1783: John Dundas to Alexander Oswald


Columbian Advertiser (Alexandria, Va.) 25 October 1802

This letter was written by John Dundas ¹ (1759-1813), the eldest son of James Dundas (1734-1788) and Elizabeth Moore (17xx-1787). He married Agnes Hepbum (17xx-1820) in 1785. In addition to agricultural pursuits, John operated a flour mill and a warehouse. He settled in Alexandria where he acquired a large acreage in Fairfax County. His home was called “Dundas Castle.” Her served as the Mayor of Alexandria in 1795-96, as one of the directors of the Bank of Alexandria, and as one of the U.S. justices of the peace in Alexandria County.

John wrote the letter to his Aunt Margaret (Dundas) Oswald, the daughter of John Dundas (1701-17xx) and his second wife, Agnes Haldane, whom he married in 1748. Margaret married Alexander Oswald, a Glasgow merchant. They lived at Shield Hall, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland.

There is mention of an “Uncle Ralph” in the letter. This was General Ralph Dundas (17xx-1814) who was a step-brother of Margaret’s. General Dundas held the office of Governor of Dungannon Fort.

There is also mention of “Uncle Thomas.” This was Thomas Dundas (1738-1805) who settled initially in Phladelphia but became a merchant in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Alexander Oswald, Merchant, Glasgow [Scotland]

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
20 October 1783

My dear Aunt,

The inclosed is copy of a letter which I had the pleasure of sending to you by the Brig Mildred, Captain Frost, for London, who sailed from hence the latter end of August. Since writing that letter, nothing material has happened in our Family. Tho’ in the midst of rather a sickly season, we yet enjoy good health. My father and myself continue in the same business we were in when we wrote to you last. My Uncle Thomas is again beginning to carry on business on an extensive plan. He has entered into partnership with two gentlemen of the name of Moore. They are to keep stores, one at Reading, and one at a village called Lebanon in Lancaster County about 28 miles above Reading. One of the partners is to attend and manage the store at Lebanon, and the other partner and himself the one at Reading, and it is believed they will be able to do a great deal of business and to great advantage.

With my letter to you by Captain Frost was also one from my father and one from my Uncle Thomas — the latter advising of his having drawn on Mr. Oswald for one hundred pounds sterling for my father’s behalf agreeable to your desire, the presentment and acceptance of which you will be pleased to advise him of by the earliest opportunity.

Virginia Journal (Alexandria, VA), 16 June 1785

Virginia Journal (Alexandria, VA), 16 June 1785

I have no particular news to communicate to you. Trade is again beginning to revive and in the course of a year or two it is imagined will flourish in a much greater degree than ever it did heretofore. We have vessels now in our harbor from all parts of the world. Emigrants are daily arriving among us from almost every country who will as well contribute towards enriching the country and add to its strength and consequence. In the course of a few years America will, in all probability, be one of the most flourishing and happy countries in the world.

I shall remain in eager expectation for the arrival of your answer to my first letter to you (of which the inclosed is a duplicate) and I doubt not but you will be so obliging as to favor me with it by the earliest opportunity that may present itself.

The family join me in most affectionate love and regard for you and Mr. Oswald, & I remain, my dear Aunt, with much gratitude & affection, most sincerely yours, — John Dundas

Mrs. Margaret Oswald

P. S. I have taken the liberty to trouble you with an inclosure to my Uncle Ralph which I have left for your perusal and must by the favor of you to seal and have it conveyed to him by the first convenient opportunity. I should be exceedingly obliged to you to obtain his answer to it and send it with the first letters you may be pleased to favor me with after you receive it. I fully intended to have sent these letters by a vessel that sailed from hence a few days ago for Glasgow but I happened at the time she sailed to be out of town.


Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
August 1783

My dear Aunt,

This letter which I take the liberty of addressed to you will be accompanied by letters from my father and Uncle Thomas to Mr. Oswald, requesting his influence and assistance to obtain for me consignments of goods, or, if that should be impracticable, to use his friendly endeavors to get me fixed in such other way of business as may be in his power, and he may think will tend most to my advantage. I have served a regular apprenticeship to the Mercantile Business with my Uncle Thomas of which I cannot doubt but you are fully acquainted, and these last three years I have been transacting business for one of the most eminent merchants in this city, with whom I still continue, and I have now the vanity to think myself as capable of transacting business in that line as most young men in the place.

Ad in Alexandria Gazette of 16 December 1809 indicating that Dundas resided in a 2-acre square on Washington St. between Oronoco and Pendleton Streets

Ad in Alexandria Gazette of 16 December 1809 indicating that Dundas resided in a 2-acre square on Washington St. between Oronoco and Pendleton Streets

I am now in my 25th year and can see no certain prospects before me of getting fixed in any settled way of business without my friends in Europe will interest themselves in my behalf, as it is well known to you, my dear Aunt, that it it is not in the power of my father to give me the least assistance, & the idea of continuing in my present situation is exceedingly distressing to me, and more particularly so as I have four sisters & a brother who are most dear to me and for whose sakes more than my own do I wish to be firmly established in some permanent business that I may be enabled to contribute some small matter towards educating and bringing them up in a genteel manner which you must be sensible, my father in his present circumstances cannot do. I am also anxious to have it in my power to grant him some relief from his unhappy situation which at present is too burdensome for a man of his advanced age and tender feelings to support himself long under, and if any accident should withdraw or incapacitate him, the charge & care of the family must devolve on me, and I am very certain that the utmost of my efforts in my present situation would be greatly insufficient to furnish them with even the common necessaries of life.

Ad placed in the Alexandria Gazette by Agnes Dundas after Robert's death in 1813

Ad placed in the Alexandria Gazette by Agnes Dundas after Robert’s death in 1813

Hence, my dear Aunt, I beg you to be assured are my principal motives for addressing you in this free manner, being  conscious that the very tender affection you have always shown for my father will induce you to use your utmost endeavors to serve me in this business and more especially so as you see the welfare & happiness of a large family, nearly allied to you, so deeply concerned. I beg you, my dear Aunt, to accept with my fathers, my most grateful and sincere thanks for the very generous & timely present you and Mr. Oswald have been pleased to make him. It is so great a proof of your affectionate regard for him that he and his family will ever remember you with the greatest gratitude.

Let my success in this application be what it may, it will nevertheless afford me much pleasure to be honored with a few lines from you as soon after you receive this letter as circumstances and your convenience will admit.

I am, my dear Aunt, with the highest regard & esteem for you and Mr. Oswald, to whom I beg you to present my most respectful compliments, your sincere and most affectionate nephew, — John Dundas

Mrs. Margaret Oswald


John Dundas Obituary

John Dundas Obituary

Robert Dundas died in Alexandria, on Monday evening, in the 55th year of his age, after a severe and tedious illness which he sustained with becoming submission. He was a native of Philadelphia, and has long been an inhabitant of this place. He was amiable in domestic life, reputable as a merchant, and a useful citizen. He took up the CHristian character after weighing deliberately the obligations which the character implies. The faith of the Gospel illuminated the darkness of an evil day, and of a year in which he had no pleasure, and has, we hope, conducted him to the region of light and peace. Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA), 3 September 1813


2 responses to “1783: John Dundas to Alexander Oswald

  • Diane Johnston

    Thank you for sharing the Dundas letters. My husband is a direct descendant of this John Dundas and it so exciting to see that they were saved. Can we get copies?

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