Soapbox Derby winner donates car to Historical Commission

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2018 (The News & Press Website)

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

A relic of Darlington’s racing past will soon be on display at the Darlington County Historical Commission, thanks to a donation by a local citizen.

Hartsville native Tommy Jordan has raced cars and motorcycles from coast to coast, but his love for motorsports actually started in a contest with no motors at all. As a boy, he entered and won the inaugural Darlington Soapbox Derby in 1951 (an event co-sponsored by the News and Press) and he recently decided to donate his winning car and race kit to the Historical Commission.

“I’m close to seventy-nine years old and I don’t have any children to give it to, and it wasn’t doing anybody any good just sitting where it was, so I thought I’d like to see somebody get some good out of it,” says Jordan, who fondly remembers the soapbox derby as his first foray onto a racecourse.

“I was eleven years old at the time, and Chevrolet was a big sponsor of soapbox derby racing nationwide. They supplied wheels to the boys who had sponsorships for races, and I went home and told my mom and dad that I’d like to do it. My dad told me no, and said that I never finished anything I started, so I felt kind of left out,” says Jordan.

Luck was on his side, though, as his father spoke with local Shell service station owner John Stevenson just a few days later, and Stevenson offered to sponsor Tommy in the soapbox derby. His dad picked up a set of wheels from the local Chevy dealer and brought them home, and the Jordans were soon quite literally off to the races.

“Oh boy, I was so happy,” he recalls with a laugh.

Building the derby car was a team effort. Tommy worked with his dad to assemble a frame made of 2 x 8 boards, and covered it in a sheet metal chassis crafted to resemble one of his favorite race cars.

“I designed mine like an Indianapolis-style car with the nose low on the front,” he says. “It weighed two-hundred and fifty pounds with me in it, and we had to add weight to get it up to two-fifty because I was such a little fellow.”

The derby took place on Saturday, July 7. The racecourse started at the top of the hill on North Main Street, near the current location of Carolina Bank, and ran down to the old railroad trestle below. Tommy doesn’t have any idea how fast he was going, but remembers the exhilaration of earning his first racing victory.

“It was a big deal. I won at Darlington and after that I went to Akron, Ohio and competed in the finals where I was eliminated. There was another local boy who raced with me that first year, named Wilson Sartor, who came in second place. I think he won in Darlington the second year they held the soapbox derby and he got to go to Akron,” says Tommy.

News articles about the 1951 race also mention another derby racer – a young man named Cale Yarborough, who won five dollars in merchandise for his efforts.

After Akron, Tommy Jordan’s soapbox derby car was retired for several years, but was pulled out of mothballs and raced again by his nine year-old stepson Mark Raines in a 1968 Florence derby.

“Mark finished a real close second, and the father of the winner told me he was glad Mark didn’t win because he would have hated to get beat by a twenty-five year old car,” says Tommy.

The little car proved very durable, only suffering a snapped brake cable during the race, and Jordan says that with a few small repairs it could probably still run a pretty good race today. He’s kept it hanging on a wall in his basement for decades, and it still looks remarkably fresh and spry for its age, with the red painted “News and Press” logo still crisp on the sides.

Jordan also donated his racing jacket and helmet, along with the official flag from the 1951 Darlington Soapbox Derby. The Darlington County Historical Commission is planning to fashion a special display for these items, which should be a special treat for all lovers of racing history.

To learn more, contact the Historical Commission at 843-398-4710 or stop by and visit them at 204 Hewitt Street in Darlington.

Help Us Identify Photos

Thanks to our new website, we are posting unidentified photos from within our collections here at the Historical Commission.  We are counting on more people discovering photographs they haven’t seen before, even family pictures. Most exciting for the Commission staff is the help the community is giving us with identifying people in the photos, using the Send Feedback form on the bottom of the page.  Already we’ve had many names put to what were previously unidentified faces.

The Photo Identification page on our new website.

Send Feedback

When you fill out the Send Feedback Form, a message is generated with your comments going directly to the Commission.  Please list any information and/or suggest corrections to the current description. We need the whole community to pitch in, and now that it’s so hot, it’s a great way to have fun while e-volunteering.

The ability to get the whole community involved in identifying our unknown photographs is important work, and it’s fun. Please help when you can, and tell your friends about the Photos To Identify page on our website.

