Indexes to the Protection Certificate Registers

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NARA, Northeast Region    Protection Certificates    Genealogical Fallout from the War of 1812: Dixon, Ruth.

Seamen's Protection Certificate Register Database

The data (sailor names, ages, birth and residences places) included on these pages is taken from the original "Registers of Seamen's Protection Certificates" issued at the Custom Houses of Fall River, Gloucester, New Haven, New London, Newport, Marblehead, and Salem. There are entries for 31,047 certificates issued from 1796-1871.

The original records are in the possession of NARA, Northeast Region, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Copies of pages for the New London Protection Register are available from Mystic Seaport's, G. W. Blunt White Library. Any requests for information about the original documents should be referred to:

National Archives at Boston
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, MA 02452-6399

Toll Free Phone: (866) 406-2379
Web Site:


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. Although important documents it appears that seaman often misplaced theirs. At the very least there are several issued in consecutive years to what appear to be issued to the same person.

Glossary and Explanations

  • Surnames and first names were transcribed by our volunteers and employees exactly as they were written in the register. Thus abbreviations for first names remain. A question mark is included if there was any doubt about the letters. Because of this, conducting searches for exact names is not very practical.
  • Age represents the age of the seaman at the time the protection certificate was applied for.
City, State:
  • City and state indicate the place of birth. State abbreviations have been normalized to represent modern day conventions. Where possible city, state and county names were spelled correctly even if misspelled in the Register. In instances where the spelling is either too illegible or mysterious, names have been entered as written.
  • Information is transcribed as entered in the original register. Complexion was not always noted, but when noted we have retained the historical terminology. It has also been noted that complexion was a subjective term. The same seaman could be variously listed as dark one year and black the next.
Port Issued:
  • Port is the location of the Custom House.
Certificate Number:
  • Certificates were numbered concecutively by port. At certain times these numbers ran through several years, at other times the sequence started over each year.
Certificate Date:
  • Date is the date the certificate was issued. Blanks indicate an absence of information in the register, or the inability of the transcribed to read the information.