Documentation and Archives
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.
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]
- 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:
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:
- A comprehensive list of all online resources concerning the Royal Navy, on the resources page of the National Museum of the Royal Navy
- Scott, Jonathan, "The 14 best websites for Royal Navy family history", Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, December 2019
This ends the discussion of resources. The next post gives a case study of the mariner from Nantucket, Peleg Bunker.
©2020 Anne Morddel