Purviance family papers, 1757-1932, bulk bulk

Navigate the Collection

Using These Materials Teaser

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke...
More about accessing and using these materials...


Purviance family
This collection contains professional, business, personal and family correspondence and other papers of the related Purviance and Courtenay families of Baltimore, Md., and elsewhere. The collection pertains to Revolutionary War activities in Maryland, shipping and trade, Western lands, settlement of estates, Civil War veterans' activities, the Cuban independence movement, and other matters. Includes papers of John Henry Purviance, U.S. diplomat in Paris, concerning the Monroe Mission (1794), U.S. relations with Napoleon and the Revolutionary French Government; papers relating to the financial affairs of Elizabeth Isabella Purviance Courtenay; papers of Edward H. Courtenay, Sr., relating to his career at West Point, his later teaching duties there and at other colleges, and his investment activities; and letters of Edward H. Courtenay, Jr., written in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War, describing the city and political opinion there. Correspondents include Alexander Dallas Bache, George William Erving, John Graham, Gessner Harrison, Anthony Hart, William Homes McGuffey, William Maclay, George Mason, James Monroe, Abner Nash, Fulwar Skipwith, George Muirson Totten, Thomas Tudor Tucker, and John Vanderlyn.
3 Linear Feet (5 boxes, 2,363 items (includes 16 vols.))
Materials in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The Purviance family papers contain professional and family correspondence and papers of two generations of the Purviance family and several generations of the Courtenay family, related through the marriage of Henry Courtenay and Elizabeth Isabella Purviance in 1811.

The early papers relate chiefly to Samuel Purviance (d. 1787), Baltimore merchant, and chairman of the Committee of Observation for Baltimore County, and consist of records that include the interrogation of Purviance by the Council of Safety for the failure of a plan by the Committee of Observation to capture Maryland governor Robert Eden; correspondence discussing British depredations on American shipping, the extension of the Mason-Dixon line, cession of western lands, complaints against the Vandalia and Indiana Land companies, sale of lands owned by Purviance on the Chillisquaque River near Sunbury (Pennsylvania), lands owned by George Washington on the Kanawha River, and proposed development of the James River Canal; scattered letters from his wife concerning family matters; and letters from his son, John Henry Purviance, regarding his supervision of his father's western lands.

The professional papers of John Henry Purviance, secretary and interpreter to the James Monroe mission, 1794-1796, and secretary of the legation in London, 1804-1810, include memoranda regarding official diplomatic transactions; accounts, 1795, of interviews between Monroe and Jean Debrie, member of the Committee of Public Safety concerning arbitration of the war between France and Great Britain, French suspicion of the Jay Treaty, and the offices of the French in negotiations pending between the United States and Algiers; an account of a conversation between Monroe and one Fulton discussing the efforts of one La Chaise to persuade France to take possession of Louisiana and Florida as a check on American expansion and as a means of luring Kentucky away from the confederation, and Monroe's attempts to strengthen the ties of western territories to the union by asking France to influence Spain to keep the Mississippi River open to American trade; memoranda, 1796, concerning the difficulties of obtaining cash for a draft sent Monroe by the U.S. Treasury; Monroe's outline of a speech to the French National Convention; rough draft of a note from Monroe to the French minister of foreign affairs, Charles Delacroix, pertaining to the Fauchet letter; from Fulwar Skipwith, American consul-general at Paris, regarding Pierre Louis Roederer and the ratification of the treaty of 1800 which concluded the XYZ affair; rough drafts, 1806, of articles by Monroe describing the relations between the United States, Great Britain, and France; copy of a letter from Joseph Lakanal to an unnamed royal personage urging him to assert himself as ruler of Spain; rumors among the French peasantry of the impending return of Napoleon and gossip current in diplomatic circles; document, 1815, of Bon Adrien Jeannot de Moncey, Duc de Conegliano, making recommendations concerning France's foreign policy; letter, 1817, from the minister of Brazil to the U.S. minister containing copies of the correspondence between himself and the Russian minister dealing with a question of diplomatic protocol; and correspondence concerning Purviance's administrative duties.

