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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.

Purchased, 1952.

Gift of Richard S. Rodney, 1953.

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.

Collection Inventory

John M. Read account book, 1824-1869.
Volume 1
John M. Read letterbook, 1846-1850 (Bulk, 1846).
Volume 2
John M. Read court docket, 1815-1838.
Volume 3
John M. Read court docket, 1837-1840. Contains some loose pages.
Volume 4
Physical Description

Contains some loose pages

Bills, receipts, etc., circa 1804-1873.
Box 1
Scope and Contents note

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.”

Letters and various legal papers, 1812-1824.
Box 2 Folder 1
Receipts, deed, letters, 1824-1826.
Box 2 Folder 2
Papers relating to Waln vs. Dalzell, 1824.
Box 2 Folder 3
Letters and financial statements, 1823.
Box 2 Folder 4
Papers relating to Ashley vs. Morris and various letters, 1827-1828.
Box 2 Folder 5
Papers related to Estate of Charles Dungan, 1828-1831.
Box 2 Folder 6
Davis vs. Espy – principally financial papers related to case, 1828.
Box 2 Folder 7
Davis vs. Espy – correspondence and briefs, 1829-1831.
Box 2 Folder 8
Letters and cancelled checks, 1829.
Box 2 Folder 9
Letters, notes concerning street pavement assessments in Philadelphia, 1830-1832.
Box 2 Folder 10
Papers relating to Smith vs. Philips, 1833.
Box 2 Folder 11
Letters, notes about Philadelphia Bank; material concerning personal finances of J. M. Read, 1833.
Box 2 Folder 12
Correspondence, including letters about Philadelphia Bank; notes concerning street paving assessments in Philadelphia; cancelled checks and bills of J. M. Read, 1837-1838.
Box 2 Folder 13
Correspondence; paid bills, checks of J. M. Read; legal papers, 1841-1842.
Box 2 Folder 14
Personal correspondence; street repair assessments, 1843.
Box 2 Folder 15
Correspondence, miscellaneous, 1844.
Box 2 Folder 16
Papers relating to Lynch vs. Burr, 1844.
Box 2 Folder 17
Correspondence, 1845-1846.
Box 2 Folder 18
Papers relating to Barrett vs. Sniveley and Buehler, 1849.
Box 2 Folder 19
Papers relating to Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, 1849.
Box 2 Folder 20
Miscellaneous correspondence, mainly with B. Parke, 1849.
Box 2 Folder 21
Correspondence mainly with B. Parke, 1850.
Box 2 Folder 22
Correspondence mainly with B. Parke and J. Hyde, 1851, 1851.
Box 2 Folder 23
Correspondence, 1852.
Box 2 Folder 24
Correspondence, Farr Estate accounting, 1853-1854.
Box 2 Folder 25

Correspondence with J. Hyde, C. E. Dubois, and others; “Ferry Co. General Notes,” 1855, 155.
Box 3 Folder 1
Papers relating to Chew Estate, 1855.
Box 3 Folder 2
Correspondence and cancelled checks of J. M. Read, 1856-1859.
Box 3 Folder 3
Correspondence and records of Judge Read’s income, 1860-1861.
Box 3 Folder 4
Personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1862.
Box 3 Folder 5
Papers relating to draftee cases, 1862.
Box 3 Folder 6
January to March personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1863.
Box 3 Folder 7
April to September personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1863.
Box 3 Folder 8
October to December personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1863.
Box 3 Folder 9
Papers relating to draftee cases; statement of Judge Reed’s (Read) personal income, 1864.
Box 3 Folder 10
Correspondence; note relating to naval allotments, 1865.
Box 3 Folder 11
Correspondence, miscellaneous, 1866.
Box 3 Folder 12
Papers related to Smith vs. Van Dyke; other correspondence, 1867.
Box 3 Folder 13
January to June correspondence, 1868.
Box 3 Folder 14
July, August, September correspondence, 1868.
Box 3 Folder 15
October, November, December correspondence, 1868.
Box 3 Folder 16
January to April personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1869.
Box 3 Folder 17
May to August personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1869.
Box 3 Folder 18
September to December personal bills and checks of Judge Reed (Read), 1869.
Box 3 Folder 19
January to October correspondence, 1869.
Box 3 Folder 20
November correspondence, 1869.
Box 3 Folder 21

Scope and Contents note

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.

"Before 1800". Contains just a few documents. At least one, a copy from 1798, is signed “John Read Jun’r, Commissioner”.
Box 4 Folder 1
Physical Description

Contains just a few documents. At least one, a copy from 1798, is signed “John Read Jun’r, Commissioner”

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records, 1800-1819.
Box 4 Folder 2-3
Philadelphia Bank vs. Anthony Groves, 1819-1820.
Box 4 Folder 4
Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records, 1820-1829.
Box 4 Folder 5
Thomas Billington Estate,, 1826-1827.
Box 4 Folder 6
Kerr vs. Philadelphia Bank, 1827-1828.
Box 4 Folder 7
Letters to Mrs. John (Priscilla) Read, mainly from her husband, 30 July-4 September 1828.
Box 4 Folder 8

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records, 1830-1852.
Box 5 Folder 1-8

Mixed correspondence, legal papers, financial records, 1853.
Box 6 Folder 1
Estate of Anne Josephine Fransen, 1853-1854.
Box 6 Folder 2
MIxed correspondence, legal papers, financial records, 1854-1871, undated.
Box 6 Folder 3-5
Cancelled checks (loose, some in a bundle).
Box 6 Folder 6
Appointment as attorney general of Pennsylvania, 1846.
Box 6 Folder 7
Ms. Volumes, JMR legal notes, letter book, pocket diaries, 1837-1873, undated.
Box 7
Box inventory

Loose volumes in box. All attributed to John M. Read unless otherwise noted.

