Joshua Humphreys papers
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Joshua Humphreys was born on June 17, 1751, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, to Joshua Humphreys (Sr.) and Sarah (Williams) Humphreys, who owned large amounts of land in Delaware County. In Humphreys’s youth, he became a ship carpenter’s apprentice in Philadelphia, and after the death of the master, Humphreys was given control of the ship yard. His later creation of his own ship yard made him well-known in the colonies as a naval architect, and he was commissioned by the U. S. government in 1776 to build ships in Philadelphia and prepare them for the Revolutionary War.
After the war, Humphreys was again commissioned by the federal government to build a naval fleet to protect the country from pirates and other attacking ships. These ships needed to be as high quality as those of other European countries, though the fleet would be much smaller. Humphreys made some key changes to improve six frigates that became the foundation of the American Navy. His designs and modifications were approved by the government, and in 1794 he was formally appointed naval constructor, with the charge to build the frigates. Not all of the ships were built in Philadelphia, and only the United States was built in Philadelphia under his supervision. All of the ships, however, included the modifications suggested by Humphreys, and became known for their speed and efficiency.
By 1801, the government no longer needed a formal naval constructor, and Humphreys was given the task to build a ship yard for use by the Navy in Philadelphia. He began to participate politically in the city, and was considered a very successful businessman in Philadelphia. He married Mary Davids in 1776, and they had eleven children. Joshua Humphreys's brother Charles was a member of the Continental Congress; his son Samuel was also a naval architect, and worked with the federal government after Joshua Humphreys resigned; and his grandson Andrew Atkinson Humphreys served as a general during the American Civil War. Joshua Humphreys died on January 12, 1838.
The collection consists of three series. The first series is a collection of Humphreys’ daybooks, ledger books, and letter books. Though most of the volumes are financial records, there are some instructions on how to build ships that occasionally include hand-drawn diagrams. One notable volume is Volume 1, a book on how to draw designs for ships, which includes dimensions for specific ships, including the Randolph and other merchant vessels refitted into frigates during Revolutionary War. The volume also contains dimensions for new ships built after the war, including the Constitution, or “Old Ironsides.”
The second series is correspondence, much of it to Humphreys. The third series consists of miscellaneous documents, comprised of family members’ papers and legal documents as well as items from unrelated individuals, such as William Penn.
Gift of the Humphreys family.
The correspondence in boxes 1 and 2 was once bound into two volumes. The old volume and page numbers have been retained, as noted in the arrangement note on page 5 of the guide.
The papers in boxes 3, 4, and 5 were processed in the box order found, but within each box items were placed in chronological order.
According to previous collection records, this collection contains Joshua Humphreys' "Journal of a Voyage from Philadelphia to Lisbon," 1809. As of 11/9/2010, this item cannot be located.
- Humphreys family.
- Humphreys, Charles.
- Humphreys, Clement, 1777-1803.
- Humphreys, Daniel.
- Humphreys, Samuel.
- Penn, William, 1644-1718.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Melissa K. R. Hozik
- Finding Aid Date
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
Volume 1: “Principal Dimensions.”
