Levi Hollingsworth papers (1803-1841, bulk 1812-1815)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Philip Heslip, April 2011
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Levi Hollingsworth papers
Creator: Thompson, James, 1782-1847
Inclusive dates: 1803-1841
Bulk dates: 1812-1815
Extent: 64 items
The Levi Hollingsworth papers consist of business letters and documents written by the prominent Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth to a firm run by James Thompson, of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania. The collection consists of 56 letters, 5 financial documents, and 3 newspaper clippings, and relates largely to trade in flour, whiskey, sugar, coffee, and other staples during the War of 1812.
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: www.clements.umich.edu

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1996. M-3274 .

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

Levi Hollingsworth Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into two series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Financial Documents and Newspaper Clippings

The Correspondence series is ordered chronologically.


Prominent Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth (1739-1824) was born to Zebulon Hollingsworth and Anne Maulden, in Head of Elk, Maryland. Like his father, Levi Hollingsworth was heavily involved in the flour trade. He first partnered with George Adams in 1759. Other Hollingsworth firm and partnership names include Hollingsworth and Rudulph (1770), Levi Hollingsworth (1772), Levi Hollingsworth and Son (1793), Paschall Hollingsworth and Company (1824), and Morris, Tasker and Morris (1837). His business supplied the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and Hollingsworth himself served as a member of the First Troop Philadelphia Cavalry. After the war, Hollingsworth became one of the most important Philadelphia merchants and a powerful figure in local Federalist circles. He was an outspoken opponent of the War of 1812, during which Congress-initiated embargos and British blockades devastated the domestic flour trade. At the time of his death in 1824, the Pennsylvanian flour industry had diminished, largely because of cheap flour production in the South and West.

James Thompson (1782-1847), the main recipient of this collection's letters, was a miller from Thompsontown, Pennsylvania. Born to William Thompson and Jane Mitchell, James, along with his brothers William and Richard, became a successful flour producer. He married Martha Porter Allen (1788-1855) in 1810; they had six children. In 1813, Thompson opened a flour mill in Mexico, Pennsylvania, and in 1815 he became the town's postmaster, an office he held until his death in 1847.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Levi Hollingsworth papers (64 items) consist of business letters and documents addressed to flour producer James Thompson of Thompsontown, Pennsylvania, from prominent Philadelphia merchant Levi Hollingsworth. The collection consists of 56 letters, 5 financial documents, and 3 newspaper clippings, and relates largely to trade in grains (wheat, rye, flaxseed, superfine flour, etc.), whiskey, sugar, coffee, butter, bees wax, and other staples, during the War of 1812.

The Correspondence series (56 items) is comprised of business letters from Hollingsworth to James Thompson relaying political and economic news concerning the War of 1812. Hollingsworth wrote 48 letters to James Thompson, three to Robert Thompson, and two to William Thompson. The remaining three letters, dated 1803, 1824, and 1841, include two addressed to James Thompson and one from Thompson to his brothers William and Robert.

Hollingsworth frequently discussed the war's effects on flour and food commerce. Because of war-time embargos to Europe and the British blockades along the Atlantic seaboard, American grain producers could only sell to domestic markets (bakers and retailers). The result was a prolonged period of low flour prices that resulted in much unsold and spoiled grain. Throughout the collection, Hollingsworth critiques the American government (both the President and Congress) for starting and perpetuating the war with England. Letters also document the changing price of flour, as well as methods for preserving wheat stores.

