Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
John Holker Papers, 1770-1872

Finding aid created by
Clements Staff and Philip Heslip, November 2009

Summary Information
Title: John Holker papers
Creator: Holker, John, 1745-1822 and Holker, Nancy Davis Stackpole, 1777-1857
Inclusive dates: 1770-1872
Extent: 0.75 linear feet
This collection consists of the official and private correspondence of John Holker, merchant, speculator, and French consul general to the United States during the American Revolution. The collection also contains items related to Holker's wife, Nancy Davis Stackpole Holker, who managed his estate after his death.
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:

1932-1966. M-173, M-648, M-1059, M-1083, M-1392.

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:

John Holker Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into two series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Documents and Financial Records.

Each series is ordered chronologically with undated items filed at the end.


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the official and private correspondence of John Holker, merchant, speculator, and French consul general to the United States during the American Revolution. Included are 301 letters and 35 financial records. The documents from 1825 to 1872 concern Holker's third wife Nancy Davis Holker and her business with her husband's estate after his death.

The Correspondence series contains approximately 85 items relating to Holker's official consular duties and his efforts to supply the French fleet in American waters from 1778-1781. These items, which include both letters addressed to Holker in Philadelphia and copies of letters he wrote to France, offer information on the contracts and accounts of the French Royal Marines.

The bulk of the collection, however, concerns Holker's private business interests, primarily his partnership with Turnbull in supplying the Continental Army. Also notable are letters between Holker and his associate John Barclay, 1807-1816, that address national politics and foreign affairs as well as business interests such as the building of a distillery in Poughkeepsie, New York; his import business in Virginia; and land speculation in Illinois and Indiana. Other items document various lawsuits pertaining to Holker's business ventures, especially with Daniel Parker and William Duer. Many of the documents are in French, including all dated before 1779.

The papers from 1825 to 1872 concern Nancy Davis Holker and relate to the management of Holker's Virginia farm after his death and to the settlement of his estate. One "Article of Agreement" from March 1, 1832, details the renting out of the Springbury estate for agricultural use. The lease includes the farm, tools, buildings, and at least 13 slaves (all named). The document specified that at the end of a 3-year lease all of the property had to be returned, including the slaves who should be "clothed in the manner that the custom of the country requires[.] hired slaves to be returned clothed." This portion of the collection also contains 13 personal letters to Nancy from her daughter Anna Maria Adelaide which discuss family and personal matters. One particularly interesting letter from Anna Maria Adelaide contains a defense of slavery in the South (February 1, 1839). She argued that her father bought and sold slaves and suggested that her mother was only uncomfortable with the practice because she disliked Anna's husband, Hugh Nelson. "[G]et over this prejudice and not allow those around you to influence you." While she acknowledged that slavery was a regrettable practice, to her it seemed "impossible to live above the world."

The Documents and Financial Records series (35 items) consists of two Revolutionary war era receipts for flour and beef, and later receipts from farmers, merchants, and baker's (with many items from Peter Royston) for food stuffs, cloth, and other goods (1812-1822). Of note are two receipts for slaves (1818). Later items include Nancy Holker's annual food and supply receipts from 1848 and 1857.

