Previous month:
February 2020
Next month:
April 2020

March 2020

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 13

Researching Mariners

Documentation and Archives

British Documentation

Continuing to look at British documentation in detail:

Royal Navy Muster Rolls and Pay Lists

It can be quite difficult to use these lists to identify with any certainty an American seaman of this period. Mariners of the day told of being impressed into a Royal Navy vessel and of various actions being taken by their captors to obscure the Americans' identity and nationality.

  • Seaman's Protection Certificates and any other documents sometimes were torn up and thrown into the sea
  • On the muster and pay lists:
    • Americans were given false birthplaces in Britain instead of the true ones in the United States
    • Americans were registered under the names of dead British crew members
    • Many men were listed merely by name, with no details at all

Yet, there were some cases where they were entered honestly, with their true names and places of birth, and with the fact that they were impressed noted as well. In most cases, however, further, corroborating documentation will be needed.

HMS Manilla 1
Source: HMS Manilla, ADM 37/2602, TNA


The example above shows a nearly empty list from the HMS Manilla. The column headings for the left-hand page are: 

  • Bounty paid
  • Entry [into the Navy]
  • Year
  • Appearance [on the vessel]
  • Whence and whether prest or not
  • Place and county where born
  • Age at Time of Entry in this Ship
  • No and Letter of Tickets
  • Men's Names
  • Quality [rank]
  • D, DD or R [Discharged, Dead or Run away]
  • Time of Discharge

The whole page of names are dittoed as having come from the "HMS Thisbe late" on the 8th of November 1809. With a page such as this, you would have to search through the whole book and those coming earlier or later to find an entry for your man with more detail. It can be a few hours in the archives, but the search can be fruitful. This is part of a later page in the same book, showing more detail for each man: 

HMS Manilla 2

Source: HMS Manilla, ADM 37/2602, TNA


The last fully visible name, Henry Hornewater, is also the first name on the earlier shown page. Here, more detail is given. He was transferred from the "Thisbe late Latona", he was aged twenty-two, from New York in America. A bit of research (online but also and especially in Rif Winfield's British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793-1817) shows that the HMS Thisbe, Latona and Manilla all were off Portugal in late 1809. So,  "Thisbe late Latona" would indicate that these men would have been first on the Latona, then loaded onto the Thisbe, which then passed them to the Manilla. By then, Henry Hornewater  appeared as an ordinary seaman on the Manilla's list. He remained on the HMS Manilla until, two years later, she was wrecked off the coast of Holland; he survived the wreck and was taken prisoner by the French. Hornewater, a "man of colour" (homme de couleur) from "Wappin's Creek" (probably Wappinger Creek), New York, told his French captors that he had left Philadelphia on an American vessel that was wrecked off the coast of Portugal. The crew made it ashore, where they were impressed by a Royal Navy gang. 

The search for this man in British records would continue in the HMS Latona's musters and pay lists to find Hornewater's first appearance on that vessel. Then, in contemporary American newspapers, especially from Philadelphia, the search would be for mentions of wrecks of Philadelphia vessels off Portugal in 1809, which could lead to the name of his initial vessel.


Finding Royal Navy Muster lists and Pay lists

As ever, to find a man, you must know the name of the vessel, or at least one of the vessels, on which the man served in the Royal Navy and the approximate date when he was on board. The records of the National Archives of Great Britain can be searched online to know if those books for that vessel for that time have survived. They are massive and, though one may order copies, it is not at all inexpensive to have copied an entire book or even a year's pages within a book. If you cannot go to Kew to do this research, it is best to hire an experienced naval researcher to do it for you. (Beware, many generalist genealogists or researchers do not understand these books and leave out crucial information.)

FindMyPast has the musters of a few vessels, but almost none of this era. It is a good idea to check their list of ships' names before bothering to search.

If you think the American mariner you are researching remained in the Royal Navy, (and some did,) you may also be interested in:


This ends the discussion of resources. The next post gives a case study of the mariner from Nantucket, Peleg Bunker.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 12

Researching Mariners

Documentation and Archives

British Documentation

Continuing to look at British documentation in detail:

British Records of Prisoners of the War of 1812

In the period of the Napoleonic Wars before the War of 1812, if the British found American seamen on the crew of a vessel of French of another European nationality, the men were impressed then and there into the Royal Navy. (We have come across only one American who convinced his captors that he was French and so, instead of being impressed into a naval ship, was sent to a prison in Britain, from which he promptly escaped.) Only when war was declared were the captured Americans sent to prisons in Britain. At this time, word managed to fly around the Royal Navy's vessels across the globe and soon, nearly all American seamen who had been impressed declared that they could not be forced to serve their country's enemy. Hundreds were shipped from Royal Navy vessels directly to British prisons. Whether captured or "surrendered" on board a Royal Navy vessel, they were entered into the prisoner registers.