Below is a list of highlights and quotes from the collection regarding Hollingsworth's viewpoints on politics and the effect of the war on commerce. All letters are from Hollingsworth to James Thompson, unless otherwise noted:
  • September 29, 1812: "Should Mr. Madison's party prevail at the ensuing election it is believed they will stop our exports to Spain & Portugal agreeably to the Bonapartian system of destroying commerce…"
  • October 9, 1812: Letter concerning Congress' influence over the price of grain and flour.
  • March 2, 1813: Letter discussing President Madison's pressure on Congress to pass laws prohibiting exports, even to neutral countries in Europe; news that the British ( led by Sir George Rockburn) will soon blockade the port of Philadelphia
  • March 16, 1813: Letter criticizing the war and discussing the blockade: "Mr. Madison you found no difficulty in making War & we think without a just or sufficient cause…We hope you have little flour on the way"
  • March 23, 1813: "The British fleet in our Bay capture all our vessels they can catch. No sale for flour for exportation nor can we expect it while the blockade lasts and the war continues. We advise you to keep your wheat & rye in ground…"
  • August 3, 1813: "All hope of an armistice or commerce soon opening again is now vanished. Congress adjourns on the 2nd--nothing toward peace can take place at this time."
  • November 26, 1813: "The New York purchasers decline buying lest Congress should lay an Embargo before they can get the flour to New Haven & all trade be stopped"
  • December 23, 1813: "The Embargo was laid the 17th all River Bay Craft are stopped from Flying to their respective landing by an Order from the Secretary of War…all vessels are stopped. The law is for twelve months."
  • December 31, 1813: "This rash foolish war will make the United States poor, but inrich the enemy"
  • January 11, 1814: "The Presidents message to congress informing of his acceptance of the proposition to negotiate for Peace at Gottenburg was received on Saturday…uncertainty keeps everything dull…we cannot expect to enjoy trade before July even supposing no difficulty occurs in the negotiations…"
  • February 25, 1814: "Canada, if conquered, will not be worth the expense, & the Floridas [will] be a source of contest for years to come. We, however, seem determined to 'loose the horse or win the saddle'."
  • April 8, 1814: "A Bill for the repeal of the Embargo is now before Congress and expected to pass"
  • April 15, 1815: Letter containing news that Congress repealed the embargo on April 13th
  • May 2, 1815: "The price and demand for flour was greatly improved by the news of Bonaparte having taken possession of the government of France without bloodshed…"
  • July 27, 1822: James Thompson to William and Robert Thompson, concerning the bleak outlook for prices of New York wheat and corn because of additional supply from Virginia and North Carolina.
  • April 7, 1841: [H. Walters] to James Thompson describing mourning for President William Henry Harrison

The Financial Documents and Newspaper Clippings series (8 items) contains five accounts for flour trade between William and John Thompson, and Levi Hollingsworth (1810-1811).

The series also includes the following three newspaper clippings:
  • December 4, 1826: Review of the Baltimore Market
  • [1838]: Poems "From the Violet," such as The Grave of Franklin and The Dying Patriot
  • Undated: Reprint of a letter from George Washington to Lafayette on his returning from the Presidency on February 1, 1784

Subject Terms

  • Federal Party (U.S.)
  • Flour industry--Pennsylvania.
  • Flour industry--United States.
  • Grain trade--United States.
  • Harrison, William Henry, 1773-1841.
  • Merchants--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Economic conditions--19th century.
  • United States--History--War of 1812.
  • United States--History--War of 1812--Blockades.
  • Wheat trade.
  • Hollingsworth, Levi, 1739-1824.
  • Sposer, William.
Genre Terms:
  • Clippings (information artifiacts)
  • Financial documents.
  • Letters (correspondence)

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Box   15, Small Collections  
Levi Hollingsworth papers [series]
Folders   3-7  
Correspondence,  1803-1841
Folder   8  
Financial records and Miscellaneous,  1810-[1838]

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

The following Clements Library collections contain items written by Levi Hollingsworth:
  • The David Baldwin papers: November 20, 1778
  • The John Chaloner papers: July 6, 1796
  • The James McHenry papers: January 4, 29, and March 7, 1822


Jamar, Mary Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth Family and Collateral Lines of Cooch-Gilpin-Jamar-Mackall-Morris-Stewart; Early History and Cecil County, Maryland Lines. Philadelphia: Historical Publication Society, 1944.