US Passport 1796 David Humphreys

US Passport 1796 issued by David Humphreys

A historical treasure of its most elegant and truly a highlight of American history in general and US passport history in specific! One of the earliest passports of the United States of America issued by David Humphreys (July 10, 1752 – February 21, 1818)

  • Travel passes were required by British authority for travel between “provinces,” now States, in 1756
  • The first passport found in the records of the Passport Division dates July 8, 1796

The US Diplomatic Center has a few examples of such early passports in their archives. They all were issued in the 1790s. E.g., 1798 by Rufus King in London, 1796 by James Monroe in Paris. I have seen a copy of a passport issued in 1790 by George Washington in the city of New York. There are so-called “Ship’s passports” also published in the 1790s, stating that crew and cargo are under the protection of the United States of America, signed by Washington or Adams. At this time, there were already printed forms with handwritten additions. Thomas Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State from March 22, 1790, to December 31, 1793.

NOW this passport is exceptional in several aspects.

The document, with a wax seal at the lower-left corner, is entirely handwritten by David Humphreys, American minister resident to Portugal – appointed 1791! Portugal was the first neutral country under the constitution to recognize the United States!

In his post, he negotiated the ransomed release of American prisoners from the Dey of Tripoli. Dey is a title given to the rulers in Algeria and Tripoli. In 1796 he was appointed as minister to Spain, which then controlled the Mississippi River and all of Latin America except for Brazil. John Quincy Adams succeeded him in Lisbon. He remained minister to Spain until 1801, and during his stay there met and married Anne Frances Bulkeley, a cultured and wealthy English woman. Her father, John Bulkeley, was a banker, merchant, and trader.

But there is more…US Passport 1796 issued by David Humphreys

HumphreysDavid Humphreys (July 10, 1752 – February 21, 1818) was also an American Revolutionary War colonel, aide de camp, and a good friend to George Washington. Further, an entrepreneur who brought Merino sheep to America, a member of the Connecticut state legislature. A poet and author, he was one of the “Hartford Wits.”

American Revolution
In July 1776, Humphreys enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer adjutant in the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, then stationed in New York. The regiment consisted of several companies of Derby men. He later saw action in the battle following the burning of Danbury, Connecticut, and in a later raid on Sag Harbor, New York.

In that raid, the Americans captured 90 prisoners, destroyed 12 enemy brigs and sloops, an armed vessel and an enormous quantity of stores, and returned to Connecticut without the loss of a single soldier. Humphreys was detailed to report the success directly to General Washington in New Jersey. It was probably the first meeting between the two.

Humphreys was promoted to captain and major. He served on the staff of General Parsons, Israel Putnam, and Nathanael Greene. On June 23, 1780, Humphreys was appointed aide-de-camp of Washington’s headquarters staff, and he became a confidential friend and adviser to the general.

After the Battle of Yorktown, Washington entrusted the surrendered British colors, along with the general’s report on the battle, to Humphreys and another aide for delivery to Congress. A painting of Humphreys arriving with them, titled “The Delivery of the Standards’ to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, November 1781,” now hangs at the headquarters of the New Haven Museum and Historical Society, which also has a ceremonial sword that Congress voted be presented to Humphreys. The sword was introduced in 1786 by Gen. Henry Knox. Humphreys has also commissioned a lieutenant-colonel, with his commission backdated to his appointment as an aide to Washington.

When Washington resigned his commission and presented himself before Congress, Humphreys was one of two aides who accompanied him into the chamber (the other was Tench Tilghman). Humphreys then traveled with Washington and Martha Washington back to Mount Vernon. Washington later recommended to Congress that it appoint Humphreys secretary of foreign affairs (the appointment went to John Jay instead). After the war, Humphreys became an Original Member of the Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati. US Passport 1796 issued by David Humphreys


Humphreys was appointed to a commission to negotiate treaties of commerce with European nations. Other members of the commission were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. In a letter of introduction to Franklin, Washington described Humphreys: “This gentleman was several years in my family as aide-de-camp — his zeal in the cause of his country — his good sense, prudence, and attachment to me, rendered him dear to me; and I persuade myself you will find no confidence which you may think proper to repose in him, misplaced. He possesses a great heart, good natural and acquired abilities, and — sterling integrity — to which may be added sobriety and kind disposition.”

Back in Derby by 1786, Humphreys was elected to the October session of the Connecticut General Assembly. He was appointed the head of the state militia and marched to West Springfield, Massachusetts, to help deal with the civil strife and tumult of Shays’ Rebellion. Still, by the time he had arrived, Massachusetts authorities were already in control of the situation.

In 1787 his mother died on July 27 and his father on September 2. At Washington’s invitation, Humphreys stayed at Mount Vernon for a time, acting as the general’s private secretary. When Washington, elected president, took the oath of office in New York City, Humphreys accompanied him on the trip from Virginia and stood beside him during the ceremony.

In 1791, Humphreys had the distinction of being the first MINISTER RESIDENT appointed to a foreign country under the Constitution, when he was appointed Minister to Portugal!

Merino sheep
In 1802, Humphreys bought a herd of merino sheep in Spain and had them imported directly to Derby. Out of 25 rams and 75 ewes, five rams and two ewes died in the passage. They attracted a good deal of attention in town. “Humphreys considered their fleece of superior quality and believed that their mixture with American sheep would eventually result in the production, through manufacture, of finer fabrics in America.”

He sold some of the sheep, which then were resold in a flurry of speculation. He set up the first successful woolen mill factory in the new country, and it quickly achieved the reputation as the best producer of broadcloth in the United States. Coats made from the “golden fleece” were worn by President Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Captain Isaac Hull. Humphreys “is regarded as the founder of the woolen industry” in America.

Poet and author
Humphreys enjoyed writing and had a voluminous correspondence with Washington, now in the Library of Congress. He also wrote for the public and was the author of a “Life of General Israel Putnam,” whose staff he served on. He was one of the writers called the Hartford Wits (the others were Joel Barlow, Timothy Dwight IV, John Trumbull, and Lemuel Hopkins). In 1802, he wrote an anti-slavery poem entitled “A Poem on the Industry of the United States of America.” He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1804.

He also served again as a member of the Connecticut state house of representatives, from 1812 to 1814. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London on June 1807. He died in his room at Butler’s Tavern, in New Haven, Connecticut, where he stayed when he was attending to affairs in Derby and was interred at Grove Street Cemetery.

The passport

US Passport 1796 issued by David Humphreys

DAVID HUMPHREYS (1752-1818), American soldier and diplomat. He was a colonel in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, serving as aide de camp to George Washington. A.D.S. as U.S. Minster to Portugal, 1p, Oct. 7, 1796, folio, Lisbon, a passport. Reads in part: “…Whereas the bearer hereof Samuel Hunt, a Citizen of the United States of America, has signified to me his intentions of passing from this City…on his lawful affairs…pray all commanders officers and others concerned that he…Samuel Hunt may be permitted to pass freely…without any hindrance or molestation…This Passport to be in force for six months…” Signed three times, including once in the text. Boldly penned.

US Passport 1796 issued by David Humphreys



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