Smith family 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 Jay Smith (1798-1881) was librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia from 1829 to 1851 and a member of a prominent Philadelphia Quaker family. Smith is also noted as the founder and promoter of Laurel Hill Cemetery as well as one of the original organizers of the Athenian Institute. Among his many scholarly pursuits, Smith was also a keen genealogist, collecting family materials going back several generations to the founding of the colony.
John Jay’s paternal grandmother was Hannah Logan, daughter of James Logan who served as William Penn’s colonial secretary and later as mayor of Philadelphia, chief justice of the colony, and acting governor in Penn’s absence. Logan was also an influential member of Benjamin Franklin’s “junto” and was chosen to select the first 43 books for the Library Company of Philadelphia. Logan’s own extensive personal library, at one time one of the three largest private libraries in colonial America, was later absorbed into the Library Company. John Jay saw himself as the hereditary steward of this collection, caring for and building upon his great-grandfather’s legacy.
John Jay’s maternal grandmother was born Margaret Hill and it was through her that he inherited and collected materials pertaining to her father, Richard Hill, brother, Henry Hill, and brother-in-law, physician Samuel Preston Moore (who was married to Margaret’s sister, Hannah). Richard Hill owned extensive lands in the colony and operated a wine and commission business in Madeira, Portugal. Henry Hill and his other brothers-in law, Robert Bisset and Thomas Lamar, took over the business upon his father’s death.
John Jay’s grandfather was John Smith (1722-1771), a member of a Quaker family of Burlington, New Jersey. He came to Philadelphia in 1743 where he soon became a successful merchant in trade with the West Indies and London. During his residence in the city, he was active in civic affairs and served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, 1750-1752. In 1756 he retired to the family residence in Burlington. John Jay’s father, who was also named John Smith (1761-1803), was orphaned at a fairly young age and raised by family friend Grace Buchanan. As an adult, he managed the family trade business as well as administering various properties in the Philadelphia region. John Jr. married Gulielma Maria Morris in 1784 and together they had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. He died of consumption when his son John Jay was only five.
John Jay Smith first entered into business in 1818 with Solomon Temple as a wholesale drug merchant. The partnership ended in 1821, and after some further small efforts in commercial ventures, Smith focused on the scholarly and literary fields. He married Rachel C. Pearsall from Flushing, New York in 1821. Together they had seven children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. He published the Pennsylvania Gazette from 1827 to 1829, edited Waldie's Circulating Library from 1832 to 1845 as well as Horticulturist from 1855 to 1860, in addition to a variety of other literary, historical, and horticultural periodicals and books. Smith was elected librarian of the Library Company in 1829. His administration saw the number of volumes at that institution more than double but also witnessed the only fire in the Library Company’s history. The few books that were totally lost were covered by insurance while 1,403 volumes had to be rebound. Smith retired after nearly two decades in 1851 and was succeeded by his son Lloyd.
Smith was also an organizer and treasurer of the Athenian Institute, a local group that arranged a series of public lectures. In 1850, Smith led an unsuccessful effort to bring portions of the London Exposition of Art and Industry to the United States. After the death of his young daughter in 1835, he became horrified by the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Philadelphia’s burial grounds and subsequently founded and promoted Laurel Hill Cemetery. Through this project, Smith developed an avid interest in landscape gardening. He died aged eighty-three at his home Ivy Lodge in Germantown, Philadelphia.
John Jay’s daughter, Elizabeth Pearsall Smith (1825-1914), never married but led an active life as a prominent member of the Quaker community in Philadelphia and Germantown, in addition to preserving and editing many of her father’s works and papers.
Lloyd Pearsall Smith (1822-1886), John Jay’s eldest son, succeeded him as librarian of the Library Company in 1852. During the Civil War he joined the Germantown Volunteers when General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania, leaving his retired father in charge of the library for a time. Lloyd’s tenure as librarian saw the expansion of the organization with two additional facilities (mostly funded by the estate of Dr. James Rush, son of Benjamin Rush) as well as the first female librarian hired by the company. Lloyd was one of the founding members of the American Library Association and an early proponent of librarianship as a career. He maintained friendships and correspondence with several notable Philadelphians of his day, especially the author Anne Hampton Brewster. Lloyd was also responsible for the Library Company’s extensive pamphlet holdings, donating 400 volumes in 1885. Nearly the same amount were sold to the company for 300 dollars by his widow after his death in 1886.
