The United States Consular Service was established on 14 April 1792, as a branch of the State Department, to promote American commerce and protect American interests abroad. President George Washington, in his address to the first Congress, stated that “the patronage of our Commerce, of our merchants and seamen, called for the appointment of consuls in foreign countries.” Consular officers were public officials appointed by the government, residing in foreign lands to perform administrative and judicial functions for the benefit of American citizens residing there. A Consul was usually assigned to every major port. Occasionally some large or exceptionally active ports might also have a Deputy Consul. Consular Agents served smaller ports or islands that might fall within a larger district. Commercial Agents were often equal in rank to a Consul, but were not appointed by the President. Instead they were commissioned by the State Department as “executive agents sent abroad for the promotion and advancement of commercial interests.” These Commercial Agents were frequently businessmen with their own interests at the ports where they were assigned. They were often found in places where formal diplomatic relations between that nation and the United States were not established or required. In 1856 there were approximately 200 Consuls, 85 Consular Agents, and 19 Commercial Agents employed by the State Department at ports throughout the world. The selection of certificates included here, in addition to some others found elsewhere in this book, should provide a useful source for understanding the role played by the Consular Service in the conduct of American shipping in foreign lands.
This generic Consular Certificate was used to indicate that the ship Juno of Bristol, Rhode Island, received 10 carriage guns at the Port of Liverpool in 1801. Whether for protection or to privateer against the French, Juno was armed with the knowledge and consent of the United States government. Certificate contains the signature of the U.S. Consul and the customary consular seal.
Certificate of Delivery of Ship’s Papers, indicating that the ship’s papers have been returned to the master of an American vessel at a foreign port. This usually plain, printed document varied in she and style, but displayed the consular seal, and often stated the charge for deposit and delivery of the papers. Certificates like this are fairly common in collections of maritime manuscripts.
This Certificate of Deposit for Ship’s Papers was given to masters of American vessels, indicating receipt of the required ship’s papers. The papers were held by the Consul until the vessel had cleared and was ready to depart. This printed form varied in size and style, but often included Consular seal and signature of the official issuing the document. This document contains the signature of a Vice Consul, acting in a temporary capacity during the absence of a Consul.
Part of a ship’s expenses in foreign ports was for particular services provided by the resident consular authority. Before departure, a bill for these services was presented to the master. The consular official’s signature acknowledged receipt of payment and the date received. The examples illustrated above show the variety of forms, services, and charges at various ports during the late 1850s. Also, each consular officer was required at this time to number all receipts given by him, in order of their date, but only the Honolulu document carries this number, i.e. #217.