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John Adams

Mediterranean Passport
Issued January 13, 1801

This document was issued in New York, New York to the vessel Ocean of New Bedford, which was under the command of Benjamin Howland, a member of the very prominent Howland family that was influential in New Bedford for literally centuries. The vessel had a carrying capacity of 298 tons (known as “burden” or here “burthen”). The document does not provide details of the destination or cargo. Many New Bedford ships were whalers and that may be the case with the Ocean.  There was a brig-rigged whaler by that name in the early 19th century. However, the crew size is listed as 12, which would be a minimal crew for a whaling brig so it is likely that this was a merchant vessel.

This Mediterranean passport was issued in the last months of his term by President John Adams who served one term from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801. It is probable that the President signed the passport between May 13th and June 5th of 1800 and issued at the later date. This conclusion is based on the fact that Charles Lee, who signed the passport as Secretary of State pro tempore, only served in that capacity from May 13th to June 5th 1800. Lee was a College of New Jersey (Princeton)-trained lawyer from Virginia. He was appointed United States Attorney General by George Washington in 1795 and served in that office under both Washington and Adams until 1801. It was while serving as Attorney General that he also briefly assumed the responsibilities of Secretary of State and signed this passport. The passport is also signed by Joshua Sands who was appointed Collector of Customs for the Port of New York by President Adams on April 26, 1797 and held the office until he was removed by President Thomas Jefferson. Sands served as a captain in the American Revolution, became a prominent merchant and founder of the Bank of New York, and served two terms in the United States Congress.

This document is printed on parchment, and as is typical of Mediterranean passports the top is scalloped where the top portion was cut off and sent to United States consuls in the Mediterranean for later matching with the passport held by the ship. The Great Seal of the United States is embossed on the lower left.

[Description provided by J. Revell Carr, former President and Director, Mystic Seaport: The Museum of American and the Sea]