In 1796 Congress passed an Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen, requiring customs collectors to maintain a record of all United States citizens serving on United States vessels. Each registered seaman was given a Seaman’s Protection Certificate. These certificates vouched for the citizenship of the individual and included identifying information such as height, complexion, place of birth, and in some cases, eye and hair color. The intention of these certificates was to discourage impressment from foreign navies, especially Great Britain.
The Rhode Island Historical Society has six volumes of “Register of Protections Granted to American Seamen” from 1796 to 1870. These registers are part of the United States Custom House Papers housed in the Manuscript Division of the Rhode Island Historical Society Library in Providence, R.I.
This transcription is in alphabetical order by surname and includes the date of certification, age, complexion, place of birth, and the book and page number of the original volume in which the information appears. There are several asterisk notations throughout the text. Some note that names are out of order, while others explain that a yellow complexion refers to a mulatto complexion. Some names lack a volume and page reference. Instead, the citation refers to Newport, R.I., sworn statements and birth certification.
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