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Fondly, Pennsylvania

Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog.  Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection.  Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!

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Philadelphians, Chinese, and Chinese Philadelphians: The Concerns of a People

Every Sunday, my parents bring home a copy of The World Journal Weekly (Shi Jie Zhou Kan), the Sunday edition of a newspaper circulated in the Chinatowns of the United States documenting everything from world events and economic news to articles addressing issues pertinent to the Chinese American community. I remember that these pages of colorful newsprint would litter the house, and for the longest time, I paid little attention to them. The few times that I did find them useful usually had more to do with their ability to serve as a great substitute for, say, Styrofoam packing peanuts.

As I was entering combinations of keywords into HSP's catalog, however, some entries I found soon made me change my opinion about those newspapers. For starters, I didn’t realize that the publications my parents read had counterparts dating from the 1890s—a bit silly considering the amount of time newspapers have been around (as opposed to, say, social media). And given that these were published with articles written and translated in both English and Chinese, my ability to peruse the contents shot up.

The first publication that caught my eye was HSP’s collection of The Chinese-American Advocate (Hua Mei Zi Bao), a bilingual series published and distributed in Philadelphia starting in 1892. While I only found the first two issues of the first volume, there was plenty of material to digest. As the newspaper's title and motto (“Do ye unto others as ye would that others should do unto you”) suggest, a large part of the publication’s aims were geared towards the community outside of Philadelphia’s fledgling Chinatown.

The first issue of The Chinese-American Advocate. Dr. Jin Fuey Moy, the editor of  The Advocate, was one of the first Chinese in America to become a doctor. Dr. Moy practiced mainly in the Philadelphia area.

By the late 1800s, many Chinese on the West coast of the United States who remained after the California Gold Rush and transcontinental railroad boom began to migrate eastward to escape rising anti-Chinese sentiments. There, they formed communities in mostly urban areas and took jobs that incited little offence, such as opening laundromats and restaurants offering Chop Suey. Given the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the subsequent Geary Act of 1892 that prohibited further entry of Chinese into the United States, many of these early Chinese Americans were bachelors or men whose families were still in China. With few efforts made to integrate them into American society, these men and their enclaves became associated with rampant gambling and drug use.

This was the type of community that Dr. Jin Fuey Moy, editor of The Chinese-American Advocate, wanted to speak out for. In his introduction of the first issue of The Advocate, Dr. Moy appeals to his English-speaking readers, stating: “It is the purpose of this publication to be as substantially useful within the range of its influence as the circumstances will permit. While in a sense addressed to and for Chinamen, resident in America, it mayhaps will fall into the hands of many an American or English-speaking friend of the Chinese race, and to such we would desire to be helpful in their intercourse with those people, and enable them the better to accomplish the good they have in mind.”

The content of the publication itself also reflects this motive. While the newspaper is written in both Chinese and English, only a select number of the articles are actually translated into Chinese. Other pieces, such as that detailing with the escape of a Chinese girl from an abusive “work house,” are left un-translated and clearly appeal to the sympathy of an American reader.

But this is not to say that Dr. Moy addressed little content to his fellow countrymen—in fact, what he does translate is quite crucial to the Chinatown community. Beyond news about China, Dr. Moy also included a translation of a Sunday school lesson in each issue, as religious bodies were one of the few institutions to reach out to Chinese American communities at the time. And, in the first issue, the centerpiece article includes a copy of the newly passed Geary Act of 1892 translated into Chinese. This is critical, for beyond just extending the ten-year effectiveness of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act also mandated that all Chinese in the United States carry documents proving their valid residency at all times. Without these papers, they would be deported.

An image of a Sunday school lesson translated in Chinese in The Chinese American Advocate.

The Chinese-American Advocate is not the only publication to have served such a purpose in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. One of the other collections I found almost immediately when scrolling through HSP’s online catalog included several volumes of Yellow Seeds (Huang Zi Bao) published starting in 1972. This newspaper is also written in both English and Chinese. Like The Advocate, it focuses mainly on raising awareness for the plights of people in Chinatown, particularly with regards to housing and healthcare issues.

Contrary to the overall tone of its predecessor, however, Yellow Seeds serves less as an appeal  to the compassion of the religious as it does as a rallying call for unity against  injustices facing the Chinese American community. This is reflected in its contents, with article titles ranging from “What Does Chinatown Mean to Me?” and “Suzy Wong/Charlie Chan: Is that really me?” to “US Policy in Vietnam: Why Should Asians in America Keep Well Informed About US Policy in Asia?,” “Can You Be Deported: Facts for Illegal Entrants,” and “Why Learn English?!”.

An article titled "Can You Be Deported: Facts for Illegal Entrants" that was published in the first issue of Yellow Seeds. The newspaper contains many articles targeting issues and concerns pertinent to the Chinese American population, including a list of health symtpoms which require medical attention.

Having observed this difference, I can’t help but wonder: What would have happened to Dr. Moy if he had published a passage such as this, drawn from an article in Yellow Seeds?

“In order to ‘succeed’ we have to ‘operate’ in the American system—accept its values, play its games. But we are never fully accepted into this system because of our ‘slanted eyes and yellow skin.’ We must live in segregated communities to feel we are “among friends”. So we retreat to our Chinatowns and Little Tokyos, to our homes where old traditions compete with American ways.”

