Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
David Selden Papers, 1811-1819

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, May 2010

Summary Information
Title: David Selden papers
Creator: Selden family
Inclusive dates: 1811-1819
Extent: 10 items
The David Selden papers contain correspondence from Selden, an American merchant in Liverpool, concerning business, the War of 1812, and conditions in Great Britain.
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:

1991. M-2704a.

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:

David Selden Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The David Selden papers are arranged chronologically.


David Selden was born in Chatham, Connecticut, June 4, 1785, the son of the Congregational minister of Middle Haddam Church, David Selden (1761-1825), and his wife, Cynthia May (1761-1850). Selden sailed to Liverpool, England, in 1811, in order to make his fortune in the international mercantile trade. During the War of 1812, he was a prisoner on parole, and in 1818, he filed for bankruptcy. Afterwards, he returned briefly to the United States, where he married Gertrude Richards in 1820. The pair had 11 children. In 1822, he returned to England and with his business partner, William Hynde, became an important cotton importer. He also traded coffee, and in 1831, received a patent for a coffee-grinding mill. He died February 23, 1861.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Great Britain--Economic conditions--1760-1860.
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--United States.
    • International trade.
    • Liverpool (England)
    • Prisoners of war.
    • Shipping.
    • United States--Foreign relations--Great Britain.
    • United States--History--War of 1812.
    • United States--History--War of 1812--Prisoners and prisons.
    • Selden, David, 1761-1825.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   46, Small Collections  
    David Selden papers [series]
    Folder   34  
     January 1, 1811-February 20, 1811
    Folder   35  
     July 20, 1812-August 20, 1812
    Folder   36  
     October 8, 1812-December 9, 1812
    Folder   37  
     January 26, 1813-October 20, 1819
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library's Henry Upson papers contain a letter from Selden: June 3, 1812.

    The New York Public Library has David Selden papers, 1804-1814 (1 folder).