Thomas Jefferson and James Madison Sign a Beautiful Scalloped Ship’s Passport For the Brig George

Captained by Loum Snow, who would become prominent in New Bedford’s shipping and whaling industries

Document signed by both President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, folio on vellum, Washington, August 24, 1804, with an engraving at top of a sailing ship and a harbor scene dominated by a lighthouse. A passport for the Brig George of New Bedford, master Loum Snow, with a crew...

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Thomas Jefferson and James Madison Sign a Beautiful Scalloped Ship’s Passport For the Brig George

Captained by Loum Snow, who would become prominent in New Bedford’s shipping and whaling industries

Document signed by both President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison, folio on vellum, Washington, August 24, 1804, with an engraving at top of a sailing ship and a harbor scene dominated by a lighthouse. A passport for the Brig George of New Bedford, master Loum Snow, with a crew of 8 men. It is countersigned by the Collector of the Port of New York, David Gelston.

These passports, given to ships rather than individuals, were issued to U.S. vessels engaged in foreign trade, and are among the most attractive of presidential signed documents. Scalloped ship’s passports signed by Jefferson and Madison are quite uncommon, this being the first we’ve had in some time.

Shortly after his time on the Brig George, Loum Snow would go on to captain the Ann Alexander of New Bedford, a ship which never failed to have eventful voyages. On her maiden voyage in the fall of 1805, the Ann Alexander was hailed by the English off Cape Trafalgar. The fleet purchased lumber, flour, and apples from Captain Snow, and the men told of the recently completed battle in which Lord Nelson died. Subsequently it was Captain Snow who passed the word of Nelson’s death to an American military vessel in the area. During the long years of the Napoleonic Wars, Snow would captain the Ann Alexander in the often profitable commerce of neutral trading. In January of 1807, the ship was taken by a Spanish privateer only to be captured by the English the next day. The Spanish re-took the captured ship as it headed for Gibraltar. Amidst the confusion about who was in charge, Captain Snow resumed his command. That move prompted the suggestion that the painting of the Ann Alexander, now in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, was commissioned by Captain Snow in his relief at reaching Italy without further incidents.

In 1820, the Ann Alexander was outfitted to undertake whaling because of the difficulties New Bedford had competing in foreign trade against the larger ports of Boston and New York. The growth of the whaling industry was such that New Bedford had become the fourth largest port district in the United States by 1845, surpassed only by New York, Boston, and New Orleans.

In January 1823, Captain Snow died when he fell overboard from the Brig Horatio in Indonesia. His son and grandson ran a whaling business which proudly bore the family name, Loum Snow & Son, until they ceased operations in 1898.

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