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James Monroe

Mediterranean Ship’s Passport
Issued January 25, 1819

This passport was issued in Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts to the vessel Mary, which was under the command of William Smith. There is no information on destination or cargo, but the Mary carried two guns and a crew of seventeen men. She appears to be a merchant vessel.

This passport was signed by President James Monroe who served for two terms from March 4, 1817 until March 4, 1825 after serving as Secretary of State under James Madison. As President, after addressing the sensitive issue of slavery with the Missouri Compromise, he focused on the independence and sovereignty of the American continents, with what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It asserted that, in South America, Spain should not attempt to regain her former colonies and, on the Pacific coast, Russia should not encroach further south on the Pacific coast of North America. The American continents were “not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by an European Power.” The sea letter is also signed by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams who was uniquely qualified for his position. 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, 1825, the day before he became President. He later 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.

This passport is printed on vellum 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 missing.

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