John Holker papers  1770-1872
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Biography

John (Jean) Holker (1745-1822), born in Manchester, was the son of Chevalier Jean Holker, an English Jacobite who fled to Rouen, France, in 1745 and became prominent in French textile manufacturing. The younger Holker returned to England between 1769 and 1772 to study the Hargreave and Arkwright manufacturing processes. In 1777, father and son were involved in helping the American commissioners in Paris obtain military clothing and other supplies. In 1778, with Benjamin Franklin's support, John Holker and Conrad Alexandre Gérard came to America as the first French ministers to the United States. Holker was the agent for the French navy in American ports and consul of France, and took up permanent residence in Philadelphia. During the war, he supplied arms and provisions to the French fleet, with Robert Morris acting as Holker's American agent in Philadelphia and William Smith as his agent in Baltimore.

By 1780, Holker had become consul general for Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. While acting in this official capacity, he was engaged in extensive private business speculations with Robert Morris, William Turnbull, and Peter Marmie. Complaints from local authorities on his financial activities led the French government to demand that he either observe the prohibition against public officials engaging in trade or resign. Holker resigned in 1781, preferring to continue his various business ventures that included supplying clothes to Continental troops during the war, and later investing in western land speculation, Pittsburgh ironworks, distilleries, saw mills, and salt works. He and his partners William Turnbull and Peter Marmie formed the Alliance Iron Works, which was important to the early development of Pittsburgh as an urban center. The death of his father and the turmoil of the French Revolution diminished his assets and left him with fewer business ties in France. Following the war, Holker settled in Springsbury, Virginia, where he remained until his death in 1822, with the exception of a brief sojourn in France from 1800 to 1804.

Holker had children with three wives on both sides of the Atlantic. He first married Elizabeth Julie Quesnel (1748-1820) in France in 1769; they had one son, Jean-Louis Holker (1770-1884), who stayed in France with his mother. Holker's second wife was Hannah Hay Cooper (1755-1812) of Pennsylvania, whom he married in America even though his French wife was still alive. They had two children: Catherine Cooper (1781-1857), and Maria Holker, who died in 1794 in Virginia at age 10.

After the death of Hannah, Holker married Nancy Davis Stackpole (1777--1857) daughter of Boston wine merchant William Stackpole (1746--1813) and Ann Jackson Parker (d. 1807). Nancy’s first husband was John Morgan Stillman, whom she wed in 1794. She married John Holker in January 1815, and they had one daughter, Anna Maria Adelaide (1816-1875). Nancy Holker died in 1857 at her daughter's estate Long Branch in Clark County, Virginia.