Small pocket diary, 1837

Mrs. J. M. Read calendar, 1839

Letterbook, 1841-1846

Calendar, 1848

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 (mixed personal and business), 1792-1839.
Box 8 Folder 1-3
Correspondence (mixed personal and business), 1850-1859.
Box 9 Folder 1-4

Letters, 1880-1882, 1902-1917 .
Box 10 Folder 1
Scope and Contents note

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).

Letters, undated.
Box 10 Folder 2
Box 10 Folder 3
Miscellaneous envelopes, cards, photographs.
Box 10 Folder 4
Miscellaneous printed matter.
Box 10 Folder 5

Minutes, history, bylaws, etc.
Box 11 Folder 1
Financial reports, bills & receipts.
Box 11 Folder 2
Lists of members in various places.
Box 11 Folder 3
Box 11 Folder 4
Masons vs. the Franklin Institute.
Box 11 Folder 5
Volume: Thomas Tillyer’s book – notes on St. John’s Lodge, No. 115, July 7, 1780 .
Box 11
Volume: Memorandum book, Grand Secretary (mainly accounts), 1825-1834.
Box 11
Miscellaneous small volumes, John Read, Thomas Kittera, Cochran & Waters, Wm. Hood Estate, 1808-1851.
Box 12
Box inventory

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

T. Kittera – bills, checks, promissory notes, 1816-1839.
Box 13 Folder 1
Miscellaneous land papers (mostly folded deeds), circa 1792-1796.
Box 13 Folder 2
Jefferson Medical College.
Box 13 Folder 3
Volume: Cash book, 1843-1849.
Box 13
Volume: Cash book, 1849-1850.
Box 13
Pamphlets (loose), 1850-1873.
Box 13
List of pamphlets

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)

Correspondence and miscellaneous, 1829-1875.
Box 14 Folder 1-3
Letterpress book (partial), 1852.
Box 14 Folder 4
Letterpress book (partial), 1855.
Box 14 Folder 5
Letterpress book (mostly in tact but no covers),, 1868?-1874.
Box 14 Folder 6
Index? (partial), Undated.
Box 14 Folder 7
Correspondence , 1860-1869, 1870-1873.
Box 15 Folder 1-4
Scope and Contents note

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.

U. S. Bank Case (correspondence, case notes, financial data), circa 1838-1840.
Box 16 Folder 1
Extracts of legislation affecting Philadelphia, 1832-1843.
Box 16 Folder 2
Clymer Estate (correspondence, Clymer’s will, financial records), 1816-1817.
Box 16 Folder 3
Asylum Co. Lands (mostly correspondence), 1824-1829.
Box 16 Folder 4
Legal, 1746-circa 1827.
Box 17

Legal papers -- some papers, 1839-1840, concern Naval General court martial of Captain Jess Duncan Elliot. John M. Read presided as judge advocate., 1832-1841.
Box 18 Folder 1
Legal papers -- Burr-Lynch papers, 1835-1841, 1847 .
Box 18 Folder 2
Scope and Contents note

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.

Legal, 1794-circa 1866.
Box 19
Correspondence including letterbook, 1840-1849.
Box 20
Scope and Contents note

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.

Legal, 1797-1851.
Box 21
Legal, 1812-1873.
Box 22
Legal, 1777-1871.
Box 23
Legal, circa 1810-circa 1849, bulk 1837-1840 .
Box 24
Scope and Contents note

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.

Legal, 1797-1873.
Box 25
Scope and Contents note

There are two folders in the box. The second one contains an undated history of the Meredith family by Sarah Maria Meredith Graham.

Michael Meylert and William Brooke Rawle correspondence, 1858-1880.
Box 26 Folder 1
Michael Meylert and John M. Read correspondence, 1856-1882.
Box 26 Folder 2
Correspondence and an agreement, 1867-1890.
Box 26 Folder 3
Mortgages, deeds, wills, etc., J. M. Read and W. B. Rawle.
Box 26 Folder 4

January to March correspondence, papers relating to Clafin vs. Winternitz, 1870.
Box 27 Folder 1
April to September correspondence, 1870.
Box 27 Folder 2
October to December correspondence, 1870.
Box 27 Folder 3
January correspondence, 1871.
Box 27 Folder 4
February to June correspondence, 1871.
Box 27 Folder 5
October correspondence, minutes of meeting of directors of the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, 1871, 1871.
Box 27 Folder 6
November correspondence, including personal letters and material related to the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad, 1871.
Box 27 Folder 7
Correspondence, 1872-1873.
Box 27 Folder 8
Miscellaneous, including undated letters, unidentified notes on cases, and copies of various documents.
Box 27 Folder 9
Business cards.
Box 27 Folder 10

Genealogies, maps, property descriptions, some personal letters, Mrs. Dickinson’s receipts, circa 1769-1882.
Box 28 Folder 4
Dickinson receipts, 1797-1877.
Box 28 Folder 2
Read Misc. (mostly correspondence), 1808-1875.
Box 28 Folder 3
No date, misc. (mostly legal and financial papers, some correspondence).
Box 28 Folder 4

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