The prison registers are online on two commercial websites. The first is British Online Archives, in the collection entitled "American prisoners of war, 1812-1815". It is a cumbersome website to use. You must know the date of capture and the place where the man was first registered as a prisoner of war.

Taking the capture of the Teazer, off Bermuda in December 1812, we can find the list of the crew as prisoners in the register entitled "Ships and Depots in Overseas Locations - Bermuda, 1812-1815" on page 22:


Teazer prisonersSource: British Online Archives, American Prisoners of War, 1812-1815, Ships and Depots in Overseas Locations - Bermuda, 1812-1815

The list of men continues for two more pages. The details are:

  • They were captured by the HMS San Domingo
  • The capture was on the 16th of December 1812
  • The place of capture was at sea
  • The name of the prize was Teazer, a schooner
  • The vessel was sailing as a privateer
  • Each man's full name and rank or quality are given
  • The date when the man was taken into the custody of the prison, here, the 21st of December
  • What vessel brought him in, here the same as made the capture
  • What happened to him, whether he was Exchanged (E or Ex), Discharged (D), died (DD) or Escaped (Esc)
  • Date of the above
  • Where he was sent

All were discharged onto a cartel, the Bostock, bound for New York, on the 27th of January 1813.


The second online resource for prisoner of war registers is, which is much, much easier to use. This example shows American seamen who had been impressed or captured or "sent into prison by his own request" (that is, refused to serve on an enemy vessel) and sent to Dartmoor prison.

  • Charles Davey, of New Orleans, was impressed at Liverpool
  • William Coleman, of Salem, was a seaman on the Lyon when she was captured by the Brilliant.
  • Tannuks (?) Coopor, of Baltimore, was a seaman who had been sent to prison at his own request
  • William Simons, of Nantucket, had been impressed into the Sherebrook, then was taken out and sent to prison



 Full Page

POW 2 

Left side


Right side

Source:, Prisoners of War 1715-1945, Napoleonic Wars, Dartmoor Prison

These prisoner of war registers are a wonderful resource,  giving for each man:

  • His name
  • The date of his capture
  • The name of the ship from which taken
  • The name of the capturing vessel
  • His place of origin
  • His physical description, including scars and tattoos
  • The prison to which he was sent
  • The date of his transfer or release, or death


British Documentation continues in the next post.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 11

Researching Mariners

Documentation and Archives

British Documentation

During the period after American independence, American mariners, (some of whom were old enough to have been British before independence) continued to sail to the ports they knew and for the captains and companies they knew, both American and British. The custom of captains abandoning crew in port when they were sick, (most often in Liverpool on the British side), or not employing them for the return voyage meant that the American mariner had to find work on whatever vessel he could in order to get back home.

Working on a British vessel involved him much more directly in the European wars and increased the likelihood that he would be perceived as British by that country's enemies and treated as such, possibly becoming a prisoner of war in France. He also increased the possibility of being impressed, as press gangs prowled port cities such as London and Liverpool, kidnapping any healthy-looking men and, especially, any experienced seamen. Once the War of 1812 began, Royal Navy vessels attacked and captured American vessels, particularly privateers and recaptured many of their prizes, making all of the American crew prisoners of war in Britain.

In British records and archives of this period, the best resources for researching American mariners are:

  • Prize cases
  • Prisoner of the War of 1812 records
  • Royal Navy Muster Rolls and Pay lists
  • Contemporary newspapers

In all of these, the research focus must still begin with following the vessel and then of finding the man. Where, as with the prisoners of the War of 1812, commercial data bases have made it possible to search on a man's name, knowing his vessel will help to distinguish him from others with the same or similar names.


British Prize Records or Prize Cases

An enormous number of these have survived. They are not online but can readily be seen at the British National Archives at Kew (TNA) and copies ordered online. They contain, at the very minimum:

  • The name of the prize (captured) vessel
  • The captain's or master's name
  • The name of the capturing vessel
  • The capturing captain's name
  • Affidavits from the crew of the either vessel giving very precise details about the capture

For some reason, the British prize case files have much more of the captured vessel's documentation than we have seen elsewhere, including crew lists, cargo manifests, and all kinds of vessel registration papers. In one docket, we even found the personal expenses with a description of a new suit of clothes bought by the master of the prize vessel, a man from Rhode Island, before he was captured.

Below are pages from the prize file of the capture of the American privateer of the War of 1812, the Teazer.

