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William Strahan 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.

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William Strahan was born in April 1715 in Edinburgh, Scotland, received an education from that city's Royal High School, and apprenticed as a printer. Rather than setting up a printing business in Edinburgh, Strahan moved to London, England, where, in the 1730s, he began working for the Stationers' Company (formally known as The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, founded in the 1400s), a design, printing, and publishing firm. Strahan soon found himself working for several famous individuals, including the philosopher David Hume and the historian Edward Gibbon. He also became the primary publisher of author Samuel Johnson's influential A Dictionary of the English Language (1755). In 1770, he purchased a share of the King's printing patent office, and, a few years later, received the high honor of being named a master of the Stationers' Company. Additionally, Strahan was part publisher and owner of both the London Chronicle and Public Advertiser.

Strahan was also politically active and joined Parliament as a representative first for the Wiltshire borough of Malmesbury, then for the borough of Wootton Bassett. He remained in Parliament for just over a decade until he fell ill in the mid 1780s. He wrote extensively about Parliamentary debates, and many of his writings were published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, through which he became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin. Strahan and Franklin’s business relationship turned into a lifelong friendship. Strahan also became close friends with David Hall, one of Franklin’s printing business partners in Philadelphia.

William Strahan died in London in July 1785. He was married in 1738 to Margaret Elphinston, who died a month after her husband. The couple had two daughters and three sons.

Comprising this collection are 39 letters, which were written from Strahan to David Hall in Philadelphia between the years 1751 and 1777. Most of these letters, however, date from 1766 to 1772. The collection is arranged chronologically in one box. The letters describe the British political scene, activities of Parliament in the crucial years before the American Revolution, East India Company affairs, colonial legislation, elections, the question of quartering troops in the colonies, disturbances in Boston, and other incidents leading to the War for Independence. There are references to Benjamin Franklin's travels, his friendship with Strahan, and his examination before the House of Commons. Strahan also occasionally touched upon on family issues and accounts.

In addition to the letters that are clearly marked as being from Strahan to David Hall, there are also a few letters Strahan wrote to David's son, William (folders 37-40), after David Hall's death in December 1772. Strahan's letter to William of 3 March 1773 (folder 37) is deeply personal as Strahan described his friendship with Hall, his feelings of loss, and his well wishes to William, his mother, and their family.

This collection also contains two letters from other people to David Hall: one dated 5 December 1761 from Richard Peters (folder 3); the other dated 7 August 1762 from Lewis Jones, Joseph (Jonson?), and John Price (folder 4).

Folder 1: William Strahan to David Hall (1751) [also written on this letter is the date 1767]

Folder 2: William Strahan to David Hall, including note from Margaret Strahan (27 July 1751)

Folder 3: Richard Peters to David Hall (5 December 1761)

Folder 4: Lewis Jones, Joseph (Jonson?), and John Price to David Hall (7 August 1762)

Folder 5: William Strahan to David Hall (21 February 1763)

Folders 6-9: William Strahan to David Hall (11 January-11 June 1766)

Folders 10-12: William Strahan to David Hall (11 April-12 June 1767)

Folders 13-17: William Strahan to David Hall (13 February-30 December 1768)

Folders 18-19: William Strahan to David Hall (6 February-22 May 1769)

Folders 20-28: William Strahan to David Hall (11 January-8 December 1770)

Folders 29-32: William Strahan to David Hall (4 April-9 November 1771)

Folder 33-36: William Strahan to David Hall (10 February-2 December 1772)

Folder 37: William Strahan to William Hall (3 March 1773)

Folder 38: William Strahan to William Hall (5 July 1775)

Folder 39: William Strahan to William Hall (11 June 1776, 1 January 1777)

"Correspondence between William Strahan and David Hall, 1763-1777," in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 10:1 (April 1886), p. 86-99. "Notes and Documents: Some Further Letters of William Strahan, Printer," in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 60:4 (October 1936), p. 455-489.

Gift of Dr. John J. Sinnickson.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Finding Aid Date
, 2010
Processing made possible by a generous donation from Melissa Hozik.
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

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