The regulation of shipping on the Delaware River can be traced back to the passage of an act by the Provincial Assembly in 1766 which provided for the appointment of wardens for the Port of Philadelphia. The wardens were responsible for issuing pilots’ licenses and making rules and regulations governing their service. Legislation passed in 1803 provided for a Board of Wardens consisting of a master warden and six assistants. This act defined the powers of the board to grant licenses to pilots, to make rules for their conduct, to decide disputes involving masters of vessels and ship owners, to direct the mooring of vessels and their loading and unloading, and to publish rules and regulations relating to these duties.

The Board of Commissioners of Navigation for the River Delaware was created in 1907 to assume those duties previously assigned to the wardens for the port, and the offices of the harbor master and master warden. In 1937, the Commissioners of Navigation were replaced by the Navigation Commission for the Delaware River and Its Navigable Tributaries. Originally established in the Department of Forests and Waters, the Navigation Commission was transferred to the Department of Transportation in 1970 and to the Department of Commerce in 1976. The commission is currently located within the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in the Department of State.


Health Officer’s Account of Passenger Entries, 1789-1794. (1 volume) This register contains an account of vessels arriving at the Port of Philadelphia and a record of passengers submitted by captains to the health officer of the port. Information provided includes the date of arrival, a description of the vessel, the name of vessel, the name of commander, the port from which last sailed, the name of the vessel visited, and the number of passengers and servants. Vessels included in this register are also listed in the Health Officer’s Register of Passengers’ Names, 1792-1794. Some of these vessels carried African Americans as cargo, including the sloop Sally and the sloop Lark.

Health Officer’s Register of Passengers’ Names, 1772-1794. (1 volume) This register contains names of passengers and seamen arriving at the Port of Philadelphia as reported by the commanders of the vessels to the health officer. The following information is included in the register: date of arrival, name of vessel, name of captain, where ship sailed from, and other pertinent information. Many of the vessels carried "negroes" and "servants." For example, the sloop Sally, commanded by Amherst Bartlett from Cape Francois, transported "Peter Desmarier and Mulato Jacob, Negro wench Mary and boy Azore"; on April 16, 1793 the brig Industry, commanded by William Brewster, from St. Thomas transported Augustis Thomas and a Negro servant; and on August 9, 1793 the sloop Lark commanded by John Burrows from St. Martins transported "John Richardson and negro servant."

Tonnage Registers, 1784-1789. (6 volumes) These registers show the date of each ship’s entry into Philadelphia, name of vessel, master’s name, place bound, name of owner or consignee, tonnage, and fees. Vessels such as the sloop Polly and the brig Phoebe are listed as having "negroes, mulattos, and servants" included in their cargoes.

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