Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley


Last Saturday's online French genealogy conference, the Salon Virtuel de Généalogie, was excellent as to content but, as we mentioned on the day, somewhat flawed as to microphone quality. We enjoyed a number of talks, especially that by Sandrine Roux-Morand about Alsace Moselle research, to which you can still listen for two more days here, and that by Laurence Abensur-Hazan on French Jewish genealogy resources, delivered at speed, in great clarity and without slides, to which you can still listen here.

Two  lectures were covering topics that are right up the research alley in which we find ourselves at the moment. That on resources online for researching French sailors and merchant seamen, by Christian Duic, and the utterly fascinating lecture by Marine Leclercq-Bernard on using medical archives in genealogical research

We began with Madame Leclercq-Bernard's lecture on La Généalogie Médicale. She discussed the cases of those who were identified legally as carriers of diseases and the medical protocols for identifying and notifying those with hereditary diseases. Her explanation of the archives to use was, Dear Readers, a revelation. So many series that we never knew, with possibilities for discoveries that we never imagined, were described that we now long for a poorly French ancestor to hunt down in them. Most of these series are within the Departmental Archives and are not online; many are in the Archives hospitalières, but Madame Leclercq-Bernard also suggested that one could seek in the archives concerning abandoned children and in the archives of the military hospitals. She explained how a researcher might trace a medical problem back through a number of generations using these archives. Do, do listen to this talk while there still is time.

Christian Duic's talk closely follows his book, Retrouver un ancêtre marin but, aware of our lack of mobility during these times of quarantine, he narrowed the focus to online research of sailors and merchant seamen. (As you will know from our own recent series on Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars, this area of research is one in which we are keenly interested.) We urge you to listen to his talk while there is time, particularly if you have been having trouble with the Le Havre passenger and crew lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, for (at about the 27th minute in the talk) he walks the viewer through it.

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same class, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. Without an awareness of this naval draft and the naval matricules, one will not comprehend Monsieur Duic's lecture or his book.

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Quick List of French Military Websites for Your Lockdown Research

Chasseurs 1802

Many years ago, we worked in aid in East Africa. We poured our heart and soul into the projects, particularly one to train trainers, very much à la mode in the aid world at the time. We arrived after months of preparation, all notes and materials ready to give the course. At a final meeting with the Head of the Civil Service, he told us with his regrets that he would have to cancel the course. We were devastated. "It is fully booked," we pleaded. "The sponsors have paid for the facilities, materials, even for stipends for the attendees. Please reconsider." He refused, we continued begging, wheedling. He was adamant. As was our wont when younger, when we encountered grievous frustration, we lost our head, Dear Readers. Standing before the gentleman, we spoke passionately, waved our arms wildly, and threatened to stab ourself in the throat then and there with a decorative tribal knife that happened to be on his desk, "and bleed all over your carpet!" He looked very disappointed and relented, for which we thanked him profusely. We were so blind in those days. All the man wanted was a bribe. It would have saved us a near-stroke simply to have paid up.

Similarly, for months, we have been at the near-stroke stage in our frustration with the redesigned website of the French military archives, Mémoire des Hommes. Essentially, to our mind, it was launched far too soon, before much data had been entered. Our greatest complaints, however, has been that the brilliant finding aids were not accessible, denying the possibility of our much-enjoyed serendipitous discoveries. In this case of frustration, it was not a payment that was required but patience. Slowly, the site is improving and searches are yielding actual results. The "global search" allows a search for a particular name through the records of a few wars, most of them in the twentieth century. To  find a person in the records of the Ancien Régime through the First Empire, from 1682 to 1815, is a bit more arduous. The contrôles des troupes, the troop lists, have been digitized but are not indexed (collaborative indexing proceeds apace but many of us, Dear Readers, will not live the decades needed to see the results). Thus, you must page through the registers. To make it easier, try to find out the regiment in which your ancestor served and the approximate dates of his service.

Take the time to explore the site. It does get better.

Ancestramil remains a superb resource that takes much of the pain out of researching in the records of the French military. They have indexed close to a million names and transcribed thousands of lists. If you have done no military research at all, Ancestramil is the place to start. Some years back, we described it here.