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A view of the Send Feedback Form.


Remember that your comments don’t appear instantly on the website; they need to be reviewed and verified by Commission staff.  Identified photos will be shared on Facebook and Instagram, then replaced with a new, unidentified photo.

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A sample image from the page.



Congress was growing more frustrated with the way the Administration was handling the economic turmoil and its failure to use economic sanctions to receive concessions from the British. A faction within Congress called the War Hawks became even more outspoken in their demands for stronger and more decisive actions with Britain. On June 1, 1812 President James Madison sent a war message to Congress containing American grievances with Britain: impressing of sailors into the British Navy, the British Orders in Council, and the British stirring up Indian warfare on the western frontier. By a narrow margin Congress chose to declare war with Britain and on June 18, 1812 President Madison signed the Congressional war measures into law. Not everyone supported the war. The division was down party lines: the Republicans for and the Federalists against.

On July 18, 1812, a group of Darlington County residents gathered to discuss the declaration of war. The following is a transcription of an article published in the City Gazette, September 11, 1812, found in the Darlington County Historical Commission’s Collection, which contains the results of that meeting.

Darlington Public Meeting

      At a meeting of a respectable number of the citizens of Darlington District, at Darlington Court-House, on the 18th day of July, 1812, Col. LAMUEL BENTON[1], was called to the chair, and Col. WILLIAM ZIMMERMAN[2], was appointed Secretary.

And the following gentlemen, to wit :-James Ervin[3], Major George Bruce[4], Cornelius Mandaville[5], Major William Williams[6], Moses Sanders[7], Josiah Cantey[8], Albert Fort[9], Andrew Hunter[10], Benjamin Skinner[11], John Norwood[12], (?) William Whiddon[13], John Huggins[14] and Jeremiah Belk[15], were appointed a committee to draught a preamble and resolutions, approbatory of the declaration of War against Great Britain, who reported the following, were unanimously adopted.

To avenge insult and repel injury is characteristic of a great and magnanimous people; to suffer them with impunity, bespeaks pusillanimity and invites a repetition. Great Britain, compeled to acknowledge us independent, has always manifested toward us a spirit of hostility. No sooner had she signed the treaty of eighty-three than she determined to evade it; she retained the posts on the lakes contrary to the express stipulation thereof, in order to let loose the savage hordes upon us; repress the extension of our frontier settlements, and if occasion presented, to be in a situation to make an easy descent upon these states; the carrying trade, which promised much gain, we were forbid to enjoy in its full extent; whilst she traded direct from the West-India Islands to the continent of Europe and her own dominions, we were obligated after purchasing in those Islands is said from thence to the United States, pay a specified duty and re-ship the commodity before we could carry it to Europe, by means of which restriction she expected that her merchants would have been enabled to undersell us in the European market; but. Not withstanding these difficulties the activity and enterprize of our merchants soon surmounted all obstacles, and wealth in a few years afterwards, was pouring her abundance on our land. Great Britain, under the influence of a selfish policy, grew alarmed at our growing prosperity, and determined on its destruction. The opinions of Sheffield and Stevens were reduced to practice and ridgedly enforced. The doctrines of her navigation laws, merely municipal regulations, were enlarged, and an effort was made to abrogate the laws of nations and to make theme a substitute. She styles herself the mistress of the ocean, and arrogantly assumes to herself the supremacy thereof. By her O in Council, the whole coast of our continent is blockaded without the semblance of a force to effect it, and our commerce is forbid to approach it. The next year we are insultingly told that we many be permitted to trade to places interested by her orders, but we must, under penalty of condemnation, tough at her ports, pay the charges thereof and purchase at immense cost increase from her to do so. Her rapacity not yet satisfied, the license is now withheld and condemnation awaits every American sail that whitens the ocean. Our vessels are not taken, carried into her ports and condemned, and with the same papers, or some that are forged, ordered to their places of original destination. Not content with making spoliations upon our commerce, our personal rights are infringed, our seamen torn from the service of their employers-forced on board British ships of war, and obliged to fight against their country; almost every wind that blows wars from seas far and near, the plaints of our countrymen but cruelly enslaved; frequently our government have interfered to effect their liberation, but in in fain; few or none-have been released; and unhappy men if ever they dare appeal to Britain justice to regain their liberty, their complaints are answered not by consolation, but with stripes and with insults. They not only injure us abroad but approach our own coast-come within our waters, and regardless of the laws either of nations or hospitality harass our coasting trade-stop our vessels-send some to Halifax for adjudication-fire upon others and murder our citizens. The murder of Pierce-hes(sic) unatoned and unrevenged; a mere mockery of trial was had upon Whitby, the perpetrators of the dead in which justice was insulted and the just expectation of our government disappointed, and Whitby so far from receiving a punishment adequate to the flagrant outrage, was acquitted, honored and advanced. In time of peace, national armed vessels are regarded as part of terra firina, and as such held myiolable. Not withstanding this received and established opinion; in profound peace and in the midst of professions of friendship, the Chesapeake, a national armed vessel, was attacked by a British armed vessel of superior force-our citizens were murdered, and on degrading spectacle, our seamen serving on board said vessel; were upon beat of drum and by order of a British officer, paraded on board our own vessel and several of them were forcibly taken from our service. Had Great Britain paid a just regard to her own character, and had promptly not only disavowed authorizing the deed, but had tendered to this government a compensation and apology in some measure commensurate with the insult and injury, the transaction might have been regarded as the unauthorized act of an individual; but the want of a manifestation of such conduct on her part induces a presumption that Humphries acted on that occasion by her orders.

