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Thomas Jefferson

Multi-language Sea Letter
Issued December 29, 1806

This document was issued in Philadelphia to the vessel Belvedere, which was under the command of John Wood and had a carrying capacity of 256 tons (known as “burden”). The vessel was heading from Philadelphia to Lisbon with a cargo only identified as “sundry” items.

This sea letter/ship’s passport is in four languages: French; Spanish; English; and Dutch. It is signed by President Thomas Jefferson who served two terms from March 4, 1801 to March 4, 1809. During that time he sent a naval squadron against the Barbary pirates in North Africa and acquired the Louisiana Territory from France. During the Napoleonic Wars both Great Britain and France seized American ships, cargoes and men. To punish them, Jefferson and Congress imposed an Embargo Act, which was signed into law on December 22, 1807. The Embargo was immediately controversial and proved to damage the nascent American economy far more than the French and British. It was also signed by the man who would succeed Jefferson as President, James Madison. Madison was a native Virginian who was educated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) graduating in 1771. During his distinguished career, he was a member of the Second Continental Congress and sponsored the Bill of Rights while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as Secretary of State and was instrumental in carrying out Jefferson’s diplomatic agenda from May 2, 1801 until March 3, 1809. The following day he became President. Other signers included the Deputy Collector of Customs, John Cruff, and Peter Lohan, a notary of Philadelphia.

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]