A couple of the following are also on Ancestramil but we give them here if you wish to use a more subject specific site.

We hope these may help you to have a grand success during your lockdown hunting.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 16 - The Case Study Narrative

Researching Mariners

Peleg Bunker

© 2020 Anne Morddel

By the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the town of Nantucket, which had remained neutral, was impoverished and its economy was struggling, in part because its Quaker seafarers were suspected of having traded with the British throughout the war.[1] On the other side of the Atlantic, the fishing fleet based at the French port of Dunkirk had just received royal permission to establish a whaling base on the coast of Brazil, a fishing ground that was unfamiliar to the French but that the Nantucket whalers knew well.[2]

Positioned in the far north of France, on the Channel but facing the North Sea more than England, Dunkirk at that time had some 27,000 people, about six times more than the population of Nantucket. The city's medieval fortifications had been dismantled long before and the influence of the large Flemish and Spanish communities could be seen in the new houses being built by prosperous and cosmopolitan merchants, and their presence seen in the civil registrations, where more names were Flemish than French. Unlike Nantucket, Dunkirk had a healthy economy, based on the fishing and whaling industries and on the commerce derived from a variety of imports, such as sugar and cotton, from France's colonies.[3]

A Dunkirk ship owner and official translator, François Coffyn, had the idea of hiring expert whalers from Nantucket to help develop Dunkirk's whaling industry and expertise the better to exploit the new opportunities in the waters off Brazil. Remarkably, this man apparently is of no relation to the numerous Coffins of Nantucket and New Bedford, [4] but the happy coincidence of the similarity of his name may have acted in his favour when he made his proposal. William Rotch, a canny businessman of Nantucket, had been seeking ways to expand his whaling business. He had already established some of his whaling men and ships in Halifax, Nova Scotia but had failed in his negotiations to do the same in England. He readily agreed a deal with Coffyn to bring a number of American whalers to Dunkirk.[5]

With the supervision of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote many calculations as to the financial viability of the enterprise,[6] and with the aid and advice of Benjamin Franklin, who was representing America in France at the time, the deal was approved by both the French and the American governments. The whalers were granted the freedom to worship as Quakers in Catholic France, and were promised full exemption from military service. They were to receive a bounty per ton per ship, and were guaranteed the duty-free entry of their whale oil into France. They also won the privilege that every one of their vessels, though it might be manned by men from Dunkirk, would be captained by one of the "Nantucket men".[7]

Peleg Bunker, a Quaker in his late thirties, was among those "Nantuckois", as they became known to the French, who moved to Dunkirk, along with his son, Obed. They were leaving behind Peleg's wife, Lydia Gardner, and some ten children in their house on Trader's Lane in Nantucket.[8] For about nine years, both men sailed on whaling expeditions around the world, Peleg as captain of the Ardent, and Obed as captain of the Leverette.[9]

The events of the French Revolution and especially the Terror soon overwhelmed the pacifist Quakers. William Rotch and his son, Benjamin, along with one of France's few home-grown Quakers, Jean de Marsillac Lecointe, together wrote a petition to the French National Assembly in 1791 suggesting, rather naively, a non-violent approach to revolution and, practically, seeking to have their religious practices and privileges protected.

On the whole, their practical request was granted and their philosphy rejected. As the Revolution progressed to the Terror, life for dissenters, even those who were foreign, to any aspect of the Revolution became exceedingly dangerous.[10] Rotch the businessman may also have noted that the French revolutionary currency, the assignat, was worth only twenty per cent of its face value and of no value at all outside of France.[11] This would have devalued his business significantly if the bounties and oil purchases were paid in assignats. He and many of the Nantucketers abandoned Dunkirk to establish a new outpost in Wales with a business base in London, for he had finally succeeded in making a deal with Britain. Some of the group decided to return to Nantucket while some remained in France, but not Peleg. He went with Rotch to Britain.

