American Revolution Passport 1779

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American Revolution Passport 1779
Benedict Arnold was an American Revolutionary War general best known for his defection from the Continental Army to the British side of the conflict in 1780.
American Revolution Passport 1779


Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. A member of the Sons of Liberty, Arnold rose to the rank of general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He subsequently became a spy for the British, plotting to arrange a siege of West Point. When the plans came to light, Arnold defected to the British side. He died in London on June 14, 1801.

Early Life American Revolution Passport 1779

Benedict Arnold was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. Arnold’s father was a successful businessman who expected his son to be well-educated. Following the deaths of three of his children from yellow fever, Benedict Sr. began to drink heavily, and fell on difficult financial times. Benedict Jr. left school and apprenticed at an apothecary.

In 1757, Arnold enlisted in the militia, and traveled to upstate New York to fight the French. Two years later, Arnold assumed responsibility for his father and sister following his mother’s death. His father was arrested repeatedly for drunkenness before his death in 1761.

Arnold settled in New Haven, working as a pharmacist and bookseller. In 1764, he formed a partnership with merchant Adam Babcock. The pair bought three trading ships and established trade connections with the West Indies.

The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act the following year restricted mercantile trade in the colonies. Arnold joined the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization opposed to implementation of unpopular Parliamentary measures. After participating in the assault of a presumed informant, Arnold was convicted of disorderly conduct and charged a penalty.

In 1767, Arnold married Margaret Mansfield, the daughter of the sheriff of New Haven. The couple had three sons over the following five years.

Revolutionary War and Betrayal American Revolution Passport 1779

Arnold began the war as a militia captain. Following the fighting at Lexington and Concord shortly thereafter, his company marched northeast toward Boston. Arnold proposed and participated in a maneuver to seize New York’s Fort Ticonderoga. Returning home after the battle, he learned that his wife had died earlier in the month.

Arnold also proposed an invasion of Quebec. When the Continental Congress excluded him from the primary missions, Arnold convinced George Washington to lead a second expedition to attack via a wilderness route.

Despite his military successes, Arnold proved to be a divisive figure. He fought heroically in conflicts, including the Battle of Saratoga, but made many enemies. He was frequently accused of corruption, at one point facing a court martial for misappropriation of funds.

After the British withdrawal from Philadelphia in the spring of 1778, Washington appointed Arnold military commander of the city. There, Arnold met and married Peggy Shippen, the daughter of a Loyalist sympathizer. Peggy had met British Major John André during the British occupation, and had developed ways of maintaining contact with British soldiers across the battle lines. Arnold and André began a correspondence, sometimes using Peggy as an intermediary. By the following summer, Arnold was providing the British with troop locations, as well as the locations of supply depots.

Arnold gained access to even more sensitive information when he assumed command of West Point, in August of 1780. He began systematically weakening the fort’s defenses, refusing to order necessary repairs and draining its supplies. At the same time, Arnold began transferring his assets from Connecticut to England. American Revolution Passport 1779

Arnold and André met in person on September 21, to discuss the operation. Several days later, André was captured. Papers exposing the West Point siege plot were found and sent to George Washington, revealing Arnold’s role.

Learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled downriver, sending a request to Washington that his family be given safe passage to Philadelphia. André was hanged at Tappan, New York, on October 2. Although Washington sent men into New York to kidnap Arnold, the effort was unsuccessful.

Arnold soon began openly fighting for the British. In December of 1780, he led a force into Virginia, capturing Richmond and destroying supply houses, foundries, and mills. Arnold commanded the army until May, when Lord Cornwallis assumed control. Arnold later devised and led an attack on New London.

Later Life and Legacy

When word of British surrender reached New York, Arnold requested leave to return to England with his family, which he did in December of 1781. Over the following years, he repeatedly attempted to gain positions with the British East India Company and the British military, but was unable to find a place for himself.

In 1785, Arnold and his son Richard moved to New Brunswick, Canada, where they established a West Indies trade. Following a series of business dealings that resulted in a crowd burning Arnold in effigy, the family returned to London. Arnold continued to trade with the West Indies during the French Revolution, and was imprisoned by French authorities for a short time on suspicion of spying.

In January of 1801, Arnold’s health began to decline. He died on June 14, 1801, at the age of 60, and was buried at St. Mary’s Church in Battersea, London.

The treasonous actions of Benedict Arnold are legendary in the United States. Arnold’s name is omitted from a number of Revolutionary War monuments, and has been colloquially invoked as an accusation of traitorous behavior against individuals as disparate as Jefferson Davis and LeBron James.

The Passport

Philadelphia: 19 April 1779. Autograph note signed “B Arnold MGenl” allowing the passage of Capt. Francis Mountanye to the camp at Raritan “to endeavor to effect his Exchange with the Commissary of Prisoners.” 5 1/2 x 6 3/8 inches (14 x 16 cm). Mounted along edges to larger card, small spots, two small punctures, original folds including one through signature (without split).

American Revolution Passport 1779
American Revolution Passport 1779

A very rare manuscript signed by Arnold in April 1779 – just ten days after his wedding to Peggy Shippen and during the period that he first made himself available to the British as a spy. Placed in command of Philadelphia in June 1778, a city evacuated by the British but still deeply loyalist, Arnold was sharply criticized for his extravagant entertaining and conspicuous activities about town.

Joseph Reed, who presided over the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, presented eight charges of misconduct against Arnold, who immediately demanded an investigation. The Congress decided on a Court Martial, which was delivered to Arnold from General Washington on April 20th, the day after this passport was penned.

Peggy Shippen, Arnold’s nineteen-year-old wife, had been courted by British officer John Andre during the occupation of Philadelphia the previous year and she is a likely source of Arnold’s introduction to Andre, who had become the British head of intelligence. The timing of this current passport is particularly evocative of Arnold’s descent into treason as his first communication with Andre took place at this precise time. Arnold would avail himself to the British through Joseph Stansbury sometime before May 10th, and his potential uses are discussed at length in an extant four-page letter from Andre to Stansbury.

In that letter Arnold’s role in effecting prisoner exchanges is offered up, and at the end of the letter Stansbury is told that secret correspondence would be carried by “exchang’d officer & every messenger remaining ignorant of what they are charg’d.” While Captain Francis Mountanye, the subject of this document, has proven difficult to find in listings of exchanged British soldiers, the timing of the passport is uncanny.

It is interesting to note that in 1780 Arnold would serve Andre with a fake passport to get through American lines in advance of the planned surrender of West Point. Documents of any kind bearing Arnold’s signature during 1779 are extremely scarce in commerce (ABPC reporting only one letter sold in 1969) especially documents that are so evocative of Arnold’s betrayal.

Sold at Doyle auctions in 2014 for $12.500 including buyers premium.


FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...