Sold - George Washington Signed Ship’s Passport For a Vessel Engaged in International Trade

Key Facts

  • A large, imposing document, perfect for framing

In the early days of the American republic, ships leaving U.S. ports for foreign shores were required to have passports, and both the president and secretary of state frequently signed these documents. Between January 2, 1794 and August 20, 1795, passports signed by Washington as President were also signed by Edmund Randolph as Secretary of State.

Document Signed as President, Washington, May 5, 1795, being a passport for the Ship Fame. The ship, originally out of Boston and under the command of Capt. Henry Davis, was leaving Charleston, South Carolina with a cargo of rice, cotton & staves, bound for Havre de Grace, Maryland. The document is countersigned by Randolph.

The Fame was not merely plying American waters, but traveled to France as well, explaining its need for the passport. This was a rather daring thing to do at the time, as French ships were then seizing American vessels and bringing them into port as prizes. On the verso of the passport is a formal notation in French dated the 23rd of Thermidor, 3rd year of the French Republic (corresponding to August 10, 1798), certifying that Henry Davis, Captain of the American ship Fame, appeared before the city council of Port Malo (modern day Saint Malo) and declared that he “has lost his portfolio while walking on the Place d'Arme which contained around 2,300 pounds, plus diverse other papers notably the ownership paperwork for the said ship. He has asked the council to have published that those who might have found it are invited to return it to him and in return can keep keep all the money contained within.  We have done this and it has produced so far no results.”