What is this?
Seaman’s Protection Certificate for James Reed, Jr.
When is it from?
December 21, 1814
Why is it Important?
On May 28, 1796, “An Act for the Protection and Relief of American Seaman” was passed by Congress. This act provided certificates for sailors as proof of their United States citizenship, and was intended to help protect American sailors from the British practice of impressment, or the seizing of seamen for service in the Royal Navy.
The certificate was obtained from a customs collector for a service fee of 25 cents if the sailor could provide some type of proof of citizenship â€“ often a notarized affidavit, signed by the sailor and a witness, which spoke to the sailor’s American citizenship. The certificate was then filled out and signed by a customs collector, and contained a brief physical description of the individual, including any distinguishing scars or tattoos. In the case of James Reed, Jr., he was twenty three years old, 5′ 4 ¼”, with a light complexion, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and had a scar on the third finger of his right hand.
Because of the ease by which one could acquire a certificate, they were sometimes disregarded by the British as invalid. Any sailor believed by a boarding officer to be British could be taken, resulting in the impressment of American and other foreign citizens into the Royal Navy. The frequency of these occurrences increased in the early nineteenth century as Britain, embroiled in war against France, became increasingly desperate for able-bodied seamen to man its ships; the considerable tension caused by this practice played a key role in the decision to declare war in June of 1812.
Paper document measuring 8″ by 6 ¾” mounted on board. The paper has crease marks, some staining, and contains the Seal of the Plymouth Custom House in the bottom left corner.
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