One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
In the 18th cent.: a Spanish ship with a special licence authorizing it to trade outside the fleet system with the Spanish possessions in America, in specified areas or countries.
Early 18th century; earliest use found in Account Cruelties by Inquisition in Portugal. From register + ship, after Spanish navío de registro.
register ship/ˈrɛdʒɪstə ˈʃɪp/
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