Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Christopher Van Deventer Papers, 1799-1925

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, March 2011

Summary Information
Title: Christopher Van Deventer papers
Creator: Van Deventer, Christopher, 1788-1838
Inclusive dates: 1799-1925
Extent: 3 linear feet
The Christopher Van Deventer papers contain incoming and outgoing correspondence and documents concerning the War of 1812, the politics of the 1810s and 1820s, and the political career of John C. Calhoun.
Language: The material is in English
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:

1961, 1962, 1964, 1979, 1982. M-1164.1-13, M-1188, M-1286, M-1878, M-1981.

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.

Alternate Format:

A few letters in this collection have been printed in The Papers of John C. Calhoun , edited by Robert L. Meriwether.

Preferred Citation:

Christopher Van Deventer Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Christopher Van Deventer papers contain two series: Correspondence and Documents and Diaries.


Christopher Van Deventer was born July 30, 1788, in New York, the son of Peter Van Deventer and Mary Durham. He attended Williams College and West Point and served in the United States Army during the years 1809 to 1816. He was appointed lieutenant in Scott's Regiment of Artillery in 1809. In 1812, he was assistant military agent at Fort Columbus, New York Harbor, and the next year, he began service as deputy quartermaster general at the rank of major. Van Deventer was captured at the Battle of Stony Creek on June 6, 1813, and transported as a prisoner of war to Quebec. He and Major Isaac Roach attempted an escape in the fall, but were recaptured and placed in solitary confinement. Van Deventer finally received his freedom around February of 1815. At the close of the war, he was retained in the service, and in 1816 was aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Joseph G. Swift. He resigned from the military on August 30, 1816, and in 1817, he was appointed chief clerk in the United States War Department under John C. Calhoun, a position he held until 1827. In 1818, he was involved in a scandal, eventually ending his public career, when his brother-in-law, Elijah Mix, bid on a War Department contract to provide stones for the construction of a fort at the Rip Raps shoal in Chesapeake Bay. Van Deventer was originally unaware of the deal, but agreed to underwrite a quarter of its expense when Mix found that he could not finance the work; in 1819, Van Deventer took on an additional quarter the project's interest, against the advice of Calhoun. Details of the deals came out in 1822 and 1825, and, in the latter year, Calhoun called for a full investigation of the matter, which led to Van Deventer's resignation. Van Deventer died in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., on April 22, 1838.

Van Deventer married three times: first to Marcia Kellogg (d. 1813) with whom he had a daughter named Marcia; then to Eliza Cooper; and finally to Sally Birkhead (ca. 1823).

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Christopher Van Deventer papers contain 622 items, including 569 letters, 38 financial and legal documents, 6 newspaper clippings, 5 diaries, an essay, a map, a photograph, and a printed item. The papers span 1799-1925 (bulk 1810 and 1835).

The Correspondence and Documents series contains Van Deventer's incoming and outgoing letters, receipts, certificates, and other documents, spanning 1799-1900. The materials cover various stages of his career, including his role as deputy quartermaster general in the early stages of the War of 1812, his imprisonment in Quebec and attempted escape, his friendship with John C. Calhoun and involvement in national politics, and the scandal which ended his public career.

The series opens with several letters and memoranda about the neutrality of the United States leading up to the War of 1812, including a manuscript essay signed "Gilbert" and entitled "Ought the United States to abandon Neutrality by forming an alliance with either Belligerent?" and the urgency of reconciliation with both Great Britain and France (filed after 1809). Samuel de Veaux, the commissary of Fort Niagara, also contributed several letters on the topic, stating in one, "the maintainance [sic] of a strict neutrality will be at the expense of the honour, the dignity, and the independence of the nation" (March 6, 1810). Upon the outbreak of the war, most letters and documents concern war efforts and Van Deventer's duties with the Quartermaster Department. These include requests concerning British fortifications at Niagara (June 28, 1812), the use of receipts to track expenditures, the construction of boats at Sackets Harbor (February 11, 1813), and a reconnaissance report concerning Fort George ([1813]).

After Van Deventer's capture at the Battle of Stony Creek on June 6, 1813, the collection documents his imprisonment in Quebec from July 1813 to February 1815. Letters received by Van Deventer include assurances from friends that they will get him exchanged (July 9, 1813), updates on his daughter (August 20, 1813), and details of his finances back in New York. Van Deventer also wrote frequently to friends and family members, describing his state of mind and the conditions of his imprisonment. On October 31, 1813, he noted that he was in "close confinement…limited by bolts and bars and locks" along with about 45 other American officers. He also provided a report of American officers confined with him, including names, ranks, corps, and remarks, and noted that they were "arrayed in a suite of upper rooms" with four men per room (November 4, 1813). Several letters contain references to a failed attempt to escape that he tried in late 1813. On December 25, 1813, he wrote, "I now am as miserable a condition as a man can be: in solitary confinement…deprived of my servant cut of[f] from converse with my countrymen." Van Deventer's imprisonment seemed to take an increasing toll on his mental state; on March 26, 1814, he wrote, "You tell me not to be discouraged--'hope!' ha, ha, ha, 'hope,' hope for what?" He also wrote in one letter that he had resolved "to practice the Stoic principle that 'whatever is independent on choice, is nothing to me'" (May 24, 1814).

After ca, February 1815, the date of Van Deventer's release, the collection primarily concerns correspondence relating to his career as chief clerk in the War Department; American politics, including the presidential candidacy of John C. Calhoun; the scandal related to Rip Raps shoal contract; and scattered personal and financial letters. In his role in the War Department, Van Deventer corresponded on numerous military matters. On January 16, 1818, he discussed the peacetime establishment of the United States Army and its reduction in size (January 15, 1818). Around 1819, he noted his support of Andrew Jackson's attacks on the Seminoles in Florida, stating, "we do affirm that neither the Constitution nor the laws have been violated by marching our forces into Florida" [1819].