Of course, the 1970s were vastly different than the late 1800s, and it’s quite clear that such acerbic words come from people with a very different voice in society than before. This is perhaps made even more evident by the fact that I was able to treat the current equivalent of The Advocate and Yellow Seeds as packing material. But at the same time, the experiences outlined from one era’s advocate to the next reminds us of what is still left to change. 

Philadelphians, Chinese, and Chinese Philadelphians: Narrating First Encounters

Following independence from Great Britain, it became especially important for America to create ties to the rest of the world that had previously not been necessary under British rule. Demand for commodities like tea, porcelain, and silk meant that American merchants had to quickly find a way to establish trade routes with China directly. Along with New York and Boston, Philadelphia became a key city from which vessels like the one shown below departed for Canton (now Guangzhou).

Detail of a watercolor painted by Jacob Peterson capturing the Helvetius, a ship belonging to Stephen Girard used in trade with India and China. This image was captured from Philadelphians and the China Trade 1784-1844 by Jean Gordon Lee found in HSP’s collection.

I decided to start my research by examining the different materials available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania connected to the China trade, and from those materials, I was able to piece together a rough outline of what a voyage on such a scale would look like.

This insurance policy for the Calcedonia’s trip from Philadelphia to Canton and back is dated March 23, 1812. From the Robert Waln papers

Within the Robert Waln Papers, I found a series of insurance policies for his ship, the Calcedonia, that was bound for Canton. From what I can make of the script, “the Assurers are contented to bear, and take upon them in this voyage… Seas, Men of War, Fires, Enemies, Pirates, Rovers, Thieves, Jettisons, Letters of Mart, and Counter Mart, Surprisals, Takings at Sea, Arrests, Restraints and Detainments of all Kings, Princes or People, of what Nation, Condition, or Quality soever, Barratry of the Master, and Mariners, and all other perils, losses and misfortunes, which have or shall come to the hurt, detriment, or damage of the said goods or merchandises, or any part thereof.” This appears to be quite a comprehensive list, and I have little doubt of its necessity, especially given the amount of risk associated with such a voyage.

A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade; Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver & Other Objects depicting a painting of the Hongs at Canton.

With all of the necessary documents in order, a ship traveling from Philadelphia to Canton would then undergo a voyage lasting several weeks before finally arriving at the mouth of the Pearl River. There at the Whampoa checkpoint, merchants would secure a translator and stock up on necessary supplies before being conveyed up the river to Canton. From there, business could commence.

A “Tea Weighing Book” I found in HSP’s collection belonging to an anonymous merchant. On the left page is a tally of the prices for “Bohea Souchong,” a black tea from Fujian province, while on the right is a tally for “Young Hyson,” a green tea from Anhui province. The Chinese characters found on both most probably refer to the company from which the teas were purchased, and the heading “Punhoyqua” most probably refers to the name of the Co-Hong merchant with which this transaction took place.

Among the letters of another Philadelphia merchant, Joseph Archer, I found a narration of what sorts of struggles came with that sort of business. In a letter from Canton dated October 24, 1833 addressed to his “dear friend” Jon Cryder Esq. in London, Archer writes that:

“All sales are made here at the risk of the consignee. I know of no instance of guarantee on the part of the seller. Under the old system of doing business in Canton where all the sales and investments or nearly so were made through the Hong Investments, very little or no risk was incurred, but of late years the system of doing business has undergone a very decided change for the worse in this respect. The few men… who are now members of the Hong have confined themselves for several years back, almost exclusively to the Company’s business and sales are now necessarily made to the [proofer?] Hong merchants and to another clap of men who are termed Outside Merchants and who are doing business under the Hong Merchants, as [Jurors?] or Clerks. Some of these men are respectable and [possess?] some property; but the system is entirely illegal and in case of death or fraud of the party, you have no redress whatever under the law of China."

A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade depicting a wooden chair made in China.

Archer continued: "In case of failure of any of the Hong Merchants, the Co. Hong is liable for all debts due to foreigners (of this you are no doubt aware) but the manner in which such debts are paid, in installments of 12 or 10 pct. per annum, amounts at last to almost a total loss...

"The Old Hong Merchants deny altogether being responsible for the debts of those who were appointed at the requisition of the Company [34?] years ago and subsequently. This is a question yet to be decided by the legal authorities; the foreigners contend that they are one and all members of the Co. Hong and are individually and collectively liable for each other’s debts.”

Detail from Ellen Decker’s After the Chinese Taste: China's Influence in America 1750-1930, a book in HSP’s collections. Shown here is a chest of drawers with details of fantastical creatures and scenery from China. Imports like these were the majority of what informed the public about Chinese culture.

Joseph Archer’s letter book, being the very first item I examined during my research, was more puzzling than enlightening at the time, especially with regards to the mentioned Hong and Co-Hong merchants. It was only after further inquiry from some secondary sources I examined at HSP that I was able to understand what it was Archer was referring to. During the Qing Dynasty, permission for foreign trade was only granted to a few merchants in Canton known as Co-Hongs, and foreign traders would conduct transactions and limit their activities to their country’s respective “Hong.” Thus armed with this knowledge, what Archer describes to his friend in this letter here is actually quite exciting—these “Outside Merchants” who operate underneath the Hong merchants are actually working illegally, and thus the Co-Hongs are technically not liable for the debts that their agents incur… a potentially disastrous situation for the unlucky foreigner.

