Family Tree Friday: Who were the Sea Fencibles in the War of 1812?

With all the hype ramping up for the approaching 150th anniversary of the Civil War next year, which is expected to continue over the next five years, I’ve heard a few concerns that another major milestone might be overshadowed–the bicentennial in 2012 of the beginning of the War of 1812!  Lest we forget about our second but sometimes lesser known military contest against Great Britain–the “Second War of American Independence” in which the United States confirmed its status as an independent nation on the international stage–I thought it would be useful to highlight one of the least known military units that served in that conflict: the Sea Fencibles.

Sometimes known more formally as the Corps of Sea Fencibles of the United States, these servicemen were special volunteer naval artillery militia that served on both land and floating batteries to protect ports, harbors, and other vital coastal areas (since most Fencibles came from some type of maritime background, they already knew these areas intimately, making them very effective in a defensive capacity).  Patterned after contemporary British units in the Napoleanic wars, the Sea Fencibles were established by an act of Congress on July 26, 1813 and served until disbanded on June 15, 1815.  Eventually 10 companies of Fencibles fought during the war.

Because the Sea Fencibles were considered U.S. Volunteers, they fell under the immediate authority of the War Department despite the unique seaborne aspect of their duties.  Therefore, their service information is located in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917.  Information about compiled service records are included in the series “Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: War of 1812” (ARC ID 300392).  Related muster and payrolls are located in the series “Muster Rolls of Volunteer Organizations: War of 1812” (ARC ID 654644).  If you believe one of your ancestors may have served in this unique military unit during the War of 1812, be sure to check out more information online!

5 thoughts on “Family Tree Friday: Who were the Sea Fencibles in the War of 1812?

  1. My 4th (gggg) grandfather, Eleazer Bell, volunteered as a Sea Fencibles in the War of 1812. He volunteered and joined in Marion County, Mississippi, I believe. He lived in Pike County, Mississippi, at that time. How can I obtain a copy of his military record in the War of 1812? Thanks so much for your assistance.

    1. Hi Clarence,

      You can very easily order your ancestor’s War of 1812 service record by filling out NATF form 86. The form is available in pdf format to download on NARA’s web site at Where it asks the unit in which he served, just put Sea Fencibles, U.S. Volunteers.

      – John

  2. Thanks, John. I completed NATF Form 86 yesterday, after I was unable to navigate through the various Links on the Archives Website to find anything on my gggg grandfather’s service record. I’m not very good at using the Archives site and all of the many selections and links offered therein. Thanks for you assistance.

  3. To clarify matters, the U.S. Sea Fencibles were emphatically not militia. They were full-time soldiers in federal service and had nothing to do with any of the state or territorial militia organizations. At that time, however, the qualifications to be considered a regular were stringent: the unit had to be considered a permanent part of the Army, and the individual enlistment for a minimum of five years. Also, I have never seen any convincing evidence that more than five of the authorized ten companies ever actually existed. Two companies participated in the defence of Baltimore in Sept. 1814. Legislation subsequent to the authorizing act provided for these troops to be fully equipped with muskets, accoutrements, knapsacks & canteens for service on foot, as well as in boats or shore batteries.
    There did also exist during the War of 1812 quite a few militia units, especially in New England, who called themselves sea fencibles. New York had a whole militia battalion of sea fencibles, up to 1,000 strong, who manned gunboats as well as artillery batteries around New York Harbor.

    1. For the record, there were indeed militia companies of Sea Fencibles, according to actual records in the National Archive. My 5th Grt Grandfather was a Mariner, Hyde Co., NC, as was his son, my 4th Grt Grandfather. In 1810, he moved out to the Mississippi Territory and established a large plantation. When the Government solicited volunteers with mariner training and experience for the Sea Fencibles in the War of 1812, my Grandfather filed his application in Marion Co., MS and promptly returned to Hyde County where he was enrolled in a company of Sea Fencibles assigned to Beacon Island at the Ocracoke Inlet on the Outer Banks of NC. He served there until he was discharged, at which time he returned to his plantation in the Mississippi Territory.

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