Items of a more personal nature include papers relating to the financial affairs of his sister, Elizabeth Isabella Purviance, and the claims of her guardian, David Stewart, against the British government for capture of his vessels; commonplace book, 1781, containing extracts from a tour through Great Britain, excerpts from poems, and a few accounts; account book, 1801-1809, of travel expenses in the United States and Europe; commonplace book of excerpts from poems; commonplace book, 1811-1834, containing a travel diary of England and France, expenses, and a discussion of French government; a diary, 1819, of his travels including his impressions of the BayonneBiarritz area noted in the course of a diplomatic mission to Spain; and a memorandum book, 1818, with daily entries regarding weather, correspondence with President Monroe, and personal and financial matters.

Papers of Edward H. Courtenay (d. 1853) include correspondence with his uncle, John Henry Purviance, discussing the former's work and activities at West Point; papers dealing with the settlement of the estate of his grandfather, Hercules Courtenay (d. 1816); correspondence of Edward H. Courtenay, Jr., while attending school in Geneva, New York; personal correspondence concerning family and financial affairs; and personal correspondence with his brother, David Courtenay, regarding dealings in stocks, especially those of the Erie Railroad Company and the Aetna Life Insurance Company.

Other papers of the Courtenay family include occasional records of the 1st Maryland Volunteers under Lieutenant Colonel N. T. Dushane; letters from Edward H. Courtenay, Jr., describing his work with the U.S. Coastal Survey, divided sentiment in Maryland during the Civil War, and Washington, D.C.; commissions, appointment and other military papers of Chauncey B. Reese and Henry Brewerton, husbands of Mary I. Courtenay and Sarah Courtenay, respectively, daughters of Edward H. Courtenay, Sr.; correspondence between David Courtenay and his son, William, regarding West Virginia lands which were a part of the Purviance estate, and the discovery of oil on those lands; papers relating to the administration of the estates of various members of the Courtenay family; business papers of William C. Courtenay; financial papers, principally in stock speculation, of several members of the family; financial records of the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and of the 5th Maryland Regiment Veteran Corps; letter, 1869, from Edward H. Courtenay, Jr., discussing efforts of Cuba to free herself from Spain and the attitude of the United States towards such efforts, and commenting upon the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the United States; and papers concerning the disappearance and probable death of David S. Courtenay, son of Edward H. Courtenay, Sr., and Virginia (Howard) Courtenay.

Separated volumes include a mercantile ledger, 1781-1816, of Hercules Courtenay containing accounts of food products, tar, rum, ginseng, ships and shipping ventures, and insurance; ledgers, 1764-1779, and account book for debts receivable, 1764-1776, of Dr. John Boyd, Baltimore physician, containing records of an apothecary; books of recipes and remedies. list of American vessels destroyed by the British; daybook, 1801-1804, of merchant Henry William Courtenay with accounts for flour, food, and other commodities; account books, 1824-1826 and 1835-1842, of David S. Courtenay recording money spent for postage, cash received for legal services, expenditures in lotteries, and personal expenses; address book, possibly of David S. Courtenay; anonymous account book, 1815; scrapbook, 1836, of H. W. Courtenay; diary, 1861, of a soldier including a description of his stay in a Confederate prison; and a scrapbook, 1892-1909, of clippings relating to Baltimore and to the Purviance and Courtenay families.

Biographical / historical:

Samuel Purviance (d. 1787) was a Baltimore merchant and chairman of the Committee of Observation for Baltimore County. John Henry Purviance was a career diplomat, secretary and interpreter to the James Monroe mission, 1794-1796, and secretary of the legation in London, 1804-1810. Elizabeth Isabella Purviance was his sister. Edward H. Courtenay (d. 1853) was on the faculty at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Acquisition information:
The Purviance family papers were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library in 1946.
Processing information:

Processed by Rubenstein Library staff.

Rules or conventions:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


Using These Materials

Using These Materials Links:

Using These Materials


Collection is open for research.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48-hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

Terms of access:

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Before you visit:
Please consult our up-to-date information for visitors page, as our services and guidelines periodically change.
Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], in the Purviance family papers collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.