A detail from Jean Gordon Lee’s Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844 as found in HSP’s collection. This silk fan is one of the many imports from China that Philadelphians would have purchased.

However say that all does go well during these transactions. Having obtained the tea, silk, furniture, fans, and other goods, next comes the voyage back to Philadelphia. There, products from China were sold as exotic luxuries to the ladies and gentlemen who could afford them.

A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade depicting samples of silk that could be imported.

But just as their knowledge of China is incomplete and obtained only from limited accounts and the objects they have purchased, my quick recount of the China trade is also imperfect. As the passage from Joseph Archer’s letter reveals, many obstacles to conducting trade presented themselves in the form of cultural and systemic disparities, and very little of what I looked at offers a glimpse at the lasting impacts of the China trade on the people of Canton. Perhaps some more digging through the HSP archives might remedy that…

Join me next time as I look at the founding of Philadelphia’s Chinatown and the first stirrings of Chinese American activism! 

A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade. Above is a certificate granting permission for a vessel to leave Canton.

Philadelphians, Chinese, and Chinese Philadelphians: Introduction

This has been my summer for first encounters.

Of course, there are the obvious ones that I feel obliged to mention. As a new intern at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, my first days here were spent trying to figure out what the words “historical,” “society” and, even better, “historical society” really meant. And while I have yet to reach a definitive conclusion, what I can say is that my query has led me to experience even more firsts. For the first time, I’ve learned how to navigate a card catalog, flipped the pages of documents that date back hundreds of years, and deciphered the curlicues of a merchant’s letter book.

However, there are other firsts I’ve had here that have been guided by my own interests in Philadelphia’s history. Despite the immensity of materials in HSP’s collections, I was set on exploring what they could offer to someone of an ethnic minority whose history has at times been marginalized from what is traditionally associated with the city of Philadelphia. Having little prior knowledge of the Chinese and Chinese American narrative in this city, I decided to start my introduction from documents capturing the first encounters between Philadelphians and Chinese.

Within the span of a short blog series, it is neither feasible for me to offer a comprehensive historical account, nor is it my goal to do so. Instead, it is my hope that as I am better acquainted with the collections at HSP, my writing may also provide small snippets of insight into the experiences, the concerns, and the people who occupy their own space in Philadelphia’s history.

Click here to read my first postPhiladelphians, Chinese, and Chinese Philadelphians: Narrating First Encounters.

Processing the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers: An Intern’s Experience

The following article is being posted on behalf of Tim Dewysockie, former intern of the archives department. Our thanks go out to him for the work that he completed on this important historical collection. --CH
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My internship in the Archives Department of HSP, which began in January and ends this month, was my first experience working in an archive. I discovered archives while pursuing my MLIS degree at Drexel University, where I became fascinated with how archivists manage aggregates of information. Coming from a library background I was accustomed to working with monographs, so it was a whole new way of understanding how to manage information and seemed very relevant in this digital age brimming with mass quantities of information.

My project at HSP was to improve access to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS) collection, PAS being the first abolition society in the United States formed in 1775. PAS is still in operation today and works to improve the conditions of African Americans. First, I conducted a shelf read of the 40 linear feet collection to make sure everything was in its right place. Second, I relabeled the boxes of the collection. Third, I arranged and described additions to the collection which spanned from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. Fourth, I recorded information from manumission and indenture records, or records of slaves being freed and indentured into servitude, into a database created for this project. I recorded information such as the names of former slaves, their ages, the length of their indenture, etc. This information will enhance the discoverability of these important documents by making them searchable through indexes. Lastly, I created an inventory of the collection, or a listing of the collection’s contents, in the collection’s new finding aid.

What was most satisfying about this project was working so closely with a single collection. Over the course of five months I grew to not only understand the organization and content of the collection, but also its significance. There are so many important stories in these documents, stories of former slaves being freed and indentured into servitude, the important role PAS played in the early years of the abolition movement, and much, much more. I cannot think of a more exciting first project than making this collection more accessible for researchers, to enable researchers to continue to discover these documents and tell their many vital stories about this chapter of our history.

See the recent blog post linked below to learn more about the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Riding the Forgotten Rails: Part 2

The second in a new series, the following article was written by HSP Digital Services Intern Mark Carnesi and is being posted on his behalf. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Mark continues his look at the George A. Foreman scrapbook collection. Read part one here.


The first post in this series introduced the George A. Foreman scrapbooks on the Philadelphia Transportation Company [#3267] and gave a brief overview of the contents of this fascinating collection.  Let’s now take a closer look at an important aspect of the collection: the many women who worked at the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) in the 1940s and are depicted in the collection.

 

One thing that is evident in viewing the photographs and annotations in the collection is the vast majority of these women were in secretarial or administrative positions, including clerks, typists, stenographers, and office assistants.  At the same time, a common PTC role for women in the 1940s was to work as either an elevated or subway cashier.  A number of these women are depicted in the collection, including Emily Rinnert, the subject of a 1941 Public Ledger article entitled “Furious Tempo of Passing Throng Leaves Miss Emily R. Unruffled.”  In it, Ms. Rinnert talks about her experiences over the course of 29 years as a cashier on the Market Street El, although the author of the article seems most interested in the number of marriage proposals she had received from customers.  One gets the sense the author’s questions also left Ms. Rinnert unruffled, as she states “I always told them I had work to do.  And so I did.”

