In 1796, President George Washington and the 4th Congress passed an “Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen.” This act would be a step towards curtailing the impressment of American sailors by Britain or other foreign powers into their navies. Provision was made for a legal document called an “impressment protection certificate” and would plainly state as follows in Section 4 of the act:
“I, (first and last name of state official), collector of the district of (municipality), do hereby certify, that (first and last name of applicant), aged (x) years, or thereabouts, of the height of (x) feet (x) inches, [ describing the said seaman as particular as may be] has, this day, produced to me proof in the manner directed in the act, intituled “An act for the relief and protection of American seamen;” and pursuant to the said act, I do hereby certify, that the said (first and last name of applicant) is a citizen of the United States of America: In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal of office, this day (x) of (x).”
The state official is to preserve a copy of this document and proofs of citizenship for the records. An applicant would pay twenty-five cents for this service. Several extant examples of these have survived and are all different to a degree. Some certificates had more printed words and some more handwritten but all were compliant and legal if they followed the text above to the necessary extent.
• Andrew Boteler, born in Maryland, USA.
5’-4” in height, 28 years of age
Notarized by John Keese in the State of New York on May 11th, 1796.
• William Smith, born in New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
6’-1” in height, 32 years of age, light complexion, light hair, light eyes
Signed by collector Samuel Bishop in the State of Connecticut on November 7th, 1801.
• Joseph S. Foster, born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, USA.
5’-7” in height, 18 years of age, dark complexion
Signed by collector William R. Lee in the State of Massachusetts on November 24th, 1806.
• Henry Shapely, Jr., born in Gospers, New Hampshire, USA.
5’-5 3/8” in height, 30 years of age, dark complexion, grey eyes
Signed by collector Joseph Whipple in the State of New Hampshire on May 13th, 1808.
• William Skiddy, born in Westchester County, New York, USA.
5’-3@ ‘/2” in height, 16 years of age, light complexion, light hair
Signed by collector David Gelston in the State of New York on June 5th, 1810.
• Joseph Gladding, born in Westchester County, New York, USA.
5’-8” in height, 21 years of age, “pesh” complexion, dark hair, blue eyes, moles on right cheek and left arm
Signed by collector Charles Collins in the State of Rhode Island on February 6th, 1812.
To see more records of Impressment Protection Certificates, check out the Registers of Seaman’s Protection Certificates database at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut: https://research.mysticseaport.org/databases/protection/
1796 Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/United_States_Statutes_at_Large/Volume_1/4th_Congress/1st_Session/Chapter_36
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