Anne Morddel, American Merchant Seamen of the Early Nineteenth Century: A Researchers Guide. Self-published, 2020. ISBN-13 : 979-1096085095, 105 pages, $14.95 USD.
By Kelsey Power
In American Merchant Seamen of the Early Nineteenth Century: A Researcher’s Guide, Anne Morddel sets out to accomplish the ambitious goal of providing new researchers with a comprehensive guide to tracing individual sailors in the archives. As she explains in the introduction, this is sometimes a difficult prospect, given that sailors were, by definition, travellers. However, as the guide asserts, and proves, this rich vein of research is well supported by detailed records, and the tools needed to do this research are both accessible and attainable to interested parties, with or without academic training.
She begins with a brief explanation of the various conflicts with which American merchant seamen might have been concerned and shows how these conflicts may have shaped the lives of sailors. She lays out the information: Name, Shipmaster, and Vessel type when following a ship; and name, place of birth, and date of birth when tracing a person, with which it is best to start and then describes the extensive archives available as well as how to access them. The bulk of the book is taken up with the descriptions of what is available in the archives, and the final portion is devoted to two case studies to show how documents found therein might be used in a practical manner. The instructions are very clear and do a wonderful job of displaying the embarrassment of riches available to the determined scholar, whilst not overwhelming the novice.
Though Morddel limits her work to primarily addressing other genealogists like herself, the book stands alongside other research guides and archive catalogues like the indispensable ‘A Guide to the Naval Records in the National Archives of the UK’ by Nicholas Rodgers and Randolph Cock. Though not the same in scope, both books provide tangible evidence of the particular challenges of archival research, and add some legibility to the sometimes opaque organisational principles of the archive. This makes the book useful not just to genealogists, but also to academic researchers getting to grip with the subject matter, or using a micro-historical approach. Additionally, the guide could serve as a valuable teaching tool for introducing students to the creative problem solving necessary for research in the archive. Problem solving is part and parcel with the format of the book, and it both sparks ideas as to how the documents might be used, as well as how to find them.
The book includes a Selected Bibliography with an excellent selection of texts on both general history of the period, and specific works on American Merchant Seamen. My own research into prisoners of war in the Napoleonic Wars, does however, prompt me to say that though it includes the interesting narrative by Stephen Clubb (prisoner of war in France), the list is missing more general and perhaps helpful works on prisoners of war. Given that many of Morddel’s own examples were at one time prisoners, the complexity of the period’s prisoner of war camps and depots should perhaps be better explained. Of particular interest to researchers on American prisoners, is Paul Chamberlain’s ‘Hell Upon Water: Prisoners of War in Britain, 1793-1815’, Clive L. Lloyd’s ‘A History of Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War, 1756-1816’ and Michael Lewis’ ‘Napoleon and his British Captives’.  Though none focus exclusively on Americans, or merchant sailors, they include such useful tidbits as the French practice of separating merchant captains of vessels over eighty tons into the Verdun depot, and placing the remaining merchant seamen and officers in the depots for the ‘common’ sailors. As the care of prisoners evolved over the early nineteenth century, this general information can help in sussing out where to look and what kind of information can be obtained.
Overall, the book is an excellent introduction that succeeds in accomplishing its goal of providing an accessible gateway to the overlooked study of American Merchant Seamen.
Chamberlain, Paul. Hell Upon Water: Prisoners of War in Britain 1793-1815. 1st ed. Stroud: The History Press, Spellmount Publishers Ltd., 2008.
Clubb, Stephen. A Journal; Containing an Account of the Wrongs, Sufferings, and Neglect, Experienced by Americans in France, n.d.
Cock, Randolph, and N. A. M. Rodger, eds. A Guide to the Naval Records in the National Archives of the UK. 2nd ed. London Institute of Historical Research and The National Archives of the UK, 2008.
Lewis, Michael. Napoleon and His British Captives. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1962.
Lloyd, Clive J. The History of the Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War 1756-1816: Hulk, Depot and Parole. Antique Collector’s Club Ltd., 2007.
 Cock and Rodger, A Guide to the Naval Records in the National Archives of the UK.
 Stephen Clubb’s claim to American citizenship is somewhat dubious, as he was born in Britain and married to an American woman. He was captured by the French after taking ship to America, and was classed not as a passenger but as a sailor, as he was paying for his passage by working on board. While a fascinating example of just how fluid national loyalties could be at the time, as well as how British sailors could leverage or falsify an American identity, it is perhaps less helpful for researchers who are looking for clues as to how their American-born ancestors experienced captivity.
 Clubb, A Journal; Containing an Account of the Wrongs, Sufferings, and Neglect, Experienced by Americans in France.
 Chamberlain, Hell Upon Water: Prisoners of War in Britain 1793-1815; Lloyd, The History of the Napoleonic and American Prisoners of War 1756-1816: Hulk, Depot and Parole; Lewis, Napoleon and His British Captives.