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George Washington Signed Ship’s Passport (SOLD)
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A three-language ship’s passport, in French, English and Dutch, for Captain Spencer Tinkham of the Astrea, out of Wiscasset, Maine bound for Liverpool. The Astrea was pictured on a Liverpool Jug, likely right after this voyage. It was lost at sea six years later.

GEORGE WASHINGTON. Partially Printed Document Signed as President, counter-signed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and Customs District Collector Francis Cook. New York, N.Y. and Wiscasset, Maine, November 12, 1796. 1 p., folio, with paper Great Seal of the United States. Strong, large Washington and Pickering signatures.

Inventory #23998       SOLD — please inquire about other items


“GEORGE WASHINGTON, President of the United States of America. To all who shall see these presents, GREETING:

BE IT KNOWN, That leave and permission, are hereby given to … the Ship called the Astrea of the burthen of 458 60/95---- tons or thereabouts, lying at present in the port of Wiscassett, bound for Liverpool and laden with Timber plank, Lathewood, Poles, Spars, Staves and Pot-Ashes—to depart and proceed with his said Ship on his said voyage, such Ship having been visited, and the said Spencer Tinkham having made an oath before the proper officer, that the said Ship---belongs to one or more of the citizens of the United States of America, and to him or them only...”

Historical Background

The Astrea was built by Abiel Wood in Wiscasset in 1793. When in Liverpool, an engraving of the ship must have been made, as it appeared on a Liverpool jug soon after.  The ship was lost at sea in 1802.

“This magnificent coffee pot, c1796 was probably made in Liverpool and is decorated with enamels on Creamware. The decoration on one side is of the American ship 'Astrea of Wiscasset' on the other side of the pot is a family scene.”

Ship’s passports were signed ahead of time and executed by local Customs officials to include a statement of cargo and destination. Here, the President and Secretary of State signed in New York, while Francis Cook was the man on the ground in Maine. Such passports gained currency after 1789, as commerce that had previously been regulated by the states became federal matters. Through years of maritime use, such passports and ships letters became accepted as proof of nationality and provided some protection for the vessel and her owner.  Even with a sea letter’s plea for safe passage, maritime trading was a hazardous endeavor due to piracy, privateering, impressment and other dangers.  For additional background, see American Maritime Documents, 1776-1860, by Douglas L. Stein.

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) was a Continental Army officer and Federalist politician from Massachusetts. Born in Salem, he graduated from Harvard and entered the law. He commanded a regiment from Essex County early in the Revolution, and was named adjutant general by George Washington in 1777. In 1780, he was named Quartermaster General. In the 1780s, Pickering attempted to forge a career as a Philadelphia merchant and Pennsylvania frontier land speculator, but the Yankee-Pennamite Wars disrupted his plans. President Washington appointed him commissioner to the Iroquois Indians, and Pickering proved quite adept in diplomacy, negotiating the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794. Pickering was named Postmaster General in 1791, Secretary of War in 1795, and finally Secretary of State under both Washington and Adams, from 1795 to 1800. Bitter at Adams and driven from power by the Jeffersonians, Pickering moved behind the scenes for the secession of New England in 1803. Pickering was a High Federalist Senator from 1803-1811, and congressman from 1812-1817. 

George Washington (1732-1799).  First president of the U.S. (1789-1797).  Trained as a surveyor in the employ of distant relative Lord Fairfax, Washington received his first military appointment as a major at the age of 19, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.  He left the military over complaints about promotion practices and discrimination against colonial (as opposed to regular British) troops, but returned a year later. An attack he led on a French detachment in Ohio marked the beginning of the French & Indian War.  The British defeat at Fort Duquense (1755) left the Virginia Commander General Braddock dead, elevating Washington from the position of Aide de Camp to Commander of the Virginia forces defending the frontier against French and Indian attacks.  Washington resigned his commission in 1758 and returned to Mount Vernon, where he assumed a prominent position in local politics, serving as a member of the Virginia House of Burgess from 1758 to 1765.  In 1774 he represented Virginia in the first Continental Congress and in 1775 was appointed by the Second Congress as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.  Washington proved to be an able commander who managed to keep his army intact, despite meager resources, low morale, and a far superior foe.  With the help of the French he was eventually able to defeat the British at Yorktown in 1781.  After several years of retirement, he returned to public life in 1787 presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and served as the first president of the new republic.  After two terms in office, Washington once again returned to private life, dying two years later at the age of 67.


Very Good. Professional mends, mainly to strengthen the folds from the verso; slight wear from vertical fold through Washington’s signature, costing part of the top of the letter “a” in “G. Washington”; Seal of the United States also exhibits vertical fold wear.