John Meredith Read 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
John Meredith Read was born in Philadelphia in 1794 to John Read and Martha Meredith. He was born into a family having strong political and legal ties; his father was a lawyer and his grandfathers were Continental Congressmen George Read and Samuel Meredith. Read studied law at the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to the Bar in 1818. From there he began a legal practice in Philadelphia, but a political career soon followed. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1822 and later served as Philadelphia's city solicitor. In 1837 he was appointed United States district attorney of the eastern district of Pennsylvania. Initially, Read followed his family's Democratic politics, and he was a founder of the Free Soil Party. However, by the end of his life, Read had become a staunch Republican, having helped establish that party in 1856. In 1858, Read was elected to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He remained in this position until his death in 1874.
Read married twice during his life. First to Priscilla Marshall in 1828 and together they had several children including John Meredith Read Jr. (1837-1896), who served as a general during the Civil War. Marshall died in 1841. A few years later, in 1865, Read married Amelia Thompson. The couple had no children.
The John Meredith Read papers span twenty-eight boxes. The bulk of the papers cover Read's career from the early to late 1800s, with a few items dating from before his birth and after his death. Such materials include papers from his father John Read and from his son John M. Read Jr. and his own children. Though the collection highlights Read's public work in law and politics, details about his persona life can be gleaned from the letters of family and friends that are scattered throughout the boxes of correspondence.
Incoming correspondence in the collection primarily concerns court cases, estates, and business interests, and touches only occasionally on Read's political interests as a state Republican leader. There is some correspondence between Read and his first wife Priscilla dating from 1825 to 1831. Many of the letters from 1840 to 1874 are from other family members, chiefly his father John Read who wrote from Trenton of financial matters, and his son John Meredith Read, Jr., who wrote from school and later from his law office in Albany. A series of letters from Col. Charles H.T. Collis, dating from 1862 to 1864, covers Collis's court martial case and his observations on the progress of the Civil War. An 1846-1850 letter book (Volume 2) also relates to Read's general legal and financial matters. Read's several judicial appointments are documented additionally by court docket books, 1815-1840 (Volumes 3 and 4), which cover first the period of private practice and later his cases as U.S. district attorney for eastern Pennsylvania. More of his personal court docket books, dating from roughly 1859 to 1873, that he kept during his tenure as Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice can be found in Box 12. Read was an active member of the Masons, and a number of manuscripts in Box 11 relate to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, including a record and account book from 1825 to 1834.
Gift of Richard S. Rodney, 1953.
- Collis, Charles H.F., fl. 1862-1864.
- Kittera, Thomas, 1789-1839.
- Read, John Meredith, 1837-1896.
- Read, John, 1796-1854.
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2011
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open for research.
Contains some loose pages
Box contains three overstuffed folders and one bundle. (Small receipts in folders are in piles, in very rough chronological order.) Dates are roughly correct as well. Many receipts from the Philadelphia Bank from the 1830s bear the signature on “John M. Read.” Some later documents are signed by “John Meredith Read Jr.” or are addressed to “John Read Esq.”
Generally, these folders, unless labeled with titles other than just dates, contain a mix of correspondence, legal papers, and a few financial records. The vast majority of correspondence is incoming, but there are occasional outgoing letters. Papers dating from before about 1815 may have originated from John M. Read’s father, John Read.
Contains just a few documents. At least one, a copy from 1798, is signed “John Read Jun’r, Commissioner”
Loose volumes in box. All attributed to John M. Read unless otherwise noted.
Small pocket diary, 1837
Mrs. J. M. Read calendar, 1839
Seven Legal notebooks, 1859-1873
Margaret M. Read’s extract book, undated (mostly notes on history)
Commonplace book, undated
“Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth by Miss Aiken,” undated
Legal notes, undated (no covers)
Correspondence of John Meredith Read Jr. (1837-1896), John M. Read’s son, and Harmon Pumpelly Read (b. 1860), John M. Read’s grandson; possibly also John M. Read III (b. 1869).
John M. Read cases notebook, 1803-1810
John M. Read cases notebook, 1804-1805, containing bundle of “receipts respecting Capt. Ross’s house in Walnut Street”
John M. Read cases notebook, 1809-1812
John M. Read cases notebook, 1819
"Bank of the United States…1806, Ch. Villar," 1813-1818
Book containing similar entries to "Bank of the United States…1806, Ch. Villar," 1804-1805
Account book, 1804-1808 (no cover)
John M. Read journal, 1818-1820
Thomas Kittera receipt book, 1827-1839
Account book, 1849, 1850
John M. Read ledger of estate inventories and accounts, 1850-1851
Opinions of Messers. Meredith & Binney as to the right of the corporation of the city of Philadelphia to the use of the water and water-power of the river Schuylkill at Fairmount Dam (1843)
Opinion of John M. Read, Esquire, against the right of city councils to subscribe for stock in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and to increase the city debt and taxes for that purpose (1846)
Speech of Hon. John M. Read at the Democratic Town Meeting in Favor of the Union and California (1850)
Supreme Court of U. S. argument on behalf of the appellee, Hollingsworth Magniac, et al. vs. John R. Thomson, John Cadwalader and John M. Read for appellee (1853)
Speech of Mr. Cass of Michigan on the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1854)
Opinion of Hon. John M. Read of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in favor of the Constitutionality of the Act of Congress of March 3, 1863 (1864)
Opinion of Hon. John M. Read of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in favor of the Constitutionality of the Act of Congress declaring treasury notes a legal tender in payment of debts (1865)
First Report of the Associated Delaware & Raritan Canal Co., Camden & Amboy R. R. & Transportation Co., and New Jersey R. R. & Transportation Co., to the Stockholders (1867)
Supreme Court of PA opinion of the court by Read, Justice, City vs. Fields, et al. (1867)
Letter of Ex-Chief Justice Read of the Supreme Court, on the New Constitution, Its Abolition of Secrecy of the Ballot (1873) (2 copies)
Mix of personal and business letters. Some letters are from Charles H. T. Collis and regard a court martial. Family letters are from son John Meredith Read Jr., son-in-law William H. Hyde, and his daughter Emma Habicht Hyde.
Papers mostly concern Burr-Lynch case, which involved charges of fraud and conspiracy between business partners Joseph Burr, Joseph Burr Jr., and Joshua Burr, and James Lynch.
No letterboox was found in the box during the inventory. It's possible the book was removed to the shelf and is now Volume 2, John M. Read letterbook,1846-1850.
Taking up the bulk of the folder are papers (mostly at front of folder) that seem to concern three related court cases: Holden V. Haviland, Holden v. Riggs, and Riggs v. Holden. There are case notes, correspondence, and other papers dating mostly from 1837-1840. At back of folder are unrelated(?) court notes.
There are two folders in the box. The second one contains an undated history of the Meredith family by Sarah Maria Meredith Graham.