Subject Terms

    • Diplomatic and consular service, French--United States.
    • Embargo, 1807-1809.
    • Farm tenancy--Virginia.
    • Finance, Public--United States--History--To 1789.
    • France--Foreign relations--1774-1793.
    • France. Marine--Supplies and stores.
    • France. Treaties, etc. United States, 1788 Nov. 14.
    • International trade.
    • Land speculation--Illinois.
    • Land speculation--Indiana.
    • Marriage settlements--Virginia.
    • Merchants--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
    • Nelson, Anna Maria Adelaide Holker.
    • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Commerce.
    • Plantations--Virginia--Clarke County.
    • United States--Foreign relations--France.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Participation, French.
    • United States. Continental Army--Supplies and stores.
    • Bancroft, Edward, 1744-1821.
    • Barclay, John, 1749-1816.
    • Turnbull, William, 1751-1822.
    • Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Letters, Letter Books, and Documents [series]
    Box   1 Folder   1
     January 27, 1770-April 10, 1779
    Box   1 Folder   2
     April 18-October 27, 1779
    Box   1 Folder   3
    Letter Book,  October 30, 1779-May 1, 1781
    Box   1 Folder   4
     November 4-17, 1779
    Box   1 Folder   5
    Box   1 Folder   6
     January 13-April 8, 1780
    Box   1 Folder   7
     June 2-July 14, 1780
    Box   1 Folder   8
     July 17-August 18, 1780
    Box   1 Folder   9
     September 9, 1780-May 11, 1781
    Box   1 Folder   10
     May 17-September 12, 1781
    Box   1 Folder   11
     September 20-October 19, 1781
    Box   1 Folder   12
     October 25-December 18, 1781
    Box   1 Folder   13
    Box   1 Folder   14
     January 9-April 3, 1782
    Box   1 Folder   15
     April 5-August 30, 1782
    Box   1 Folder   16
     August 30-December 28, 1782
    Box   1 Folder   17
     January 10-August 12, 1783
    Box   1 Folder   18
     September 29, 1783-September 17, 1784
    Box   1 Folder   19
    Box   1 Folder   20
     February 25, 1785-February 21, 1789
    Box   1 Folder   21
     October 17, 1789-August 30, 1794
    Box   1 Folder   22
     May 9, 1795-[1799]
    Box   1 Folder   23
     June 14, 1800-June 23, 1802
    Box   1 Folder   24
     May 28, 1804-February 20, 1808
    Box   1 Folder   25
     February 24-May 29, 1808
    Box   1 Folder   26
     June 1-August 21, 1808
    Box   1 Folder   27
     August 28, 1808-March 24, 1809
    Box   1 Folder   28
     September 21, 1809-December 6, 1810
    Box   1 Folder   29
     January 20-August 16, 1811
    Box   1 Folder   30
     September 24, 1811-January 24, 1814
    Box   1 Folder   31
     March 17, 1814-March 24, 1817
    Box   1 Folder   32
     June 13, 1817-August 4, 1818
    Box   1 Folder   33
     December 30, 1818-May 13, 1820
    Box   1 Folder   34
     June 1, 1820-November 3, 1821
    Letters and Documents [series]
    Box   2 Folder   1
     January 18, 1825-November 13, 1838
    Box   2 Folder   2
     November 28, 1838-March 20, 1839
    Box   2 Folder   3
     April 4, 1839-January 28, 1842
    Box   2 Folder   4
     November 7, 1842-February 29, 1872
    Box   2 Folders   5-6
    Financial Records [series]
    Box   2 Folder   7
    Box   2 Folder   8
    Box   2 Folder   9
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    Fourteen documents are located in oversize manuscripts.

    Related Materials

    The Chaloner papers hold three letters written by John Holker:

    • Holker to Chamption, Jan 5, 1786
    • Holker to Pemberton and Chaloner, October 21, 1788
    • Chaloner and Holker to Martin, September 28, 1790

    Rémond, André. John Holker: Manufacturier Et Grand Fonctionnaire En France Au XVIIIme Siècle, 1719-1786. Paris: M. Rivière, 1946.

    Holker, John, and Robert Morris. Correspondence Between John Holker, Esquire, Inspector General of Trade And Manufactures, And Late Consul General, of France, And Robert Morris, Esquire, Late Superintendant of the Finances of the United States: To Which Is Annexed a Memorial, Relative to the Transactions Between Them, And to the Principles On Which Mr. Morris Offered a Final Settlement Thereof, by His Letter of the 26th of February, 1784. Philadelphia: Printed by Charles Cist, in Arch-Street, 1786.

    Holker, John. Sir, I Have the Honour to Transmit a Report On the Petition of John Holker Prepared In Obedience to a Resolution of the Senate of the 9th Ultimo. Washington, 1816.