Seamen’s Protection Certificates were authorized by Congress in 1796 to identify American merchant seamen as citizens of the U.S. and as such entitled to protection against impressment by the British Navy, a major cause of the War of 1812. Seamen’s Protection Certificates were issued long after that conflict, in fact right up to the Civil War, and they constitute an important proof of citizenship for the highly mobile merchant seaman.
Publication of this volume, the third in a series of indexes to early merchant seamen’s records (see also Items 9128 and 9067), completes the project of indexing all the Seamen’s Protection Certificate applications and related proofs of citizenship filed by almost 50,000 seamen between 1796 and 1861 in a number of Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast ports. This index covers a dozen ports with the records ranging from 4,400 applications for the Port of New Orleans to eighteen such proofs for New London, Connecticut. (The two earlier volumes in the series encompassed 33,000 applications filed at the Port of Philadelphia from 1796-1823 and 1824-1861.)
Whereas the earlier volumes in the series concerned a single port, the concluding one encompasses more than a dozen. Accordingly, Mrs. Dixon has compiled a separate index for each port, having arranged them in decreasing number of applications. A brief explanation of characteristics of each port and an example of an application or proof of citizenship precedes each list of names. The indexes gives the name of the seaman, date of application, age, race, and state or country of birth.
In addition to the information found in the index, the SPC applications themselves contain references to the seaman’s place of birth, physical features, and, where applicable, place of naturalization or facts concerning manumission. For example, 7 percent of the seamen applying in New Orleans and 6 percent applying in New Haven were identified as people of color. Some of the later applications, moreover, name witnesses who are identified as parents or other relatives. In short, anyone who finds a name in Mrs. Dixon’s Index stands a reasonable chance of uncovering far greater information in the copies of applications or proofs of citizenship which are readily available from the National Archives.