Historic Valley Forge

Jacob DeHaven

Q.Tell me the story of Jacob DeHaven

A.The following is from Lorett Treese's book, Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol (1995)

There is also no evidence to support the claim of the DeHaven family that their ancestor Jacob DeHaven lent George Washington $450,000 in cash and supplies while the army was encamped at Valley Forge. This tradition first appeared in print in a history of the DeHaven family penned by Howard DeHaven Ross. Periodically, the descendants of Jacob DeHaven make attempts to get the "loan" repaid with interest. Various individuals took up this cause in the 1850s, 1870s, and 1890s. The issue came up again around 1910, 1920, and 1960. As recently as 1990, the New York Times reported on the status of a class action suit filed in U.S. Claims Court by a DeHaven descendant from Stafford, Texas. The DeHavens calculated the amount owed their family at more than one hundred billion dollars, but they reported they were willing to accept a "reasonable payment" — and maybe a monument at Valley Forge. This remarkably persistent tradition has been thoroughly debunked by Judith A. Meier, of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, whose genealogical research revealed that there were no DeHavens living in the immediate area until after 1790 and that Jacob DeHaven had never been rich enough to make such a fabulous loan. Still, past experience shows that a DeHaven claim is certain to arise about once every generation.

Note: There is no monument or statue to Jacob DeHaven at Valley Forge.

SOURCE: New York Times, June 9, 1901

About the De Haven Claim


One of these days, after the organized De Haven family shall have been able to convince the United States Government that it owes the De Havens a debt of gratitude and of unnamed millions of money, that family may come into the enjoyment of principal and interest as great in amount as that long expected to be recovered by the tribe of Anneke Jans. The De Haven claim, as it is known about the Capitol and departments at Washington projected itself into view in 1878. At that time it was a rather hazy thing, timidly suggested rather than defined and insisted upon with evidence to support it. But it has grown, and since that first appearance it has taken form under the name of "The De Haven Club," organized May 30, 1895, with the motto: "Only 'In Union Is There Strength.'" The President at that time was W.M. Ridnour, at Savannah, Ill., and the Vice President was E. H. Wahl of Vandalia, Ill. Money orders were to be made payable in Chicago, and the fact that there were De Havens interested in the claim of that name was shown by the fact that A. S. De Haven of St. Joseph, Mo.; Wesley De Haven of Logansport, Ind., and H. F. De Haven of Hammond. Ind., were on the Board of Directors of the De Haven Club.

The Department of State has felt the weight of this club from time to time since 1878. The club desires the department to justify its claims by proof that it is insisted is in the records in possession of the department which have not yet been thoroughly searched. It is asserted, in support of the expectations of the claimants, that the De Haven family was especially prominent during the Revolutionary War and that their old homes were in Philadelphia and near Valley Forge. Efforts to discover the transactions of the family at this period had been hindered because the manuscript records of statements, transactions covering the Revolutionary period, and the collections of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton, as well as the Journals of the Continental Congress, "exist in the department in a chaotic state." The representations made by the De Haven claimants have been that the records of the period have never been systematized, printed, or even assorted or indexed, so that without permission of Congress they cannot be examined. Appeals were made to members of Congress to have authority granted for the arrangement of the papers so that the public, and particularly the De Haven part of the public, could dig out the proof to fully establish the claim suggested. The trouble with the De Havens has been that they have not spoken with that accuracy of statement that should characterize business so serious as the securing of recognition for claims against the Government. The manuscript collections of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton, and the Journals of the Continental Congress in the Department of State are not in a chaotic state. The contrary is the fact. The assertion that the "records of this period," meaning the time, presumably, when the De Havens were laying the basis for the claim, "have never been systematized or printed or even assorted or indexed," is only true to the extent that all of them have not been printed or all fully indexed.

The report made to W. M. Culver in 1878, in response to the inquiry of about that date, that nothing supporting the claim could be found, did not satisfy or convince the claimants. In March, 1893, their representatives, Anderson & Doan, addressed further inquiries to the State Department on the subject. They were informed that search had been made touching the alleged claim of the heirs of Jacob De Haven against the United States, originating in Revolutionary times, the investigation including the files and records of the Continental Congress, but no record of such a claim or any mention of the name of Jacob De Haven could be found. The search then made covered such manuscripts as "Letters and Reports of the Board of Treasury," "Letters and Reports of the Superintendent of Finance," "Accounts of the Register's Office," and manuscripts of a still more specific nature in any way relating to the money matters of the period. The claimants were then told that the presentation of this claim had always been traditionary and vague, no evidence whatever in support of it having been offered nor any clue afforded to a possible record of the transaction, if there were one.

