The Path to Citizenship—Thomas Casbon

I was pleasantly surprised to learn the Wayne County (Ohio) Historical Society had a naturalization certificate for my third great-grandfather, Thomas Casbon. They scanned and sent this image to me.

Wayne County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas, Declaration of Intention for Thomas Casbon,
10 September 1852; scanned image courtesy of Wayne County Historical Society, 2021
(Click on image to enlarge)

Here is a partial transcript (handwritten items in italics):

… on Monday, the 6th of September A.D. one thousand eight hundred and fifty two, Thomas Casbon appeared in open Court, and presented an application to become a Citizen of the United States of America, stating that he is forty nine years of age and that he is a native of England and emigrated therefrom and landed in the United States in A.D. one thousand eight hundred and thirty six. And the applicant being sworn in open Court, did declare, that it is bona fide his attention to become a citizen of the United States of America, and renounce and forever abjure all allegiance and fidelity to every Foreign Prince, Potentate, State and Sovereignty whatever, and particularly that of the Queen of England.
Whereupon it is ordered by the Court, that this application and the proceedings had thereon, be recorded in its Journal.

(The statement that Thomas arrived in the United States in 1836 is incorrect. He emigrated in 1846.)

This document is known as a declaration of intent, the first step of the process (in 1852) to become a naturalized citizen. At that time, the requirements for an applicant to be naturalized included:

  • Be a free white person
  • Declare “his intention to become a citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whatever, and particularly, by name, the prince, potentate, state or sovereignty whereof such alien may, at the time, be a citizen or subject.” [1]
  • Be of a good moral character
  • Be a resident of the United States for five years
  • After declaring his intent, an applicant must wait another two years before being admitted to citizenship.[2]

According to the Journal of the Court of Common Pleas for Wayne County, Thomas was one of 37 men, from Switzerland, Germany, France, Ireland, Scotland, and England, who appeared before Judge Martin Welker in September 1852 to declare their intent to become citizens.[3]

At the time, local courts had the authority to grant citizenship to qualified applicants. There were no standardized procedures or forms. Hence the somewhat plain and outdated (as seen with the names of the previous judge and clerk that have been lined through) fill-in-the-blank form used for Thomas’s certificate. Federal oversight of naturalization did not begin until 1906.[4]

Naturalization refers to the process by which a non-citizen “may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country.”[5] When Thomas applied, naturalization laws generally applied only to immigrants from other countries.

The requirement to be a “free white person” is a sad reflection of the prevailing beliefs and attitudes about non-whites in the 18th and 19th centuries. Native Americans and freed African Americans were not considered citizens and generally could not be naturalized.

Believe it or not, most Native Americans were not considered citizens until passage of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.[6] Before that, they were considered citizens of sovereign nations, or tribes, and wards under the “protection” of the United States. Some tribes or individuals were allowed, through treaties, to gain citizenship in exchange for giving up their land. Even after the Act of 1924, many Native Americans were prohibited from voting by individual states. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 resolved most of the states’ restrictions.[7]

The status of free African Americans (most of whom were native-born in America) was ambiguous at best during the early 18th century. Then, in 1857, the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court ruled that any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, was not a citizen of the United States.[8] It wasn’t until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 that African Americans and “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” (excluding Native Americans) were considered citizens.[9] As we know, Jim Crow laws continued to restrict the rights of African Americans long after passage of the 14th Amendment.

Thomas appeared before the Court of Common Pleas again in September 1854, when full naturalization, i.e., citizenship, was awarded. Here is an excerpt from the court record.

Ohio, Wayne County, Common Pleas Journal, vol. 18, pp. 564-6, Sep 1854
(Click on image to enlarge)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate a copy of the certificate that would have been given to Thomas on that day.

As an aside, Thomas’s brother, James, emigrated to the United States in late 1870 and was naturalized at Porter County, Indiana, on 3 October 1876. You can view his certificate here.


[1] “Statutes at Large, 1789–1875,” 3d Cong., 2d sess. (1795), p. 414,“An act to establish an uniform rule of Naturalization; and to repeal the act heretofore passed on that subject”; image copy, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation:: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875,” Library of Congress (https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html : accessed 23 Nov 21) >Lawmaking Home >Statutes at Large – About >Statutes at Large – Browse >Volume 1 .
[2] “Statutes at Large, 1789–1875,” 18th Cong., 1st sess. (1824), p. 69, “An act in further addition to ‘An act to establish an uniform rule of Naturalization, and to repeal the acts heretofore passed on that subject’”; image copy, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation:: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875,” Library of Congress (https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html : accessed 23 Nov 21) >Lawmaking Home >Statutes at Large – About >Statutes at Large – Browse >Volume 4.
[3] Ohio, Wayne County, Common Pleas Journal, vol. 17, pp 418-9, September 1852; citing Wayne County, Microfilmed Records & Office Services Department, roll no. 7. (obtained as digital image 24 January 2019)
[4] “History of the Certificate of Naturalization (1906–1956),” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/our-history/history-office-and-library/featured-stories-from-the-uscis-history-office-and-library/history-of-the-certificate-of-naturalization-1906-1956 : accessed 27 Nov 21).
[5] “Naturalization,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalization : accessed 23 Nov 21), rev. 11 Nov 2021, 06:13.
[6] Annie Bowser Tennant, “Did You Know: Native American Citizenship in the United States,” The Genealogy Reporter, 12 Aug 2019 (https://thegenealogyreporter.com/native-american-citizenship/ : accessed 23 Nov 21).
[7] Willard Hughes Rollings, “Citizenship and Suffrage: The Native American Struggle for Civil Rights in the American West,1830-1965,” Nevada Law Journal, 5:126–140; PDF document, downloaded from William S. Boyd School of Law (https://scholars.law.unlv.edu/ : accessed 27 Nov 21) >law journals >Nevada Law Journal >Vol. 5 >Issue 1.
[8] “Dred Scott, Plaintiff in Error, v. John F. A. Sandford,” Legal Information Institute (https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/60/393 : accessed 30 Nov 21).
[9] U.S. Constitution, amendment XIV, sec. 1. See also, Martha S. Jones, “How the 14th Amendment’s Promise of Birthright Citizenship Redefined America,” Time (https://time.com/5324440/14th-amendment-meaning-150-anniversary/ : accessed 23 Nov 21).

2 thoughts on “The Path to Citizenship—Thomas Casbon”

  1. Nice post, Jon. It makes me appreciative of my citizenship. This past semester I had several Egyptian students who were busily studying for their citizenship exams – which I’m happy to say, they passed. We were all immigrants at some point.

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