 

Other women depicted in the collection include PTC nurses as well as waitresses at The Tasty Inn, the lunch counter and soda fountain at the 69th Street Terminal, where one could buy an ice cream sundae for just 15 cents.  Foreman makes a point of noting the friendly and pleasant service he always received from the waitresses who worked there.

 

However, without question the woman who receives the most attention in the collection is Dorothy E. Williams, who was mentioned in the first post in this series.  Ms. Williams was, as noted in a 1943 article in the Evening Bulletin, the “first woman El motorman in the history of the Philadelphia Transportation Company.”  A former grocery store clerk, Ms. Williams was 23 when she joined the PTC in 1943, first as a platform guard and then as a motorwoman.  Mr. Foreman apparently knew her well and pays her a high compliment in his notes when he states she was “a quiet, efficient operator with a splendid record.”

New Books Now in the Historic Culinary Arts Collection

If you didn't know it already, HSP has a growing collection of books on historic cooking and the culinary arts! Here's a rundown of some books that were recently added to the library's collection. Click on the links for more information on each title from our online catalog Discover.


A Colonial Plantation Cookbook edited by Richard J. Hooker

TX 703 .H67 1984


Campfire Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott

TX 652 .P455 2015


Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov

TX 724 .S65 2015


Magpie: Sweets and Savories from Philadelphia's Favorite Pie Boutique by Holly Ricciardi

TX 773 .R493 2015


Early American Herb Recipes by Alice Cooke Brown

TX 819 .H4 B7


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

TX 649 .V66 2013


Hollywood Star Diet Book

PAM RM  222.2 .D67 1961


Recipes for Bakers and Confectioners by C. O. Boggs

PAM TX 771 .B64 1880


Good Things to Eat

PAM TX 765 .G66 1933


The Enterprising Housekeeper by Helen Louise Johnson

PAM TX 715 .J655 1906


 

Riding the Forgotten Rails: Part 1

The first in a series, the following article was written by HSP Digital Services Intern Mark Carnesi and is being posted on his behalf. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Mark continues his look at the George A. Foreman scrapbook collection. 


Processing a collection here at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania can be a fascinating experience.  As you work your way through the collection it gradually reveals itself to you, including the many gems it contains.  The George A. Foreman scrapbooks on the Philadelphia Transportation Company [#3267] is clearly one of these collections. 

 

Foreman (1881-1950) was a conductor, motorman, and depot dispatcher for the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) and its successor, the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), for a total of 37 years until his retirement in 1947.  The bulk of the collection dates from the 1940s and consists of 18 small scrapbook albums that Mr. Foreman put together by hand.  They include photographs of PTC coworkers, Philadelphia public transit scenes, holiday cards received over the years, as well as newspaper clippings, billboard advertisements, letters from coworkers serving in the military during WWII, postcards, and other ephemera.

 

The majority of the photographs were taken by a coworker who always seemed to have his camera at the right place and time.  These fascinating and evocative photos shed light on so many things from the era.  Among others, these include public transit, working conditions, social customs, men’s and women’s fashions, life during World War II, urban living, advertising and, of course, the growth and evolution of Philadelphia.  As for the latter, many of the photos were taken from the Market-Frankford El and therefore provide a bird’s-eye view of the city, including its architecture, people at work and play, billboard advertisements, and flow of city life. 

 

These photographs also show us what is not there or, better yet, there only in small numbers.  For example, most of Foreman’s coworkers in the 1940s were, like him, male and white.  However, it was at this time that the Philadelphia Transportation Company began to employ more women and minorities, and the collection reflects these changes within the PTC and society at large.  One volume contains photos and newspaper clippings from The Evening Bulletin of Dorothy E. Williams, the “first woman El motorman in the history of the Philadelphia Transportation Company.” 

 

As society changed, so did the PTC and other organizations like it, and this collection provides a unique window onto a very interesting, yet different, place and time.

 

The sound of music, from city's earliest days

Often thought of as the last bastions of hush, libraries are louder than one might have heard. So tune in and listen closely to Philadelphia's 300-plus-year musical legacy.

Forsaking it in their religious services and sneering at it in their private lives, the Quaker founders of Philadelphia were a decidedly unmusical bunch. Fortunately for future ears, other religious and ethnic groups were counted among the city's early settlers, many with active musical traditions - and instruments - in tow.

The mystic Johannes Kelpius and his small band of pietist pilgrims developed a sophisticated musical practice while living alone in the woods along the Wissahickon Creek near Germantown. These German immigrants provided the music for the dedication of Gloria Dei, "Old Swedes," Church on July 2, 1700, the earliest documented musical performance in Philadelphia.

 

Portrait of Johannes Kelpius by Dr. Christopher Witt circa 1705

 

Francis Johnson, a Philadelphia-born bugle and violin virtuoso, published in 1817 his Collection of New Cotillions, the first compositions published by an African American, and Johnson soon became the first American - black or white - to lead a musical ensemble on a European tour.

The musical contributions of members of Philadelphia's ethnic and immigrant communities continued into the 19th century, with its own market for sheet music developing in the 1830s. In the absence of recorded music and earbuds, popular tunes known as parlor songs were written for amateur musicians and performed in the homes of their family and friends.

