration Center are its original brownstone walls, the historic Battery landscape that surrounds it, and the original manifests recording the names of the immigrants.
The Castle is now known as Castle Clinton National Monument and is owned by the federal government and administered by the National Park Service. It is the major landmark at The Battery, the 25-acre New York City public waterfront park. The Battery Conservancy manages the park in partnership with the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. The original passenger list (manifests) are the property of the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Battery is one of the oldest public open spaces in continuous use in New York City. Native Americans fished from its banks, and the first Dutch settlers built a low, stone wall with cannons, a battery, to protect the harbor and the fledgling city of New Amsterdam. The transformations of The Battery and the Castle tell the history of New York and, by association, the growth and development of our nation.