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Burrill Carnes: Consular Letter of Commission by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

Identifier: SC Ms0274

Scope and Contents

The manuscript measures 41.5 x 47.5 cm pale brown ink handwritten on ivory colored vellum which is glued onto cardstock measuring 46.5 x 50.5 cm. The sheet of paper has creases indicating it had been folded first in half and then into thirds. The neatly written text spells the name Burrell Carnes rather than the official spelling Burrill Carnes. At the upper left corner is attached a faded paper embossed seal (the Presidental Seal). At the lower right corner the signatures of George Washington by the president Thomas Jefferson. There is some staining on the document with what looks like finger prints.


  • 1790
  • Majority of material found within 1786 - 1793

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Collection housed remotely. Users need to contact 24 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Collection is open for research. Please inquire about copyright information.

Biographical / Historical

During the early establishment of the United States of America’s trade negotiation with European countries, letters of appointment as Consuls or Vice Consuls were extended to American merchants living abroad. These American citizens were to act on behalf of the Congress of the United States to aid in negotiations of trade at various European shipping ports. George Washington, as first President of the United States, submitted a list of possible candidates to the Congress for consideration for the position. It was up to the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, to vet the suggested candidates. In the particular situation of Burrell/Burrill Carnes (1761-1805), he was a merchant residing in France. He was appointed an American agent by Thomas Barclay in 1786. The Continental Congress had appointed Barclay, a Philadelphia merchant, as the first Consul to France (1781-1786) where he assisted Benjamin Franklin. On June 7, 1790 Burrell/Burrill Carnes was commissioned by George Washington to serve as Consul in Nantes, France. Thomas Jefferson told John Jay that an American named Burrell Carnes in Nantes could act at Consul. In most cases Consuls were merchants residing in respective foreign ports. Prior to 1792, the Consuls could make privately their own business arrangements. In 1792 Congress passed an Act concerning Consuls and Vice-consuls which defined their duties in trade agreements. Joseph Fenwick (1762-1849) who was the first Consul appointed by George Washington 7 June 1790 to 3 June 1801, was a wine and spirits merchant and trade importer/exporter in Bordeaux. In July 1792, Fenwick reported to Thomas Jefferson the resignation of Burrell/Burrill Carnes as Consul in Nantes. Fenwick urged Jefferson to get a replacement as soon as possible to deal with efforts to bring tobacco and oils in English vessels into France. Burrell/Burrill Carnes was in partnership with his brother John Carnes who had the first American patent (1789) for paper-moulds used in wall paper manufacturing. Both men had appointments as Consuls in France: Burrell Carnes at the port of Nantes and John Carnes at Lyons. With two Frenchmen: Le Collay and Chardon, the Carnes brothers began manufacturing paper wall hangings under the business name Le Collay & Chardon in Philadelphia. The French had the reputation of manufacturing fine paper wall hangings. By 1793 Carnes was a merchant and paper manufacturer at 71 South Second Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Ann (1776?-1800) had three daughters.


1 volume (One manuscript)

Language of Materials



An interesting document illustrating how the recently independent United States of America negotiated business transactions abroad. American merchants living abroad were appointed agents to act on behalf of mercantile businesses requiring transport from foreign ports. This Letter appoints Burrill Carnes residing in Nantes, France to act as agent to facilitate business in the port of Nantes. The document has the signatures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.


The document is only one sheet.

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Repository Details

Part of the Lehigh University Special Collections Repository

Lehigh University
Linderman Library
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