President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson Sign a Ship’s Passport For a Revolutionary War Privateering Captain, Whose Vessel Would Wreck Just Months Later

The document, likely on board at the vessel's wreck, is also signed by Washington’s Commissary General in charge of forage at Valley Forge, Clement Biddle.

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 March 1790 and December 1793, passports signed by Washington as President were also signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary...

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President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson Sign a Ship’s Passport For a Revolutionary War Privateering Captain, Whose Vessel Would Wreck Just Months Later

The document, likely on board at the vessel's wreck, is also signed by Washington’s Commissary General in charge of forage at Valley Forge, Clement Biddle.

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 March 1790 and December 1793, passports signed by Washington as President were also signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State.

Document Signed by President Washington and Secretary of State Jefferson, Philadelphia, June 22, 1793, a ship’s passport in English, French and Dutch giving permission to “Patrick Maxfield, master or commander of the Snow Freelove…lying at present at the Port of Philadelphia and bound for St. Eustacia, and laden with Provisions, to depart and proceed with this said Snow.” A Snow was a two-masted vessel with rigging that permitted a small triangular or square sail to be hoisted in place of a larger sail when winds were very high. St. Eustacia is an island in the West Indies, which in the 18th century was a major point for transhipment of goods, particularly sugar and tobacco, and a locus for trade in contraband. The Freelove carried in it sugars, coffee, cocoa and molasses, among other things.

Two other notable men have signed this document. The first is Revolutionary War Colonel Sharp Delany, who was appointed first Collector of Customs for the Port of Philadelphia by President Washington, and signed this document in that capacity. The other was Revolutionary War Colonel Clement Biddle, who notarized the document. Biddle was aide-de-camp to General Nathaniel Greene, following which Greene promoted Biddle commissary general in charge of forage, a position he held in the winter of 1778 at Valley Forge. Biddle enjoyed a close friendship with George Washington, forged at that time.

Patrick Mayfield was a master mariner and shipbuilder who built the Brig Maria, of 7 guns and with a crew of 20, that was commissioned as a privateer during the Revolutionary War. This gave the ship license to plunder British ships. Mayfield himself spent a year as captain of the ship; after he turned the reigns over to a successor, the ship was captured by the British. After the war, Mayfield continued his career as a captain, taking the helm of the Ship Freelove, which he named after his wife, Freelove Babcock.

After receiving this commission, the Freelove was loaded with its cargo, and set sail for St. Eustasia, only to be shipwrecked off Cape Hateras.  This shipwreck was addressed by Congress, which felt the loss of goods sufficient enough to pass an Act, which authorizes the collector to “be authorized and directed to permit the exportation of any sugars, coffee, cocoa or molasses, saved out of the snow Freelove, cast away on Cape Hatteras…”

Uncommon, as documents signed by both Washington and Jefferson are becoming more and more difficult to find.

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