Nathaniel Mayo: Documenting an American Merchant Seaman of the Early Nineteenth Century


  • Anne Morddel


Early nineteenth century American merchant seamen roamed the Atlantic World and many are well documented in the libraries and archives of the countries warring around the Atlantic at the time, as well as in the archives and papers of the American consuls in those countries. This study is of one seaman, Nathaniel Mayo of Massachusetts. Town records and the Federal census give little more than his name and that he was a seaman. However, French archives reveal that he was a mate on a vessel evading the strictures of the Embargo Act, was captured and became a prisoner of war. Consular papers contain letters from him and his father. State Department correspondence and French archives both show that he was on the crew of the privateer, the True-Blooded Yankee, while British archives describe his imprisonment in England. Court and prize records in Massachusetts show that he returned home to make a claim for his prize money. Hundreds more American seamen appear in Atlantic World records and archives; studying them could shed quite a lot of light on their hitherto anonymous lives.