The David Selden letters consist of 10 letters from Selden to his parents, written between 1811 and 1819, in which he commented on business matters, the economic situation in Great Britain, and foreign relations, particularly the effects of the War of 1812 on shipping and trade. Selden wrote nine of the letters between January 1811 and January 1813. The correspondence begins with Selden's announcement of his safe arrival in Liverpool on January 1, 1811; in the same letter, he commented on the Non-Intercourse Act and expressed relief that all exports to England had not been forbidden. Two other letters from 1811 paint an increasingly bleak picture of the economic situation in England, with commerce "at a very low ebb" and rampant unemployment and theft, especially in Manchester (February 4, 1811).
Several letters written by Selden between 1812 and 1813 refer to the War of 1812, and offer the views of an expatriate with a strong financial stake in peace. In several letters, Selden commented on licensing and the odds of having his ships seized, and expressed his hope that British concessions would appease American "war maniacs" and bring an end to conflict (August 20, 1812). On November 27, 1812, he wrote to his parents, reporting that one of his ships, the Fanny , had gotten through to New York and expressed hope that the United States would not prosecute him for violation of the Non-Intercourse Act. He also made several references to Russell Brainerd, a friend and American prisoner of war on the H.M.S. Royal William , whose exchange he hoped to orchestrate.
Selden's letters also contain frequent references to international events, such as the Napoleonic Wars, and show Selden's particular interest in Russia, which he saw as a potential trading partner, though he criticized the country for its "cruelty and superstition," and its use of "white slaves" (November 27, 1812). Selden wrote the final letter in the collection, dated October 20, 1819, while in New York and stated that he was unsure of his future plans, and was considering a move to the American South.