To this black catalogue of insults and injuries our government has manifested a moderation unparalleled in the history of nations. Sensible that a state of neutrality was most compatible with the happiness and prosperity of these states, is has uniformly practiced it, and under the influence of arrardent(sic) desire for the maintenance of peace, have made frequent advances to the British government for the continuance of so desirable an object-presented to her attention the extent of our rights and have remonstrated for years, though in vain, against their frequent infraction.

To such representations she has at some times insidiously opened the door of negotiation, (as in the case of Erskine’s arrangement) until she had obtained her wishes, then would disavow the deed-triumph to her degredations, and smiles at our credulity in her plighted faith. At other times she would treat such advance and representations with marked indifference and insulting silence: And it is now in proof, that amidst all these professions of friendship and regard for our national welfare, she was perfidiously plotting our distruction in the very bosom of our country. Her secret agent Henry endeavored to effect resistance to the laws of the land-set father against son-son against father, and stir up among us that worst of all national evils, civil war, in which nothing but faction, outrage and discord would reign triumphant; and in which some aspiring chief might take advantage of the times, triumph over the liberties of the people and ascend to empire. The yell of the savage mingled with the sighs of widows and orphans, is heard from beyond the mountains: Tis Britain’s deed; more cruel than the savage foe, she excites them to murder our defenseless women and children; And finally we are told that unless we compel France not only to rescind her decrees as they affect our commerce, but as they relate to other neutral states, so as to afford her an opportunity to send her manufactures to the French empire, we must not expect a repeal of her Orders in Council, A conduct so fraught with insult and injury we can bear no longer. Our patience is exhausted, and we are forced to resistance. Our honor and our interest demands war. And our constituted authorities have decreed it against Great Britain and her dependencies. Therefore,

1st. Resolved, That honorable war is preferable to the dishonorable and ruinous peace which we have suffered, and although we much deprecate the evils which will necessarily result from war, as highly approbate the conduct of the General Government in having declared it.

2d. Resolved, That in our opinion the attack upon the frigate Chesapeake was a just cause of war; it was war on the part of Great Britain, for we know of no name but that of war with which to characterize the conduct of a nation that will attempt by force of arms to obtain from another a real or imaginary right.

3d. Resolved, That the plea of justification by Great Britain of her Orders of Council, that she was obliged to injure us, an innocent and unoffending neutral, for the purpose of affecting her enemy, was as insulting to our understanding as injurious to our interest.

4th. Resolved, The unless France does us the justice which we have a right to expect, we hope that our Government will assume as firm a stand against her as Great Britain, for the purpose of obtaining a redress of the grievances which we have received from her and that the voice of prejudice and calumny may no longer dare impeach the purity and impartiality of our councils.

5th. Resolved, That we are determined to support our Government in its prosecution of the war against Great Britain, and if required, against France.

6th. Resolved, That James Madison, President of the United States, his in the whole tenor of his administration manifested a firmness and integrity of character worthy the chief magistrate of a great people.

7th. Resolved, That we highly approve of the firm and patriotic conduct of the On. DAVID R. WILLIAMS[16], Esq our Representative in Congress.

8th. Resolved, That these Resolutions be printed in the Carolina Gazette, a Copy sent to the President of the United States, and one to our Delegate in Congress.


Chairman of said Committee

ZIMMERMAN, Secretary

      The above Resolutions were delivered to the Honorable Colonel David R. Williams, on his arrival at Darlington Court-House, by Col. Lamuel Brenton, chairman of committee, accompanied by the following Address:

My Dear Sir,

It is with great pleasure I discharge a duty assigned me by a respectable body of my fellow-citizens, (among whom are many old revolutionary characters) assembled at Darlington Court-House for the purpose of expressing their sense of the measures recently adapted by our General Government, approving of our Executive and the majority of both houses of Congress, the Representation from South Carolina, and the manly decided and firm stand of our immediate Representative in particular.

We expected to have transmitted this faint testimony of our esteem for your patriotic services to you, in your seat in Congress, but your arrival in health (after a tedious and important session) to the bosom of your family and friends, we rejoice sincerely to have in our power personally to congratulate you.

To which Colonel Williams returned an appropriate and pathetic reply.


Darlintonians Mentioned In Article

[1] Col. Lamuel Benton was born October 23, 1754 in Grantham County, North Carolina. As a young man he moved to St. David’s Parish, settling in Society Hill. He married Bestey Kimbrough (March 2, 1756- November 9, 1819), the daughter of Major John and Hannah Kolb Kimbrough, on November 20, 1773. He was Major of the Cheraw Regiment in 1777 and served under General Francis Marion in the Revolutionary War. He was promoted to Colonel in 1781 and resigned his commission in 1794. On April 26, 1783, he was elected to a Standing Committee of the St. David’s Society and worked to get a copy of the society rules, if available, or to draw up a new set. On May 4, 1786, he was elected Vice President of the St. David’s Society and after one year left, never to have any further connection with the Society. He was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1781-1784 and also in 1787. He was County Court Justice for Darlington County in 1785 and 1791. He was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention at Columbia in 1790. He was elected as a Democrat to the 3rd through 5th Congresses (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1799). In 1811 he led the Darlington District’s push in the General Assembly to provide a system of free schools in South Carolina. In 1812 he served as Chairman of the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died May 18, 1818 and was buried on his estate “Stony Hill” near Darlington, SC.

[2] Col. William Zimmerman was born in 1762. He married Mary Ann Dozier (died October 1, 1815) and had seven children. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Representative from 1798-1800 (elected in 1800 but resigned); Sherriff from 1800-1802; Ordinary; Justice of the Quorum; and Senator from 1808-1812. In 1811 he was a part of the group in Darlington District petitioning the General Assembly to provide a system of free schools in South Carolina. In 1812 he served as Secretary of the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died October 12, 1815 at his residence in Darlington.

[3] Col. James Robert Ervin was born Nov. 5, 1788 to Col. John and Jane Witherspoon Ervin on his father’s plantation in the Aimwell Community on the Pee Dee River in Marion District SC (now Florence County). He entered the law offices of his cousin John Dick Witherspoon at Society Hill, SC in 1805 and read law under his tutelage until 1809 when he was admitted to the South Carolina Bar. He settled immediately in Marlboro District, SC (Marlboro County). He was a member of the House of Representatives shortly before his twenty-second birthday and remained in that position until 1830. Then he moved to Cheraw in Chesterfield District and stayed there for the rest of his life. He married Elizabeth Powe (d. June 8, 1832), the daughter of General Erasmus Powe of Chesterfield, SC, and had six children. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He later moved back to Marlboro District and became a Senator. On January 2, 1834 he married Ann Davis Vereen and had a daughter. He died June 26, 1836.

[4] Maj. George Bruce married Elizabeth Benton on January 10, 1799 and had two children. On December 18, 1805 the House of Representatives elected him as a Justice of the Peace for Darlington District. In 1811 he was part of the group in Darlington District petitioning the General Assembly to provide a system of free schools in South Carolina. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. On May 27, 1814 Governor Joseph Alston made him Commissioner in Equity for Cheraw District and the Legislature elected him to this position again in 1818. In 1824 he was a manager for the Darlington Academy Lottery. He died October 10, 1826.

[5] Cornelius Mandaville was born January 15, 1758 in Ulster County, New York. He served in the New York Militia during the Revolutionary War. He married Frances McCall (October 30, 1772-July 14, 1854) on September 10, 1792 and had twelve children. It is uncertain when he moved to Darlington District, though he was drawn for jury duty in 1807, 1809, and 1813. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died September 9, 1831 in Darlington District.

[6] Maj. William Williams was born in 1754 in St. Mark’s Parish, Clarendon County, SC to David and Catherine Williams. He married Selah Fort, the daughter of Elias and Lucy Fort, around 1780 and after her death, he married Martha/Patsy Prestwood (born about 1790), daughter of Thomas Prestwood, around 1817. He had seven children, though it is unclear which wife bore them.  He served in the militia during the Revolutionary War and afterward became a planter. In 1802 the Governor of South Carolina made him Coroner of Darlington District. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee and was foreman of a grand jury. In 1817 he was a constable for Darlington County. He was made a Major in 1819. He died May 17, 1829.

[7] Moses Sanders was born on November 16, 1775. He married Hannah Murphy (February 12, 1776-April 13, 1847). He was a merchant and a Representative of Darlington District from 1808-1810. In 1811 he was part of the group in Darlington District petitioning the General Assembly to provide a system of free schools in South Carolina. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He was active in the Methodist Church and granted the “church preachers of the said circuit and the Pee Dee Mission the sum of Eight Thousand Dollars good and lawful money to be selected by the Trustees of said church out of my papers the said Eight Thousand Dollars to be put to Interest forever and the Interest to be paid annually and to be distributed by said Trustees according to the necessities of said Church Preachers and Mission”. He died February 20, 1839.

[8] Josiah Cantey married Arabella Kelley, daughter of James and Arabella Kelley of Camden District, and had one child. He served in the Revolutionary War as a first lieutenant in Col. John Marshal’s Regiment. He was appointed Surveyor of Camden District in 1786 and Commissioner of Locations for Darlington District on Aug. 17, 1811. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died June 1817.

[9] Albert Fort was born Aril 1, 1758 in Tarborough, on the Tar River, NC. When he was eight he moved with his father to Kershaw District, SC where he lived ten years and then moved to Darlington District where he lived the rest of his life. He married Sarah Teel on December 13, 1792 and had one child and married Margaret Norwood (May 4, 1782-July 22, 1850) on December 6, 1796 and had four children. He served in the Revolutionary War as a substitute for his father under Captain John Chesnut of the Militia. He then marched in a regiment commanded by Joseph Kershaw. In 1781 he served as a drafted militia man in Gen. Marion’s army on High Hills of Santee in Lt. Boykin’s Company. In late 1782 he served at Jeffries Creek Bridge under Capt. Connel, Col. Baxter being the highest officer. He was made a Justice of the Peace for nearly forty years and was a Representative for Darlington County from 1801-1802, filling the unexpired term of Col. William Zimmerman who had been elected District Sheriff. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died on April 5, 1843.

[10] Andrew Hunter was born in 1737 to David and Martha Hunter in Virginia. His family moved to South Carolina in 1749. He married Caroline Matilda Hickman, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Hickman, in 1765 and had eight children, Susannah Cannon in 1805 and had one child, and Mary Andrews on February 10, 1819 and had six children. Mary and Andrew had six children. He served in the Revolutionary War, in 1786 he was elected as Representative for St. David’s Parish in the Legislature, Elected Representative for Darlington County in October 1796. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died 1823.

[11] Benjamin Skinner was born between 1746 and 1750 to William Skinner Jr. in Chowan County, North Carolina. He married Priscilla ? and had eleven children. After Pricilla died, he married Mrs. Mary James Andrews (died 1836) and had no children with her. He carried supplies during the Revolutionary War (November and December 1776). He is shown to be in Darlington, SC in the 1790 Census. He bequeathed slaves to all of his children except Esther and William, who received $150.00 each. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died in 1828.

[12] Capt. John Norwood was born between 1751 and 1757 in Society Hill, SC to Theophilus and Margaret Dawson Norwood. He married Mary Warren (born around 1755-August 2, 1831), daughter of John and Martha Dubose Warren of Lynches Creek, on April 12, 1774. He enlisted in Captain Elias Dubose’s Patriotic Militia the summer of 1775. The next year he patrolled the Pee Dee River under Capt. Robert Lide in his Volunteer Militia. After the fall of Charleston, Gen. Francis Marion reorganized his men on Snow Island and John and his brother Samuel were there. He received his commission as Captain in 1782. He was appointed in 1799 to represent Darlington County in running out the dividing line between Darlington and Chesterfield County. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died in 1829.

[13] William Whiddon was born between 1755-1760 in Irwin County, North Carolina. He married Mary Davis (died 1830), the daughter of Benjamin Davis of Darlington District, SC, on May 9, 1806 and had eight children. His father-in-law granted him the land which are Kalmia Gardens today. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. Around 1815 he relocated to Georgia where he acquired lands and farmed until his death in 1818.

[14] Capt. John Huggins was born in the year January 12, 1748 at Christ’s Church Parish to George and Hannah King Huggins. During the American Revolution he was a member of Col. Hugh Giles Regiment of General Francis Marion’s Brigade. He served as sheriff of Claremont County, SC in the 1790’s before that county was absorbed into Sumter District, SC. After he settled in Darlington District, SC, he served as a member of the South Carolina Legislature and was a Justice of Quorum. He married Elizabeth White Simmons in 1774 and had eight children. Elizabeth died before 1806. He married Clarissa Mundine in 1808. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He was a founder of “Huggins Meeting House” that later became New Hope Methodist Church. He died July 13, 1825 and is buried in the cemetery at New Hope Methodist Church.

[15] Jeremiah Belk married Anna Mixon and had six children. He was a constable for Darlington District in 1805 and 1807 and deputy sheriff in 1806. He was Grand Jury Foreman October term 1819. He was trustee for Mt. Elon Baptist Church in Lydia in 1827. In 1812 he served on the Darlington Citizens Committee. He died 1844 and at the time of his death, he was a member of Old Cypress Church and owned 1380 acres.

[16] David Rogerson Williams was born March 8, 1776. He lived in Society Hills. He married Sarah Power (1770-1803) on August 14, 1796 and had two children. Then he married Elizabeth Witherspoon (1784-November 17, 1840) on November 2, 1809 and had no children with her. He was a Congressman 1807-1809, Brigadier General in the War of 1812, Governor of South Carolina 1814-1819, State Senator 1824-1828, planter, and manufacturer. He also introduced the mule into southern agricultural use. He died November 17, 1830 and is buried in the Williams Family Cemetery.

The Darlington County Historical Commission’s Collection contains additional information on the men mentioned above, as well as military files on the Darlington County residents who fought in the War of 1812. These include muster rolls, pension files, Bright Williamson’s Regimental Journal, and other papers pertaining to the war.


Darlington County Historical Commission

204 Hewitt Street

Darlington, SC 29532-3214




John Henry (1776 Dublin-1853 Paris(?)) immigrated to the United States in 1796. He edited a newspaper, managed a wine business in Philadelphia, ran a farm in Vermont, studied law, and gave speeches and wrote articles for the Federalist cause. He was said to be tall, charming, and handsome. He gained connections with leadership in Lower Canada through social gatherings and writing letters. On October 1807, he wrote Lower Canada’s civil secretary Herman Witsius Ryland telling him that war with Britain would lead to a “dissolution of the Confederation”. He would later write telling the political opinions in Vermont, Boston, and other parts of New England.

Sir James Henry Craig

He was hired by Governor Sir James Henry Craig on February 6, 1809 to inform him of the strengths and weaknesses of the two political parties in the United States, Republicans and Federalists, and the public opinion concerning the possibility of war with Britain. He was to determine if the Federalists in the eastern states would separate from the Union and look to England for help. By this time President Thomas Jefferson had enacted an embargo on British goods which had seriously affected the U.S. economy in a negative way. From February 14, 1809 to May 22, 1809 Henry wrote fourteen letters. He tried to use them and his espionage work to gain high paying positions in the Canadian government, but failed.




He became close friends with a conman named Soubiran who was posing as Édouard, Comte de Crillon, knight of Malta and a member of a prestigious Spanish and French mixed family. Soubiran convinced him to sell his letters, the instructions given him by Governor Craig, and two memorials he had written to the Lord of Liverpool to President James Madison. Soubiran played the role of Henry’s representative and President Madison agreed to buy the documents for $50,000.

