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Interpreting the Evidence

Mediterranean Pass with British Stamp, 1766

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Revolution and New Nation (1754 - 1820s)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Colonial America

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Mediterranean Pass with British Stamp, 1766 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A Mediterranean pass issued by the British government to a ship from Boston, 1766.
Historical Context
The pre-Revolution eighteenth century colonial economy in America was an export economy. Early English navigation laws helped establish it. The English wanted to ensure profits from their colonial investments by restricting American manufacturing and by controlling markets for colonial agricultural crops. America, in turn, had stable and constant demand for England's manufactured goods. Early towns such as Boston served more or less as "trading posts" between American raw materials and English manufactured goods.

To reduce dependence on British trading ships, Boston established a shipbuilding industry and expanded trade to other colonies and foreign countries. The document in the photograph was a Mediterranean pass issued to a ship from Boston and signed on the back by Andrew Oliver, who was the royal secretary of the colony of Massachusetts at the time. The document attests to the fact that the ship belonged to British subjects and should therefore, as provided in treaties between Great Britain and the Barbary States, be granted safe passage on the seas and into the Mediterranean ports of the Barbary States. After the American Revolution, American ships no longer had the protection of the British treaties or Royal Navy. They frequently were attacked by Barbary pirates demanding ransom, which led to the Barbary Wars in the early nineteenth century.

Notice the British stamp embossed at the left side of the document. It is a double (rectangular) stamp, indicating that the document tax had been paid.  Similar stamps were used in the American colonies under the "Stamp Act," which was passed in 1765 but repealed in March of 1766, before this document was issued.

Essential Question
Why do governments seek to control access to goods and services?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the purpose of this document and evaluate the impact of this requirement on an individual's access to these goods.
Historical Challenges
Research the Stamp Act. What type of stamps were used? What did some of the different stamps look like? How were the stamps different from the stamps we use today? How much did it cost to have different types of papers stamped?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: The document says that John Parsivell's ship carried a load of 100 tons. How many pounds is that?
English Language Arts: People a long time ago used capital letters, punctuation, and spelling differently than we do today. What corrections would you make to the sentences on this document?
English Language Arts: In the eighteenth century, many nations paid tribute to the Barbary States, who supported piracy, so that pirates would not attack their ships. When pirates did capture ships, they often demanded that a nation pay a ransom for the crew to be released. Thomas Jefferson thought this was a bad idea, but other people disagreed. Do you think it is a good idea to pay ransom money to kidnappers? Is it a good idea to pay terrorists not to attack you? Write a persuasive paragraph supporting your opinion.