 

1846 Portrait (lithograph from a daguerreotype) of Francis "Frank" Johnson (1792-1844)

 

For many aspiring composers, vocalists, and musicians in antebellum Philadelphia, these parlor songs served not only as entertainment but as a means to conserve cultural traditions in their adopted country. The Balch ethnic sheet music collection contains hundreds of these songbooks and other sheet music dating from the 1820s through the 1960s, and was recently processed (archivalspeak for organizing and inventorying the materials) by HSP's archivists.

 

At The Yiddisher Ball circa 1912

 

A kaleidoscope of languages is represented in the spirituals, folk songs, traditional anthems, ballads, and other popular tunes written by and for the city's Jewish, Greek, Italian, Irish, Swedish, and other ethnic and immigrant communities. Caches of sheet music also tell the stories of Philadelphia's Hawaiian, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Scottish, and other groups underrepresented in other cultural repositories.

 

Hay erg-punchʻ -- Armenian Song Bouquet circa 1940

 

Until a 2002 merger with HSP, the materials in the Balch sheet music collection were held by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, one of the nation's premier research centers for American immigrant and ethnic experiences. HSP now oversees the care and use of the Balch materials, allowing the library to give a full-throated voice to the history of all Philadelphians.

"Get loud" is perhaps the advice least expected to leave a librarian's lips. But the scores of sheet music sitting silent on the shelves are inviting the public to do just that, to turn up the volume on a segment of Philadelphia's musical legacy long muted.

 

Arrah Wanna: An Irish Indian Matrimonial Venture circa 1906

 

HSP's latest document display features documents from more than three centuries of Philadelphia's music history, including several items from the Balch ethnic sheet music collection. Free and open to the public through March 11.

Join HSP for the remaining three programs in the four-part Memories & Melodies series. Register for two and get the third program free.

This article originally appeared in the February 21, 2016, Currents section of the Philadelphia Inquirer as part of HSP's weekly series, Memory Stream.

 

Four Franklin Letters Re-discovered, Part II

The following article was written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine and is being posted on her behalf. Many thanks to Archival Processor Megan Evans for helping prepare these articles for publication. To read the first part of this article, please click here or on the article's title in the right sidebar.

Almost two years later, in a letter dated April 11, 1767, Benjamin Franklin was still writing to John Ross about the “Change of Government in the Proprietary Colonies.” Things were not going well. Franklin found sympathy for the cause from men “of Weight,” but with controversies concerning British rule occurring in New York and Boston, “nothing is so little interesting to them as our Application” to go forward. In fact, although by 1763 several colonies surrendered their charters and became royal colonies, Pennsylvania remained a proprietary colony until the American Revolution.


Benjamin Franklin to John Ross, April 11, 1767

The sentence in the letter mentioning the “Subject of the Circuit Bill,” refers to a bill that would require judges of the Supreme Court to ride circuit in the counties more often. Under the existing laws, the judges rode the circuit too infrequently – causing many trials to be transferred to the Philadelphia courts. This was inconvenient to litigants and the juries. Ross, a prominent attorney in Philadelphia, would be well read on the latest news of this nature.

Unfortunately, the “little Essay of an Inscription to the Memory of my departed amiable young Friend” referred to in the fourth paragraph of the third letter is not included in the Read family letters (Collection 0537). However, a transcription of the eulogy can be found on the American Philosophical Society website. Apparently, it was sent along with the letter. It reads:

In Memory of Margaret,
Daughter of John and [Elizabeth] Ross
Who deceased [August 20] 1766
Aged 19 Years
Lamented by all that knew her
For all that knew her lov’d her
The Delight of her Parents & Relations
Innocence & Sweetness of Manner Sincerity
Benevolence of Heart
Render’d her

The interjection of such a personal response to his friend’s daughter’s death shows warmth that is not apparent in the other three letters found in the Read collection.

The fourth, and longest, letter, dated May 14, 1768, once again has Franklin lamenting the trouble in western Pennsylvania and the lack of success in his attempt to make Pennsylvania a Royal colony. He comes close to admitting defeat when he writes, “I have urged over and over the Necessity of the Change we desire; but this Country itself being at present in a Situation very little better, weakens our argument that a Royal Government would be better managed and safer to live under than that of a Proprietary.” One of Franklin’s most famous quotes was written in this letter. Commenting on the “disorders on our [Pennsylvania’s] Frontiers,” as well as “lawless Riot and Confusion” in London, he writes of “a People who are ungratefully abusing the best Constitution and the best King any Nation was ever blest with.”

Benjamin Franklin to John Ross, May 14, 1768

Franklin tells Ross about the efforts that the Church of England (the Anglican Church) was making to establish itself in America. Throughout much of the seventeenth century, the Church suffered from a slow rate of growth and a shortage of clergymen in the colonies. By 1768 there had been some growth of Anglican congregations along the Atlantic seaboard, the largest concentration being in the South. In southern colonies, the Anglican Church was actually the established, state-supported church, as it was in England. In Philadelphia, Christ Church was founded in 1695 by members of the Church of England. The main building of the church was constructed by 1744, twenty-four years before this letter was written. It stands today at Second and Market Streets. Nonetheless, as Franklin notes, the colonies were having a hard time getting ministers to come over to serve the colonies, “So apprehensive are Ministers of engaging in any novel Measure.”

