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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Library Company of Philadelphia. 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 Dickinson was born in Talbot County, Maryland on November 13, 1732 to Samuel Dickinson (1690-1760), whose father had emigrated from England in 1654, and his second wife, Mary Cadwalader Dickinson, who was the daughter of a Philadelphia Quaker merchant. John Dickinson had two brothers, Thomas, who died in infancy, and Philemon. The Dickinson family owned vast amounts of land throughout Maryland and Delaware, which is where the family relocated around 1740. John Dickinson was tutored at home in Kent County, Delaware by William Killen until the age of eighteen, at which time he moved to Philadelphia to read law for the former king's attorney, John Moland. From 1753 to 1756, Dickinson studied law at the Middle Temple in England, where he was admitted to the bar in 1757. Upon his return to the colonies that same year, he moved to Philadelphia to begin practicing law.
Dickinson was elected to the Delaware Assembly in 1759 and became speaker in 1760. In 1762, he was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, where he served intermittently until 1776. As the relationship between the colonies and England became tense, the General Assembly chose Dickinson as their delegate at a meeting for the Stamp Act in New York in 1756. He joined John Morton and George Bryan in formulating a declaration of grievances. In 1767/1768, Dickinson published Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. These letters, which were printed in newspapers throughout the colonies, argued that the Townshend Acts were in direct conflict with the ideals of British liberties. When the letters were published in pamphlet form around the colonies, as well as England, France, Holland, and Ireland, Dickinson became the best known advocate of American rights. In 1786, he also wrote "The Liberty Song," America's first patriotic song.
In 1770, John Dickinson married Mary (Polly) Norris (1740-1803), who was the daughter of Isaac Norris II (1701-1766) and Sarah Logan Norris (1715-1744). Isaac Norris was a prominent Quaker and speaker of the General Assembly, and his wife Sarah was the eldest daughter of William Penn's secretary, James Logan (1674-1751). John and Mary Dickinson had two daughters who lived past infancy, Maria (1783-1860) and Sally (1771-1855). Maria Dickinson married Albanus Logan (1783-1854), the son of George Logan and Deborah Norris Logan.
John Dickinson was busy in the years leading up to the American Revolution. He was a member of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and the First and Second Continental Congresses from 1774 to 1776. He was occupied with publishing treatises on the American cause and penning resolutions and appeals to the King that he hoped would bring an end to the conflict. Because he believed that preparations for war must take place simultaneously with measures for peace, he raised the First Battalion of Associators in Philadelphia, of which he was colonel. Because separation from Britain appeared likely, he wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation. When independence was declared, he refused to vote on or sign the Declaration, because he still believed that reconciliation was possible. When the document received support from the majority of the delegates, Dickinson supported their decision by taking up arms and joining his battalion in New Jersey. Because of his dissent from the Declaration, he was not returned to the Pennsylvania Assembly. He resigned his commission in September and returned to the Assembly, where he led the resistance to the new Pennsylvania constitution. In November of 1776, he resigned his seat in protest of it. His next public office was in 1779 as a delegate from Delaware to the Confederation Congress, where he worked on peace negotiations.
In addition to being a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia, he also enlisted as a private in the Delaware militia, during which time he served at the Battle of Brandywine. He was given a commission as a brigadier general. Although he did not serve as an officer in the Continental Army, he nevertheless was made an honorary member of the Society of the Cincinnati.
Dickinson suffered many hardships during the Revolution. In addition to being harassed by the Pennsylvania revolutionary government and others who questioned his patriotism for not signing the Declaration of Independence, because the British perceived him as the leader of the resistance, Tories attacked his property in Delaware in 1777 and the British destroyed much of his estate in Philadelphia. These setbacks did not affect his political involvement. He served as president of both Delaware (1781-1782) and Pennsylvania (1782-1785), he was unanimously elected president of the Annapolis Convention in 1786 to amend the Articles of Confederation, and he took part in the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
John Dickinson returned to Delaware after the federal convention and in 1792 served as president of the Delaware constitutional convention. Into his later years, he continued to write on causes of concern to him, such as American relations with France and education. He lived the remainder of his life in Wilmington, where he died on February 14, 1808.
Dickinson was not formally affiliated with any religious group, but he identified most closely with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He is buried in the Wilmington Friends burial ground next to his wife.
Biographical note written by Jane Calvert, author of Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson.
This collection documents John Dickinson's roles in politics, business, law, nation building, and the American Revolution. The collection is arranged in two series: "John Dickinson" and "Mary Norris Dickinson," with the bulk of the collection contained within the "John Dickinson" series. This collection was organized into its current arrangement, probably in 1978. Prior to that, the collection was described to an item level in a calendar created by John H. Powell. While the 1978 re-arrangement has resulted in the physical order of the calendar being unusable, the information contained therein is of the utmost value and a pdf version of the calendar is attached to this finding aid.
