Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John M. O'Connor Papers, 1810-1826

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, April 2010

Summary Information
Title: John M. O’Connor papers
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1810-1826
Extent: 1 linear foot
The John M. O'Connor papers contain correspondence, documents, and miscellany relating to O'Connor's military career (including the War of 1812), translation work, and political involvement.
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:

1961-1983. M-1187; M-1191; M-1192; M-1218; M-1240; M-1812; M-2092; M-2404.

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:

Preferred Citation:

John M. O’Connor papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Major John M. O'Connor papers have been arranged into three series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Documents and financial records
  • Series III: Miscellany


John Michael O'Connor was born in 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Hugh and Margaret O'Connor (d. 1812). He entered the army as a first lieutenant in 1812, serving in the 3rd New York Artillery, and was cited for gallantry at the Battle of Chippawa in 1814, and brevetted major, assistant adjutant general, in the same year. While serving under Major General George Izard, he obtained a transfer order without Izard's consent, precipitating a long-standing feud between the two men. Izard brought O'Connor before a court martial, and O'Connor received a two-month suspension and loss of his brevet, but he was honorably discharged in June 1815, and promoted to captain, 4th Infantry, during his reinstatement in January 1816.

In the postwar army, O'Connor translated Gay de Vernon's Treatise on the Science of War and Fortifications, which was used as a textbook at West Point beginning in 1818 and for many years afterward. During this process, he spent two years in France at the École Polytechnique near Paris and the military school at Metz. Discouraged by the failure of his application for further study in France, and by chronic illness, he left the army in 1821, and began trading securities. He also became involved in the unsuccessful 1824 presidential campaign of William H. Crawford. He died of illness on February 25, 1826, at the age of 36.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The John M. O'Connor papers contain 350 letters, 15 financial records, 7 legal documents, and several lists, clippings, and the lyrics to a song, spanning 1810-1826. The correspondence is almost entirely incoming and the majority dates to the period from 1815 to 1824. Approximately 20 of the letters relate to the War of 1812; some discuss official army matters, such as supplies and troops, while others concern popular opinion of the war (June 26, 1813: "The public do not appear to be satisfied with the military acquirements of the Commander in chief, and not a few are so daring as to stigmatize his operations as being tardy & imbecile"). A series of letters in September and October 1812 relate to the death of O'Connor's mother, Margaret.

Correspondence in 1815-1816 mentions and documents the chain of events arising from the feud between O'Connor and Major General George Izard, including O'Connor's court martial and subsequent leave of absence, and his attempts to regain his position and good standing in the army. Slightly later correspondence documents O'Connor's translation of Gay de Vernon's Treatise on the Science of War and Fortifications, and includes a letter from O'Connor to Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, encouraging him to request more copies of the work in order to ensure the success of the project (March 4, 1818). Approximately 15 letters from this period were written in French.

The majority of the material, particularly later in the collection, relates to national politics and political factions in New York State. On October 12, 1818, William H. Crawford, whom O'Connor would later back in the presidential election of 1824, wrote to O'Connor concerning a visit to the South, including observations on the failure of crops, family news, and French politics. On February 18, 1820, James Taylor provided a long account of the Missouri Compromise to O'Connor, and commented that "I am constrained to believe that the spirit of intolerance & oppression towards the black man, and the determination to perpetuate his bondage…are daily gaining ground in the Southern & Southeastern United States." Letters of November 1823 concern the presidential election of 1824 and New York politics.

Also of interest are letters from O'Connor's sister, Eliza, who seems to have been a governess or lady's companion in Middletown, Pennsylvania, but left because of dissatisfaction with the position: "You say that I was placed with the most respectable family in Middletown and all my wants were provided for, and I was at once raised to a respectable and enviable situation, as to their respectability no one will dispute it, as to my situation being enviable, I do not know how excepting I was independent of them, the want of relations will never be compensated to me by strangers" (August 25, 1820). Many letters throughout the collection also document O'Connor's interest in trading stocks and bonds. Letters from his agent, Thomas Hutchison, show his interest in bank bonds and provide advice and information on securities trading.

Several of the documents in the collection relate to the military, including 1814 General Orders, several financial records, and two certificates. Also included are several bonds, a bill of lading, and lists relating to O'Connor's translation work.

Subject Terms

    • Banks and banking.
    • Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836.
    • Courts-martial and courts of inquiry.
    • Crawford, William Harris, 1772-1834.
    • Death.
    • French language--Translating into English.
    • Governesses.
    • Izard, George, 1777-1828.
    • Mansfield, Jared, 1759-1830.
    • Middletown (Dauphin County, Pa.)
    • Miller, Silvanus, 1770 or 71-1861.
    • Missouri Compromise.
    • New York (State)--Politics and government.
    • Paris (France)
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1824.
    • Securities.
    • Stiles, Samuel, 1796-1861.
    • Stocks.
    • United States. Army. Dept. of West Point.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Equipment and supplies.
    • United States--Politics and government--19th century.
    • Crawford, William Harris, 1772-1834.
    • Hutchison, Thomas.
    • Mansfield, Jared, 1759-1830.
    • Miller, Silvanus, 1770 or 71-1861.
    • O'Connor, John Michael, 1790-1826.
    • Stiles, Samuel, 1796-1861.
    Genre Terms:
    • Correspondence.
    • Legal documents.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Correspondence [series]:
      May 12, 1812-June 8, 1821 (46 folders)
    Box   2  
      July 1, 1821-May 8, 1826,  Undated (28 folders)
    Documents and financial records [series]:
      September 13, 1810-October 31, 1826 (2 folders)
    Miscellany [series]:
    Lists relating to book printing and distribution, [n.d.]
    Song lyrics ("A rosy cheek, a sparkling eye…") [n.d.]
    Newspaper clipping,  1823
    Additional Descriptive Data

    The New York Historical Society holds a collection of John Michael O'Connor papers, 1807-1826 .

    Alternate Locations

    One letter and several documents are housed in Manuscripts Oversize.

    The Book Division houses the following item from the John M. O’Connor papers:

    Woodward, W. Proposals for publishing in the village of Rome, a weekly newspaper, to be entitled The Oneida plebeian. [Rome, New York], 1823.

    Related Materials

    [Gay de Vernon, S. Francois; O'Connor, Michael]. A treatise on the science of war and fortification: composed for the use of the Imperial polytechnick school, and military schools. New-York: Printed by J: Seymour, no. 49 John-street, 1847.