This section presents the different sources PORTIC provides an interactive access to.

PORTIC is based on two databases, both produced by previous ANR programs: Navigocorpus and Toflit18. The content of Navigocorpus has been implemented within the framework of PORTIC with data on over 30,000 entries or clearances. The new data respond to spatial and a diachronic research issues.

With regard to the chronological framework of the data used for Portic, we have made the following choices:

  • The most exhaustive possible collection of clearances (or, alternatively, entries) od French ports in 1787, the year for which the number of registers available is the highest.
  • A targeted collection of new data for the year 1789. They will be used for three case studies, in order to cross-check shipping and the local registers of the General Farm. For 1789, namely, we have available data for import and export at the level of the bureaux of the local Direction of the Ferme Générale (whereas we have only aggregated or incomplete data for other years). The three areas selected are:
  1. Dunkirk and Granville, corresponding to the Direction of the Ferme of Lille;

  2. The ports of the former Poitou-Charentes region, corresponding to the admiralty [local jurisdiction and administration of maritime issues] of La Rochelle, Marennes and Sables d’Olonne, and to the Direction of the Ferme ofLa Rochelle;

  3. the port of Marseille

  • A diachronic study of entries to Marseille for the years 1749, 1759, 1769, 1779, 1789, 1799, i.e. three years of peace (1749, 1769, 1789) and three years of war (Seven Years’ War, American Revolutionary War , French revolutionary wars)


Navigocorpus is an open-access database, intended to collect information relating to the movements of ships in space and time. It currently contains data on over 100,000 trips, mostly between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries. Only part of the information contained in the database, relating to the navigation of French ports in the years indicated above, is the subject of visualizations and analyzes within the framework of Portic.

More specifically, for Portic, we have extracted  from Navigocorpus information from three types of sources:

  • Clearances (congés) delievred by Admiralty offices
  • The registers of the Marseille Health Bureau
  • The printed list of merchant vessels shipped from Marseilles to Africa, the Americas and Asia in 1789, along with the cargo manifest for each of them.
Clearances (congés)

On clearing a French port, ships were subject to the payment of a fee called “congé“, collected for the benefit of the Admiral of France by the clerks of the local admiralty office. There were a few exceptions: boats making a return voyage within the jurisdiction of the same admiralty were required to pay one congé only; in some provinces, some congés were valid for many voyages within a given period of time (ranging from a few months, up to two years for ships clearing from a Mediterraneean port to the Levant).

We have mainly exploited the registers of congés kept in the current G5 sub-series at the National Archives of France in Paris for the years 1787 and 1789. When the Paris series did not contain the registers for these two years, we have tried the recourse to departmental archives. Departemental archives have thus provided data for Saint-Tropez, computed by Gilbert Buti, and for Lorient. Each Admiralty officer had to keep duplicate records of the different navigation rights he perceived. Congés mentioned day by day the sums paid by the masters when clearing a French port of the kingdom and its colonies. One register remained at the headquarters of the admiralty, the copy was sent each year to Versailles (at least in theory), so that the Paris offices of the French Admiral could verify the accounts and the accuracy of the sums collected to the profit of the Admiral of France. These registers were sent with an annual report which summarized in a very synthetic way the receipts and the expenses. When the congés registers are no longer kept, these accounts enable us to know at least the number of congés which were granted.

In total, we have input into Navigocorpus 93 congés registers for 1787 and 26 for 1789. Within the framework of PORTIC, 9,830 additional congés for the year 1789 have thus been integrated to date (April 15, 2020) . The input and integration of other congés registers for 1789 is planned.

The congés registers provide almost always the following information :

  • Vessel name
  • Captain’s name
  • Tonnage
  • Date of clearance
  • Destination
  • Amount of duty paid (most often indicating the type of leave: French / foreign / for the colonies / for the province / for fishing)

We also observed that other information is regularly found in certain registers, following “provincial” models:

Main cargoFor some portsFor most of the portsyesyes (not for Corsica)
HomeportFor some portsyesFor Most of the portsNo
Origin of the captainyesyesnoYes (not for Corsica)
Ship typeyesnonoyes

Some admiralty offices, such as that of Bordeaux or Dieppe, used pre-printed registers, while elsewhere (like at La Flotte-en-Ré), everything is written by handwa