From 1793, Peleg Bunker was sailing as the captain of the whaler, Falkland[12]. Though Bunker was living in and sailing from London in the employ of Rotch at the time,[13] his ship seems to have been registered with Rotch's business in Halifax.[14] Every voyage would have carried the risks of dangers not only from whaling and the elements but from Europe's wars that extended out onto the high seas.

The French Atlantic fleet had been much reduced by its loss in the sea battle that the victors call the "Glorious First of June" but her privateers were numerous and highly successful in their attacks on British shipping. The British Royal Navy kept a blockade of the French Atlantic coast, especially around the harbour of Brest, yet French naval vessels and privateers often managed to slip through the blockade. On every voyage out of and into the Channel, Peleg Bunker would have had to negotiate waters full of patrolling Royal Navy squadrons and the many French privateers that had slipped through the blockade. Almost certainly, he would have been stopped at sea often by Royal Navy vessels and would have had to show his ship's papers. To be caught by the French, however, meant being taken prisoner and sent to the nearest French port with his ship being sold as a prize.

Peleg Bunker must have been quite a skilled sailor as he was never caught by the French during the Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). He may have had sets of ship's registration papers and flags from different nations, perhaps both American and British papers. After his many years in France, it is reasonable to assume that he spoke French and knew her seafaring customs thoroughly. It is also reasonable to suspect that he had retained a set or two of French papers and flags as well. Showing false flags and carrying false papers was not at all condoned by the maritime laws of the day, yet it is hard to find an account of a vessel, whether contemporary, historical, or fictional, that did not have them.

In March of 1802, France and Britain signed the Treaty of Amiens, known generally at the time as "The Peace". It brought relief from the trials of war to the population of Britain, and many rushed to Paris to see just how much it had been changed by the Revolution. It would seem that Peleg Bunker had been visiting his family in Nantucket in about 1801. In early 1802, he sailed on a ship (whose name is lost) from the United States to Britain, where the owner then sold the ship.[15] In July, Bunker took a job as the chief mate on the William Bruce, an American snow built in 1798,[16] and registered in London.[17] She headed to the South Sea Whale Fishery, but the captain, Francis Baxter, died on the outward voyage and Bunker took command. The William Bruce worked the fishery for a year or more.[18] With a full cargo of oil, the William Bruce began the voyage back to London, under Captain Peleg Bunker. Like many who had been long at sea and in a region remote from Europe, he may not have known that The Peace had ended when the Treaty of Amiens expired in May of 1803, and France and Britain were again at war.

As the William Bruce sailed north (at 48.5N 15W, in the Atlantic, west of the Celtic Sea), she was captured, in October 1803, by the French privateer, the Vaillant, Captain Etienne, of Bordeaux, and was taken in to the Spanish port of Cadiz.[19] The Vaillant had had a successful cruise. She had left Bordeaux with a crew of 278 men and armed with twenty-two 18-pounder cannons and six 4-pounders. Her Letter of Marque was for six months. She captured the William Douglas, the Union, Bunker's William Bruce, and the valuable Cleopatra. [20]

It is not clear how Bunker arrived at Bordeaux; he may have been taken onto the capturing Vaillant or held on the William Bruce, which was taken from Cadiz to Bordeaux and sold. From there, he and his crew were marched to the prison depots, the crew to Givet and Bunker to Verdun.[21] Bunker's great-granddaughter wrote that they were marched "like cattle". The distance to Verdun was over 850 kilometers and would have taken about a month, marching under guard and with other prisoners, through the rain and snow as they worked their way north in the late autumn and early winter.

These brutal marches have been described by a number of British prisoners of war who afterward wrote accounts of their time in France.[22] The prisoners were marched from dawn to dusk, often chained together and occasionally with convicted felons being sent elsewhere. The marches were done in stages that were rather short in the beginning, until the prisoners became more used to walking all day, then grew longer. They rested at midday but there was not always food. They slept in local jails, dungeons or barns along the way. They were not given clothes or shoes and their own often wore out so that, when they arrived, they were in rags and barefoot. That December, Peleg Bunker turned fifty-six. Though he had lived a mariner's life and was certainly hardened to the elements, the march most likely weakened his health.[23]

Peleg Bunker was sent to Verdun, which held most British merchant captains. Almost immediately after Bunker arrived at Verdun, the American representative in Paris tried to help him. The United States Minister Plenipotentiary at the time was Robert Livingston, a wealthy New Yorker who had been very involved in the arrangements for the purchase of France's Louisiana territory by the United States. He wrote to the French Minister for War in March of 1804, asking that Bunker be removed from the list of English prisoners of war and released, on the grounds that he was a citizen of a country not at war with France.

