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Read family letters


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

George Read was born in 1733 in Cecil County, Maryland. His mother was the daughter of a Welsh planter; his Dublin-born father was a wealthy landholder. The family moved soon after George’s birth to New Castle, Delaware, where George and five brothers grew up. In 1753 Read established his law practice in New Castle. He formed friendships among such notable contemporaries as Quaker-born legal scholar and lawyer Benjamin Chew and John Dickinson. He also had a cordial relationship with Thomas McKean, who served as president of Delaware in 1777, chief justice of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1779, and the second governor of Pennsylvania. Edmund Randolph, the delegate who presented the Virginia Plan at the federal convention in 1787, was also a friend and correspondent.

In 1763 Read married Gertrude Ross Till, the widowed sister of George Ross, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence. They raised three sons and a daughter. (John Read, the first born, died in infancy.)

Read was crown attorney general for the Three Lower Counties (present day Delaware) from 1763 to 1774; a Continental congressman from Delaware (1774-1777); president of Delaware (1777-1778); Unites States senator from Delaware (1789-1793); and chief justice of Delaware, a post he held until his death in 1793 at the age of 65. He is buried in the Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard in New Castle, Delaware.

This small collection of letters that belonged to the Read family of Philadelphia dates from April 23, 1716 to March 9, 1872. The papers are housed in a single box and are arranged chronologically. The earlier letters are primarily from and to members of the Ross family, including George Ross, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Of particular interest are four letters from Benjamin Franklin to John Ross, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer and Gertrude Ross Read's half brother. In one written in 1765 Franklin states “We have been of late so much engaged in our general American Affairs that it was necessary to let what related particularly to our Province sleep a little for the present.” Each of the four letters gives Franklin’s view on current events.

Read was a friend of John Dickinson, “the Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was so called because of his authorship, in 1767, of " A Letter From a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies" and his participation in the crafting of the United States Constitution. Like Read, Dickinson was a legislator at the First Continental Congress, a President of Delaware, 1782-1785, and a fellow delegate from Delaware at the Constitutional Convention. Several letters to and from Dickinson reflect the friendship between the two men. A letter dated May 21, 1787 to Dickinson discusses the Constitutional Convention then taking place. Another dated June 24, 1789, discusses the parameters of Supreme Court jurisdiction.

A letter dated March 11, 1789, and signed by eight members of the Senate, beseeched George Read to make his appearance in New York (the first Congress of the United States being held in Federal Hall in New York at that time). They requested his immediate appearance so as to obtain a quorum in order to do the business of the Senate.

The collection also includes a circular letter written by Alexander Hamilton dated October 4th 1790. Enclosed with the letter is an eleven point “proposition” describing his conception of the United States legislature. Correspondence of George Read’s sons, George Read, Jr., district attorney of Delaware, and William Thompson Read, senator from Delaware, is also included. Letters to George Read and his family from other prominent men of the period include those written by Caesar Rodney, a lawyer, politician, and president of Delaware, 1778-1781, and George Ross.

Later correspondence consists of letters from George Read to his sons George Read, Jr. (1765-1836) and William Read (b 1767). In July, 1798 William writes from Philadelphia to his brother George describing the Yellow Fever epidemic, which apparently was in its early stages as he voices little concern in that letter. (The fever hit full force in August.)

There is a report on the calamitous New Castle fire of April, 1824 written by W.J. Read and given to the Historical Society of Delaware. The fire destroyed all the buildings on the Delaware River water’s edge and dozens more throughout New Castle. Apparently the fire was stopped by a 120 foot wide vacant lot opposite George Read’s home. The roof of his home was kept wet by a hose also limiting the damage. The collection contains letters addressing the fire and inquiring about the condition of the Read family home.

The sermon given at George Read’s funeral is also included.

“A Biography of George Read 1733-1798.” American History from Revolution to Reconstruction and Beyond. “Fire of 1827 and Buildings Erected After It.” New Castle, Delaware Community History and Archaeology Program. “Gertrude Ross Read.” Sanderson, John. Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Indpendence, Vol. III. Philadelphia: R.W Pomeroy, 1823.

Provenance unknown.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Randi Kamine.
Finding Aid Date
; 2014

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