The Levett Harris letter book contains 82 manuscript copies of personal business and official and semi-official letters from Harris, United States consul to Russia, to correspondents in Europe and America. His recipients include members of the United States peace commission at Ghent, bankers in the U.S. and England, and other professional contacts. A comprehensive list of recipients is included in the additional descriptive data section of this finding aid. The letter book is in the hand of Harris' secretary, Joachim Schmidt, and, because Russians used the Julian calendar, the bulk of the letters include both Julian and Gregorian dates. With the exception of five letters from London, December 1813-April 1814, the letter book spans Harris’ service in St. Petersburg from July 10/22-November 11/23, 1814. A comprehensive list of Levett Harris’ recipients is included in the Additional Descriptive Data section of this finding aid.
Harris' eight letters to John Quincy Adams, in Ghent, report on his activities as chargé d'affaires. He informed Adams about interactions with Alexander I, public support of the United States in St. Petersburg, foreign visitors to the emperor, changes in titles and honors of Russian officials, discussions with the chancellor, and the health of Louisa and Charles Adams (who remained in Russia). On August 21/September 2, 1814, Harris offered to rent his former housing with furniture to Mr. and Mrs. Adams. His letters to Adams occasionally include candid reports, as in this passage regarding a British minister's view of peace talks between Great Britain and the U.S.:
"We have very late advices from England by sea -- private letters report some curious sayings of the P[lenipotentiary] R[epresentative] on our subject such as that he would never sign a peace with Mr Madison, that he would employ the whole force of his nation to overthrow him, to subdue us &c. H[is] R[oyal] H[ighness] must have found himself more than half seas over I think when he thus cheered us. it is to be hoped for their sake that his enlightened cabinet partake not of this happy spirit of their muster and for yours & the great interests confided to you that equal temperance will manifest itself in the deputies chosen to meet you" (August 21/September 2, 1814).
Levett Harris' correspondence with Alexander Glennie & Company (bankers), G. Shaw, Thomas Wilson, and others, pertains to his business activities. He discussed credits and debts, investment in what he hoped would be a profitable bullion shipment (July 10/22, 1814) and its disappointing yield (September 5/17, 1814), exchange rates, lost trunks, account corrections, shipments of wine and sundries, and other subjects. His letters occasionally document out-of-the-ordinary occurrences or practices. For example, Harris wrote about a shipment from Kiev Buxton & Company, London, which was held at the Russian custom house (September 5/17, 1814); and about a private shipment of paintings from Harris to John Vaughan, with a justification for the lack of "custom house interference" (September 16/28, 1814).
Harris peppered his business and diplomatic letters with two primary topics: fêtes and concerns about the progress of negotiations at Ghent and Vienna. One celebration in St. Petersburg was held in honor of the return of Emperor Alexander I; Harris wrote about a procession of nearly 900 military personnel, the emperor, the royal family, dukes and duchesses, and other prominent figures (July 30/August 11, 1814). He also informed his recipients about smaller parties and dinners with Russian officials and aristocrats, including Princess Beloselsky (July 29/August 9, 1814, and others). His letters reveal a deep concern for the state of negotiations at Ghent and he persistently entreated his recipients for news regarding them. In a typical example he pleads "By this time something must be known of our business at Ghent, where the British Commissioners have at length arrived. We should hope for peace, for it is really as necessary to our Adversary as to ourselves -- both are sufferers from the war & a longer continuance of it under present circumstances can only serve to gratify passion at the Expence of humanity & the dearest interests of both nations" (to Sylvanus Bourne, August 29/September 10, 1814).
His outlook on the negotiations was pessimistic; one example of many is in a letter to John W. Forbes: "I perceive Mr. Adams is about returning here from his unsuccessful mission which will induce me after his arrival to travel towards France" (September 16/28, 1814, italics added for emphasis). He occasionally responded to news of the war, including the unwelcome news of the burning of Washington and the translation and distribution of pro-British papers on the subject (three letters dated October 17/29, 1814; one to John Q. Adams dated October 21/November 2, 1814; and one to Christopher Hughes dated November 4/16, 1814).
Other topics covered in Harris' letters include: an American sailor named Samuel Hunt supposed by his family to be held in Russia (to John Q. Adams, July 25/August 5, 1814, and to M. de Weydemeyer, July 26/August 6, 1814); Admiral Cochrane's proclamation of April 25 and the detrimental impact of British naval blockades on the whole of Europe (to M. de Weydemeyer, August 30/September 10, 1814); an unpleasant travel experience in Sweden, wherein a peasant drove him with an unfit horse resulting in the death of the animal, and Harris' subsequent detention by authorities at a Post House for refusing to pay for the horse (August 8/20, 1814); a request for assistance in promoting a plan to build a permanent bridge across the Neva River (October 3/15, 1814); questions regarding patents (November 4/16, 1814); and many others.