[1858 to 1862 Collection. Future Confederate Spy Aaron Van Camp of Washington D. C. Autograph Letter Signed from Naval Career Officer Commodore William Mervine].
Of a future Civil War and Confederate spy
Dr. Aaron Van Camp: Future Confederate Spy, A Doctor Just before the American Civil War begins, 6 scrapbook leaves document the life of a D.C. dentist with a future in espionage
Six scrapbook leaves. Their contents pertain to Dr. Aaron Van Camp (1816–1892) viz., 1. Van Camp’s U.S. Naval voyage to the Friendly Islands (Tonga) as U.S. Consul; 2. his association with two naval officers, one of whom would join Van Camp in service to the Confederacy; 3. A botanical specimen and a newspaper obituary with an intriguing reference, likely to the Freemasons, and one that may shed light on Van Camp’s sources of information, in Washington D.C., as a soon-to-be spy.
On Board the U.S.S. Independence, Two Drawings
Two small 1858 pencil drawings by South Carolinian Lieutenant Thomas B. Huger (d. 1862) are tipped onto one leaf. These depict shoreline views of the Juan Fernández Islands off the coast of Chile made on board the U.S.S. Independence, the ship which took the Van Camp family to the Friendly Islands. They are inscribed to Van Camp’s daughter Nina: “Drawn by Lt. T. B. Huger for Nina Van Camp who with her parents were passengers.” The vessel was the flagship of the Pacific Squadron under the command of Commodore William Mervine. A mention in a caption to one of the drawings, “34 days from Apia,” is a reference to Samoa where, in the 1850s, Van Camp operated a whaling supply company and was U.S. Commercial Agent.
An 1860 ALS from Commodore William Mervine
A March 24, 1860 letter from soon-to-be Commodore Mervine (1791–1868) in Utica, New York to Nina Van Camp in Washington, D.C. is tipped onto another leaf and reports on Lieutenant Huger:
I am very much obliged for the beautiful fair hand copy of the Consul’s report; and still more so for the beautiful note accompanying it: — expressed in language that betokens a mind which gives promise of much expansion in riper years. Our friend Huger is in the Mediterranean, First Lieutenant of the Steam Sloop Iroquois and Genl. Merwin and family or in the county on a farm near Cleveland, Ohio. I have neither seen or heard from any of them for the past twelve months.
A c. 1862 newspaper clipping herewith reports that Lt. Huger resigned his commission in the U. S. Navy in 1861 while serving on board the Iroquois. Huger later served as a first Lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy, but died in early 1862 after being wounded during the defense of New Orleans. In contrast, Commodore, later Rear Admiral, Mervine took command of the Union’s Gulf Blockading Squadron. Illness forced him to give up his command in September 1861.
Tinker, Tailor, Dentist, Spy
Aaron Van Camp was a trained dentist. A small keystone-shaped blindstamp on one leaf appears as a logotype for his Washington practice. His notoriety, however, was as a confederate spy.
Along with his son Eugene, Aaron Van Camp was part of Washington socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow’s espionage ring. They operated in Washington until the ring was broken up by the Union Intelligence Service. Aaron Van Camp was imprisoned in 1861, but released shortly after. Van Camp is reported to have been later involved with espionage in Mississippi and was a possible suspect in President Lincoln’s assassination.
A Sprig from a Wreath, An Obituary, a Spy Ring?
One scrapbook page with an 1858 inscription may hint at Van Camp’s network of Washington contacts. Tipped onto this page is a sprig “taken from a wreath on the body of Elizabeth C. Dietz,” a newspaper obituary clipping for Dietz likely composed by Van Camp (signed in print “A. V. C.”), and a list of her eight pallbearers. Van Camp, who is listed among the pallbearers, describes these eight men as “[a]ll brothers of the Mystic Tie for whom our beloved sister entertained the highest regard.” The phrase “Mystic Tie” is likely a reference to the Freemasons.
One of Aaron Van Camp’s likely masonic brothers, listed here as “B.D. Hyam,” was Benjamin Daniel Hyam (1813–1893), a Washington attorney and business associate with Aaron Van Camp. In 1864, Hyam secretly denounced Van Camp’s son Eugene as a spy to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Around this same time Aaron Van Camp and Hyam accused each other as being disloyal. The other names on the list include two judges and one “Maj[or]. Belger.” Perhaps Van Camp’s connections here were means of keeping himself informed.
Notes: One albumen portrait accompanying this group likely depicts Thomas R.[oss] Maris (1805–1885) of Philadelphia, president of the American Insurance Company. It is unclear how Maris connected to Van Camp.
Description: [1858 to 1862 Collection. Future Confederate Spy Aaron Van Camp of Washington D. C. Autograph Letter Signed from Naval Career Officer Commodore William Mervine].
[Various places. 1858–(1862)]. Six large folio scrapbook leaves, removed from album. 12 x 9½ inches. Leaves contain botanical specimens, pencil drawings, newspaper clippings, and 1 Autograph Letter Signed. 8vo. [1½]pp. Additionally, one mounted albumen photograph portrait of Tho[ma]s. R. Maris and dated 1860; from Broadbent & Co., Philadelphia (11½ x 9½ inches). Some toning; short closed tears to some leaves; losses to some specimens; good. Each sleeve in mylar sheet.
The albumen portrait accompanying the scrapbook leaves likely depicts Thomas R.[oss] Maris (1805–1885) of Philadelphia, president of the American Insurance Company. It is unclear how Maris connected to Van Camp.