Franklin was ready to do his friend a good turn. In this forth letter he informs Ross that he has “named Mr. Yeates at the Treasury.” John Yeates was married to Ross’s sister. And in his reference to “Mr. Gurney the Officer,” he is letting Ross know that he made inquiries about a young man who wished to marry his daughter Catherine.

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To be sure, the reader of these four letters learns something about Benjamin Franklin. But just as significantly, these letters give insight into the political, cultural, and religious events surrounding Philadelphia in the 1760s. The Historical Society is a great place to explore the life and times of Ben Franklin and colonial Philadelphia. And one never knows when a surprise document may come to the fore.

 

Bibliography

It’s true that many documents mentioned in this essay can be read online.  I posit, however, that it is enlightening to read original or contemporaneous documents.  Seeing the handwriting of the author, or a transcript printed shortly after an event, gives the reader a sharper sense of the time the document was written. And for some of us, it’s just plain fun.

HSP Documents:

Read family letters (Collection 0537).

Ralph L. Ketcham, “Benjamin Franklin and William Smith: New Light on an Old Philadelphia Quarrel,”  The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 88 No. 2 (April, 1964), pp 142-163. [Call number: UPA F 146 .P65]

HSP documents at the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP):

Great Britain Parliament, 1766 House of Commons.  The examination of Doctor Benjamin Franklin: before an august assembly, relating to the repeal of the Stamp-act &c, Philadelphia: Hall & Sellers, 1766. [Call number:  Rare/AM 1766 FRA 51952.0.3]

For information on the Proprietary party v. the Quaker party:

Galloway, Joseph. The speech of Joseph Galloway, esq, one of the members for Philadelphia County…, Philadelphia: W. Dunlap, 1764. Call number:  Rare/AM 1764 Gallo 8605.0.10.

Hunt, Isaac. Looking-glass for Presbyterians: or a brief examination of their loyalty, merit and other qualifications for government…, Philadelphia: Armbruster, 1764. Call number: HSP in LCP/AM 1764 Hun Ar64 L87.

Williamson, Hugh. The Plain-dealer or a few remarks upon Quaker-politicks, and their attempts to change the government of Pennsylvania:…, Philadelphia: A. Stewart, 1764. Call number: Rare/AM 1764 Wil.66 984.0.1.

For information on Franklin’s letters:

The American Philosophical Society and Yale University. Digital Edition by the Packard Humanities Institute. http://franklinpapers.org/franklin//

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Project at Yale University. http://franklinpapers.yale.edu

The National Archives: Founders Online: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-12-02-0083 [This site is very helpful in interpreting Benjamin Franklin’s letters. It is easily searchable and includes letters written to and from Franklin.]

Other documents:

John Ross to Benjamin Franklin 5/20/1765: http://smithrebellion1765.com/?page_id=393

For information on gout at the time of the letters:

Copland, James, A Dictionary of Practical Medicine, Volume 4  (Longman, Brown, Green:1858)

Four Franklin Letters Re-discovered, Part I

The following article was written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine and is being posted on her behalf. Many thanks to Archival Processor Megan Evans for helping prepare these articles for publication.

One of the interesting things about processing a collection at HSP is that one never knows when a significant document might unexpectedly show up. For instance, four letters in Benjamin Franklin’s hand were brought to light when a finding aid was recently written for the Read family letters (Collection 0537). All four were written to John Ross, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and frequent correspondent of Franklin’s. Ross was half-sister to Gertrude Ross Read, the wife of George Read of this collection who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Ross and Franklin had a political relationship as well as a friendship. Both were active in the politics of the time, especially in the rivalry between the Quaker and Proprietary parties that were fighting for control of the Pennsylvania assembly. Both Ross and Franklin were in support of the Quaker party and in opposition to the Proprietary party.

Franklin is well known as being a prodigious correspondent. However, “running into” these letters, without expecting to made processing the George Read papers a bit of an adventure. The four Franklin letters were written from London. They are dated February 14, 1765; June 8, 1765; April 11, 1767; and May 14, 1768. Valerie Lutz, Head of Manuscripts Processing at the American Philosophical Society is familiar with Ben Franklin’s handwriting and believes them to be authentic. In addition, the Franklin Papers’ Project at Yale has attributed these letters to Franklin. Although the Yale Project notes that these letters are in the possession of HSP, until the Read Family Papers were processed, it was not generally known where they were located.

Fortunately for the researcher, there is a plethora of information on Benjamin Franklin that is owned by HSP. In 1965, the Society entered into an agreement with The Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) by which LCP administers the Society’s pre-1820 imprints. Many of HSP’s Franklin-related materials are housed right next door at The Library Company. A bibliography at the end of this essay will point interested readers to some of our extensive Benjamin Franklin and early Pennsylvania history documents.

Benjamin Franklin to John Ross, February 14, 1765

In the letters found in the Read family letters, Franklin addresses events happening in Philadelphia during his time away in London -- and the years 1765 to 1768 were dynamic ones for the city. Although he writes in the February 14 letter, “We have been of late so much engag’d in our general American Affairs, that it was necessary to let wait what related particularly to our Province sleep a little…,” Franklin nonetheless expressed his insights and opinions on the political machinations that directly affected Philadelphia.