The "John Dickinson" series is divided into eight subseries: "Correspondence," "Revolutionary and Early National government papers," "Revolutionary War documents," "Delaware government documents," "Pennsylvania government documents," "Land and business records," "Collected essays, notes, and commonplace books," and "John Dickinson estate records."
The "Correspondence" is divided into incoming and outgoing correspondence, and is arranged chronologically within each type. Correspondents to John Dickinson include various statesmen and Revolutionary leaders, among whom are Matthew Carey, Philadelphia bookseller and publisher; Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland; Benjamin Chew; George Churchman, Quaker minister; Francois de Marbois, French politician; Philemon Dickinson, John Dickinson's brother; Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, litterateur; Benjamin Franklin; Hannah Griffitts, poet and political satirist; Thomas Hartley, officer and Pennsylvania congressman; John Jones, army surgeon; Arthur Lee, American diplomat; Charles Lee, Revolutionary War general; Richard Henry Lee, Virginia statesman; William Lee, American diplomat; George Logan, Philadelphia physician, farmer, legislator and politician; Nathaniel Luff, Delaware officer; Samuel Miller, Presbyterian minister; Alex Nisbet; Charles Nisbet, first president of Dickinson College; Samuel Patterson, Delaware officer; John Pemberton; George Read; Caesar Rodney, Delaware president; Charles Thomson, Philadelphia patriot leader and secretary of the Continental Congress; James Tilton, army surgeon; John Vaughan, John Vining, Delaware politician; Daniel Walker; and James Wilkinson, army officer. There are also one or two letters, each, from Samuel Adams, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, and George Washington. These letters discuss issues such as abolition, the militia, the American Revolution, news from London, nation building, national finances, and state and national politics, to name only a few. There are also letters discussing business and land dealing, theology, plans for George Clymer's home, and family and personal matters, most of which date after 1790. Of interest may be Samuel Chase's letters to Dickinson; in particular, one from 1775 in which Chase writes of his reactions to the battles of Lexington and Concord. John Dickinson's letters were sent to Matthew Carey, the Delaware Assembly, Thomas Jenkins, George Logan, Thomas McKean, Samuel Miller, and Samuel Patterson, to name only a few. Of interest are seven folders of letters from John Dickinson to his parents, Samuel and Mary Dickinson, during his education in London at the Middle Temple, dating from 1753 to 1756.
Within "Revolutionary and Early National government papers" are materials on the Revolutionary period which address issues such as the Stamp Act Congress, the first Continental Congress, drafts of petitions to the King of England, the Address of Congress to the Inhabitants of Quebec, and Jay's Olive Branch Petition. Also included is the Address to John Dickinson from the Mechanics on June 27, 1774, in which Philadelphia mechanics exercised their political voice and rights within the system. These materials are arranged chronologically and show the efforts made to prevent war with Great Britain. The Early National period papers reveal Dickinson's and others' attempts to create a new nation: these papers address issues such as the National Bank, the Hartford Convention, foreign trade, regulations, the military, national finances, the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia and New Jersey Plans, the establishment of a national capital, and the mutiny in Philadelphia which occurred in 1783. Also included are copies of the Fabius letters which Dickinson wrote in support of the Constitution.
"Revolutionary War documents" provide a glimpse into Dickinson's responsibilities as a colonel in the Pennsylvania Militia. Included in this series are furlough recommendations, petitions for furloughs, hospital reports, militia returns and ammunition returns. Of interest in these records are Dickinson's notes on required provisions for soldiers, a reminder to researchers that this new country also had to create a new army. Also included in this series is a folder regarding the Articles of Peace including a letter from John Barclay making Dickinson aware of the proceedings.
The "Delaware government documents" document early Delaware politics from 1772 to 1789, including the period of time Dickinson served as President of Delaware. Issues addressed include papers on the Delaware River dispute in 1772; suggestions for reform of the Delaware court system, submitted by Justice William Killen in 1781; militia returns; budget figures; and various bill drafts and notes.
Intermittently, from 1764 to 1769, Dickinson served the Pennsylvania government, and papers from this time frame are found within "Pennsylvania government documents." Included are speeches by Dickinson while he served as president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania; bills; materials on the Aaron Doane case, a significant case on the legality of the death penalty for outlawry; court martial records; materials on the Wyoming controversy, a long lasting land dispute between Connecticut and Pennsylvania settlers; and miscellaneous Dickinson notes on government affairs. Of particular interest in this series is the information regarding the national debt, taxing, payments to soldiers and information regarding soldiers' land claims. Information comparing exports of Pennsylvania products across several years may be valuable to researchers.
