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Seamen's Protection Certificate

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Martha's Vineyard Museum

A document carried by an American seaman as proof of citizenship. It contained the person's name, birthplace, approximate age, height, skin color, hair and eye color and distinctive descriptive information, such as tattoos and scars. A seaman would obtain this certificate at a Customs House, a public notary, or U.S. Consul, for a fee of twenty five cents. The Certificate often had "United States of America" printed across the top, and the word "protection" might also appear. Small engravings of the American eagle often served to decorate and show the nationality of the document. It included wording from the Act of 1796 and a serial number was included on each one for record keeping purposes. It was similar to passports that travelers carry today.

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