Volume 2: Mast yard book and list of types of timber and costs used to build and repair ships (1797 - 1806)
Volume 3: “Work on Frigate United States.” (1798 - 1801)
Volume 4: Charles Humphreys ledger and debts and credits owed to Charles Humphreys (1739 - 1762)
Volume 5: Charles Humphreys ledger and debts and credits owed to Charles Humphreys( 1756 - 1789)
Volume 6: Charles Humphreys daybook. Inside cover labeled “Cha. Humphreys his day Book 1772” (1772 - 1790)
Volume 7: Joshua Humphreys and Joshua Humphreys, Jr. account book (1747 - 1748, 1792 - 1806)
Volume 8: Joshua Humphreys ledger book (1766-1777)
Volume 9: Ledger and roll book (1772-1773, 1794-1799)
Volume 10: Ledger (1784 - 1805)
Volume 11: Daybook (1784 - 1813)
Volume 12: Daybook (1791 - 1823)
Volume 13: Letter book (1793 - 1797)
Volume 14: Letter book (1797 - 1800)
Volume 15: Letter book (1800 - 1835)
Volume 16: Daybook of Humphreys and John Wharton, business partners (undated)
Volume 17: Joshua Humphreys ciphering book (1800 - 1802)
Volume 18: Samuel Humphreys Philadelphia Naval Yard journal (1818 - 1820)
Volume 19: Samuel Humphreys surveys of ships (1834 - 1845)Physical Description
2.0 Linear feet ; 19 volumes
Box 1 [Volume 1, Page 0]: Information sheet (undated)
Box 1 [Volume 1, Page 2]: Statement & sketch of Joshua Humphreys (undated)
Box 1 [Volume 1, Pages 3-120]: Correspondence (September 1, 1697 - February 25, 1815)
Box 2 [Volume 1, Pages 121-137]: Correspondence (February 6, 1818 - September 1855)
Box 2 [Volume 2, Pages 1-30]: Correspondence (January 9, 1776 - December 12, 1800)Physical Description
0.6 Linear feet ; 2 boxes
Box 3, Folder 1: Miscellaneous documents (circa 1702 - 1911)
Box 3, Folder 2: Charles Humphreys documents (1706 - 1931)
Box 3, Folder 3: Charles Humphreys documents (1776 - 1808)
Box 3, Folder 4: Daniel Humphreys documents (circa 1707 - 1814)
Box 3, Folder 5: Miscellaneous documents (1759 - 1780)
Box 3, Folder 6: Estate correspondence (1787 - 1810)
Box 3, Folder 7: Humphreys family papers (1788 - 1913)
Box 3, Folder 8: Samuel Humphreys documents (1806 - 1838)
Box 3, Folder 9: Newspaper clippings and photographs (1806 - 1927)
Box 3, Folder 10: Miscellaneous documents (circa 1818)
Box 3, Folder 11: Loose documents from Volumes 18 and 19 (1818 - 1845)
Box 3, Folder 12: Miscellaneous correspondence (1837)
Box 4, Folder 1: Notebook of Daniel Humphrey with transactions (1660-1693)
Box 4, Folder 2: Deeds (2), William Penn to Edward Pritchard (1682)
Box 4, Folder 3: Deed, William Howell and wife to Nathan Thomas (1700)
Box 4, Folder 4: Deed, Thomas Parry to Thomas Rees (1701)
Box 4, Folder 5: Deed, Ellis Ellis to Daniel Humprhey (1702/3)
Box 4, Folder 6: Indenture, Evan Bevan to Rowland Powell (1706)
Box 4, Folder 7: Deed, Morris Llewelyn to Nathan Thomas (1709)
Box 4, Folder 8: Indentures (2), Rowland Powell and wife to Thomas Coats (1714)
Box 4, Folder 9: Leases (2) and Indenture, Thomas Coats to Rowland Powell (1714)
Box 4, Folder 10: Release of George Fitzwater, and others, to Rowland Powell (1714)
Box 4, Folder 11: Indenture, Evan Bevan and wife to Rowland Powell (1714)
Box 4, Folder 12: Lease, Rowland Powell to Daniel Humphrey (1721)
Box 4, Folder 13: Indenture, Rowland Powell to Daniel Humphrey (1721)
Box 5, Folder 1: Marriage certificate, John Nailer and Elizabeth Paul (1736)
Box 5, Folder 2: Release of Samuel Humphreys to Charles Humphreys (1738)
Box 5, Folder 3: Indenture, Joseph Ellis and wife to Lydia Ellis and Abraham Lewis (1742)
Box 5, Folder 4: Indentures, Daniel Humprhey and wife to John Atkinson (1755 - 1758)
Box 5, Folder 5: Deed, Solomon Humphreys and wife to Charles Humphreys (1757)
Box 5, Folder 6: Marriage deed, Joshua Humprheys to Mary Davids (1776)
Box 5, Folder 7: Pocket notebook/calendar of C. Humphreys (1796)
Box 5, Folder 8: Clement Humphreys metal stencils (2) and 1796 pocket notebook/calendar (1796, 1824-1835)
Box 5, Folder 9: Deed, Joshua Humphreys to Edward Sharp (1818)
Box 5, Folder 10: Poor Will's Almanac (1836)
Box 5, Folder 11: Daughters of American Revolution Magazine 62, no. 4 (1928).
Box 5, Folder 12: Deed, Benjamin Sharpless to Joshua Humphreys (undated)Physical Description
1.2 Linear feet ; 3 boxes