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A History of Philadelphia (scrapbooks) by Thompson Westcott


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.

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Thompson Westcott (b. June 5, 1820) emerged from a legal career as one of Philadelphia’s leading journalists and editors which gave birth to a lengthy series on the history of Philadelphia covering 217 years. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Charles (1785-1841) and Hannah (1780-1870) Westcott. Primarily known as a journalist, Westcott served as a legal apprentice from age 12 to 17 with Charles M. Page. His formal education was completed at the University of Pennsylvania in English and law for which he was subsequently admitted to the bar in 1841.

When he first started writing he contributed more humorous pieces to the St. Louis Reveille, New York Mirror, and Knickerbocker Magazine all under the pen name Joe Miller Jr. His more serious writings and editorial work first appeared in the Public Ledger in 1846 where he served as a legal reporter, and acted as editor to the Dollar Newspaper. Quite influenced by his work there, and interactions with other journalists in the city, Westcott wrote and did editorial work for several papers including The Sunday Dispatch (1848-1884) , Philadelphia Inquirer (1863-1871), Philadelphia Record (1884), and the Commercial List.

Westcott spends the majority of his career at the Sunday Dispatch, thirty-six years. This paper was the first Sunday weekly published in the city. It is here that he begins composing a series of articles on the “History of Philadelphia.” The first article that appears in 1854 opens with a contrastive view of “Philadelphia’s” landscape then, with its previous state whereupon Henry Hudson and other European explorers’ settled. “The green forest has disappeared, and in its place have arisen lofty piles of brick and marble. The stillness and quiet which reigned in the solitudes beneath those shadowy old pines have fled forever, and in their places have arisen the clang and the roar and the tumult of a mighty city.” Further he wrote, “The red man is gone—and in his stead have come pale men and dark men from other countries and climes beyond the sea, of different races and of varied language, but still gradually blending with and augmenting the mighty mass of human life now congregated upon this spot, where, but about one hundred and eighty five years ago, reigned the silence and solitude of the unbroken woods.” The last entry in this series of compositions concludes with an elaborate description of infantry soldiers uniforms, apart of his discussion of contemporary customs and social arrangements in 1826. He retires from the Sunday Dispatch in 1884 with his last news article on April 20th.

Thompson Westcott died in 1888 in Philadelphia. He and his wife, Mary Seiser (1833-1900), were wedded there in 1853. They had two children Thompson Seiser Westcott (1862-1833), who studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania later becoming a leading pediatrician in the city, and Mary Westcott (1865-1910). The family’s first known ancestor who emigrated to the United States was Lewis Westcott who lived for some time in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, New Jersey.

This is a collection of five volumes of scrapbooks containing pasted entries of Thompson Westcott’s news articles on the History of Philadelphia from 1609 to 1826. According to the appraiser, Mabel A. Zahn, these scrap books are one of two collections of it’s kind containing the full record of original articles of Westcott’s writings. When the collection was gifted to the Historical Society by David McNeely Stauffer, in 1915, there were a total of “32 large quardo volumes.”

Accordingly, the volumes here are filled with rich historical writings, etches, and engravings. Westcott produced a serious historical account equal to all other historical writings on the City of Philadelphia according to Joseph Jackson. Consequently, these writings were eventually used as a framework for the three volumes of the “History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884” edited with J. Thomas Scharf in 1884.

Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. University of Pennsylvania: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics; with Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni, Volume 2. R. Herndon Company, 1902. (Google eBook) Jackson, Joseph. “Memoranda in Hand of Founder of Pennsylvania One of Treasures of Stauffer Copy of History of Philadelphia—Book Extended to Thirty-two Volumes Given to History Society.” Ledger 3 January. 1915. Jackson, Joseph. “Westcott, Thompson (1820-1888).” Encyclopedia of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: National Historical Association, 1931. Robinson, Elwyn B.. “The Public Ledger: An Independent Newspaper.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 64, 1 (1940): 43-54. Scharf, J. Thomas 1843-1898., and Thompson Westcott. History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts, 1884. Westcott, Thompson. A History of Philadelphia: From the Time of the First Settlement on the Delaware to the Consolidation of the City and District in 1854. Philadelphia: Sunday dispatch, 1854. Zahn, Mabel A. Letter to George Vaux. March 22, 1971.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
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Finding aid prepared by Weckea Dejura Lilly
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Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

History of Philadelphia, 1609-1751.
Volume Volume I
History of Philadelphia, 1725-1780.
Volume Volume II
History of Philadelphia, 1780-1808.
Volume Volume III
History of Philadelphia, 1808-1826.
Volume Volume IV
History of Philadelphia, 1800-1826.
Volume Volume V

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