National archives of France, G5-50, Bordeaux (1787).
National archives of France, G5-68-2, Dieppe (1787).
National archives of France, G5-91, La Flotte-en-Ré (1787).
The registers of the Marseille Health Office

During the early-modern times, the main ports on the northern shore of the Mediterranean set up a sanitary system intended to reduce the risk of spreading the plague, a dreaded disease which was endemic to the Levant. Transmitted by contact between humans, but also by fleas that infested rats, or that nested in certain cargoes, such as wool bales from the Ottoman Empire, the plague decimated European populations wheever it proved impossible to contain it. In Europe, this desease killed almost all infected people, who had no immunity. To protect against the risk of contagion, ships returning from the Levant, or having had suspicious casualities during its voyage, or having communicated at sea with the crews of another ship likely to be infected by the plague, were subject to quarantine procedures upon their arrival at a European port. Thus, any ship calling at Marseille was subject to control. By the end of the 1780s, the Marseille Health Bureau, which sources are kept at the Bouches-du-Rhône Departmental Archives (200 E 1-1663, Intendance Sanitaire de Marseille, 17th-20th century), kept two registers that we have been used within the framework of Portic:

  • The “registres du petit cabotage”, or notebooks of coastal trade, which briefly mention the ships arriving from a port in the western Mediterranean, an area roughly comprised between the kingdom of Naples and Catalogna, including Corsica and Mallorca, but neither Sicily nor Sardinia. 

  • The registers of the Health Bureau, which included all ships from other ports, but also from the Western Mediterranean when these transported passengers or certain products (oil, wine, cereals).

As far as known, double entries (presence of a ship on both registers) should be a marginal phenomenon, but analysis is underway to confirm this. We do have indeed double entries where the nature of teh cargo differs. 

The notebooks of coastal trade (registres du petit cabotage) for Marseille)

These notebooks present information in the form of columns, showing “date of arrival”, “captain’s name”, “vessel name”, “where they come from” and “cargoes”. 

The first names of the captains are often abbreviated and have been expanded wheever possible in the database.  The quantities of the products were generally indicated only for wood imports.

As far as quantities are concerned, we have maintained the distinction between “p.d. ” and “P.” as we are not sure about what they mean. There is also in 1789 the abbreviation “p.ds” and, written in full, also “60 poids [weight] firewood”, which suggests that “p.ds” [but perhaps also “p.d”] corresponds to “weight”. 

Sometimes the small cabotage notebook states the unit of the product without indicating the unit of measurement. 

The registers were kept by different people and their handwriting is more or less legible.  The small cabotage notebooks for the years 1787 and 1789 were integrated into Navigocorpus within the framework of PORTIC: 4 742 additional entries were thus collected.

couverture registre Petit cabotage Marseille
Cover of the coastal trade notebook (Arch. Dept. Bouches-du-Rhône, 200 E 606), started on the 2 September 1786 and ending on 24 September 1787.
First entry for 1787 (Arch. Dept. Bouches-du-Rhône, 200 E 606)
The Health Bureau registers

These registers transcribe the deposition made by the captain or master upon his arrival in Marseille. The general structure begins with the date of the deposition, followed with the mention of the officer receptioning the oath. Then there is the indication of the depositor quality (“patron”, i.e. coastal trader, or captain), his name and first name and his place of “affiliation”, the type and name of the vessel and the number of people composing the crew. Here is the rough translation of the first entry of 1 January 1787 and its original French text:

“Mister Lantier, in charge this week, received the depopsition of patron Jean Baptiste Nervi, Genoese, commanding the felouque Sacré Cœur de Jésus, manned with 7 persons in all, who declared upon oath that he departed from Savona the 28th last [thus 28 December 1786], loaded with 60 quintals of rice and hoops for his own account, he remitted his patents, the patent of one passager, and got the entry». Information in italics in the transcription have been transcribed into the Navigocorpus database, each underlined segment in a different field.

Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône, 200 E 543

« Monsieur Lantier, intendant semainier, a reçu la déposition du patron Jean Baptiste Nervi, génois, commandant la felouque le Sacré Cœur de Jésus, équipée de 7 personnes en tout qui a dit avec serment être parti de Savone le 28 du mois dernier [donc 28 décembre 1786 pour cette déclaration du 1er janvier 1787], chargé de 60 quintaux de ris et de cercles pour son compte, il a remis sa patente, celle d’un passager, et a eu l’entrée ».

