Four Language Passport for the Whaling Ship Hesper, Signed by John Quincy Adams as President and Henry Clay as Secretary of State

A scarce Whaling passport signed by both men

The Ship Hesper was a whaler out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was built in 1811, was 247 5l/95 tons, and had a length of 90 feet 3 inches, breadth of 25 feet, and depth of 12 feet, 6 inches. It was described as having two docks, three masts, a square stern,...

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Four Language Passport for the Whaling Ship Hesper, Signed by John Quincy Adams as President and Henry Clay as Secretary of State

A scarce Whaling passport signed by both men

The Ship Hesper was a whaler out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was built in 1811, was 247 5l/95 tons, and had a length of 90 feet 3 inches, breadth of 25 feet, and depth of 12 feet, 6 inches. It was described as having two docks, three masts, a square stern, no galleries, and no figurehead. When registered in 1825, the owners were Charles W. Morgan and David Coffin. Morgan was a wealthy merchant in New Bedford with investments in other ventures, including iron foundries. The ship Charles W. Morgan, named for him, and today docked at Mystic, Connecticut, is the last of an American whaling fleet that once numbered more than 2,700 vessels. Built and launched in 1841, the Morgan is now America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat – only the USS Constitution is older. Coffin came from a long line of noted whalers.

In 1826 the master of the Hesper was Henry Pease, one of an illustrious, multi-generational family of whaling captains. He was the brother of Valentine Pease, Jr., master of the Acushnet, on which Herman Melville served from 1840 to 1842. It is speculated that Valentine Pease was an inspiration for the character of Captain Ahab in Melville’s book “Moby Dick”, and some of the adventures of the whaling trip were undoubtedly transcribed while on the Acushnet.

Pease was master of the Hesper for years. A report to Congress stated that in 1831, “There has lately been a reef discovered by Captain Pease, of the ship Hesper, of this port, in latitude 32 deg. 34 min. north longitude 119 deg. 34 min. west, which was not seen till the ship was passing over one end of it. It was seen from the mast-head nearly under the ship. They sounded on it, and found from two and a half to sixteen fathoms.”

Document signed, as President, Washington, August 19, 1826, being a passport providing that “Leave and permission are hereby given to Henry Pease, master or commander of the Ship called Hesper of New Bedford…bound for the Pacific Ocean and laden with Provisions, Stores, Ironbound cask, and utensils for a whaling voyage, to depart and proceed…with the said voyage…” The document is countersigned by Henry Clay as Secretary of State, and also signing is Russel Freeman, Collector of the Port of New Bedford. The passport is in four languages (English, Spanish, French, and Dutch), as befits a ship’s traveling in international waters.

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