He included a notarized copy of Peleg’s Seaman's Protection Certificate. The website of the Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea explains the importance of these certificates to their bearers: "In response to the impressment of American seamen by British ships, Congress passed an “Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen” in 1796. The Act required customs collectors to maintain a record of all United States citizens serving on United States vessels. Each seaman, once registered with the customs collector, was given a Seaman’s Protection Certificate. These certificates vouched for the citizenship of the individual and included identifying information such as age, height, complexion, place of birth, and in some cases eye and hair color. The intention of these certificates was to discourage impressment."[24] Bunker's Seaman's Protection Certificate, part of which survives in translation, states that he was born in Sherborn, Nantucket County, Massachusetts and was a citizen of the United States of America and that, in 1795, he was forty-seven years old.[25]

The French Minster for War responded to Livingston, writing that Captain Bunker “was captured on an enemy ship, on which he was working in the service of England" and that he must therefore "be considered a prisoner of war."[26] Bunker had sailed from London, in a vessel registered in London, and was returning with cargo bound for London. His nationality did not matter; in working for and trading with the enemy, he was -- so far as France was concerned -- the enemy. He remained a prisoner at Verdun.

During his captivity, he attempted to help at least one other American to gain his release having signed, in 1804, an affidavit confirming the American nationality of a Job LePrevost, of Philadelphia.[27] LePrevost had been the mate on the same Union that had been captured by the Vaillant shortly before she took the William Bruce. It is probable that LePrevost and Bunker had made the long and arduous march to Verdun together. Bunker's efforts came to nothing, for LePrevost was sent to a harsher prison at Sarrelibre (now Saarlouis).[28]

Peleg Bunker encountered a relative at Verdun, Christopher Bunker, also a merchant captain caught sailing a British whaler, the Kent. [29] Though the Bunkers had surely seen many sins in their travels, Verdun, that town of gambling and partying English detainees, or détenus (British civilians in France who had been rounded up and interned when hostilities broke out again in 1803), may yet have shocked the Quakers. Though the town itself was insignificant and fairly small, it then held hundreds of wealthy British gentry, their families, and their servants as well as an even larger number of British naval and merchant-service officers and seamen. The gentry, with their money and boredom, had inspired the locals to establish casinos, restaurants, cafes and brothels for the English. There were duels and balls, gentlemen's clubs and an endless supply of wine. The commandant in charge, Wirion, was outrageously corrupt, demanding bribes from all, punishing those who did not pay with solitary confinement or transfer to a more brutal prison. It took years for the numerous letters of complaint about him finally to be read by the Minister for War and proceedings against him were begun in 1810. Before they could proceed, Wirion shot himself.[30] The wealth brought to the people of Verdun by the prisoners was so great that other towns requested that they have a prison depot also.

In his two letters home, transcribed by his great-granddaughter, Lydia Bunker Gardner, Peleg Bunker spared his wife and made no mention of the people or conditions at Verdun. He wrote of his longing for release, for news of his family, and of his need for money. Two years after his capture, on the 22nd of December 1805, Peleg wrote to his "Dear Loving Wife" to say that he "had been very ill for five weeks with the fever and ague" but that he was well again. Illness weakened many of the prisoners. He went on to write that "Christopher Bunker hath been in the hospital for 6 weeks, but hath got the better of it and returned to the prison again."[31] (No letters home from Christopher Bunker have surfaced.) He wrote that the letters he had received from his sons, Obed and Tristram, gave him great consolation.