Teazer privateer

Teazer 1

Teazer 2

Teazer 3

Teazer 4

Teazer 5

Source:  Teazer Prize Case, HCA 32/1323/1943,  TNA


The account states that the Teazer was an "American schooner privateer", was fitted out in New York, and carried a "privateer commission"; that her commander was Frederick Johnson, with John H. Calligan and James Reynolds as lieutenants, all present giving evidence to the mayor of the town of St. George on Bermuda. On the 16th of December 1812, on the high seas, off Bermuda, she encountered the HMS San Domingo, Captain Charles Gill,  was captured, "and was immediately burnt and destroyed". All fifty-one officers and crew surrendered and were taken prisoner. The date of the account is the 22nd of December 1812. (As you can see, this first-hand account has some serious differences with the Wikipedia article on the Teazer, taken from an 1899 classic that is riddled with errors.) Other than the officers, the crew are not named and the captors did not bother much with the ship's papers or a crew list before they torched the prize. The crew would have been taken to England as prisoners of war.

Prisoner of war records are what we will investigate in the next post.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 10

Researching Mariners

Documentation and Archives

French Documentation

French birth, marriage and death records

Let us not forget the obvious, the civil registrations. Some seamen stayed in countries where they landed and appear in registrations of marriages, their children’s births , and in registrations of deaths. These, especially marriages, give much more information than in vital records in the United States or the parish marriage records of the same period in Great Britain.


Robert Johnson marriesSource: Roscoff, Actes d’état civil, Mariages An XI-1812, 3 E 295/24, AD Finistère,


The above example is a screen print of a digitized Marriage registration dated the 24th of July 1809, in Roscoff, Finistère. (A port favoured by smugglers and privateers.) The groom was Robert Johnson, seaman, aged 27, of Newborn [New Bern?] North Carolina, the Son of the late Robert Johnson and of Mary Brown. The bride was Suzanne Nicole Bian, of Roscoff.

The happy couple had three daughters, Marie Reine, born the 5th of November, 1810; Victoire Catherine Emilie, born the 8th of February 1812; and Suzanne Claire Guillemette, born the 2nd of May 1814. Note that the last birth registration repeats the Johnson was born in Newborn, North Carolina.


Marie Reine JohnsonSource: Roscoff, Actes d’état civil, Naissances, An XI-1812, 3 E 295/12, AD Finistère,


Victoire JohnsonSource: Roscoff, Actes d’état civil, Naissances, An XI-1812, 3 E 295/12, AD Finistère,


Suzanne JohnsonSource: Roscoff, Actes d’état civil, Naissances, 1813-1817, 3 E 295/13, AD Finistère,


In most cases of identification in genealogy, signatures are helpful. The above registrations offer three versions of Robert Johnson's signature (he was away at sea when Victoire was born). 


Johnson signatureRobert Johnson's signature at his marriage in 1809


Signature MarieRobert Johnson's signature at the birth of his first child in 1810


Signature SuzanneRobert Johnson's signature at the birth of his third child in 1814

Sadly, Robert Johnson was lost at sea in 1817. His wife, Suzanne had to go before the Tribunal in Morlaix and have him declared legally dead. The entire judgement was copied into the death register, with much detail. As shipmaster working for Hilary Boucaut, he had sailed the sloop, Dowe of Guernsey for England on the first of December. A few days later, wreckage washed ashore near Locquirec, to the north, but all hands were lost. The entry and judgement go for three and a half pages, of which this is the first:

Robert Johnson death

Source: Roscoff, Actes d’état civil, Décès, 1813-1822, 3 E 295/35, AD Finistère,

It is most likely that Robert Johnson's family knew where he was but, unless letters or diaries survive, it is unlikely that the researcher will find him in North Carolina records after 1809. French records reveal a life and family, as well as how he died.


Finding French birth, marriage and death records

Millions of these registrations are online, on the websites of the Departmental Archives or of the Municipal Archives (especially for the major port cities of Brest, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Saint-Malo, Le Havre, etc.). These may  be accessed free of charge but the websites are entirely in French, of course. In addition to the port cities, if you suspect that your mariner ancestor may have been a prisoner in Napoleonic France and died in prison, you will want to look at the death registrations of the main cities where American seamen were held: Arras, Cambray, Valenciennes and Verdun. 

French commercial genealogy websites, which charge a fee, have some civil registrations. The value of is that what they do have is indexed but, recalling that they do not have all of the country's registrations, a negative result for a search could mean either that the mariner was not in France or that he was but do not have the relevant civil registration collection on their website.

(For a full explanation on how to research French civil registrations and to understand them, please see our book or our course.)


French Naval Records

We can offer little advice here. We have come across nearly a dozen men who claimed to have been forced into service in the French Navy, the Marine. However, they do not name the vessels, so it is impossible to search for a crew list. Even with a vessel name, locating the records for the Marine vessels of the First Empire is not at all easy and little is known, not even all of the vessels' names. A partial list, filled with question marks, can be found here, on the brilliant blog of SEHRI.

