American Maritime Documents, 1776-1860 - Stein, Douglas L.
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Printed document of various sizes, 19" x 16" was often used. Common format included an engraved scene with four sailing vessels near shore, centered at the top of the certificate, "United States" was engraved vertically along the right margin. The signatures of the collector or deputy collector, and the port surveyors are usually present, as are various customs or consular seals.
The basic format for a Certificate of Registry was established by an Act of 31 December 1792, which prescribed numerous regulations for American shipping. The document was issued throughout the customs districts, to any American owned and built vessel over 20 tons, employed in foreign trade. It contained the vessel name, as well as the names of the owners and master. A physical description of the vessel was also included, along with the name of the place where she was built. A new Registration and a REgister Bond was required whenever the vessel was physically altered (re-rigged, new deck house, etc.), or when her ownership changed. Permanent Registrations could only be secured at the vessel's official hailing port, although temporary certificates were issued when needed, by other customs districts. Registers, and Enrolment Certificates, were made out in triplicate. One copy was given to the master for use aboard the vessel. A second copy was kept by the collector at the customhouse, while the third was sent to the treasury Department. A number, usually found near the top of the document, complied with the 1792 Act, which required that each permanent and temporary certificate issued be numbered progressively, beginning anew each year. Ship's Registers were considered evidence of "national character," and most American vessels that qualified carried one. The document might be considered as serving the same general purpose as your automobile registration. They are fairly common maritime documents, although the fact that they were to be surrendered when no longer valid limits their numbers somewhat in private collections. They can provide valuable information for anyone involved in the study of a vessel's history and management.