The indication of the cargo is sometimes very summary (“loaded with goods from the colonies”). When returning from a long journey, captains often detail the meetings they have made at stopovers or at sea.

In the frame of Navigocorpus program, we collected data from the registers of 1787 and of the Revolutionary years III and IV (Sept. 1794 – Sept. 1796). For PORTIC, we collected data for 1749, 1759, 1769, 1779, 1789 and 1799, that is to say ca. 14,500 additionnal entries.


The TOFLIT18 project is an open access database on trade flows between France and abroad with which is associated a graphical interface (( and In May 2020, it contained more than 550,000 feeds, collected in the archives of the Bureau de la Balance du Commerce and its successors on French trade between 1716 and 1821. Created in 1713 at the end of the negotiations of the treaty of Utrecht, the Office of the balance of trade was in charge of the collection of trade flows at the national level and the publication of summary documents allowing the royal administration to ‘assess the balance of its trade with the rest of the world. Only a small part of the flows contained in the database, relating to regions and ports in the years mentioned above, are the subject of visualizations and analyzes within the framework of the PORTIC project. More specifically, we have collected, as part of linking TOFLIT18 and Portic, information from two types of sources:

  • Regional commercial data found in the archives of the Marseille Chamber of Commerce. 
  • The commercial data at the local level collected by the Office of the balance of trade at the national level for the year 1789 which relates more particularly to the farm managers of Dunkirk, La Rochelle and Marseille.
Commercial data and the role of the chambers of commerce

The Balance of Trade Office was a small administrative unit before 1783 and had little human resources to measure itself the quantities of goods leaving or arriving on French territory and to assess their value. He was resting for that on the General Farm. The General Farm had an organization and human resources (several tens of thousands of employees throughout the metropolitan territory) without equal. One of the sources of revenue was the treaty duties, that is to say the customs duties levied on goods entering and leaving the kingdom. In its hundreds of private offices scattered throughout the kingdom, the employees of the Farm recorded in a register of multiple information on the goods they taxed: the quantity, the unit of measurement, the value of the goods, its origin or its destination and date of registration. Each month, these registers were sent to the general directorates of the Farm who established lists of names of goods which summarized this information before sending it to the Balance of Trade Office. The office compiled these monthly statements and produced annual statements, one for each farm management, which it then sent to kingdom chambers of commerce to verify the prices assessed by the employees of the Farm or suggest prices when these the latter were unable to do so (many goods were not taxed on their value but on their quantity). The chambers of commerce then returned these registers to the Bureau, keeping a copy within their archives. These copies of annual statements have often been preserved and have been integrated into the Toflit 18 database. The PORTIC project uses the registers of inputs and outputs of the Marseille management for the years 1749, 1759, 1769 and 1779 , or more than 8,900 goods flows. The sources are kept in the archives of the Marseille Chamber of Commerce, under the symbols I21 to I32. Copies of certain years are also kept in the departmental archives of Bouches-du-Rhone in Aix en Provence in the collection of the stewardship of Provence under the symbols C4625 and C4626.

Exports from Marseille, 1749 (Chamber of Commerce, Marseille, I_22)
Imports at La Rochelle, 1789 (Archives Nationales de France, F12 1666)
Trade data from the Balance of Trade Office

After 1781, the functioning of the Balance of Trade Office changed. Henceforth, the entire task of measuring the flow of goods entering and leaving the metropolitan territory was entrusted exclusively to the General Farm. This resulted in a significant change in the data collected. On the one hand, and this is the case for 1789, the Farm did not only compile the annual data by general direction, but disaggregated the data by main office (and sometimes by subordinate office). Thus, for the three directions which are studied for the year 1789 in PORTIC – Lille (including as main office the free port of Dunkirk), La Rochelle and Marseille -, the flows were measured at the departure and the arrival of the ten, seven and six main and subordinate offices which respectively composed these three directorates. Most of these summary documents were lost during the destruction of the archives of the General Farm by the revolutionaries in 1792. However, a certain number of them escaped the autodafé and are today kept in French or foreign archives . The sources which are used within the framework of the PORTIC project come from French National Archives (F12 1666 and F12 1667). They relate to more than 5000 flows.

Note: the size of the nodes and links corresponds to the size of the store. Their color corresponds to the groups of goods whose names use common terms.