Henderson, J. Welles

J. Welles Henderson manuscript collection, 1761–1909.
3 boxes, plus 1 oversize folder (1.08 linear feet).
About J. Welles Henderson

J. Welles Henderson (1920-2007) was the founder and former Chairman of the Board of Independence Seaport Museum. Henderson was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. After graduating Harvard Law School and establishing himself as an admiralty attorney in Philadelphia, Mr. Henderson began collecting maritime artifacts, amassing an extraordinary collection of maritime books, paintings, and assorted artifacts. A majority of the Independent Seaport Museum’s collection was either donated to the Museum by Mr. Henderson or given by donors he cultivated. In 1960, Mr. Henderson drafted the charitable trust document that founded the Museum. In 1961, the U.S. Treasury Department accredited the Museum’s tax-exempt status.

French spoliation claims were demands made upon the U.S. government by American merchants for shipping losses incurred at the hands of the French between 1793 and 1800. The American merchant vessels were sunk or seized by the French, after the U.S. had been charged by France with violating the terms of a commercial treaty concluded between the two countries in 1778, during the American Revolution. The spoliation claims were settled when the U.S. government effectuated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and, in addition, assumed the claims of the American merchants against the French to the amount of $3,750,000. Between 1800 and 1850, approximately 50 legislative bills to reimburse the claimants or their descendants came before Congress. Appropriations were voted on two occasions but were vetoed by Presidents James Polk and Franklin Pierce. Finally, in 1885, the claims were adjudicated and the descendants of the original claimants were awarded $4.8 million.

About the collection

Manuscripts in this collection include invoices and shipping documents from various merchants (late 1700s-late 1800s); an 1802 manuscript which refers to the plan of the Navy Yard in Washington; printed broadsides and advertisements; a copy of minutes of an 1800 meeting of the Board of Property of Philadelphia in the hand of Tench Coxe, along with an obituary of Coxe; a small number of business financial documents related to Stephen Girard; issues of American Military Magazine, 1839-1842; and miscellaneous newspapers, 1761-1868.

A portion of the materials relate to “French spoliation,” legal claims for payment for lost or seized goods and vessels. Materials include: correspondence between claimants and lawyers; indentures and shipping papers; powers of attorney; statements. A number of the papers relate to the lawyers Lawrence Lewis, Jr. and John Gerhard (1880s). The collection also includes records of a spoliation case handled by William Meredith regarding a ship captured by the Spanish (1797).

  • French spoliation claims
  • Merchants — Pennsylvania — Philadelphia
Types of material
  • Broadsides
  • Business records
  • Clippings
  • Correspondence
  • Legal documents
  • Minutes
  • Powers of attorney
Related collections
  • ISM: Stephen Girard business papers
Reference files
  • French Spoliation Claims
  • Girard, Stephen
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