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Sea Letter Signed by James Madison as President and Future President James Monroe as Secretary of State
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This partially-printed sea letter in parallel French, Spanish, English, and Dutch authorized the passage of the Albert under the command of Egbert Van Beuren to leave Baltimore, Maryland, with a cargo of flour, bound for La Guaira, Venezuela.

JAMES MADISON. Partially Printed Document Signed, Sea Letter for Albert, January 9, 1813, Baltimore, Maryland. Also signed by Secretary of State James Monroe and Baltimore Collector of Customs James H. McCulloch. Includes two blind embossed paper seals. 1 p., 21¼ x 16½ in.

Inventory #27218       Price: $3,500

Be it known, That leave and permission are hereby given to Egbert Van Beuren master or commander of the Schooner called Albert of the burthen of 148 tons or thereabouts, lying at present in the port of Baltimore bound for Laguaira and laden with Flour to depart and proceed with the said Schooner on his said voyage, such Schooner having been visited, and the said E. Van Beuren having made oath before the proper officer that the said Schooner belongs to one or more of the citizens of the United States of America, and to him or them only.

In witness whereof, I have subscribed my name to these Presents, and affixed the Seal of the United States of America thereto, and caused the same to be countersigned by J. H. McCulloch Collector of the Customs at Baltimore the 9 day of January in the year of our Lord Christ, 1813

                                                                        “James Madison

By the President

                                                                        “Jas Monroe Secretary of State.

Historical Background
Thesea letter, including a statement of cargo and destination, signed by the President, gained currency after 1789. Through decades of maritime use, such letters became accepted as proof of nationality and provided some protection for the vessel and its owner and crew.  Even with the sea letter's plea for safe passage, maritime trade was a hazardous endeavor due to piracy, privateering, impressment, and other dangers.

It was customary for a sitting president and his secretary of state to pre-sign routine papers and uncompleted documents before their being filled out and issued. In this case, the collector of customs at Baltimore completed the document and affixed the date.

The Albert never made it to Venezuela. On March 9, 1813, a British squadron under the command of Rear Admiral George Cockburn captured the Albert at Lynnhaven Bay, at the southern end of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Cockburn spent most of 1813 and 1814 seizing ships and raiding ports along the Atlantic coast. His goal was to turn the American public against the Madison Administration and the War of 1812.

Days later, the schooner America of Baltimore, on a voyage from Havana, recaptured the schooner Albert and sent it to New Bern, North Carolina. The following day, the America was cast away on Smith Island, Virginia, though the crew and passengers were saved.

James H. McCulloch (1756-1836) was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1773. He joined his father in a mercantile firm in Philadelphia but relocated to Maryland by 1782 and settled in Baltimore in 1783.  He served in the Maryland House of Delegates (1800) and Maryland Senate (1801-1805). In 1808, President Thomas Jefferson appointed McCulloch as the collector of customs at Baltimore, a lucrative position that he retained until his death. During the War of 1812, McCulloch was wounded and captured at the Battle of North Point in September 1814. He also invested in privateers during the war and after the war continued to invest in Baltimore vessels that illegally preyed on Spanish ships by claiming to promote South American independence.

Condition: Evidence of professional repair at folds, one of which crosses Monroe’s signature and just touches one letter in Madison’s; sunned in a uniform block on recto with light dampstaining along folds and minor foxing throughout; archival tape at a few places on verso.

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