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Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker diaries


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

Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker was the daughter of Sarah Jarvis and Irish Quaker William Sandwith, a merchant and ship owner. William had immigrated to the United States in the early 1700s, and the couple had two children, Elizabeth and Mary, both of whom were well educated and attended Anthony Benezet's Friends school in Philadelphia. In 1761, Elizabeth married into the well-known family of merchants, the Drinkers. Active members of the Quaker community, she and Henry Drinker (1734-1809) had five surviving children: Sarah Sandwith (1761-1807), Ann (1764-1830), William (1767-1821), Henry Sandwith (1770-1824), and Mary (1774-1856). Elizabeth became accomplished in needlework and enjoyed writing. She began keeping a regular diary in 1758, a few years before her marriage. She died in Philadelphia in 1807.

Making up this collection are thirty-four of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker's original diaries from 1758 to 1807 (there are none from 1787 or 1788), undated bound and unbound typescripts of the diaries, and photocopies of her diaries from the years 1797 to 1807 that were made in the 1970s when the diaries were microfilmed. The copies, transcripts, and published versions (see the bibliography) are open to researchers.

The diaries are composed solely of Elizabeth's personal recollections, which constitute a day-by-day account of the life of a well-to-do Quaker woman living in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Elizabeth's interests were diverse but she was little concerned with political or economic questions, except when they directly touched upon her family. However, she did write about the American Revolution and included detailed descriptions of the treatment of Quaker non-combatants, and of the British occupation of Philadelphia, principally during 1777. Her accounts about the events of the Revolution range from general to personal, and are occasionally quite detailed. For instance, on October 9, 1777, she recalled "fireing last night, and heavey fireing this morning from 5 o'clock 'til between 6 & 7, it was the Frigit and Gondelows, playing upon the English, who were errecting a Battry on, or near the Banks of the Schuylkill."

In the bulk of her entries, Elizabeth discussed private or family matters and paid particular attention to health matters and medical procedures. "Our little Henry was innoculated by Docr. Redman, in between 12 and 1 o'clock," she wrote on February 18, 1773, "he took a pill this Evening, which did not make him sick as the others had done." She gave special consideration to the Yellow Fever outbreaks in Philadelphia, particularly the epidemics of 1793 and 1798. A year before the outbreak, she noted on August 1, 1792, "'tis a sickly time now in philada. and there has been an unusual number of funerals lately here." Since the Drinkers were conscientious Quakers and there are also entries about meetings of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia. Additionally, Elizabeth wrote about visits to and from various friends and family and discussed her needlework. She sometimes included other bits of information that shed light on her personal life, such as, at the end of her 1802 diary, an apparent list of books she had read that include works such as The Vagabond by George Walker, The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh, and Reasons for withdrawing from Society with people called the Quakers by John Hancock of Lisbon, Ireland.

Biddle, Henry D. Extracts from the Journal of Elizabeth Drinker, from 1759 to 1807 A.D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1889. (call number UPA/Ph F 158.44.D78 1889) Crane, Elaine Forman. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. (call number UPA F 158.9.F 89 D75 1991) Dine, Sarah Blank. "The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: An American Legacy." Documentary Editing 9:2 (June 1987), 1-5. (call number UPA/Pam F 158.9.F89 D753 1987)

Gift of Mr. Henry S. Drinker, 1955-1957.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Processing made possible by a generous donation from Carol A. Ingald.
Access Restrictions

The typescripts and photocopies are open for research. Due to their fragile condition, the original volumes are closed to researchers.

Collection Inventory

Unbound typescripts of diaries, 1758-1801, (undated). 0.6 Linear feet.
Box 1-2
Physical Description

0.6 Linear feet ; 2 boxes

Photocopies of diaries, 1797-1807, (1975). 0.6 Linear feet.
Box 3-4
Physical Description

0.6 Linear feet ; 2 boxes

Bound typescripts of diaries, 1758-1807, (undated). 0.8 Linear feet.
Volume 1-7
Physical Description

0.8 Linear feet ; 7 volumes

Original diaries, (1758-1807). 0.9 Linear feet.
Volume 8-41
Physical Description

0.9 Linear feet ; 34 volumes

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