At some point, he was given permission to live in town, rather than in the overcrowded dungeons of the stone fortress, and he resided in rue de la Patrie, with a young tanner, Jean Joseph Nicolas.[32] On the 21st of January 1806, he wrote to one of his sons, identified only as "Captain Bunker" who had also been taken prisoner in France, saying that he was well, had received the money sent, and asking after others. A month later, he was dead.

He died in the tanner's house on the 24th of February 1806. His wife was named on his French death registration as Lidey [Lydia] Gardner. His place of origin was given as "Antiquet [Nantucket] en amérique" and his age as sixty-one. His parents are not named.[33] Afterward, his belongings were given to Christopher Bunker, identified by the French as "a relative of his".[34]  He had been a mariner and whaler all of his life, sailing from Nantucket, from France, from Great Britain and from Brazil. A merchant captain and a Quaker pacifist, he died far from home, a prisoner of a war in which his native country was not engaged.


(N.B. I would like to thank Professor Peter Clark and Dr. Brian Cooper for their invaluable assistance with research in British records and publications, and Gil Bunker for permission to reprint this article, much of which first appeared in the “Bunker Banner”.)


[1] Greene, Ralph, "Timothy Folger, 1732-1814 : Whaling Captain, Merchant, Loyalist", Newsletter of the Canadian Friends Historical Association, November 1978, no. 23, pp1-10,, accessed 27 April 2017.

[2] de Saint-Léger, A., La Flandre maritime et Dunkerque Sous la Domination Française (1659-1789) : Thèse de Doctorat Présentée à la Faculté des Lettres de l'Université de Lille, Paris : Tallandier, 1900, pp376-7 (e-book on The Internet Archive)

[3] Christian Pfister and Christine Harbion, "Le Siècle des Lumières", Dunkerque et Vous",, accessed 27 April 2017, no date.

[4] He was born in Dunkirk on the 6th of February 1742 to Joseph Coffyn and to Anne Jacqueline Vanacker, both "natives of this city". (See Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil (Parish and Civil Registers), microfilm no. 5 MI 027 R 018, "Dunkerque. Baptêmes 1741-1751", online image no. 118, Archives départementales du Nord:

[5] Van Hille, Jean-Marc. "Les baleiniers quakers du Nantucket à Dunkerque en 1786, un pionnier :William Rotch" (Synthèse d’une conférence faite à Bruxelles le 24 mai 2014) Acta Macionica, Vol. 24, 2014, p.3, ( : accessed 26 April 2017)

[6] See "Jefferson's Memoranda Concerning the American, British and French Fisheries", The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, eds. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney (Charlottesville, Virginia, 2008), accessed 26 April 2017.

[7] Wyer, Henry Sherman, ed; Hart, Joseph C, Spun-yarn from old Nantucket : consisting mainly of extracts from books now out of print, with a few additions, Nantucket : The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1914, p170, (Read on The Internet Archive)

[8] Gardner, Lydia Bunker, undated manuscript biography of Peleg Bunker, Edouard Stackpole Collection, Nantucket Historical Association Research Library and Archives, Nantucket, Massachusetts, hereinafter Gardner manuscript.

[9] Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers : And Their Voyages from 1815 to 1870, Nan-tucket : Hussey & Robinson, printers and publishers, 1876, p53. See also Du Pasquier, Jean-Thierry, Les baleiniers français de Louis XVI à Napoléon, Paris: H. Veyrier, 1990, p172.

[10] Louis, Jeanne H., "The Nantucket Quakers' Message as an Alternative to Benjamin Franklin's Message to the French Revolution", Quaker Studies, vol 5 issue1, article 2, pp15-16,, accessed 27 April 2017.

[11] Andress, David, The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution, Abacus, Little, Brown, 2005, p64.

[12] Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers, p172. See also, the Gardner manuscript.

[13] Gardner manuscript.

[14] Du Pasquier, Les baleiniers français , p170.

[15] Peleg Bunker dossier, Prisonniers de Guerre anglais (English Prisoners of War), Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, hereinafter POW dossier.