In December 1764, Franklin was sent by the Pennsylvania assembly to England with a petition for King George III. The petition, penned by Franklin, asked that Pennsylvania be made a Royal colony rather than remain a proprietary province. It is this petition that Franklin refers to in the first letter of the four.

The Quakers had dominated the Pennsylvania Assembly since the 1701 Charter of Privileges. However, the mid-1750s saw power shifting away from the Quakers. By 1764 the Assembly had many non-Quaker leaders, was only nominally associated with the Society of Friends, and no longer predominately pacifist. This was in part due to the Proprietary party which primarily represented the special privileges of the proprietors as landlords and was the political rival of the Quaker party. Franklin, although not a Quaker, was aligned with the Quaker party. He therefore writes about the desire for a “happy Event to the Petition,” and the “dread of the Friends in Pensilvania falling under the domination of the Presbyterians” (the Proprietary party was sometimes referred to as the Presbyterian party). Although Franklin continues to report on the petition in all four of the letters in this group, in the end, both the Proprietary and Quaker parties disappeared as the Revolutionary struggle manifested, making the petition moot.

Many of us are familiar with the Stamp Act as a catalyst of the American Revolution. In March 1765 the English Parliament imposed a stamp duty on written documents that included newspapers, deeds, contracts and many other legal documents, as wells as ships’ manifests. Franklin was correct when he predicted in his February 14, 1765 letter above, “The Stamp Act, notwithstanding all the Opposition …will pass.” While in London, Franklin used his social connections and the English press to try to influence the government to repeal the tax. And the Stamp Act was, in fact, repealed in March 1766. Shortly before the repeal, Franklin went before the House of Commons to argue against the tax.

HSP has a copy of a transcript of Franklin’s testimony before the British House of Commons (see bibliography below). It is a must read for those interested in getting a feel for the experience. There is an interesting insert with the HSP transcript that is undated and not attributed:

"The appearance of Franklin before the House of Commons was the highpoint in the parade of English merchants, colonial agents and visiting Americans advocating the appeal of the Stamp Act. Hoping to achieve immediate repeal, Franklin minimized American opposition and conveyed the idea that external taxation would be accepted."

One must read the transcript personally to determine if Franklin succeeded in minimizing American opposition to the tax, and to determine how much influence Franklin might have had in the decision to repeal the tax.

Benjamin Franklin to John Ross, June 8, 1765

On a more personal level, in his second letter dated June 8, 1765, Franklin discusses gout, a malady from which both he and John Ross suffered. Franklin was one of its most famous sufferers, having written a dialogue between himself and “the Gout” in his well known satirical style. That essay was written in 1780, well after the letter in the Read family letters was written. However, Franklin’s sardonic humor shows through in this earlier letter to his friend. At the time this letter was written, pain caused by the condition was thought to increase resistance to the disease. Thus, Franklin made light of the obvious discomfort he was enduring. Franklin then discussed more serious matters. In the decades before the American Revolution there was great unrest in the western frontier of Pennsylvania between settlers and Native Americans. The massacre of twenty Conestoga Indians (also known as the Susquehannock) near Lancaster by the Paxton Boys in December 1763 is one of the more well known actions perpetrated by a vigilante group in American history. The Paxton Boys were never identified or punished for their murders. By 1765, the frontier in Pennsylvania was close to anarchy. There was an intense battle between the Scots-Irish immigrants and the Native Americans over land. In a letter to Franklin dated May 20, 1765, John Ross wrote, “…Another affair has happen’d of a very Extraordinary Nature, Even His Majestys troops have been attack’d and fired upon… .” Quakers, with whom Franklin was aligned, condemned the continuing violence, although little could be done to prevent it. Franklin writes in his June 8, 1765 letter (perhaps in answer to the letter Ross wrote to him on May 20), “The Outrages committed by the Frontier People are really amazing! But Impunity for former Riots has emboldened them.”

Franklin notes that the petition to end the proprietorship, written about in his February 14 letter, “has been becalm’d,” no doubt due to the preoccupation of colonial agents with the impending Stamp Act, the illness of the King during the first months of 1765, and other important business that the King’s government was attending to. The note at the bottom of the letter is in Ross’s hand, and appears on an otherwise blank page of Franklin’s letter. Apparently Ross included an extract from “governor F” and discussed further negotiations concerning the Proprietors.

 

Join us next week for Randi's analysis of the third and fourth Benjamin Franklin letters from the George Read family letters.

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Bibliography

It’s true that many documents mentioned in this essay can be read online.  I posit, however, that it is enlightening to read original or contemporaneous documents.  Seeing the handwriting of the author, or a transcript printed shortly after an event, gives the reader a sharper sense of the time the document was written. And for some of us, it’s just plain fun.

HSP documents:

Read family letters (Collection 0537).

Ralph L. Ketcham, “Benjamin Franklin and William Smith: New Light on an Old Philadelphia Quarrel,”  The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 88 No. 2 (April, 1964), pp 142-163. [Call number: UPA F 146 .P65]

HSP documents at the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP):

Great Britain Parliament, 1766 House of Commons.  The examination of Doctor Benjamin Franklin: before an august assembly, relating to the repeal of the Stamp-act &c, Philadelphia: Hall & Sellers, 1766. Call number:  Rare/AM 1766 FRA 51952.0.3.