The collection also contains approximately 12 letters written to Van Deventer by John C. Calhoun between 1818 and 1836. These concern such topics as political appointments (September 2, 1821), Calhoun's predictions of doom for the John Quincy Adams administration (August 12, 1827), the growing rift between Calhoun and President Andrew Jackson (May 12, 1830), and several letters concerning the Rip-Raps affair, including Calhoun's pledge of support of Van Deventer against charges of military contract fraud (March 25, 1825). In a letter dated July 23, 1827, Calhoun responded to Van Deventer's suggestion that Calhoun should visit the north "with the view to remove unfavorable impressions" of him there, commenting that he did not want to undertake such a task simply for the sake of popularity. In addition, Calhoun noted that he foresaw "a great crisis" in United States public affairs. In another letter, of March 24, 1833, he addressed the nullification crisis, writing, "I have no doubt the system has got its death wound. Nullification has dealt the fatal blow." Also included are approximately 15 letters relating to Calhoun's candidacy for president in 1824, including Van Deventer's endorsement of him ([1823]), and a discussion of the upcoming election (September 21, 1824).

Also included are numerous letters and documents relating to the Rip Raps military contract scandal, including substantial correspondence between Van Deventer and Elijah Mix, an assertion of confidence in Van Deventer's character by James Monroe (November 27, 1826), numerous letters of support from friends and colleagues, and a printed report by the U.S. House of Representatives (May 22, 1822). The materials cover many aspects of the scandal and its aftermath.

The Diaries series contains five brief, loose-leaf diaries covering the following periods: April 26-May 5, 1819; January 10-March 3, 1825; October 13, 1825-July 3, 1826; July 4-November 3, 1826; and December 2, 1826-April 7, 1827. Entries are terse and business-like in nature and track Van Deventer's activities as chief clerk in the War Department, including the correspondence and reports he received, colleagues with whom he spoke on various matters, and documents that he wrote and sent. In a few entries, he mentioned comments made by John C. Calhoun; for example, on January 10, 1825, he noted that "Mr Calhoun remarked on Mr [DeWitt] Clinton's speech, that Mr Clinton had put himself on his Mr Calhouns ground--that the Radical party was wholly demolished…." In an entry of November 23, 1825, he discussed public perceptions and popularity of Calhoun in Washington, D.C.

Subject Terms

    • Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850.
    • Nullification (States' rights)
    • Prisoners of war--Canada.
    • Scandals--History.
    • United States. Army. Quartermaster Corps.
    • United States. War Dept.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Campaigns.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Prisoners and prisons.
    • United States--Politics and government--1815-1861.
    • Abert, John James, 1788-1863.
    • Armstrong, John, 1758-1843.
    • Atkinson, Henry, 1782-1842.
    • Bankhead, James, 1783-1856.
    • Barbour, James, 1775-1842.
    • Barron, James, 1769-1851.
    • Bernard, Simon, 1779-1839.
    • Brown, Jacob, 1775-1828.
    • Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850.
    • Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866.
    • Clay, Green, 1757-1826.
    • Clay, Henry, 1777-1852.
    • Clinton, De Witt, 1769-1828.
    • Crawford, William Harris, 1772-1834.
    • Dix, John A. (John Adams), 1798-1879.
    • Edwards, Ninian, 1775-1833.
    • Gadsden, James, 1788-1858.
    • Gansevoort, Peter, 1749-1812.
    • Garrard, James, 1749-1822.
    • Law, Elizabeth Parke Custis, 1776-1832.
    • Lear, Tobias, 1762-1816.
    • Le Conte, John Eatton, 1784-1860.
    • Macomb, Alexander, 1782-1841.
    • McDuffie, George, 1790-1851.
    • McKenney, Thomas Loraine, 1785-1859.
    • McRee, William, 1787-1833.
    • Miller, Morris Smith, 1779-1824.
    • Monroe, James, 1758-1831.
    • Ripley, Eleazer Wheelock, 1782-1839.
    • Roach, Isaac, 1786-1848.
    • Scott, Winfield, 1786-1866.
    • Simkins, Eldred, 1779-1831.
    • Simons, Keating, 1753-1834.
    • Spencer, John Canfield, 1788-1855.
    • Stoddard, Amos, 1762-1813.
    • Sullivan, John Langdon, 1777-1865.
    • Swift, Joseph Gardner, 1783-1865.
    • Talcott, Samuel Austin, 1789-1836.
    • Thayer, Sylvanus, 1785-1872.
    • Thornton, William, 1759-1828.
    • Throop, Enos Thompson, 1784-1874.
    • Tucker, Thomas Tudor, 1745-1828.
    • Wheaton, Henry, 1785-1848.
    • Whiting, Henry, 1788-1851.
    • Winder, William Henry, 1775-1824.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Orders (military records)
    • Receipts (financial records)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence and Documents [series]
    Box   1  
     December 24, 1799-February 20, 1814
    Box   2  
     March 8, 1814-June 2, 1816
    Box   3  
     January 31, 1817-April 17, [1820]
    Box   4  
     May 2, 1820-November 16, 1822
    Box   5  
     December 17, 1822-[1825]
    Box   6  
     January 15, 1826-February 1827
    Box   7  
     March 2, 1827-August 18, 1831
    Box   8  
     September 9, 1831-October 24, 1900,  undated items
    Diaries [series]
    Box   8  
     April 26-May 5, 1819
     January 10-March 3, 1825
     October 13, 1825-July 3, 1826
     July 4-November 3, 1826
     December 2, 1826-April 7, 1827
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following items are housed in the Book Division: