Skip to main content

Warden papers

Identifier: MS 0871


This collection contains nine volumes of letterbooks of David Baillie Warden's letters sent, 1807-45, many miscellaneous notes compiled by Warden on America for publication; and a vast number of letters received by David Baillie Warden while in Paris, 1804-45. Correspondants include: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Albert Gallatin, Nicholas Biddle, Elbridge Gerry, Joel Poinsett, George Bancroft, Joel Barrow, Jared Sparks, Noah Webster, J. Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, John Jacob Astor, Rembrandt Peale, Winfield Scott, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Tallyrand, Lafayette, Joseph Priestly, B.H. Latrobe, and John Carroll.


  • 1797-1851


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is restricted to microfilm.

Conditions Governing Use

The reproduction of materials in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine and satisfy copyright clearances or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections. For more information visit the MCHC’s Rights and Permissions page.

Biographical Note

David Bailie Warden, diplomat, scientific writer, scholar, was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1772. Educated for the Presbyterian ministry, he received his Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow in 1797, along with a certificate of midwifery.

Friendships were to prove critical in Warden's life. An intimate of Theobold Wolfe Tone, he cast his lot with the United Irishmen in 1798, and after capture and imprisonment by the English was banished from British territory forever. Emigration to America was an easy decision.

Fluent in French, interested in mathematics, chemistry, and literature, Warden was better qualified as a teacher than a clergyman. In America he quickly abandoned the latter career as principal of Kinderhook Academy in New York. Here he continued his interest in scientific matters by conducting agricultural experiments and recording the local flora and fauna. The fascination with scientific agriculture was lasting, as evidenced by papers on tobacco production in France, and correspondence with agricultural writers such as Jesse Buel, Samuel L. Mitchill, James Mease and Anthony Morris. In 1801 Warden was appointed head tutor at Kingston Academy, and also became the tutor for the children of General John Armstrong.

This association set Warden on the path of diplomatic service, and ultimately effected the abandonment of that career. In 1804, when Armstrong was appointed Minister to France, he took Warden with him to continue instructing his children and also to serve as secretary to the legation. Warden, fluent in French, considered the opportunity limitless, for Paris was the hub of the scientific world. He thus became an American citizen and left New York for Paris in 1804; he returned only once, briefly, to his adopted land.

Armstrong apparently expected a person in the position of secretary and tutor to show proper respect for his modest position in life. But Warden, an ambitious young man, had other ideas. He enrolled in the Ecole de Medicine in pursuit of a medical degree. Following his early interest in chemistry, he became acquainted with many of the leading scientists of the day, including Joseph Gay-Lussac and mineralogist Charles, Baron Coquebert de Montbret. Henceforth until his death in 1845, Warden was to carry on an extensive correspondence, discussing chemistry and medicine with old and dear friends, introducing young doctors to French studies and disseminating scientific and medical knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic. The list of his medical correspondents is extensive, including Drs. Felix Pascalis, James Mease and Richard Harlan of Philadelphia, David Hosack, Samuel L. Mitchill and John W.

Francis of New York, and Irish revolutionary William J. McNeven. Through his interest in medicine, and also in natural history, he began a long correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, whom he admired as a natural philosopher as well as for his republican sentiments. He also communicated with Americans in the fields of education, mathematics and geography.

Warden's diplomatic career was short. The period of Armstrong's ministry was one of tension over the payment of French Spoliation Claims resulting from the quasi-war of 1798-1800, and the conflict between France and England. Armstrong appointed Warden consul in Paris and agent for the prize cases in August, 1808. His predecessor had had difficulties over jurisdiction of prize cases, and these difficulties devolved on Warden. Warden's problems in office were further complicated by a personal conflict with General Armstrong. The two quarreled, and Armstrong replaced Warden in September of 1810. Warden promptly set sail for America to argue his case. Armstrong was recalled and replaced as Minister by Joel Barlow, and Warden returned to France in August, 1811, with a new commission as consul and prize agent in Paris. Barlow died in December, 1812, while returning from a futile visit with Napoleon in Russia, and Warden assumed the position of acting as consul general, and hoped to be appointed Minister in Barlow's place. He maneuvered too quickly to suit others, including Mrs. Barlow, who had hopes for her nephew, and stirred discontent among the other consuls by styling himself consul general. Georgia Senator William H. Crawford was appointed Minister to France in 1813, and when he arrived found Warden and consul William Lee of Bordeaux deep in conflict with one another over the prize case of the ship Maria. Crawford had been Minister only five months when he removed Warden from office, thus ending his diplomatic career. While his friends at home, and American citizens abroad, testified to his worth, Warden never received another diplomatic appointment.