Horace John Smith (1832-1906), John Jay's youngest son, was a man with irregular careers. During the Civil War, he was a member of the U.S. Christian Commission. He was a partner in a China business through the 1860's and in the following decade he was a general manager and treasurer of West Laurel Hill Cemetery. Much of his time was spent traveling in the American West and Europe. In 1857, he married Margaret Longstreth and together they had four children. In later years, Horace and his wife settled in England. He died in 1906.
The Smith family papers contain materials compiled and authored by John Jay Smith as well as several of his descendants. John Jay Smith (1798-1881) was Librarian of the Library Company of Philadelphia from 1829-1851 and a member of a prominent Quaker family, originally from Burlington, New Jersey. Smith is also noted as the founder and promoter of Laurel Hill Cemetery. Among his many scholarly pursuits, Smith was also a keen genealogist, collecting family materials going back several generations to the founding of the colony. Smith was the descendant of several prominent early Philadelphians including James Logan and Richard Hill. Much of the collection consists of deeds and other land transactions as well as correspondence and diaries originating with these ancestors. Smith’s own papers document his wide range of interests, including landscape gardening, printing, publishing, and history as well as his personal and professional relationships through correspondence, financial records, and memorabilia. The collection also contains materials originating from the families of two of Smith’s sons: Lloyd Pearsall Smith (1822-1886), who followed his father as Librarian of the Library Company, and Horace John Smith (1832-1906), who held numerous careers throughout his life.
This collection is particularly rich in documenting the history of two prominent Philadelphia institutions, the Library Company and Laurel Hill Cemetery. Additionally, materials from early Smith family ancestors documenting early Philadelphia landownership and the Quaker community may be of particular interest to researchers. This collection may also be of interest for its graphic materials, including numerous diaries and albums containing original illustrations, botanical specimens, and other ephemera.
This collection was gifted to the Library Company of Philadelphia in three separate acquisitions: First by Elizabeth Pearsall Smith, Robert Pearsall Smith, Horace John Smith, and Lloyd Pearsall Smith in 1882, secondly by Elizabeth Pearsall Smith at an unknown date and thirdly by Arnold C. Satterthwait in 1945.
- Great Exhibition (1851: London, England)
- Hill, Richard, 1673-1729
- Laurel Hill Cemetary (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Library Company of Philadelphia--History
- Logan, James 1674-1751
- Moore, Samuel Preston, 1710-1785
- Quakers--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--Social life and customs
- Real property--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--History--18th century
- Smith, J. Jay (John Jay), 1798-1881
- Smith, Lloyd Pearsall, 1822-1886
- Women's History--Social Life and Customs--18th century
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Megan Evans.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2015.
- Processing made possible by a generous donation from Maxine and Howard Lewis.
- Access Restrictions
Collection is open for research.
This subseries consists of letters to and from John Jay Smith’s ancestors, including his father, John Smith, and grandparents, John Smith and Hannah Logan Smith, as well as great-grandfather, James Logan. Also of note are letters from influential Quaker Robert Barclay and Deputy Governor William Markham. Most of the letters in this subseries concern either religion or business, but there is also some personal family correspondence. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
This subseries largely consists of indentures, deeds, leases, quitclaims, and other land transactions involving several generations of Smith family members and relations. A smaller but still significant portion of this subseries consists of the business and financial records kept by John Jay Smith’s grandfather, John Smith. The materials found here illustrate how the Smith family and their relations were prominent land owners, going back to the very beginnings of the colony. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
This series consists of diaries, commonplace books, and other writings and memorabilia penned by early Smith family members, but especially those of John Jay Smith’s grandfather, John Smith. Included among these materials is a diary kept by John Smith’s sister, Hannah Smith Cox. A fair portion of this subseries consists of John Smith’s writings about prominent Quakers and other religious figures. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
This subseries consists of material originating with John Jay Smith’s maternal grandmother’s family, the Hills. Family members prominently featured in this subseries include John Jay’s great-grandfather, Richard Hill, and great uncles Henry Hill and Samuel Preston Moore (married to Hannah Hill). A number of the deeds and other indentures in this subseries are signed by William Penn. The majority of the materials are land transactions which attest to the Hill family’s great wealth and influence in the early days of Philadelphia. The series is arranged chronologically.
