Sunday, January 6, 2013

Researching War of 1812 Seaman

Impressed Seamen Records 1796-1868

After the revolutionary war, the British, under the motto “once a British subject, always a British subject”, took liberties on the sea and captured US flagged vessels.  The result: “Impressed” American mariners into British service, and of course, the War of 1812. For this reason, many will tell you the Revolutionary War did not end until the War of 1812. Yet, impressed seaman protection certificates were available to seaman until after the civil war. And actually they have been used at different times in U.S. history.

In order to track American sailors and their ships, a plethora of detailed paperwork and records were generated on merchant seamen.  These salvaged papers can be a treasure chest for the family historian. 

Quick Primer
A quick primer on the Seamen’s Protection Center can be found on the the Ancestry.com Learning Center. 

Search for Seamen's Protection Certificate Learning Center
As you can see in the photo above the seaman came from all states. The collection holds certificates for seamen between 11-77 years of age.  Above, John Finn, was 14 year old and was from Hermann, Mo.  He worked out of the Port of Philadelphia. So, don’t limit your research.

It is possible your seaman was captured and his original (or second or third) certificate was confiscated. So it is not uncommon to find several applications for one seaman. 

Begin Your Search
Ancestry.com has a digitized collection of U.S. Seamen’s Protection Certificates.  
African American Seamen
Historical Trivia
Question: What African American slave ran away with the assistance of a U.S. Seamen’s Protection Certificate.
Answer: Frederick Douglass who borrowed a Seamen’s Certificate to aid in his runaway. He was also donning a sailor suit. 
African Americans seamen were in abundance.  The records identify them as “black”, “negro”, “colored”, “sambo”, “ethiopian” and “mulatto”.  


Four Bonus Finds
 
1) Physical Descriptions. As you can see, physical description to include scars and marks are noted.  Statement of “native” hometown and stated is also noted.

2) Emancipation Information. In the above example of Samuel Ridley, an ex-slave, informs the intaker that he “was manumitted in the year 1792 by Stephen... Samuel’s application goes on to tell us that he had to serve nine years for a man (name given) in Philadelphia for his freedom. 

3) Naturalization Information. Of course to have protection of the United States, you had to prove citizenship as Bernard Tobin did below on his application. 
 
Do hereby declare that I am a Seaman and an affiliated Citizen of the United States, having been born in the Town of St. Johns Newfoundland and have declared my Intention of becoming a citizen of the United States in the Circuit Court holden in Philadelphia on the 27th of December 1856 a certificate whereof I herewith present . . .
4) Family Information. As in the example above all the certificates are sworn by a witness. This witness is often a family member.  Sometimes, we find wife’s or mother’s names on these applications.  

1930 Census, Merchant Seaman
Know that the War of 1812 is not the only time merchants were enumerated. In 1930 census Merchant Seamen were enumerated if serving on a US flagged vessel. There was a special Merchant Seamen schedule.  This schedule provided genealogical data and can be searched on the 1930 Census of Merchant Seamen on ancestry.com or with in the NARA (microfilm). View the  Family Search.org website for more information.


For More Information
Be sure to read the following articles:
National Archive Resources
  • M2025: Registers of Applications for the Release of Impressed Seamen (microfilm)
  • M1839: Miscellaneous Lists and Papers Regarding Impressed Seamen, 1796-1814  (microfilm) 
Kathleen Brandt
Website: a3genealogy.com
a3genealogy@gmail.com
Accurate, accessible answers

6 comments:

  1. Great post, Kathleen! You've put together a wonderful primer. Thanks for creating the resource!

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    1. Thanks so much. War of 1812 is so forgotten in American history, I love sharing it!

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  2. This is fascinating. For the War of 1812, did a "seamen's protection certificate" absolutely protect U. S. Seamen from being impressed into British service? I suppose not, if some of them were captured and their certificate confiscated. But these certificated must have done some good.

    Thank you for this database! It makes me wish I had more seamen in my family!

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    1. Thanks for asking Mariann. The protection certificate did little for the seamen when faced with vigilantes due to the hostility on the waters. But official government /Royal vessels did give some respect to the captured seamen, even if they took the loot. At best I like to say it was a deterrent, plus family members could appeal to the govt to find missing seamen if they were registered. If captured seamen could escape, they often were able to board other American (friendly) ships.

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  3. Kathleen, I have nominated you for a Blog of the Year 2012 award. Here's the link: http://bit.ly/UXG7Yc

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