In Paris, without means of employment, Warden turned to his pen. (There is no evidence he ever practiced medicine). He had already published several translations, including that of Bishop Henri Gregory’s De La Literature des Negres... (Paris, 1808), and produced On the origin, nature, progress and influence of consular establishments in 1813. Warden conceived a consul to be a cultural agent, and from 1814 until his death, without the aid of his adopted country, he unofficially acted as just such an agent.

His interest in natural history and his desire for cultural exchange naturally led him into geographical and historical writing. His A chorographical and statistical description of the District of Columbia... (Paris, 1816) and his Statistical, political and historical account of the United States of North America... (Paris, 1820) were well received. Financial success eluded him, however, and in 1820 he sold his library of Americana to Samuel A. Eliot, who presented it to Harvard University. His knowledge of the Americas led him to be asked by several encyclopedias to produce sections on America, and in 1821 he was engaged to write the volumes on the Americas for L'Art de verifier les dates. For this undertaking he again began collecting Americana. The first of his volumes of Lard de verifier les dates was published in 1826; the final volume, number ten, appeared in 1844.

Literary efforts did not preclude time from other pursuits. Warden's friends in the world of literature, education, and politics were numerous: Benjamin Constant, Alexander Vivien, Bishop Henri Gregoire, Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the Marquis de Lafayette, Sir Charles and Lady Morgan. Judging from the numerous notes concerning dinners and soirees, these friends and visiting Americans must have meant a busy schedule. Warden also maintained an active correspondence, and devoted himself to aiding Americans in Europe to further their education.

Warden's health, like his finances, was never very good. There is constant reference to his illnesses in his notes and letters, and a crisis was reached in 1843 when both Warden's health and his bank failed. To alleviate the strain of the bank failure, he negotiated the sale of his second library of Americana to the State of New York. The transaction was completed in 1844, the State of New York retaining the library until its loss in the state capitol fire in 1911. Warden's health did not recover, and on October 9, 1845, he died in Paris of a nervous malady.


12.67 Linear Feet (22 boxes (16 full Hollinger boxes and 6 flat boxes))

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gifts of Mrs. Warden and Mrs. George K. McGaw in May 1935 and May 1916.


There is no published biography of David Bailie Warden. The pamphlet by Francis C. Haber, David Bailie Warden, A Bibliographical Sketch of America's Cultural Ambassador in France, 1804-1845 (Washington: Institute Francais de Washington, 1954), which is reproduced in the accompanying microfilm, has been an invaluable source of information and was the inspiration for this publication. William D. Hoyt, Jr., organized and described the Warden papers at the Maryland Historical Society in The Warden Papers, Maryland Historical Magazine XXXVI (1941), 302-314, and XXXVIII (1943), 69-85. Information on Warden and his American correspondents also has come from the Dictionary of American Biography, the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, the Dielman File at the Maryland Historical Society, the Baltimore City Directories for the period 1810 to 1840, John Thomas Scharf and T. Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: 1884). The Library of the Academy of Medicine of Brooklyn, the New York Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Medical University of South Carolina have provided additional biographical information.
Guide to the Warden papers
Under Revision
Bayly Ellen Marks
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • 2019-09-17: Manually entered into ArchivesSpace by Mallory Herberger.

Repository Details

Part of the H. Furlong Baldwin Library Repository

H. Furlong Baldwin Library
Maryland Center for History and Culture
610 Park Avenue
Baltimore MD 21201 United States