Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Richard Oswald Collection, 1779-1783

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, April 2010

Summary Information
Title: Richard Oswald collection
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1779-1783
Extent: 6 items
The Richard Oswald collection contains three of Oswald's memoranda ("Plans for Russian Conquest of the North-West Coast--1781," "London, 9th August 1779--General Observations, Relative to the Present State of the War," and "Supplement to the Papers of August 1779 Relative to the State of the Present War") and three letters to and from Oswald concerning the Revolutionary War.
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:

1928-1991. M-26; M-65; M-2700.

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.

Alternate Format:

“General Observations, Relative to the present State of the War” has been microfilmed.

Preferred Citation:

Richard Oswald Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged into two volumes.


Richard Oswald was born in Scotland in 1705 to the Reverend George Oswald, minister of Dunnett in Caithness, and Margaret Murray. He taught at the parochial school in Thurso, but left the area after being passed over for mastership of the school. Oswald first migrated to Glasgow, and then to London, where he became a successful and wealthy merchant and slave trader. In 1750, he married Mary Ramsay, only daughter of Alexander Ramsay of Jamaica, and inherited sizeable estates in America and the West Indies. During the French and Indian War, he worked as an army contractor and expanded his fortune by supplying bread to English troops.

Through his American and mercantile interests, Oswald acquired a circle of international friends including Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, the comte de Vergennes, Adam Smith, and the Earl of Shelburne. During the Revolutionary War, he was frequently consulted by the ministry on American matters. Shelburne used Oswald as his emissary to Franklin in Paris during the first informal inquiries on American peace terms and, when Shelburne became prime minister, he appointed Oswald as English peace commissioner for America. Oswald was largely responsible for the preliminary articles signed in November, 1782, and left office with Shelburne when the peace treaty was defeated in the House of Commons. He died at Auchincruive, Scotland, on November 6, 1784.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Richard Oswald collection contains three memoranda and two letters written by Oswald, as well as a letter written to Oswald by William Pulteney, all spanning 1779-1783.

Volume One contains two memoranda of 1779: the 72-page "General Observations, Relative to the Present State of the War" and its continuation, the 33-page "Supplement to the Papers of August." In the former, Oswald anticipates a prolonged conflict (p. 25: "…if we wish to have a good Peace, we ought to prepare for a long War.") and speculates on the relationship between the Americans and French ("…I am of opinion that we have a much better chance of making France tired of the Contest by taking of America, than of recovering America by dint of our attack upon France." [p. 9]). He also suggests that the British "break the Internal Union amongst these Colonies by Dismembering one part from the other" (p. 27), and recommends that this be accomplished by expeditions into Georgia and South Carolina. In the "Supplement," Oswald doubts the value of "be[ing] so tenacious of every Individual part of these possessions as to suppose that the preservation thereof, in the Interim of this War, may not cost more than it is worth" (p. 2). He also comments further on the French, and emphasizes the necessity of taking possession of Charleston, South Carolina, in order to defeat the Americans (p. 9).

Volume Two of the Richard Oswald collection contains a 1780 letter from William Pulteney announcing the surrender of Charleston, South Carolina, and two letters by Oswald to unspecified recipients. In the earlier of the two letters, dated November 16, 1782, Oswald described the willingness of the Americans to continue fighting ("America would carry on the War with Eng'd for 50 years rather than subscribe to…evidence of their own iniquity…") and treaty negotiations concerning the treatment of Loyalists. In the later letter, dated January 8, 1783, he discussed the conflict over rights to cod fishing in Newfoundland. Also included is a memorandum written by Oswald and dated April 12, 1781, suggesting the formation of a Russo-British alliance in order to attack Mexico and California, and thereby challenge Spain in the New World. The 19-page document, entitled "Plans for Russian Conquest of the North-West Coast--1781," presents the unusual idea as an inexpensive way of "cripling [sic] the power of the Bourbon Family for ever."

Subject Terms

    • American loyalists.
    • Atlantic cod fisheries.
    • Charleston (S.C.)
    • Charleston (S.C.)--History--Siege, 1780.
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--United States.
    • Great Britain--Foreign relations--Russia.
    • Great Britain. Treaties, etc. United States, 1783 Sept. 3.
    • Newfoundland and Labrador.
    • Oswald, Richard, 1705-1784.
    • Pulteney, William .
    • Russia--Foreign relations--Great Britain.
    • United States--Foreign relations--Great Britain.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Peace.
    • Pulteney, William, fl. 1780.
    Genre Terms:
    • Correspondence.
    • Essays.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Richard Oswald collection [series]
    Volume   1  
    "Supplement to the Papers of August,"  1779
    "General Observations, Relative to the Present Sate of the War,"  1779
    Volume   2  
    Letter from William Pulteney to Richard Oswald,  June 14, 1780
    Letter from Oswald to unknown recipient,  November 16, 1782
    Letter from Oswald to unknown recipient,  January 17, 1783
    "Plans for Russian Conquest of the North-West Coast,"  1781
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Clements Library Book Division holds the following items:

    Provisional articles between the United States of America, and His Britannic Majesty: Articles agreed upon, by and between, Richard Oswald, esquire, the commissioner of His Britannic Majesty ... and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Henry Laurens ... Done at Paris, the thirtieth day of November, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two. [n.p., 1783]

    Humphreys, R. A. Richard Oswald's Plan for an English And Russian Attack On Spanish America, 1781-1782. [Durham, N. C.: Duke University], 1938.

    Oswald, Richard, and Walter Stitt Robinson. Memorandum On the Folly of Invading Virginia, the Strategic Importance of Portsmouth, And the Need for Civilian Control of the Military. Charlottesville: Published by the University of Virginia Press for the Tracy W. McGregor Library, 1953.