For information on the Proprietary party v. the Quaker party:

Galloway, Joseph. The speech of Joseph Galloway, esq, one of the members for Philadelphia County…, Philadelphia: W. Dunlap, 1764. Call number:  Rare/AM 1764 Gallo 8605.0.10.

Hunt, Isaac. Looking-glass for Presbyterians: or a brief examination of their loyalty, merit and other qualifications for government…, Philadelphia: Armbruster, 1764. Call number: HSP in LCP/AM 1764 Hun Ar64 L87.

Williamson, Hugh. The Plain-dealer or a few remarks upon Quaker-politicks, and their attempts to change the government of Pennsylvania:…, Philadelphia: A. Stewart, 1764. Call number: Rare/AM 1764 Wil.66 984.0.1.

For information on Franklin’s letters:

The American Philosophical Society and Yale University. Digital Edition by the Packard Humanities Institute. http://franklinpapers.org/franklin//

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Project at Yale University. http://franklinpapers.yale.edu

The National Archives: Founders Online: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-12-02-0083 [This site is very helpful in interpreting Benjamin Franklin’s letters. It is easily searchable and includes letters written to and from Franklin.]

Other documents:

John Ross to Benjamin Franklin 5/20/1765: http://smithrebellion1765.com/?page_id=393

For information on gout at the time of the letters:

Copland, James, A Dictionary of Practical Medicine, Volume 4  (Longman, Brown, Green:1858)

8/30/16
Author: Hali Han

Every Sunday, my parents bring home a copy of The World Journal Weekly (Shi Jie Zhou Kan), the Sunday edition of a newspaper circulated in the Chinatowns of the United States documenting everything from world events and economic news to articles addressing issues pertinent to the Chinese American community. I remember that these pages of colorful newsprint would litter the house, and for the longest time, I paid little attention to them.

Topics : Ethnic history
Comments: 0

8/23/16
Author: Hali Han

Following independence from Great Britain, it became especially important for America to create ties to the rest of the world that had previously not been necessary under British rule. Demand for commodities like tea, porcelain, and silk meant that American merchants had to quickly find a way to establish trade routes with China directly. Along with New York and Boston, Philadelphia became a key city from which vessels like the one shown below departed for Canton (now Guangzhou).

Topics : Ethnic history
Comments: 0

8/23/16
Author: Hali Han

This has been my summer for first encounters.

Topics : Ethnic history
Comments: 0

5/13/16
Author: Cary Hutto

The following article is being posted on behalf of Tim Dewysockie, former intern of the archives department. Our thanks go out to him for the work that he completed on this important historical collection. --CH
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Comments: 0

4/7/16
Author: Anonymous

The second in a new series, the following article was written by HSP Digital Services Intern Mark Carnesi and is being posted on his behalf. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Mark continues his look at the George A. Foreman scrapbook collection. Read part one here.

Comments: 0

3/17/16
Author: Cary Hutto

If you didn't know it already, HSP has a growing collection of books on historic cooking and the culinary arts! Here's a rundown of some books that were recently added to the library's collection. Click on the links for more information on each title from our online catalog Discover.

Comments: 0

3/16/16
Author: Vincent Fraley

The first in a series, the following article was written by HSP Digital Services Intern Mark Carnesi and is being posted on his behalf. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as Mark continues his look at the George A. Foreman scrapbook collection. 

Comments: 2

2/21/16
Author: Vincent Fraley

Often thought of as the last bastions of hush, libraries are louder than one might have heard. So tune in and listen closely to Philadelphia's 300-plus-year musical legacy.

Forsaking it in their religious services and sneering at it in their private lives, the Quaker founders of Philadelphia were a decidedly unmusical bunch. Fortunately for future ears, other religious and ethnic groups were counted among the city's early settlers, many with active musical traditions - and instruments - in tow.

Comments: 0

2/10/16
Author: Megan Evans

The following article was written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine and is being posted on her behalf. Many thanks to Archival Processor Megan Evans for helping prepare these articles for publication. To read the first part of this article, please click here or on the article's title in the right sidebar.

Almost two years later, in a letter dated April 11, 1767, Benjamin Franklin was still writing to John Ross about the “Change of Government in the Proprietary Colonies.” Things were not going well. Franklin found sympathy for the cause from men “of Weight,” but with controversies concerning British rule occurring in New York and Boston, “nothing is so little interesting to them as our Application” to go forward. In fact, although by 1763 several colonies surrendered their charters and became royal colonies, Pennsylvania remained a proprietary colony until the American Revolution.

Comments: 0

2/3/16
Author: Megan Evans

The following article was written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine and is being posted on her behalf. Many thanks to Archival Processor Megan Evans for helping prepare these articles for publication.

One of the interesting things about processing a collection at HSP is that one never knows when a significant document might unexpectedly show up. For instance, four letters in Benjamin Franklin’s hand were brought to light when a finding aid was recently written for the Read family letters (Collection 0537). All four were written to John Ross, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and frequent correspondent of Franklin’s. Ross was half-sister to Gertrude Ross Read, the wife of George Read of this collection who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Ross and Franklin had a political relationship as well as a friendship. Both were active in the politics of the time, especially in the rivalry between the Quaker and Proprietary parties that were fighting for control of the Pennsylvania assembly. Both Ross and Franklin were in support of the Quaker party and in opposition to the Proprietary party.

Comments: 0