Persistency in asking for assistance to give the vague claim shape called for further explanation. A copy of "The History of the De Haven Family" was sent to the Department of State. A perusal of it led to the answer that no record could be found of the statement attributed in the history to Mr. Blame that "documentary evidence of this loan is obtainable from among the State and Treasury Department records at Washington." The family history, it was pointed out, did not say to whom or when this statement was made. In order to satisfy the claimants every paper emanating from Robert Morris, as well as every paper received by him known to be in possession of the State Department had been thoroughly searched on account of the claimants, and no allusion to their claim or any mention of the name of De Haven have been discovered.

Again came the claimants, through their representatives, and again the Department of State went through the records, as if they had never been searched before. All volumes relating to the Treasury or to the finances of the Continental Congress, "Reports Upon the Applications of Individuals" to the Treasury, twenty-four volumes of manuscript archives of the Treasury, and other documents were ransacked. The name De Haven could not be found once in any of all these ponderous works. The investigations were even extended to include "American State Papers — Claims," Sumner's " The Finances and Financiers of the Revolution," and the "Pennsylvania Historical Publications" (in part,) but the name of De Haven was not found in any of them.

Having been vexed for many years with this ambition of certain hopeful persons to obtain money to an indefinite amount, the last answer made by the Department of State was a final one, to the effect that the name De Haven does not occur, and is therefore not to be found, in any of the Revolutionary archives. In the department touching the alleged "financial aid to the Government during the most critical period, when Washington and his army lay at Valley Forge." The department has never undertaken to ascertain the origin of the notion that the claim ever really existed upon a basis of fact. The impression is that at first it was a family tradition, and that dreaming over it has developed in the minds of the members of the De Haven Club the belief that persistency in asserting their belief would in time infect the officers of the Government and lead them to adopt the views of the claimants.

SOURCE: New York Times, May 27, 1990

213 Years After Loan, Uncle Sam Is Dunned


More than 200 years ago, a wealthy Pennsylvania merchant named Jacob DeHaven lent $450,000 to the Continental Congress to rescue the troops at Valley Forge. That loan was apparently never repaid.

So Mr. DeHaven's descendants are taking the United States Government to court to collect what they believe they are owed. The total: $141.6 billion in today's dollars if the interest is compounded daily at 6 percent, the going rate at the time. If compounded yearly, the bill is only $98.3 billion.

The thousands of family members scattered around the country say they are not being greedy. "It's not the money — it's the principle of the thing," said Carolyn Cokerham, a DeHaven on her father's side, who lives in San Antonio.

"You have to wonder whether there would even be a United States if this man had not made the sacrifice that he did," she said. "He gave everything he had."

The Federal Government, on the other hand, says the money is very much the issue.

Spokesmen for the Departments of Justice and the Treasury said they could not comment on the case because it was in litigation. In January, a United States Claims Court judge in Washington ruled that the statute of limitations on the suit expired at least a century ago. This week an appeal was filed on behalf of the family with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia questioning the constitutionality of the ruling.

Unofficially, a Treasury spokesman said: "Yeah, we'll take it seriously, but they ain't going to win. You can't believe for a minute that anyone is going to get that kind of money."

Legal experts said they could not remember a similar case.

Family Is Flexible

The descendants say that they are willing to be flexible about the amount of a settlement and that they might even accept a heartfelt thank you or perhaps a DeHaven statue. But they also note that interest is accumulating at $190 a second.

"None of these people have any intention of bankrupting the Government," said Jo Beth Kloecker, a lawyer from Stafford, Tex., who has taken the case in exchange for a share of any proceeds. "They understand about the deficit. But they want some acknowledgment of what Jacob DeHaven did."

What Mr. DeHaven did was respond to a desperate plea in 1777 from George Washington, the commander in chief of the Continental Army, when it looked as if the Revolutionary War was about to be lost. One of nine children in a wealthy family of merchants and landowners, Mr. DeHaven was living in Pennsylvania on farmland adjoining the Valley Forge campgrounds in the winter of 1777-78.

The soldiers there were short of food, clothing, shelter and ammunition. General Washington sent a plea to the leadership of Pennsylvania asking for money and saying: "Unless aid comes, our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery. The Army must disband or starve."