This subseries contains correspondence both to and from John Jay Smith on a variety of subjects, speaking to his wide range of interests, including but not limited to genealogy, horticulture and landscaping, printing, and publishing.
Notably, this subseries holds seventeen letters to John Jay Smith from Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), the noted architect, landscape designer, and editor of the Horticulturist. Downing drowned in the Hudson River on July 18, 1852, and after his death, his brother Charles, wife Caroline, and business partner Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) wrote reminiscences of Downing for Marshall P. Wilder. Also filed with this material is a letter from Asa Gray to Wilder about Downing.
Three folders in this subseries document the involvement that Smith had with George A. Shyrock (1799-1867) to manufacture paper from common straw. There are twenty-seven letters from Shyrock, many written from his Hollywell Mill, near Chambersburg, PA. The third folder holds a draft of a partnership agreement between the two men, which is written in Smith’s hand, and an essay, possibly a preface to an unidentified book which was printed on straw paper.
This subseries also contains seven letters each from collectors William Buell Sprague and Israel Keech Tefft.
This subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent with miscellaneous correspondents arranged chronologically at the end of the subseries.
This subseries consists of letters and correspondence to and from members of John Jay Smith’s immediate family and extended family, especially his Pearsall in-laws. Of particular interest may be John Jay and Rachel Pearsall’s early courtship letters. This subseries is arranged in approximate alphabetical order by correspondent.
This subseries holds correspondence and memorabilia relating to John Jay Smith’s failed project to bring a version of London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 to the United States. According to Smith’s Recollections, when the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was announced in 1849, he began to immediately think that it, or parts of it, should be brought to the United States. Smith went to Washington to meet with the president and other officials, and there received contacts with diplomats abroad. When early promises of financial support from the New York firm of Grinnell, Minturn & Co. fell through, Smith gained assistance from Philadelphia merchants Myers, Claghorn & Co. He made a goodwill trip to England and Europe, meeting with heads of state and various dignitaries, and receiving pledges of support for the New York exposition. Smith’s partner in arrangements was William B. Draper (1804-1885), a wealthy New York-based dry goods merchant and textile importer with offices in Paris. When Draper’s proposed funding fell through, Smith gave up his plans to bring the exposition to the U.S.
Many of the folders hold single letters from correspondents, and six have Smith’s copies of his own outgoing letters. A few relationships have more extensive documentation, most notably Smith’s partner in the endeavor, William Draper. His file contains seventy letters to Smith and two in return, spanning the years 1850 and 1851. Myers, Claghorn & Company’s file has five letters from the firm to Smith, three from Smith to the firm, and three agreements between the two. Another one of the larger files is that of Robert Bowne Minturn (1805-1866), the New York shipping magnate whose firm was to fund Smith’s project; it holds fifteen letters from him and three from Smith. Hamilton Fish (1808-1893) was the governor of New York State during the period, and his file has three letters to and three from Smith.The subseries has a folder of letters from unidentified correspondents, including one each in English and French, two in German, and one in an unidentified script.
This subseries also contains a variety of other materials related to the project, including three passports issued to Smith, one each from the United States, England, and France; the latter two functioned as visas for Smith’s travel in their countries.
The final folder holds the cover of a contemporary album that once held some of the material in the subseries. It was already partially disassembled prior to 2005, and was completely disassembled when the collection was processed in 2006.
This subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent followed by miscellaneous correspondents and memorabilia.
