James Monroe 1813 Document Signed as Secretary of State


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5th President.  Document signed “Jas Monroe” as Secretary of State, April 28, 1813, Circular letter announcing the appointment of John Mason as Commissary General of Prisoners for the War of 1812, in full:

Sir, The President having appointed John Mason, Esquire, of Georgetown, in the District of Colombia, commissary general of prisoners of War, including superintendency of alien enemies, you are requested to correspond with him, when necessary, on subjects connected with the objects of his appointment, and to observe his instructions in relation to the same, unless otherwise directed from this Department. James Monroe.

John Mason, son of Founding Father George Mason, was an early American merchant, banker, officer and planter. Throughout his career, he held several appointed positions in government. In 1802 Thomas Jefferson appointed him US Attorney for the District of Columbia. It was through this position, that he became commissioner general of prisoners during the War of 1812. He was also appointed Superintendent of the Indian Trade in 1807 and held that position until 1816 when he became president of the Potomac Company.

As the U.S. Commissary General of Prisoners, Mason was responsible for overseeing local marshals’ safekeeping and accommodation of wartime prisoners. Letters of Mason from this time show he wrote of the conditions for British prisoners, including allowing limited travel to Canada and providing blankets.

Though perhaps not a household name in the annals of history, Mason played a unique role in history—it was Mason who sent Francis Scott Key to Baltimore to negotiate the release of a prisoner from the British, only to have the British detain Key. It was during the subsequent bombardment of Baltimore that Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Presented custom framed and matted with a small image of Monroe to approximately 15×10.  Unexamined out of frame but appears in very good condition.