[16] "A snow... is a square rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast." See Wikipedia, referencing Hans Haalmeijer: Pinassen, fluiten en galjassen Uitgeverij De Alk B.V., Alkmaar, the Netherlands 2009.

[17] Clayton, Jane M., Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815, Hastings : Berforts Group Ltd, 2014, p246.

[18] There is a discrepancy on the dates; Clayton, p246, has the William Bruce in the South Seas until 1804, but Du Pasquier, p120, has her capture in October of 1803. Bunker was certainly in Verdun by March 1804, the date of the earliest document in his prisoner of war file.

[19] E-mail message from Brian Cooper, who discovered the Lloyd's Register mention of the capture, dated 20 December 1803, and in the Morning Post dated 21 December 1803.

[20] "Armenents en Courses, 5ème Arrondissement", code FF2/12, Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[21] E-mail message from Professor Peter Clark, creator of the database, "British Prisoners of Napoleon", 1 May 2017.

[22] See Donat Henchy O'Brien, My Adventures During the Late War..., New York : Edward Arnold, 1902, and John Tregerthen Short and Thomas Williams, Prisoners of War in France from 1804 to 1814..., London: Duckworth, 1914, (e-books on The Internet Archive)

[23] It must have been among the worst of such marches. Of the six seamen from the William Bruce, all sent to Givet, three died in the spring of 1804: Robert Osborn and Edward Kendle, both of Cornwall, and Richard Richardson of Norfolk. William (surname unknown), the only American, died in April of 1806. The remaining two, James Barnet of Gravesend and William Rabsen, seem to have survived. I am indebted to Professor Peter Clark for this information from his database, "British Prisoners of Napoleon", quoting the Admiralty files in The National Archives (Kew) nos. ADM 103/467/1 and 2. The French records do not confirm these deaths for online deaths registers of Givet do not show them.

[24] Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea, Collections & Research, Registers of Seamen’s Protection Certificates,

[25] Peleg Bunker POW dossier

[26] Peleg Bunker POW dossier and the Gardner manuscript.

[27] Job LePrevost dossier, Prisonniers de Guerre anglais (English Prisoners of War), Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[28] Prisonniers de Guerre Anglais, code: Yj29, Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[29] "Tribunal de Commerce - Armements en Course, Liquidations Particulières, 1804-1814", code 6U1/247, Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime, Rouen.

[30] Lewis, Michael, Napoleon and His British Captives, London : George Allen & Unwin, 1962, pp 126-134.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Verdun. Meuse, Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil (Parish and Civil Registers), 1806, décès de Peleg Bunker (death of Peleg Bunker) 25 février 1806 (25 February 1806), code 2E558 (52), digital image, Archives départementales de la Meuse,, accessed 6 April 2017.

[33] Ibid.

[34] "Etat des effets et argent Provenant l'inventaire d'officiers ou autres prisonniers de guerre anglais décédés en France" (List of effects and money Belonging to officers or others English prisoners who died in France), Prises et Prisonniers de Guerre, (Prizes and Prisoners of War) FF2, SHD.

[35] Gardner manuscript.

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 15 - The Case Study

Researching Mariners

Peleg Bunker


French Documentation

As might be expected, the French had a great deal of documentation on Peleg Bunker and on the capture of his vessel. Firstly, the naval records in the Archives de la Marine record the capture by the Vaillant, in a large table of privateers sent out from Bordeaux between the month of prairial Year XI and prairial Year XIII [May 1803 to May 1805], detailing their owners, costs and captures, if any.


Armements of Privateers

Source: Armements en Courses, 5e arrondissement, Quartier de Bordeaux. Archives de la Marine. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, FF2/11

Vaillant closeup

In the closeup above, it can be seen that the Vaillant, Captain Etienne, captured four English vessels:

  • the William Douglas
  • the Union
  • the William Bruce
  • the Cleopatra

This supports the British Times list that also gave Peleg Bunker's vessel as the William Bruce.


