Skip to main content

Du Pont de Nemours correspondence (photocopies)

1788-1818 undated
 Collection
Identifier: 0591

Abstract

Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was a French political economist, writer, publisher, and public administrator. He was an advocate for a national educational system and promoted Franco-American trade relations. Francoise (Robin) Poivre du Pont was his second wife. His grandson, Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865) was an Admiral in the United States Navy and fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. This collection consists of twenty-three photocopied letters, primarily from Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817), but also Francoise du Pont de Nemours (1748-1831) and Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865). The correspondence is primarily to Marie Anne Lavoisier Thompson (1758-1836), a French chemist and close friend of the family.

Dates

  • 1788-1818
  • undated

Creator

Extent

23 item(s)

Biographical Note

Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817) was a French political economist, writer, publisher, and public administrator. He was an advocate for a national educational system and promoted Franco-American trade relations.

Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours was born in Paris on December 14, 1739. He was apprenticed as a watchmaker, but during the early 1760s he began to study and write on economic matters. In 1767 du Pont de Nemours coined the term Physiocracy, which means the rule of nature, to describe the complex doctrine of French economist, François Quesnay (1694-1774), which is now recognized as the first modern school of economics.

In July 1774, the family departed for Poland, where du Pont was to serve the Polish monarch in various capacities, including that of honorary councilor. He was shortly recalled to France, however, and commissioned as Inspecteur Général du Commerce, a position he held until its abolition in 1788. During the late 1770s he was an economic advisor to Jacques Necker (1732-1804) a Genevan banker who served as finance minister for King Louis XVI (1754-1793) from 1789 to 1790, but held a number of other posts in regards to finanaces for the royal treasury between 1777 and 1789.

In the early 1780s du Pont de Nemours was involved in the negotiations which led to the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty of 1786. The treaty reduced tariffs on goods between France and Britian. In 1786 he was appointed Counseiller d'Etat by King Louis XVI, in this position he acted as a government official of adminstrative law. The following year he served as secretary of the first Assemblée des Notables convened at Versailles to consult on matters of state.

At the onset of the French Revolution, du Pont de Nemours served as a member of the Assemblée Nationale Constituante (1789-1791), the purpose of the assembly was to discuss a new constitution and taxation system. He allied himself with the moderate Girondist faction. Girondists were initially part of the Jacobin movement. The Jacobin Club were anti-royalists who supported the abolotion of the monarchy, a creation of parliament, an introduction of a constitution, a separation of powers, and an establishment of a republic. The Girondins supported the end of the monarchy, however, were not for the revolution and most opposed the execution of the King, who was arrested in August 1792 and put to death on January 21, 1793.

After the leader of the Jacobin party, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) took power, Girondin deputies and members of other opposing movements were arrested, put on trial, and many were executed. This time period is known as the Reign of Terror. Du Pont was arrested in July 1794, but he escaped the guillotine upon Robespierre's fall at the end of the month.

In 1795 he was chosen as a member of the Counseil des Anciens (Council of Elders), which was the upper house of the French legislature. Following the Coup d'état of September 4, 1795, he was again arrested and held for one night.

The du Ponts began to explore the possibility of emigration to the United States. On January 3, 1800, accompanied by his sons, Victor Marie du Pont (1767-1827) and Eleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834), he arrived in America. Du Pont de Nemours and his sons established the commission house of Du Pont de Nemours, Pere et Fils & Cie. in New York.

Du Pont de Nemours and his wife returned to France in 1802, and he held various government posts under Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). In 1814 he became a member of the provisional government which deposed Napoleon and exiled him to Elba. Upon Napoleon's return, du Pont de Nemours again fled to America, where he died at the home of his son, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont in Delaware on August 7, 1817.

Biographical Note

Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865) was an Admiral in the United States Navy and fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War.

Samuel Francis du Pont was born at Bergen Point (now Bayonne), New Jersey, on September 27, 1803. He was the fourth child and second surviving son of Victor Marie du Pont (1767-1827) and his wife, Gabrielle Joséphine de la Fite de Pelleport (1770-1837).

In 1815, du Pont received a commission as midshipmen in the United States Navy. During the next thirty years he rose steadily within the ranks, becoming a commander attached to the Pacific squadron in 1844. During the Mexican-American War he earned distinction for his defense of the California blockade. After the Mexican War, du Pont began a decade-long tour of shore duty attempting to improve naval and marine affairs and serving as a member of the board that established the Naval Academy at Annapolis. In 1855, he was appointed to the Naval Efficiency Board which was investigating nepotism and incompetence in the officer corps.

At the start of the Civil War du Pont was appointed a senior member of the Commission of Conference to establish naval operations for the North. du Pont was put in charge of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and broke his flag on the U.S.S. Wabash. In November of 1861 he lead a successful campaign that captured Port Royal in South Carolina. Because of the success of this operation, du Pont was promoted to rear admiral in July 1862. The Union remained in control of Port Royal which was the headquarters of du Pont's blockading squadron. By late 1862 there was considerable tension building between Port Royal and Washington as pressure mounted for an attack on Charleston. The plan was to have the new ironclad monitors lead the assault. In 1863 du Pont's fleet of ironclads were unsuccessful at taking Charleston. This defeat, in one of the most highly publicized naval battles of the Civil War, was a tremendous blow to the Union. Blame was placed on du Pont, who was immediately relieved of his command.

Upon his return to Washington, du Pont was ostracized. During the summer of 1863 he exchanged a series of barbed letters with Secretary Gideon Welles (1802-1878) and enlisted Henry Winter Davis (1817-1865), the acknowledged leader of the congressional opposition, to serve as his spokesman on Capitol Hill. When the Navy refused to publish du Pont's report on the Charleston attack, Davis thought that it would be politically advantageous to criticize the administration over this issue. He secured a joint congressional resolution calling upon the Navy Department to produce all of du Pont's reports and correspondence. When Welles did so, the tables were turned. Charged with misusing the monitors at Charleston and misleading his superiors, du Pont was virtually put on trial before Congress. After the congressional hearing, du Pont appealed to Abraham Lincoln for vindication. When the president refused to meet with him, he retired to his home at Louviers. In March 1865 he returned to Washington to serve on a board that was set up to recommend distinguished naval officers for promotion. On June 23, 1865, while on a visit to Philadelphia with his wife, he died.

Scope and Contents

Twenty-three photocopied letters, primarily from Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739-1817), but also from Francoise du Pont de Nemours (1748-1831) and Samuel Francis du Pont (1803-1865). The letters from Pierre Samuel are signed letters in French to Marie Anne Lavoisier Thompson (1758-1836), Countess Rumford, dating from 1788 to 1816. Marie Anne Lavoisier Thompson (1758-1836), was a French chemist and close friend of the family. Her first husband, Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was also a chemist and apprenticed du Pont de Nemours elder son, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771-1834).

Du Pont de Nemours letters to the Countess Rumford are largely personal and property matters. One letter from his wife Francoise du Pont to Thompson, dated February 28, 1818. It is an autographed signed letter in French, a social note that possibly ackowledges condolences upon death of P.S. du Pont de Nemours in 1817.

Lastly, there is one letter from Samuel Francis to "Mr. Batchelder" expressing his regret at missing Batchelder and inviting his return to du Pont's home.

Location of Originals

Originals (bMS AM 1368 and MS Fr 80) held in Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Not to be reproduced. Permission must be obtained from Harvard Library for publication.

Language of Materials

English

French


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Du Pont de Nemours correspondence (photocopies)
Status:
Author:
John Beverly Riggs
Date:
1970
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Ashley Williams

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400