George Washington Papers

Pass for Jean-Pierre Blanchard, 9 January 1793

Pass for Jean-Pierre Blanchard

[Philadelphia, 9 January 1793]

to all to whom these presents shall come.

The bearer hereof, Mr. Blanchard a citizen of France, proposing to ascend in a balloon from the city of Philadelphia, at 10 o’clock, A.M. this day, to pass in such direction and to descend in such place as circumstances may render most convenient—These are therefore to recommend to all citizens of the United States, and others, that in his passage, descent, return or journeying elsewhere, they oppose no hindrance or molestation to the said Mr. Blanchard; And, that on the contrary, they receive and aid him with that humanity and good will, which may render honor to their country, and justice to an individual so distinguished by his efforts to establish and advance an art, in order to make it useful to mankind in general.1

Given under my hand and seal at the city of Philadelphia, this ninth day of January, one thousand seven hundred and ninety three, and of the independence of America the seventeenth.

George Washington.

Printed transcript, DLC: Institute of Aerospace Sciences Papers.

1Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753–1809), who had arrived at Philadelphia on the Ceres on 9 Dec., was the first person to make balloon flights in England, Germany, and Poland, and in 1785 he and John Jeffries were the first to cross the English Channel by air.

Blanchard’s balloon flight at Philadelphia on 9 Jan. was described in the 16 Jan. issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia): “Mr. Blanchard, the bold Æronaut, agreeably to his advertisement, at five minutes past ten o’clock, on Wednesday morning, the 9th instant, rose with a Baloon from the Prison Court in this city, in presence of an immense concourse of spectators there assembled on the occasion. The process of inflating the Baloon commenced about 9 o’clock.—Several canon were fired from the dawn of day, until the moment of elevation—a band of music played during the time of inflating, and when it began to rise, the majestic sight was truly awful and interesting—the slow movement of the band added solemnity to the scene. Indeed the attention of the multitude was so absorbed, that it was a considerable time e’er silence was broke by the acclamations which succeeded.

“As soon as the clock had struck 10, every thing being punctually ready, Mr. Blanchard took a respectful leave of all the spectators, and received from the hands of the President a paper, at the same time the President spoke a few words to him, who immediately leaped into his boat, which was painted blue and spangled; the baloon was of a yellowish coloured silk, highly varnished, over which there was a strong net work—Mr. Blanchard was dressed in a plain blue suit, a cocked hat and white feathers. As soon as he was in the boat, he threw out some ballast, and the baloon began to ascend slowly and perpendicularly whilst Mr. Blanchard waved the colours of the United States and also those of the French Republic, and flourished his hat to the thousands of citizens from every part of the country who stood gratified and astonished at his intrepidity. After a few minutes, the wind blowing from the northward and westward, the baloon rose to an immense heighth, and then shaped its course towards the southward and eastward. Several gentlemen rode down the Point road, but soon lost sight of it, for it moved at the rate of 20 miles an hour.

“About half after 6 o’clock the same evening, Mr. Blanchard returned to this city, and immediately went to pay his respects to the President of the United States.—He informed that his æriel voyage lasted forty-six minutes, in which time he ran over a space of more than 15 miles, and then descended a little to the eastward of Woodbury, in the state of New-Jersey—where he took a carriage and returned to Cooper’s ferry—and was at the President’s, as we have already mentioned, at half past 6 o’clock that evening.” Thus ended Blanchard’s forty-fifth aerial flight and his first on the North American continent.

Blanchard had tried to defray the cost of this flight through the sale of subscription tickets for five dollars apiece. Unfortunately, on 9 Jan. the “neighbouring lots and buildings to the jail were crouded with gratis spectators, while but few, we were sorry to see, within the walls [of the prison], contributed toward defraying the charges of this costly experiment. . . . A number of Gentlemen, we understand who enjoyed the sight of this magnificent experiment from without the Prison court, understanding, from positive authority, that M. Blanchard’s subscriptions would fall several hundred pounds short of his expences, opened a subscription, which contains already a number of respectable names” (General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 3, 10 Jan. 1793). On 25 Jan. the General Advertiser printed a letter Blanchard had written to its editor, Benjamin Franklin Bache, on 24 Jan. in which he reported that although “Some gentlemen understanding that my loss, by the last experiment, is upwards of 400 guineas, were kind enough to open subscriptions, to cover the expence . . . their success has not answered to their wishes, by a great deal.” Even so, “as many avow it as their intention to reserve their subscription for a second experiment I have thought it encumbent on me to endeavour to afford the opportunity.” On 17 June 1793 Blanchard “entertained the citizens” of Philadelphia with a demonstration “of the Parachute, which succeeded, to the admiration of all the spectators. The weather being wet, prevented the ascension of the balloon to the height intended, but every particular of the experiment was effected, and the balloon and parachute fell in Arch street, near the Delaware, the animals [used in the experiment] coming down safe” (Pennsylvania Gazette, 19 June 1793).

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