Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Levett Harris Letterbook, 1813-1814

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, January 2012

Summary Information
Title: Levett Harris letterbook
Creator: Harris, Levett, ca. 1784-1839?
Inclusive dates: 1813-1814
Bulk dates: 1814
Extent: 1 volume
The Levett Harris letterbook contains 82 retained copies of official and semi-official letters from Harris, American consul to Russia, to correspondents in Europe and America. His recipients include members of the U.S. peace commission at Ghent, bankers and merchants in the U.S. and England, and other professional contacts.
Language: The material is in English and French
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1959. M-1110.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Levett Harris Letterbook, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Levett Harris letter book is a single bound volume.


In 1780, the United States sent Francis Dana as envoy to Russia in order to establish diplomatic relations. The mission failed, as did another attempt to establish a United States representative in 1794. When Russia recognized the United States in October 1803, Czar Alexander I accepted Levett Harris as U.S. representative at St. Petersburg. Harris was a Philadelphia Quaker, who served as American consul from 1803 until 1816. Among other tasks, he helped merchants and their ship personnel understand and comply with Russian trade laws.

The official diplomatic relationship between Russia and the United States began in 1807, with the appointment of John Quincy Adams as the first U.S. ambassador to Russia, who arrived at St. Petersburg in 1809 with his wife, Louisa C. Adams. Harris was an important American in St. Petersburg and well-liked by the Czar and his foreign minister. He spent part of the winter and spring of 1814 in England, but returned to Russia in order to serve an appointment as U.S. chargé d'affaires, while John Quincy Adams traveled to Ghent for the War of 1812 peace negotiations. Although Harris hoped to spend the 1814-1815 winter in the United States or France, Adams' absence for the ongoing peace talks prevented him from leaving his post.

Levett Harris later attempted to become U.S. minister to Russia, but failed to obtain the position, partly on account of charges of official misconduct. His reputation suffered from multiple accusations of corruption. In 1819, Harris sued American merchant William D. Lewis for making the libelous claim that he had taken advantage of his post in Russia by accepting bribes to permit illicit ships and cargo through customs.

The American Philosophical Society elected Levett Harris into their membership in 1821. Harris' nephew, John Harris Pugsley (ca. 1789-1833) officially changed his name to John Levett Harris in 1810, and followed his uncle as consul to St. Petersburg. He served from 1816 to 1819.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, 1777-1825.
    • Diplomatic and consular service, American--Russia--History--19th century.
    • Romanzoff, Nikolai, Count, 1734-1826.
    • Russia--Foreign relations--1801-1825.
    • Russia--Foreign relations--United States.
    • United States--Foreign relations--1812-1815.
    • United States--Foreign relations--Russia.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Peace.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Political aspects.
    • Washington (D.C.)--History--Capture by the British, 1814.
    • Schmidt, Joachim.
    • Schmidt, Peter.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Letter books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Levett Harris letter book,  1813-1814
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Bemis, Samuel Flagg. John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.

    O'Brien, Michael. Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.

    Rhoads, James Berton. "Harris, Lewis, and the Hollow Tree." The American Archivist 25, no. 3 (July 1962): 295-314.

    Recipient Index (the first date identifies the Julian calendar date and the second identifies the Gregorian calendar date):
    Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848.
    • 1814 July 10/22
    • 1814 July 31/August 12
    • 1814 August 21/September 2
    • 1814 September 2/14
    • 1814 September 9/21
    • 1814 October 14/26
    • 1814 October 21/November 2
    • 1814 October 31/November 12
    Alexander Glennie Son & Company.
    • 1814 July 10/22
    • 1814 July 25/August 6
    • 1814 July 29/August 9
    • 1814 August 5/17
    • 1814 August 19/31
    • 1814 August 22/September 3
    • 1814 August 26/September 7
    • 1814 September 5/17
    • 1814 September 16/28
    • 1814 September 19/October 1
    • 1814 October 3/15
    • 1814 October 17/29
    • 1814 October 28/November 9
    Barthe, Dominick.
    • 1814 January 7
    • 1814 September 15/27
    Bayard, James A. (James Asheton), 1767-1815.
    • 1814 July 21/August 2
    • 1814 October 31/November 12
    Bourne, Sylvanus, 1761-1817.
    • 1814 August 29/September 10
    Brown, Lawrence.
    • 1814 April 24
    • 1814 September 14/26
    Dickson, Robert.
    • 1814 January 7/19
    • 1814 July 18/30
    Forbes, John W.
    • 1814 September 16/28
    • 1814 November 4/16
    Forbes, R. B.
    • 1814 November 4/16
    • 1814 November 7/19
    Gallatin, Albert, 1761-1849.
    • 1814 August 21/30
    • 1814 November 11/23
    Glennie, Alexander.
    • 1814 July 15/27
    • 1814 September 12/24
    • 1814 November 7/19
    Hall, Joseph.
    • 1814 July 18/30
    Hughes, Christopher, 1786-1849.
    • 1814 July 21/August 2
    • 1814 November 4/16
    Kiev Buxton & Company.
    • 1814 September 5/17
    Laval, Monsieur de.
    • 1814 October 7/19
    Lawrence, J[onathan?] L.
    • 1814 July 18/30
    • 1814 August 8/20
    • 1814 September 12/24
    [McEnen] Hall & Davidson.
    • 1814 September 16/28
    Monroe, James, 1758-1831.
    • 1814 September 14/26 (official dispatch)
    Norman, Thomas W.
    • 1814 August 26/September 7
    • 1814 August 29/September 10
    • 1814 September 5/17
    • 1814 October 7/19
    • 1814 October 17/29
    • 1814 October 28/November 9
    Parker, Cortland L.
    • 1814 October 28/November 9
    Randolph, D. M.
    • 1814 October 3/15
    Rodde, Diedrich.
    • 1814 January 7/[January 19]
    • 1814 January 21/[February 2]
    • 1814 August 28/September 9
    • 1814 October 24/[November 4]
    Rowlett, William.
    • 1814 September 30/October 12
    Shaw, G.
    • 1814 July 29/August 9
    • 1814 August 12/24
    • 1814 September 19/October 1
    • 1814 October 3/15
    • 1814 October 17/29
    • 1814 October 28/November 9
    Sievers, Monsieur de.
    • 1814 September [between 19 and 30]
    Teilche, Frederick.
    • 1814 October 10/22
    Vaughan, John.
    • 1814 September 16/28
    Weydemeyer, Monsieur de.
    • 1814 July 26/[August 7]
    • 1814 August 30/September 10
    Wilhelm & Jan Willink.
    • 1814 October 14/26
    Wilson, Thomas.
    • 1814 July 29/August 10
    • 1814 August 12/24
    • 1814 September 9/21
    • 1814 September 19/October 1
    • 1814 September 30/October 12
    [unknown recipient].
    • 1814 October 16/28