This subseries contains correspondence and other materials related to the foundation and administration of the Athenian Institute or Association. This organization was founded by John Jay Smith and several friends for the purpose of organizing weekly lectures on a variety of topics, mostly dealing with the classics. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject file and correspondent.
The Laurel Hill Cemetary and Library Company of Philadelphia subseries contains correspondence to John Jay Smith and well as his son Lloyd Pearsall Smith and is arranged by correspondent. The materials concerning Laurel Hill are at the beginning of the subseries. Notable are fifteen letters from John Thomson who was the nephew of Charles Thomson (1729-1824), secretary to the Continental Congress, concerning the moving of his uncle’s body from Harriton, the family estate in Bryn Mawr, to Laurel Hill in 1838. Additional letters discussing the project can be found in the folder for John Fanning Watson, including letters from John Thomson to Watson which Watson forwarded to Smith. The materials concerning the Library Company of Philadelphia compose the second portion of the subseries.
This subseries is relatively small but contains materials compiled and written by John Jay Smith regarding several branches of his own family tree. These materials may be of particular interest to those interested in the history of genealogy as a discipline and well as those researching their own genealogy. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
This subseries contains business and financial documents created by or concerning John Jay Smith. These materials include various account books, ledgers, daybooks, and receipts, particularly regarding John Jay’s brief career as a druggist. This subseries is arranged chronologically.
This subseries consists of diaries, albums, and other memorabilia compiled or written by John Jay Smith and members of his immediate family. This subseries is particularly rich in graphic materials, containing pressed botanical specimens, original illustrations and paintings, clippings, and ephemera. Also of particular interest may be John Jay’s diaries and other narrative accounts documenting his journey to the Ohio Valley and Midwest as well as excursions in the Philadelphia area. This subseries is arranged chronologically.
This series holds correspondence from colleagues and friends; some of his correspondence relating to his positions with the Library Company of Philadelphia and Laurel Hill Cemetery are filed in Subseries IIe. Correspondents in this series include Lizzie Blake, who illustrated her three letters with pencil drawings. There is one letter from James A. Bliss, a charlatan spiritualist medium who was incarcerated under charges of conspiracy to defraud the public and for adultery for his relationship with his partner Christina Bliss, who was not his wife. In his ten-page letter to Smith, Bliss indicates that he had received financial support from his friend Smith, and had been “the means in the spirit world to give you hundreds of tests of its reality.” One of the three letters from W. Stainton Moses (1839-1892), a British spiritualist, mentions Bliss and his trial, as does that from Henry Steel Olcott (1832-1907). There are six letters from library patrons Laura and Lucy Hooper that discuss books, but the bulk of the series is the 111 letters to Smith from author and journalist Anne Hampton Brewster (1819-1892). Spanning 1860 to 1867, and mostly written from her home in Bridgeton, NJ, they provide great detail about the books she was reading (which were regularly shipped to her from the Library Company) and her thoughts on the Civil War, daily life, and local matters. Additional war letters are filed at the end of the series: two from Lloyd Smith to his wife Hannah, written from Chambersburg and Hagerstown while he was serving in the army, one from Hannah to him, and a two-day military pass for Lloyd Smith “& a lady” to cross bridges in Washington, DC. This series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with folders of miscellaneous correspondence at the front.
This subseries contains both personal and professional correspondence originating with Horace John Smith and members of his immediate family, as well as his Longstreth in-laws. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent, with miscellaneous materials at the end.
This subseries contains diaries, albums, and other memorabilia compiled by Horace John Smith and his immediate and extended family. Of particular interest may be the European grand tour diary of Albanus Longstreth Smith (Horace John’s son), documenting the itinerary of this rite of passage for many upper and upper-middle class boys of the era. This subseries contains another portion of the rich graphic materials found in this collection, including botanical specimens, illustrations, clippings, and other ephemera. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
This subseries consists of genealogical material composed of notes, family trees, narratives, and letters, mostly compiled by Horace John Smith. The material is grouped according to family name into subject files. These subject files are arranged alphabetically.