A fascinating yet odd source you might not think about is the passports to travel through Indian lands or foreign territories. It’s easy to forget that large portions of what is now the Southeastern United States were foreign lands into the late 1830s.
Passports were issued by Indian agents, which lead to resentment by other authorities. Soon state governors, Indian chiefs, Spanish office holders and even prominent civilians would issue their own version of a passport. Illegal passports were sometimes issued to traders for a fee. In theory, what the various passports had in common was they were to be granted upon an assurance of good conduct while in Indian lands or Spanish territories. In reality, every type of person imaginable applied for passports which would lead to frontier lawlessness. Regardless of how or by whom a passport was obtained, they are amazing and can be used to document the movement of people across the frontier. This authorized passage geographically was east of the Mississippi River in the period 1770-1823.
Prior to 1824, the Secretary of War was responsible for issuing passports, and the Government’s relations with the Indian tribes. In 1824, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established within the War Department. The passport records for the pre-1824 period have been abstracted in Dorothy Williams Potter’s Passports of Southeastern Pioneers, 1770-1823: Indian, Spanish and Other Land Passports for Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, North and South Carolina(Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982, 1990).
This work is divided into section reflecting the different kinds of passports issued. These include Spanish Passports in the Mississippi Valley; British and Spanish Passports in West Florida; War and State Department Passports and State Passports. This is a major resource in your frontier research.
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