Bunker - file cover

Source: Dossier Peleg Bunker, Prisonniers de guerre anglais, Archives de la Ministre de Guerre. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes Yj40

The Ministry of War maintained a file on the prisoner Peleg Bunker, though it contains only six documents, including a French translation of the notarized copy of his Seaman's Protection Certificate, shown here and followed by the English version found in the U.S. Minister to Paris Diplomatic Dispatches, which had been returned to the Minister, Livingston, by Dejean, when he wrote that permission to release Peleg Bunker had been refused.

P Bunker SPC FrenchSource: Dossier Peleg Bunker, Prisonniers de guerre anglais, Archives de la Ministre de Guerre. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes Yj40

P Bunker SPC English 1

P Bunker SPC English 2Source: United States Department of State, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789-1906, Vol. 9. Microfilm copy, 1958, roll 250 Mi 5. (Seen in the Archives nationales de France, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine), Letter dated 30 April 1804

It states that "Captain Peleg Bunker" was

  • Aged forty-seven "December last"
  • A native of Cherborn [Sherborne] in the county of Nantucket, Massachusetts
  • A subject of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • A citizen of the United States of America

It is signed by Abner Coffin or Coffyn, notary public in Sherborn, on the 27th of April 1795.

The other documents in the dossier include a letter from Livingston, requesting Bunker's release, and the Ministry of War memos discussing the response.


Civil registrations were fairly new in France at that time, having been instituted about fifteen years earlier, but they were thorough. Peleg Bunker's death registration can be found online on the website of the Departmental Archives of Meuse, where Verdun and its prison were located.

1806 Bunker death registrationSource:  Verdun,  Actes d’état civil,  Décès 1806, no. 161.  AD Meuse,

While French death registrations almost never give a cause of death, they do give a fair amount of information for the purposes of identity, much of it very useful to the genealogist. The death registration above states that Peleg Bunker, English prisoner of war:

  • Died on the 24th of February 1806 at Verdun
  • Was aged sixty-one
  • Was born in "Antiquet" [Nantucket] in America
  • Was the spouse of Lydie Gardner
  • Was a captain of a merchant vessel


Scattered among the French naval records are various loose lists about the British prisoners of war. One of these, dated 1810, four years after Peleg Bunker died, has his name on it.

1810 List of deceasedSource: "Etat des effets et d’argent en provenance....."Archives de la Marine. Service Historique de la Défense Vincennes FF2/10

It gives his name, date of death, place of birth, profession, all as stated in the other documents. Additionally, it states that his personal effects were given to another prisoner, a Christopher Bunker, who was "a relative". 

This concludes the case study. The narrative of Peleg Bunker's life, captivity and death, based on this and more general research, will appear in the next post and ends this series. 

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 14 - The Case Study

Researching Mariners


Peleg Bunker

Peleg Bunker was a Quaker from Nantucket and one of the whalers who worked for William Rotch. He is not obscure, so mentions of him in published works appear on Internet searches, including but not limited to the following:

Published Sources

  • Nantucket Doorways by Edward A. Stackpole and Christopher B. Summerfield, 1992
  • Why Nantucket Quakers? by Robert J. Leach and Willard C. Heiss, 1979
  • The History of Nantucket: county, island, and town, including... by Alexander Starbuck, 1969
  • Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers: and Their Voyages from 1815 to 1870, Hussey & Robinson, printers, 1876
  • Whales and Destiny: the Rivalry Between America, France and Britain... by Edward A. Stackpole, 1972
  • Les Baleiniers français, de Louis XVI à Napoléon by Thierry Du Pasquier, 1990
  • Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815... by Jane M. Clayton

American Documentation

Edward A. Stackpole Collection, 1750-1990 (the author of two of the above books)
Manuscripts Collection
Research Library & Archives
Nantucket Historical Association

The main source for biographical information is the “sketch” of his life by Peleg Bunker's great-granddaughter, Lydia Bunker Gardner. However, the letters from Peleg are her copies and the account of his capture by the French is hers, as told to her and written many years after the fact.

