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Alexander Hamilton Signed Registration for Schooner Robert of Baltimore
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Under a law passed in September 1789, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton signed blank certificates in New York and sent them to the collectors of the various ports of the new nation, where the local collector of the port filled them out and signed them. This registration system was part of a Congressional effort to limit the merchant marine to American-built ships owned and crewed by Americans. If a ship met the necessary requirements, it would “be deemed and taken to be, and denominated, a ship or vessel of the United States,” with all the benefits of any U.S. laws. Baltimore collector O. H. Williams filled out and signed this form for the Schooner Robert, owned by Baltimore merchant William Patterson.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Partially Printed Document Signed, Registration of Schooner Robert, April 10, 1790, Baltimore, Maryland. Form printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine in New York. 1 p., 8¾ x 13¼ in.

Inventory #27521       Price: $18,000

Complete Transcript

No. 21

In pursuance of an act of the Congress of the United States of America, entitled, “An act for registering and clearing vessels, regulating the coasting trade, and for other purposes,” William Patterson of Baltimore Town Merchant having taken and subscribed the oath required by the said act, and having sworn that he is sole owner of the ship or vessel, called the Robert of Baltimore, whereof John Higgins is at present master, and is a citizen of the United States, and that the said ship or vessel was built in the State of Virginia, in the year, one thousand seven hundred and eight six.

And Robert Ballard Surveyor of this district having certified to us that the said ship or vessel has one deck and Two masts that her length is Fifty one feet her breadth sixteen feet six Inches her depth Five feet nine Inches and that she measures Forty one tons; that she is sharp built, square sterned has no gallery and no head:

And the said subscribing owner having consented and agreed to the above description and measurement, and having caused sufficient security to be given as is required by the said act, the said Schooner Robert has been duly registered at the port of Baltimore in the State of Maryland.

Given under our Hands and Seals of Office, at the Port of Baltimore this tenth day of April in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety.

[Signed with seals down the left margin by:]

                                    Alex Hamilton / Secy of the Treasury

O. H. Williams / Collector

R Purviance / Nl Officer

Historical Background

On September 1, 1789, Congress passed “An Act for Registering and Clearing Vessels, Regulating the Coasting Trade, and for other purposes.” Designed to protect American shipyards, domestic shipping, and American merchant sailors, the act limited American domestic maritime trade to American-owned ships sailed by an American master. The act also specified the language of this certificate and the oath that the owner(s) had to make, declaring that he or they were American citizens, and that “no foreigner, directly or indirectly, hath any part or interest in the said ship or vessel.”

If the ship were lost at sea, captured by an enemy, or sold to a foreigner, the owner had to return the certificate to the collector of the port, who would send it to the Secretary of Treasury to be canceled. The same procedure applied when sold to an American citizen, who could then apply for a new certificate from the relevant home port. If a registered ship had a change of master or was altered in form or capacity, the owner had to inform the collector to note the change or issue a new certificate.

According to the act, the collector who first registered a ship and issued this certificate was entitled to $2 for the service and $1.50 for each subsequent registration of the same vessel, to be divided equally with the naval officer and surveyor. The act also required the naval officer, if there was one at the port, to sign the certificate. The penalty for using a fraudulent certificate of registry was forfeiture of the ship and its equipment to the United States.

Otho Holland Williams (1749-1794) was born in Maryland and studied as a clerk under his uncle as a teenager. He moved to Baltimore to become a clerk at age 18. In 1774, he returned to Frederick and became a merchant. In 1775, he joined a Maryland independent rifle company as a first lieutenant and marched to the Siege of Boston. Promoted to captain, he was taken prisoner by the British at the Battle of Fort Washington in November 1776 and imprisoned in New York City. Exchanged in January 1778, he took command of the 6th Maryland Regiment of the Maryland Line. He served in the role of adjutant to Generals Johann de Kalb and Horatio Gates in the Southern Department in 1780. In March 1781, he commanded several rear-guard actions at the Battle of Guilford Court House, and General Nathanael Greene promoted Williams to adjutant general of the army. In May 1782, Williams was promoted to brigadier general. After the war, he returned to Baltimore, where the Maryland governor appointed him commissioner of the port. President George Washington appointed him as the federal collector of the port. He founded the town of Williamsport and lobbied Washington to make it the national capital.

Robert Purviance (1733-1806) was born in Ireland and settled in the 1760s in Baltimore, where he established a successful shipping and distillery business with his brother. During the Revolutionary War, they engaged in privateering. In August 1789, President Washington appointed Purviance as the first naval officer of the Port of Baltimore. He served in the post until December 1794, when he succeeded the deceased Otho H. Williams as the collector of the port.

William Patterson (1752-1835) was born in county Donegal, Ireland, and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1766. During the Revolutionary War, he supplied powder and other munitions to the Continental Army, sailing to France and trading in the West Indies before settling in Baltimore in July 1778. He invested in real estate and provided supplies for the Yorktown campaign in 1781. He also served in the 1st Baltimore Cavalry at Yorktown. In 1790, he became the first president of the Bank of Maryland. His daughter Elizabeth married Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother of Napoleon, in Baltimore in December 1803.

Robert Ballard (ca. 1742-1793) was born in Virginia and served as sheriff of Lunenburg County from 1763 to 1769. He served as clerk of Mecklenburg County from 1770 to 1775. During the Revolutionary War, he commanded a company in the 1st Virginia Regiment. He was promoted to major in March 1777 and lieutenant colonel in October 1777. In September 1778, he transferred to the 4th Virginia Regiment and resigned from his commission in July 1779. President Washington appointed Ballard as the surveyor for the port of Baltimore in August 1789. In 1791, Washington also appointed Ballard as the inspector of the revenue for the port of Baltimore.

Condition: Trimmed edges; light toning and staining.

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