University of Notre Dame

 

Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Guide to the James S. Swearingen Letter Book

MSN/EA 5037

 

Collection Summary

Title: James S. Swearingen Letter Book
Dates: 1806-1807
Collection No.: MSN/EA 5037
Creator: Swearingen, James S. (James Strode), 1782-1864
Extent: 1 volume; 1 linear inch
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A letter copy book containing about 125 pieces of outgoing military correspondence written by 1st Lt. James S. Swearingen of the U.S. Army, during service at the frontier post of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 1806 to November 1807.

Selected Search Terms

Soldiers--United States--Correspondence
United States. Army--History--19th century--Sources
Pittsburgh (Pa.)--History, Military--19th century
Burr Conspiracy, 1805-1807

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: James S. Swearingen Letter Book, MSN/EA 5037-1-B, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Swearingen letter book was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2014, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 124, Item 40). Arranged and described 2014, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2014, by George Rugg.

Biographical Note

James Strode Swearingen was born on 3 February 1782 in Berkeley County, Virginia, the son of Josiah and Phoebe Strode Swearingen. As a youth, in the 1790s, he worked at the county clerk's office in Winchester, Virginia. In 1798, with both parents deceased, he moved with his siblings to join his sister's husband, Thomas Worthington, at Chillicothe in the Northwest Territory. (Worthington would become one of Ohio's first two U.S. senators when statehood came in 1803). On 25 January 1803 Swearingen was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army's Regiment of Artillery. In the years before the War of 1812 the regular army was small, typically numbering fewer than 5,000 officers and men. In 1803 Swearingen was sent to Fort Detroit, and subsequently commanded a company of soldiers sent overland to the mouth of the Chicago River on Lake Michigan, to help establish Fort Dearborn. After a tour at Fort Pickering on the Mississippi Swearingen arrived at Pittsburgh (1806-07), where as 1st lieutenant he commanded the small local garrison and served as assistant military agent. In this latter role, working with Middle Department U.S. Military Agent William Linnard of Philadelphia, he facilitated the westward transportation of military stores and hospital supplies for the army, and goods for Indian annuities. After Pittsburgh Swearingen was sent to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, where he served as district paymaster. In 1811 he married a first cousin, Nancy Bedinger, daughter of a well-to-do merchant of Berkeley County. During the War of 1812 Swearingen was stationed at Pittsburgh and subsequently at Chillicothe, Ohio's seat of government and a hub of Army activity. By 1814 he was quartermaster general of the 8th Military District, with the rank of colonel. Swearingen left the Army in 1815 and settled in Chillicothe, where he pursued business interests and served one term in the state legislature. He died on 3 February 1864.

Scope and Content Note

The letter book includes retained copies of some 125 pieces of military correspondence written by Swearingen from Pittsburgh, ranging in date from 18 April 1806 to 13 November 1807. There are also a few copies of letters received, receipts, and other documents. All entries appear to be in Swearingen's hand. The volume itself measures 22 cm. and includes 91 leaves, with blanks; it is bound in the original marbled boards, back strip lacking. There is a label with Swearingen's name on the front pastedown.

It is clear from the letters that, at the time of Swearingen's arrival, the army's post in Pittsburgh was ill-equipped: ". . .I have neither n. commd [non-commissioned] officers or privates at this place who are or could be made use of, having at present only one sergeant whose time will expire this fall & four privates two of whom will be discharged between this and that time. . . .The works so much out of repair, that it has almost become as public as the streets in the Town. . . ." (24 May 1806). While some of the letters deal with personal and purely local matters—pay, recruiting, supplies, and so on—many more deal with events further afield. From Swearingen's position at the head of the Ohio, he served to facilitate the passage of men and supplies to army outposts in the West: to Fort Massac on the lower Ohio, to Fort Pickering at Chickasaw Bluffs (present-day Memphis), to St. Louis. He also assisted delegations of Indians travelling to and from Washington. His most frequent eastern correspondents were Secretary of War Henry Dearborn; Artillery Regiment chief Col. Henry Burbeck; William Linnard, U.S. military agent at Philadelphia; Caleb Swan, the army's paymaster general; and William Simmons, the War Department accountant. Other letters are to army officers in command of the service's far-flung outposts. Perhaps the most unusual letters are a series written to Dearborn and Burbeck in December 1806, providing intelligence on groups of men rendezvousing in western Pennsylvania to join "the supposed expedition of Col. Burr". These deal directly and at some length with the Burr conspiracy: former Vice President Aaron Burr's Western schemes that led to his arrest on charges of treason in 1807.

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of one volume.

Container List

  • James S. Swearingen letter book, 1806-1807. Item 1 (MSN/EA 5037-1-B).
    1 vol., 22 cm., 99 leaves.