During the War of 1812, the conflict which occurred between the British and Americans from 1812 to 1815, an Act of Congress authorized the Secretary of State to issue letters of marque to privately owned armed vessels permitting, in effect, legalized privateering. The owners of merchant vessels filed applications for the commissions with the State Department or with Collectors of Customs who had the authority to issue such commissions. The Collectors, in turn, forwarded abstracts of the commissions they had issued, along with the original applications, to the State Department.
During the war, the State Department also issued permits for aliens to leave the country, and received reports on aliens, prisoners of war, the impressment of seamen, and secret agents. The State Department had the responsibility for negotiating the peace treaty in 1814.
The Papers are available electronically, see Finding Aid section.The Papers contain a variety of documents received by the Department of State, Collectors of Customs, and U.S. Marshals preceding and during the War of 1812. Subjects covered relevant to the American government's involvement in the War of 1812 include letters of marque, privateering, enemy aliens, prisoners of war, passenger lists, passports, espionage, and intercepted correspondence; as well as natives.
Reel 1: Letters received concerning Letters of Marque, 1812-1814. The documents in this collection were sent during the War of 1812 to the Secretary of State, James Munroe, in Washington. Types of documents include applications for letters of marque (most in written letter form and printed forms from New York); letters from Collectors of Customs in American ports, often requesting more blank letters of marque; abstracts of letters of marque given by Collectors during a given time period; and instructions for privateers, such as flag signals. Note that the documents are not in chronological or geographical order. Some documents were sent directly to the Secretary of State, while other were forwarded by Collectors of Customs at ports such as Beaufort, South Carolina; New York, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Fairfield, Connecticut; New London, Connecticut; Salem, Massachusetts; Boston, Massachusetts; Oswegatchie, New York; Savannah, Georgia; Edenton, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; Ipswich, Massachusetts; and Penobscot, Maine. The largest amount of material comes from New York, Baltimore, Boston, Savannah, and New Orleans.
Reel 1 also contains Letters received regarding enemy aliens, 1812-1814. These letters were received by the Department of State from U.S. marshals, enemy aliens, and others regarding the status of aliens in the United States and the consideration of their cases by U.S. authorities.Reel 2: United States marshals' returns of enemy aliens and prisoners of war, Part 1, 1812-1815. The lists usually show for each alien his name, age, and occupation; residence in the United States; and family members. Also included are receipts from the British Consul in Boston for prisoners; some lists of prisoners of war; and a copy of the "The Case of Alien Enemies", 1813.
Reel 3: United States marshals' returns of enemy aliens and prisoners of war, Part 2, 1812-1815
Reel 4: Requests for permission to sail from the United States, 1812-1814
Passenger lists of outgoing vessels, 1812-1814. They show the name and nationality of each person and sometimes occupation, age, date of arrival in the United States, and physical description.
Reel 5: Correspondence regarding passports, 1812-1814
Reel 6: Agreements for the exchange of prisoners of war, 1812, 1813. A copy of an agreement made at Halifax, Nova Scotia, November 28, 1812, between Great Britain and the United States for the exchange of naval prisoners.
Miscellaneous letters received concerning the release of prisoners, 1812-1815. These letters were received by the President, the Secretary of State, and others concerning the release of impressed seamen and the exchange of prisoners of war.
Reports of William Lambert, secret agent, 1813, concerning movements of the enemy in Maryland between Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River.
Memorandum regarding the proper dress for a United States minister.
Reel 7: Miscellaneous intercepted correspondence, 1789-1814 (espionage). Intercepted British military correspondence; correspondence of British military officers relating principally to Indian affairs on the U.S.-Canadian frontier; intercepted correspondence of the British Foreign Office; and intercepted private letters.