Documentation and Archives
Continuing to look at French documentation in detail:
Local Police Files
During the French Revolution, Terror, the Revolutionary Wars and then the Napoleonic Wars, it was not rare for Americans to appear in the local police files.
- Some Americans were rounded up with the British in 1803 - As soon as the Treaty of Amiens expired, France and Britain went back to war. Many British people had taken advantage of the short period from 1802-1803 and known as “The Peace” to visit France, which few had dared to do since the Terror. The men amongst them were rounded up in May of 1803 and imprisoned, and most were held until the end of the wars in 1815. With them, a few Americans were also arrested. These people were usually in business in France or were ship captains and not seamen. However, their cases can sometimes give details of their vessels and names of the crew.
- Escaped American prisoners of war (more on them in a later post), however, were seamen who had been the crew members of ships captured as prizes and sent to prison. They nearly always headed for the coast, where they hoped for a vessel to take them home. Local police files can contain the bulletins sent round, sometimes with the names, ages and descriptions of the escapees.
- There were also those Americans who were not arrested but were held under surveillance. These included artisans with skills valued by the French government, who were allowed to continue working. They also included American seamen who had just arrived on a prize vessel and were awaiting judgement on the prize. Most were sent to jail, but some towns allowed them to live in town under police surveillance.
Source: Archives de la Police, 5M7, AD Charente-Maritime
Above is an example of a police circular about an escaped, American seaman, written by the Police Commissioner of Lorient on the 30th of June 1810, to the Police Commissioner of La Rochelle. He says that John Sharps, of Baltimore, who was captured when the ship Heroine was taken by the French privateer La Dame Ernouf, had escaped. More, Sharps was among a group of four seamen who, when captured, had joined the crew of the capturing privateer at Concarneau and sailed with her to Lorient, where they escaped, "in the hope of getting to a port where they could find a ship to take them to England". Three had been recaptured, but Sharps was still on the run. The commissioner ends by asking that his colleague arrest John Sharps of Baltimore immediately, should he appear in his port. Probably, similar letters were written to other ports along France’s Atlantic coast.
From this, you have:
- The name of the man: John Sharps [probably but not certainly "Sharp"]
- His place of origin: Baltimore
- His ship: the Heroine
- An approximate date of the ship's capture: June 1810
- The name of the capturing vessel: La Dame Ernouf
A quick bit of Google searching on the names of the vessels bring a contemporary news announcement in Google Books that reports that Captain Chabrié in the Dame Ernouf, captured the Heroine, of three masts [so, possibly a three-masted schooner], on her voyage from Halifax to London with a cargo of coffee, tobacco, wood, dried fish and more. From this, the next search can be Halifax departure records for more details about the Heroine and her crew.
Finding Local Police Records
Local police records are irregular. There can be a great carton of them in some places and nothing at all in others. They can be found in two types of archives:
- Departmental Archives, in Series M
- Rarely, the local police records of the Municipal Archives of port cities can contain some interesting letters about seamen
None are found online.
French Documentation continues in the next post.
©2020 Anne Morddel