Peleg Bunker LetterSource: Edward A. Stackpole Collection, 1750-1990, Manuscripts Collection, Research Library & Archives, Nantucket Historical Association

Lydia Bunker Gardner wrote in her sketch that:

  • Peleg Bunker was a whaling captain from Nantucket
  • During the American Revolution, Bunker took his family to New York state, and returned to Nantucket and to whaling when the war ended
  • He then worked for William Rotch in London
  • During the Napoleonic Wars, while sailing the Falkland, an English whaler, Bunker was "captured in the English Channel by the French"
  • He was marched to Verdun prisoner of war camp with the Falkland's officers and men
  • He spent five years in the camp
  • The United States government made "every effort...for their release"
  • "Appeals were sent to Bonaparte from the Friends Society, of which Peleg Bunker was a member" for his release
  • Upon receiving the news of his release, "the joy of it... was too much for Peleg Bunker...and he died instantly...."

The copied letters, one to Peleg's wife and one to an unnamed son, are dated 1805 and 1806; both are from Verdun. They mention:

  • A Christopher Bunker who had been in hospital but was recovered and returned to prison
  • That Peleg had received two letters from his sons, Obed and Tristan
  • That Benjamin Hussey in Dunkirk was the person through whom Peleg's wife could send letters to him

This is a lovely summary of his life, career, capture and death but, as will be seen, there are a couple of discrepancies. Yet, this is the source used by the authors of some of the published materials that mention Peleg Bunker.


Peleg Bunker 1804 letter p1

Peleg Bunker 1804 letter p2

Source: United States Department of State, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789-1906, Vol. 9. Microfilm copy, 1958, roll 250 Mi 5. (Seen in the Archives nationales de France, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine), Letter dated 4 March 1804

Among the microfilmed diplomatic dispatches, we find  copies of letters from Peleg Bunker himself, asking the American Minister to France to intercede on his behalf. In the letter above, Bunker states that:

  • He arrived in England from America during the Peace [of Amiens, 1802-3]
  • The ship he had arrived on was sold [leaving him with no return voyage]
  • He took a job as Chief Mate on an English ship sailing to the South Seas
  • During the voyage, the Master died and he assumed command
  • He was captured on the return voyage as his ship was entering the English Channel, by the French privateer, the Vaillant, of Bordeaux
  • He encloses a notarized copy of his Seaman's Protection Certificate by way of proof of his American nationality [not filmed at this point but later]

Captain Bunker is bending the truth a bit here, as we shall see. He implies that he was a mate and seaman, when he had been a master for some years. He implies that he had simply taken a job on an English vessel when he had been sailing for Rotch's English whaling companies exclusively for at least ten years. It is true that the master on his vessel died and he assumed command, and it is true that his ship was captured by the Vaillant.

It is apparent that the Minister in Paris, Robert R. Livingston, wrote to the French authorities claiming Peleg Bunker as an American citizen who should be released, for the reply, dated the 30th of April, appears in the dispatches. The Director of Administration in the Ministry of War wrote to Livingston: 

"As Captain Bunker...was taken while sailing under the British flag and in the service of England, it is the intention of the First Consul [Napoleon] that he be considered as a prisoner of war." 

From this, it would appear that Peleg's great-granddaughter was mistaken that he died of joy at having been released.

British Documentation

Though American by birth, Bunker was sailing a British vessel, he was considered to be a British prisoner of war by the French. He was also considered to be one of their own by the British,  and appears in some British documentation. The Times newspaper lists him, as do the Admiralty records on prisoners in France.

Peleg Bunker in the TimesSource: The Times, London, England, 5 June 1804, no. 6041, p. 3, col. 3, ;

The Times printed a list on the 5th of June 1804 of masters of British vessels who were alive and well in French prisons (above). It included a P. Bunker, master of the vessel William Bruce, of London, not the Falkland. In fact, no Falkland appears on the list.


Bunker death in ADM registerSource : Register of Deaths for British POWs 1794-1814, ADM 103/631 frame 278, TNA,

The Admiralty received reports from the French about the deaths of prisoners of war. These are available on The page above shows the death of Peleg Bunker, capitaine marchand, or captain in the merchant marine, at Verdun on the 24th or 25th of February 1806. 


Bunker closeup


The next post continues the case study with the French documentation on Peleg Bunker.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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