Mr. DeHaven was among those who responded. He lent the Government $50,000 in gold and what his descendants estimate to be another $400,000 in supplies. The Continental Army survived the winter at Valley Forge, and when the war was over, Mr. DeHaven apparently tried several times to collect what was owed to him.

'Not Worth a Continental'

Ms. Kloecker said she could not discuss the specific evidence the family has accumulated to substantiate the claim, but she said there is reason to believe that Mr. DeHaven was offered Continental money for his loan certificate and that he held out for gold. The Continental dollars were notoriously worthless, leading to the expression at the time that something was "not worth a Continental."

Mr. DeHaven died penniless in 1812 and is believed to be buried in Swedeland, Pa., in a family cemetery. He had no children; had he possessed anything tangible to bequeath, his siblings and their children would have been his legal heirs.

He did leave behind his story, and it was handed from one generation to the next. Every decade or two there was an attempt by someone in the growing clan to collect the debt.

Ms. Kloecker said there is evidence that descendants tried to recover the loan from the Treasury shortly before and immediately after the Civil War, and again in 1886 and 1894.

Many of these efforts were carried out independently, with one branch of the family not knowing that another branch had tried and failed a decade earlier and in another part of the country.

One Branch's Experience

In 1910, a branch of the family in Huntsville, Ala., hired lawyers to investigate the claim. Though the lawyers concluded that enough evidence existed to substantiate that the money was still owed, no suit was brought.

In the 1920's, President Calvin Coolidge told Congress that he thought the loan, then calculated at $4 million, should be repaid. In 1966, Representative Tom Pelly of Washington State introduced a resolution to repay $50,000 in settlement to the family, but the bill died in committee.

The latest attempt is thought to be the first time that the case has been brought to a court, rather than to Congress or Federal agencies. The suit began in January 1988 when Thelma Weasenforth Luunas of Stafford, Tex., a DeHaven on her father's side, approached Ms. Kloecker. Mrs. Luunas had promised her father shortly before he died that she would do her best to recover, or at least verify, the legendary loan.

Ms. Kloecker consulted the Texas Commerce Bank in Houston to determine what the amount owed would be. The Continental Congress offered 6 percent interest on loans at that time; thus, the total, compounded daily, was calculated to be $141.6 billion in March 1989 when the suit was filed.

Fresh out of law school, Ms. Kloecker accepted the case for less than the customary 30 percent contingency. She is being helped by Peter W. Murphy, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, Ms. Kloecker began by searching for other descendants and for any documents they might have through advertisements and publicity in papers throughout the country where family members believed relatives would be found.

800 Respond to Call

So far responses have been received from more than 800 people, all of whom had been reared on the story of the loan, and they said they were amazed to find that someone else had heard it too. Many were from Pennsylvania, but letters and photocopied documents came from as far away as Italy and Hawaii. So far the search has not produced the original loan certificate.

Charles DeHaven, a pastor in New Braunfels, Tex., said his father first told him about the loan while he was studying the American Revolution in the fifth grade. "He told me, 'Someday, someday, the DeHaven family will be known for what it really did,' " he said.

More than just a lawsuit has resulted from what Mrs. Luunas started. There is now a DeHaven Family Club, resurrected from one that existed in the 1880's, that has more than 180 members and a $10 registration fee. There are also plans for a DeHaven family reunion in San Antonio next summer.

It is unclear how many descendants there are altogether. Ms. Kloecker estimates that based on 10 generations with four children in each generation, there could be as many as half a million. In court papers requesting that the family be certified as a class for the purposes of filing a class action suit, she listed the number at 50,000.

It will be a very long time, if ever, before the exact number of family members eligible for payment will be an issue. "First I have to find a court" to hear the case, Ms. Kloecker said.

Constitutional Dispute

The initial suit was dismissed on the ground that the statute of limitations, which is six years for a suit against the Federal Government, had expired and that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

The family's appeal asserts that applying a statute of limitations to a case like this violates Article 6 of the Constitution, which declares as valid all debts owed by the Government before the document's adoption. To prohibit repayment of those debts effectively nullifies the entire Article, the family's lawyers argue. And that, they contend, can only be done if Congress and the states vote to change Article 5 of the Constitution, which provides for the amendment of the document.

Ms. Kloecker and Mr. Murphy agree that their argument is an unusual one.

"Cases like this don't come along all that often," Mr. Murphy said. "This one took more than 200 years."


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