He doctored and rewrote some of the documents, adding insinuations that he had been

330px-James_Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816 from Wikipedia
President James Madison

part of Federalist secession plots and removed the names of his Federalist friends. President Madison presented the papers to Congress, believing that this would be the final incentive to go to war. Congress believed the papers and word spread throughout the nation about the British “plot” to undermine the U.S. However, it did not drive the nation to war at that time. When it was finally proven that Henry’s papers were false and the entire secret service budget had been blown paying Henry, President Madison and his administration ended up looking like fools. John Henry had left the country before the papers were released and moved to Europe. Supposedly he died in Paris in 1853, but this cannot be substantiated.


 “Biography – HENRY, JOHN – Volume VIII (1851-1860) – Dictionary Of Canadian Biography”. 2018. Biographi.Ca. Accessed June 12 2018.

“Founders Online: From James Madison To John G. Jackson, 9 March 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.

“Founders Online: From James Madison To Congress, 9 March 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.

“Founders Online: From James Madison To Thomas Jefferson, [9 March] 1812”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.

“Full Text Of “THE HENRY-CRILLON AFFAIR (War Of 1812)””. 2018. Archive.Org. Accessed June 22 2018.





David Montagu Erskine Find a grave
David Montagu Erskine


David Montagu Erskine was born in England in 1776 and died in England on March 19, 1855. His father was Thomas Erskine, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. In 1799 he married Frances Cadwalader, the daughter of General John Cadwalader, commander of the Pennsylvania troops during the American Revolution. In 1802 he became a barrister at law and returned to parliament for Portsmouth on February 24, 1806.


George Canning


In July 1806 Foreign Secretary of Great Britain George Canning made him the plenipotentiary to the United States and Erskine stayed in that position until 1809. A plenipotentiary is a person given full power to act on behalf of their government (Webster’s Dictionary). Over the next three to four years he was in constant communication with Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State James Monroe, who was adamant in addressing British ships taking U.S. ships and sailors for their own use.




330px-James_Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816 from Wikipedia
President James Madison





The correspondence between David Montague Erskine and James Madison was extensive.





On June 27, 1807 the HMS Leopard attacked the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, causing a major international incident. The Embargo Act was passed in December 1807 which banned American ships from exporting to or carrying goods for other nations. This prevented both Britain and France, who were at war with each other at the time, from getting supplies. It was supposed to be a form of economic coercion, as well as a way to keep U.S. ships from harm. On January 23, 1809 Erskine was informed by Foreign Secretary Canning that the Orders in Council would be lifted if the U.S. lifted its embargo. However, there were three conditions to Britain lifting the Orders:

  1. All embargoes against England should be revoked, while those against France would remain.
  2. The United States would formally renounce any claims to British colonial trade in war that was not permitted in times of peace.
  3. The united states would recognize the rite of Great Britain to capture U.S. vessels found to be trading with any powers acting under the French Decrees.

Erskine knew the U.S. government would not agree to these and keeping in what he viewed as the “true spirit” of his instructions, removed the conditions. President Madison and Congress accepted his offer, but no one knew Foreign Secretary Canning would refuse to ratify Erskin’s arrangement. In April of 1809, the British government issued a new Orders in Council, which removed the one of 1807 and reestablished the blockade of Holland, France, and Italy. Since Canning had acted without hearing back from Erskine, the U.S. government wondered if he had any authority to open the ports of Holland to the U.S. as he promised. Erskine worked feverishly to reassure the U.S. government the new blockade would not affect the recent negotiations.

Francis James Jackson
Francis James Jackson

But Foreign Secretary Canning rejected Erskine’s negotiations and replaced him with Francis James Jackson who took a hard line with the U.S. and reasserted the original three conditions. He also accused Erskine of fraud and trickery by leaving out the conditions. Erskine was proved right for the conditions were rejected by the U.S. Any control Foreign Secretary Canning had in U.S. negotiations was gone for Jackson spoke in what President Madison considered extremely disrespectful and he would accept no more communications from Jackson. Jackson, in turn, tried to get the American people on his side by publishing what he deemed to be charges against the U.S. government. Only some radical Federalists repeated his words while every patriotic American was outraged.


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