"Land and business records" include miscellaneous land and financial papers, legal papers, and bills and receipts. The miscellaneous land and financial papers, arranged chronologically, largely deal with Dickinson's management of his real estate holdings, primarily in Delaware, and include leases, agreements and memoranda regarding house construction, relations with tenants, property sales, farming techniques and production figures. These materials date from 1733 to 1807. The legal papers, also arranged chronologically, date from 1722 to 1785 and include wills of several Dickinson family members and information on Dickinson's law practice. Law practice materials include several cases argued before the High Court of Errors in Pennsylvania. The bills and receipts date from 1755 to 1807 and are arranged chronologically. Bills and receipts are for wine, vinegar and household materials, to name only a few.
The "Collected essays, notes and commonplace book" includes materials that may have been created by Dickinson as well as materials that were clearly collected by him. Included are writings in the hand of Isaac Norris; notes on genealogy of the Dickinson, Lloyd and Logan families; a copy of Conrad Weiser's journal; clippings; essays; and a speech on the founding of Dickinson College in 1783. These materials are arranged in chronological order.
The "John Dickinson estate records" include a journal and a ledger, both dating from 1808 to 1814, which note the settling of bills and other expenses in regard to the estate of John Dickinson. The final four pages of the ledger are entitled, "Sally Norris Dickinson in account with the estate," and give a chronological summary of the various account entries.
The "Mary Norris Dickinson" series contains two volumes, both of which were written before her marriage to John Dickinson, and are indicative of her intellect and creativity. The first volume consists of copies of letters between Hannah Griffitts (1727-1817), Hannah Harrison (1729-1807), and Mary Norris. These three young women were friends as well as relations and were well educated daughters or granddaughters of prominent judges and/or politicians, and involved in the society and pulse of colonial America. Hannah Griffitts was a poet and wrote under the name "Fidelia," Hannah Harrison was a wealthy socialite who married Charles Thomson in 1774 and wrote under the name "Sophronia." Mary Norris Dickinson wrote under the name of "Sophia." Griffitts, Harrison and Norris gave the people and places in their lives code names and used them to describe some seemingly ordinary events in fairy-tale fashion. Other names mentioned in the volume, such as Theophilus and Fellicia, refer to other members of the Norris and Logan families. This volume appears to be a copy of the original, probably made by Sally Norris Dickinson (daughter of Mary Norris Dickinson), and contains a brief introduction about "The Rural Circle or Band of Friendship, in familiar letters between several young ladies, Interspers'd with a variety of valuable characters," which may be the title of the volume. The volume also contains annotations by Sally Norris Dickinson and an endnote by Dickinson which explains the characters and the volume, which was meant as a testament to the girls' friendship. The second volume consists of poems, reflections, vignettes and other prose writings, written and copied by Mary Norris and her sister Sarah. This volume also contains annotations by Sally Norris Dickinson. The two volumes together provide an unusually rich documentation of friendship and literary imagination among a circle of teenage Quakers girls in the mid-eighteenth century.
This collection of John and Mary Dickinson materials will prove valuable to any researchers interested in John Dickinson, Mary Norris Dickinson, colonial Delaware and Pennsylvania governments, the American Revolution, nation building, the early national period, military history, land management, legal cases, and political theory and policy. Dickinson's correspondence with many of the most prominent figures in Revolutionary and the early national period provide diverse insights into the creation and development of the United States of America.
Gift of Mr. Robert R. Logan, February 1943.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Chase, Samuel, 1741-1811
- Dickinson, John, 1732-1808
- Dickinson, Mary Norris, 1740-1803
- Dickinson, Philemon, 1739-1809
- Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme, 1737-1801
- Griffitts, Hannah, 1727-1817
- Jones, John, 1729-1791
- Killen, William, 1722-1805
- Lee, Arthur, 1740-1792
- Lee, Charles, 1731-1782
- Lee, Richard Henry, 1732-1794
- Lee, William, 1739-1795
- Nisbet, Charles, 1736-1804
- Read, George, 1733-1798
- Rodney, Caesar, 1728-1784
- Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824
- Thomson, Hannah
- Tilton, James, 1745-1822
- Dickinson College.
- Pennsylvania. Courts.
- Pennsylvania. High Court of Errors and Appeals.
- Pennsylvania. Militia.
- Pennsylvania. Provincial Assembly.
- Pennsylvania. Supreme Executive Council.
- Stamp Act Congress (1765 : New York, N.Y.).
- United States. Constitutional Convention (1787).
- United States. Continental Congress.
- Delaware--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
- Delaware--Politics and government--1775-1783
- Pennsylvania--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
- Pennsylvania--Politics and government--1775-1783
- Quaker women
- Real property
- United States--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
- United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
- United States--Politics and government
- Library Company of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Holly Mengel.
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use, on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. For access, please contact the Historical Society at 215-732-6200 or visit http://www.hsp.org.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Library Company of Philadelphia with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.