Skip to main content
LSU Law Logo

John Quincy Adams

Multi-language Sea Letter
Issued on October 29, 1825

John Quincy Adams Multi-language Sea Letter Issued on October 29, 1825Photo by Timothy D. Bartolo

This document was issued in New Bedford to the ship Balaena, which was under the command of Thomas Russell. The vessel was heading from New Bedford bound for the Pacific Ocean whaling, with provisions and stores with utensils for a whaling voyage. The ship was owned or managed by J. & J. Howland. The Russell and Howland families are the most well known of the New Bedford whaling families. On a stop in the Hawaiian Island five years before this trip, The Balaena took on two native Hawaiians as crew members. They were given the names Joe Bal and Jack Ena, with their last names drawn from the ship’s name. They were the first Kanakas, as the Hawaiian seamen were called, to arrive in New Bedford and were something of a sensation during the six months they were there. They returned to Hawaii on the Balaena the following year.

The sea letter is signed by President John Quincy Adams who served for a single term from March 4, 1825 until March 4, 1829. He was exceptionally well prepared for the Presidency. He had diplomatic experience from the age of 27, with appointments by Presidents Washington, John Adams (his father) and James Madison. He headed the commission that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812. He served as a U.S. Senator and then Secretary of State from his appointment on March 5, 1817 until March 3, 1817, the day before he became President. As President, he, a New Englander, sought to diminish the “geographic sectionalism” that he felt weakened the country and he appointed a southerner, Henry Clay, as Secretary of State. After leaving the Presidency he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He came out of retirement to defend the slaves who had risen up and taken control of the Amistad, when that case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. His Secretary of State, Henry Clay, also signed this passport. Clay who was born in Virginia, had a long career in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate representing Kentucky. Early in his career he had served on the Peace Commission negotiating the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812. As Secretary of State, Clay’s foreign policy emphasized the “American System” which stressed federal support of national economic development. He achieved numerous successes. Another signer of the passport was Collector of Customs Russell Freeman. Freeman had been appointed by President Monroe in 1823 and served through J.Q. Adams’ term. Adams knew members of Freeman’s family quiet well and attempted to have Freeman’s appointment extended into the Jackson Presidency, but that effort failed. The document is also signed by Lemuel Williams as Notary Public. Williams ultimately succeeded Russell Freeman as collector in a contest so heated that the two men had a fist fight in the streets of New Bedford.

This document is printed on rag paper and bears the Great Seal of the United States on the center left.

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