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Civil War Admiralty Case Files

Southern District of New York - Admiralty Prize Case Files

NARA Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 1814-

Scope and Content: Prize law is that part of international law which concerns the capture of enemy property by a belligerent at sea during war. In the United States the Judiciary Act of 1789 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of “Glass v. The Sloop Betsey,” (3 Dall. 6) in 1794 conferred all the powers of a court of admiralty “both instance and prize” on the district courts of the United States. The prize jurisdiction was expressly sanctioned by Congress in the Prize Act of June 26, 1812 (2 Stat. 759), which regulated the issue of commissions and letters of marque to private armed vessels of the United States and provided for the adjudication of prizes in the Federal district courts.

This database is an index to letters that were confiscated in the Civil War Prize Cases. The letters are of a personal and business nature (many between Southern and Northern family members) that were captured on ships trying to run the Union blockade of Southern ports. The database contains the names of the writer and recipient; date; place of origin; ship; and a summary of the letter’s content. What’s especially interesting is that these letters were never delivered. Many of them tell of personal mishaps and deaths in the family that were never received by the intended party. To find out what information may be available, and how to obtain it, contact:

National Archives at New York
One Bowling Green, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10004
Phone: 212-401-1620
Fax: 212-401-1638

This database contains an index to letters confiscated during the Civil War. Below you can search for the names of the writer and recipient, date, place of origin, ship, or the letter’s content.

NOTE: Words to Search for can be surnames, ship names, or any other words. Individual words can be partial words ending with an * (asterisk) as a wildcard. It will NOT work if the asterisk begins a word, only if it’s at the end of one. A phrase can be something like “Bill of Exchange” or “This letter is”.

Please note: this search may take 30-60 seconds to conclude depending upon your results.