With this post, we finish looking at French documentation in detail. Many of the principles and avenues of research are applicable in the other European ports where American seamen could be found, especially: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Bergen, Hamburg, Cadiz, Toulon, Marseille, Livorno (Leghorn) and Genoa.

Next, we look at British documentation.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 9

Researching Mariners

Documentation and Archives

French Documentation

Continuing to look at French documentation in detail:


During the Revolution and the First Empire, the movement of people was strictly controlled both within France and at the borders of the country, especially once the Revolutionary governments became stronger and were determined to stop emigration. Passports were not permanent documents of identification. They were permissions for specific journeys and were to be signed by the authorities along the way. It is rare for the documents themselves to have survived. What can be found in the archives are the applications, sometimes with correspondence, or the administrative copies, falling into two main groups.

The first group is the passport request documentation, which varies greatly from one place to another. These requests were made from the Police Générale during the Revolutionary Period and through the end of the First Empire. They were not unique to French citizens because, at that time, everyone required permission to travel within the country. Thus, there are requests from Americans in France on business to go from Paris to a port, for example or, as another example, from shipmasters to go from a port, where their vessel had been taken as a prize, to Paris to attend the Prize Council.


Smith Passport request - AN pierrefitte

Source: Police générale-Demandes de Passeports, 1793-1818, F7, Archives nationales-Pierrefitte

In the above example, dated at Antwerp [at that time a part of the French First Empire], 21 Messidor An 13 [10 July 1805] the Prefect of the Department of Deux-Nèthes writes that Willet Smith, American businessman, arrived in Antwerp on 29 Prairial [18 June] on the American vessel Neptune, from Philadelphia, and wishes to travel to Paris. The marginal note indicates that the request was approved and the permission document issued. Few of such requests from seamen seem to have survived but there are quite a number from shipmasters and captains.

The second type of passport record is a pre-printed register or log of all passports issued by towns or cities. These were in use mostly, but not exclusively during the Terror, from roughly 1793 to 1795.  In port cities, they contain the names of many American seamen.


Passport - AM CherbourgSource: Passeports, 1793-5, 4H2, Archives Municipales de Cherbourg

Above is an example of the passport register book used in Cherbourg. There are three to four entries per page, all numbered. This one, entry no. 14146, dated 3 Prairial Year 10 [23 May 1802] gives quite a lot of detail about Samuel Salmon:

  • He was born in Charleston.
  • He was a seaman in the United States of America
  • He had arrived from England
  • He wished to travel to Bordeaux and had a letter from the prefect giving him permission to do so
  • His physical description is given
    • Aged 22
    • Height 1m 76cm
    • Eye colour: grey-blue
    • Nose: pointed
    • Mouth: average
    • Chin: round
    • Forehead: low
    • Face shape: oval

 On the lower left can be seen his signature. If a Seaman's Protection Certificate were found for him, this would allow for a comparison of descriptions and signatures to verify his identity.


Finding Passport Requests

  • Those from the Police Générale (see the first example) are found in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte. The entire name index is online:
  • Those from a city or town (see the second example) usually are found in the various Municipal Archives, the Archives municipales, of the cities. In some cases, they have been sent to the Departmental Archives, the Archives départementales.  (See the left-hand column on this page for links to all of the Departmental Archive websites) A very few of these passport register books are online, on the AD websites.


Records of Prisoners of War in France

About 1400 American mariners were imprisoned with British mariners in France. They arrived in ports on captured ships and were marched to prison depots all over France, but mostly in the north and east. The French military and marine archives are filled with lists of these men, sometimes separated as Americans, sometimes jumbled with the British. (We have compiled a database of their names and are writing a book about them.)


Source: Prisonniers de Guerre Anglais, Yj29, SHD Vincennes

This 1807 sample shows four men who were released from prison and sent to Antwerp to take a ship home. It gives their names, the vessels on which they were captured and the port to which the captured vessel was taken.

  • Christopher Folger, of the Perseverance, taken to Bordeaux
  • Kerr Berkley, of the Hebé, taken to Dieppe
  • Benjamin Merry, of the Hebé, taken to Dieppe
  • Job LeProvost, of the Union, taken to Bordeaux


Finding Records of Prisoners of War in France

Lists of American prisoners are mingled with the dossiers on British prisoners of war in Series Yj in the Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes. Where a man was captured from a Royal Navy vessel, his name may appear on lists of British prisoners; there, only his place of birth will show that he was American. The French lists of American prisoners are not online. However, the French lists of British prisoners were sent to the Admiralty in Great Britain and these now appear online in the "Prisoners Of War 1715-1945" section of

French Documentation continues in the next post.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy