Read family papers
Held at: Library Company of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
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
The Read family consistently played an important role in American government and politics from the time that George Read, a Delaware resident, signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Throughout the 17th to 19th centuries, the Reads served as lawyers, judges, politicians, generals, consul-generals and foreign ministers.
John Read (1769-1854) was born on July 17, 1796 in New Castle, Delaware to George Read and Gertrude Ross Read. After graduating from the College of New Jersey in 1787 and studying law with his father, John worked as a lawyer; as agent general of the United States under Jay’s Treaty, a position for which he was appointed by President John Adams in 1797; city solicitor of Philadelphia; and member of common and select councils. During the War of 1812, John was “active in the defense of the Delaware against British invasion” (Reynolds, page 492). He served as a senator for Pennsylvania from 1816 to 1817 and was appointed, by the Pennsylvania Legislature, as the state director of the Philadelphia Bank. Later, he became president of the Philadelphia Bank. John’s brother, William Read, was a Philadelphia merchant who was involved in the China trade.
In 1796, John married Martha Meredith, the daughter of General Samuel Meredith who had served as the first treasurer of the United States. They had five children, three of whom survived infancy: John Meredith Read (1797-1874), Henry Meredith Read (1800-1826), and Margaret Meredith Read (1806-1854).
During the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, John’s “humanity and philanthropy were manifest … [when] he contributed most liberally from his purse, and exposed his life throughout the whole course of the epidemic in behalf of his suffering fellowmen” (Reynolds, page 492). He was actively involved in the Protestant Episcopal Church and served as warden of Christ Church, St. Peter’s, and St. James. He died on July 13, 1854.
John Read’s son, John Meredith Read (-1874), was born on July 21, 1796 in Philadelphia. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating “at the age of fifteen, was admitted to the bar in 1822, elected to the Pennsylvania legislature in 1822 and again in 1823” (Reynolds, page 493). Other positions held by John Meredith Read include city solicitor of Philadelphia and member of the select council, United States district attorney of the eastern district of Pennsylvania from 1837 to 1841, solicitor general of the treasury department, and attorney general of Pennsylvania from1845 to 1846. Politically, John Meredith Read veered from the family norm of Federalists, and instead participated in the founding of the “Free Soil” Democrats.
John Meredith Read opposed the extension of slavery in new states. As a result, when nominated to serve as judge of the United States Supreme Court, “southern senators opposed his confirmation,” (Reynolds, page 493). As the Republican Party formed, Read served as a founder and supporter of the party and in 1856, gave a speech entitled, “Power of Congress over Slavery in our Territories.” He was elected judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1858, the same year that the Republican Party gained its first victory in Pennsylvania. He eventually became Chief Justice of Philadelphia.
John Meredith Read married Priscilla Marshall on March 20, 1828. They had two children who survived infancy: John Meredith Read (1837-1896) and Emily Marshal Read. Priscilla Marshall Read died on April 18, 1841. John Meredith Read later married Amelia Thompson in 1855.
John Meredith Read died on November 29, 1874. He was remembered as “a gentleman of the old school, of the highest sense of honor, of great dignity of character, and in social intercourse kind, affable and courteous … despising everything that was low and vile,” (Reynolds, page 493).
John Meredith Read Jr (1837-1896), son of John Meredith Read (1797-1874), was born on February 21, 1837. He was educated at military school and graduated from Brown University in 1859 and later from Albany Law School where he studied international and civil law. Although admitted to the Philadelphia Bar, John Meredith Read moved to Albany.
John Meredith Read’s military career was explosive in nature. According to Cuyler Reynolds, “while at Brown, he commanded a company of national cadets which afterwards furnished many commissioned officers to the United States Army during the rebellion; at twenty he was appointed aide-de-camp to the governor of Rhode Island, with the rank of colonel; at the age of twenty three, he was appointed adjutant general of New York, with the rank of brigadier general; [and] when Fort Sumter was fired upon, General Read was appointed chairman of a committee of three to draft a bill appropriating three million dollars for the purchase of arms and equipments” (Reynolds, page 494).
Politically, General Read supported Abraham Lincoln in 1860, in part by organizing the “Wide Awake” movement in New York; and later supported General Ulysses S. Grant for the presidency. President Grant appointed General Read consul general of the United States for France and Algeria. During the Franco-Prussian War, General Read acted as consul-general in Germany. In 1873, General Read was appointed to serve as the United States minister to Greece. In addition to serving as a diplomat, General Read also wrote and published many reports, public addresses, scholarly papers, and A Historical Inquiry Concerning Henry Hudson.
General Read married Delphine Marie Pumpelly on April 7, 1859 in Albany. They were the parents of four children: Harmon Pumpelly Read, John Meredith Read, Emily Meredith Read, and Marie Delphine Meredith Read. General Meredith died on December 27, 1896.
Harmon Pumpelly Read, born July 13, 1860 in Albany, was educated at the Albany Boys' Academy, St. John's Military Academy at Sing Sing, and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. After graduating, Read traveled extensively through Europe. In 1882, he returned to Albany and entered the law office of Edward Wade; however, concerns regarding his health prevented him from practicing law. He then turned towards community and political activities and ran for the Assembly in the Third District (he was defeated), served as president of the Young Men's Association, and was nominated for alderman of the thirteenth ward (he declined). Read was interested in history and genealogy. Read married Marguerite de Carron on August 24, 1889.
"Noted Living Albanians and State Officials." 1891.
Reynolds, Cuyler. Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911
This collection contains the papers of four generations of the Read family of Philadelphia, consisting of John Read, Judge John Meredith Read, General John Meredith Read, and Harmon Pumpelly Read. The materials date from 1736 to 1896, with the bulk dating from 1792 to 1896, and include extensive correspondence, bills and receipts, genealogical notes, legal documents, newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks and ephemera. The majority of the collection consists of General John Meredith Read’s papers relating to his family history and genealogy, correspondence, and political materials. The collection is particularly valuable in illustrating Philadelphia social life, global and local politics, as well as Civil War experiences, as it includes extensive correspondence describing first-hand accounts of war activities as well as with several key political figures during the Civil War era.
The collection is arranged into nine series: “Family History and Genealogy,” “Deeds,” “Bills and Receipts,” “John Read I,” “Judge John M. Read II,” “General John Meredith Read, Jr.,” “Harmon Pumpelly Read,” “James Read account book for Rings End and Point (Part 9)” and “Collected Meredith family papers.” Because most series are arranged chronologically, some subjects are represented throughout a series. Researchers are advised to review the entire folder list for each of the series in which that are interested.
The series “Family History and Genealogy” consists of materials presumably collected by General Meredith Read in the 1880s as a result of his research of his family history. Included in the series are eight volumes of correspondence relating to the genealogy of the Cadwalader, Howell, Ross and Read families, as well as some genealogical notes by General Meredith Read. Also included in the series are autograph materials, mostly single items of correspondence collected by General Meredith Read of famous or significant historical figures, some possibly related to the Read family. Autographs include those of William Penn, George Washington, Robert Morris, and Mrs. Horatio Gates. The series is arranged in loose chronological order.
The series “Deeds” is comprised of thirty-eight deeds, dating from 1403 to 1848. The series is arranged chronologically. Some of the deeds pertain to the history of the Read family; however, many are documents which General Meredith Read purchased while collecting autographs and compiling genealogical research. Included in the deeds is a charter for the manor of Northstede, which is a typical example of 15th century clerk writing.
The series “Bills and Receipts” contain ten folders of bundled bills and receipts related to the Read family that date from 1787 to 1847. The papers include bills for various sundry supplies and services, including clothing, groceries, building materials, and legal fees collected by various Read family members. The bills and receipts were bundled together with ribbon in loose chronological order, presumably by General Meredith Read. The series is arranged in chronological order, mostly maintaining the order originally imposed by General Meredith Read.
The “John Read I” series contains the papers of John Read I (1769-1854) and date from 1773 to his death in 1854. The series is arranged alphabetically by subject, and then loosely arranged in chronological order within each subject. Subjects in this series include: “Bills and Receipts,” “Business Papers,” “Correspondence,” “Court Cases,” “Estates,” “Land Tracts and Deeds,” and the more general “Subject File.” The bills and receipts provide good documentation of the Read family expenses, as well as John Read I’s legal practice in Philadelphia. His business papers include correspondence with legal clients and associates, various promissory notes, court case notes, legal documents, and notes and documents relating to the Asylum Company, which was a land share company based in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The correspondence includes both personal and business matters, such as land tracts and land title disputes, and financial and legal assistance to family members. The materials for court cases consist of papers related to legal representation in cases of land disputes, the Bank of Philadelphia, and railroad cases. The estates papers document John Read I’s involvement with the settling and executing of many of his family members estates and wills, including those of George Clymer, Samuel Meredith, George Read, Benjamin Gibbs, Elizabeth Meredith, as well as his own estate with his wife Martha Meredith. The papers relating to land tracts and deeds include materials mostly related to land in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania along with a few other properties owned by Read family members or associates of John Read I. The general subject file materials contain personal papers, such as poems and songbooks, materials compiled during his education at Princeton University, literary research notes, as well as materials relating to John Read I’s involvement with the United Church of Christ and the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Freemasons. This series provides good documentation of upper class Philadelphia society, family life, law, and politics.
The series “Judge John M. Read II” consists mostly of correspondence and business papers of Judge John M. Read II (1797-1874) relating to his legal practice and his relationship with various family members. The papers date from 1769 to 1882 and are arranged chronologically. Judge Read maintained an extensive correspondence with several business colleagues and family members (especially his son, General Meredith Read) throughout his life; these relationships are well-documented in this series. Besides numerous loose correspondence, there also are two bound volumes of family letters compiled by Judge Read late in his life. They contain papers on the history of the Read family, the Marshall family, the Eckard family, and the Irish and Scotch ancestors of the Reads. Many of the letters are of John Read I, pasted in no particular order into the albums. There are a large number of Marshall family papers, including letters of John Meredith Read to Priscilla Marshall, before their marriage in March of 1828; some of the papers are of Edward H. Hyde, whom Judge Read's daughter, Emma, married. Pasted in the albums also are the frequent notices of Judge Read that appeared in the newspapers during his life, which provide a very helpful overview of his career. Of particular interest in this series is Judge Read’s correspondence with his legal clerk, Charles H. T. Collis, and Collis’ wife, Septima Sevy Collis. Collis considered Judge Read a mentor, and wrote exhaustively of local and national politics, legal matters, philosophy, personal struggles, his military career, and his experiences fighting in the Civil War. Collis wrote about the Civil War concerning the battles he fought in or heard about, the problems of officers’ and soldiers’ pay, promotions, political appointments and influence in the Army, his opinions about the incompetency of generals, the apparent indifference of civilians to the political struggles during the War, as well as the national political campaign. There are over two hundred letters written by Collis to Judge Read in this series. Septima Sevy Collis wrote to Judge Read and his second wife about her marriage to Charles Collis and her experiences being close to battles in the Civil War. Judge Read also communicated heavily with his son, General Meredith Read, who frequently asked for money to fund his lifestyle as a gentleman scholar, as well as other family members, including William H. Hyde, Emma H. Hyde, Edward M. Clymer, Amelia Thomson, Samuel R. Meredith, and John Cadwallader. Judge Read also maintained correspondence with key political figures such as Charles Sumner, Michael Meyfert, Joseph Pugh, Henry A. Muhlenberg, George Plitt, and James Buchanan. His business papers include legal documents, correspondence, ephemera, and newspaper clippings and mostly relate to his activities as a Supreme Court judge, his investment in railroad companies, as well as his involvement in local and national politics, including his attempt to run for the presidency.
The series “General John Meredith Read Jr.” consists of eight subseries arranged in alphabetical order by title: “Address books, notebooks, memoranda books,” “Archives du General Meredith Read,” “Business Papers,” “Correspondence,” “Genealogy,” “Newspaper Clippings and Publications.”
The subseries “Address books, notebooks, memoranda books” dates from circa 1879 to circa 1896 and consists of eight notebooks containing notes, addresses, and research written by General Meredith Read (1837-1896) during his time spent living in Paris, France. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
The subseries “Archives du General Meredith Read” consists of seventy-eight bound volumes containing mostly correspondence, memoranda, invitations received for social events, visiting cards, genealogical research and notes, and autograph collection materials compiled by General Meredith Read. The materials date from 1869 to 1906. The volumes are titled and arranged in the order in which General Meredith Read originally organized them. General Meredith Read began collecting and arranging papers relating to his family history and genealogy but never fully completed the task. Considering this, many materials in this subseries probably relate to the series “Family History and Genealogy” as well as the other subseries “Genealogy.”
The subseries “Business Papers” consists of thirteen folders of papers compiled by General Meredith Read concerning his various business and legal ventures as well as his financial affairs dating from 1849 to 1889. The subseries is arranged in mostly chronological order. Materials include papers relating to court cases General Read participated in, legal notes, research notes, visiting cards of business associates, and financial ledgers and expense books. Of particular interest is the folder containing materials related to his involvement in the establishment of Cornell University, including newspaper clippings, the first published general announcement of the University, related correspondence, and the document of the establishment act.
The subseries “Correspondence” primarily documents General Meredith Read’s personal and business relationships from circa 1839 to his death in 1896. The subseries also includes some materials in a scrapbook such as newspaper clippings dating up to 1901, most likely added by his son Harmon Pumpelly Read or his wife Delphine Marie Pumpelly. Earlier materials in the subseries document General Meredith Read’s correspondence with the Pumpelly family, with his father Judge John M. Read II, and his family living in Providence, Rhode Island, mostly concerning his travels to Europe, his education at Brown University, his interest in politics (including the “Wide Awake” movement), and his brief military career. Many of General Meredith Read’s letters to his father contain requests for substantial financial assistance and personal advice. Later materials include letterpress books, scrapbooks and correspondence containing information about his appointments as Consul-General of the United States to France and Algeria and United States Minister to Greece. These latter materials also reflect General Meredith Read’s somewhat close and long-term friendship with King George I of Greece; many incoming and outgoing pieces of correspondence between the two men are included here, spanning a time period of roughly eighteen years, between 1878 and 1896. The letters contain discussions of global politics, family life, and advice.
The “Genealogy” subseries contains eight bound volumes and three folders of genealogical research materials and correspondence, dating from 1872 to 1909, compiled by General Meredith Read (and probably later materials added by his son Harmon Pumpelly Read). The subseries is arranged in chronological order. Most of the materials are correspondence written by General Meredith Read to various distant relatives requesting information about the Read and Ross families, as well as about the Cadwalader and Howell families. Also included in the subseries are several portraits and illustrations relating to General Meredith Read’s genealogical research, such as possible family homestead sites and notable family ancestors and relatives. The materials in this subseries most likely relates to materials found in the subseries “Archives du General Meredith Read” and the series “Family History and Genealogy.”
The “Newspaper Clippings and Publications” subseries contains eight bound scrapbook volumes as well as several folders of newspaper clippings and various political publications in English, Greek, French and Italian that span the dates 1859 to 1894. The materials are arranged chronologically and appear to have been compiled by General Meredith Read while serving at the Paris Consulate and the Greek Ministry. The newspaper clippings document various political stories about Europe and the United States. The clippings complement the latter materials in the subseries “Correspondence” as they contain concurrent information that parallels General Meredith Read’s political activities in France and Greece.
The subseries “Palaeographia” consists of five folders of research and notes, dating from 1869 to 1873, compiled by General Meredith Read concerning his analysis and study of handwriting in correspondence he received. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
The “Prints and photographs” subseries contains three bound photograph albums and twenty folders of photographs and prints of photographs primarily compiled by General Meredith Read for genealogical and literary research. The photographs and prints date from 1796 to 1898 but many photographs are undated. The photographs and prints are mostly of people, buildings, and places in England and France with some perceived connection to the Read family or its ancestors and relatives. Also included in this series is a hand painted cloth folder made by Queen Olga of Greece and given as a gift to General Meredith Read, possibly to use as a protective covering for photographs. The subseries is arranged in chronological order.
The “Subject Files” subseries includes five volumes and twenty-eight folders of materials dating from 1838 to 1895, with some undated materials. The subseries mostly consists of scrapbook materials compiled by General Meredith Read and relating to his social life (including the various clubs and societies to which he belonged, his correspondence, and dinners hosted by him and his wife) as well as personal writings such as autobiographical notes, historical writing, political opinion and journals. Also included are various photographs along with a pencil sketch and a watercolor possibly done by General Meredith Read. Many of the materials in this subseries probably relate to other materials filed under “General John Meredith Read, Jr.” The “Subject Files” are arranged in mostly chronological order.
The subseries “Writings and Research by General John Meredith Read II” consists of numerous notes, drafts, and correspondence related to General Meredith Read’s various published and unpublished writings. The subseries is divided into two groupings, each arranged chronologically. The first grouping dates from 1865 to 1896 and contains mostly items directly related to or produced by General Meredith Read’s writing. The second grouping is an autograph collection of correspondence that dates from 1710 to 1779. Of particular interest are the materials related to his draft of “Life and Lineage of His Royal Highness Prince Albert” and his self-published book A Historical Inquiry Concerning Henry Hudson. The related research notes, drafts, advertisements, pamphlets, shipment forms and correspondence written by General Read to various associates provide illustrative examples of the process of self-publication in the mid- to late- 19th century. Also of note are the research materials gathered by General Meredith Read to aid in his writing of the posthumously published book “Historic Studies in Vaud, Berne, and Savoy from Roman Times to Voltaire, Rousseau and Gibbon.” The various notes and correspondence comment on the social history of France in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Also related to his “Historic Studies” are the numerous pieces of correspondence he collected for their autograph value, including several items written and signed by Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, King Frederick II of Prussia, and other 18th century correspondence, mostly written in French.
The series “Harmon Pumpelly Read” consists primarily of scrapbook materials, correspondence and ephemera that relates mostly to General Meredith Read’s son Harmon Pumpelly Read. The series dates from 1880 to circa 1908 and is arranged chronologically. Included in the series is a scrapbook of the death of Harmon’s father, General Meredith Read, as well as various pieces of ephemera such as playbills and blank postcards. There are a few items of business correspondence and financial materials such as bills, receipts, and accounting ledgers. Of particular interest in the correspondence is Harmon Pumpelly Read’s communication with his mother-in-law, Madame de Carron, who was confined to a mental hospital in Hartford against her will, presumably committed by Harmon himself. Madame de Carron wrote several angry letters to Harmon Pumpelly Read to express her outrage about his actions against her and even accused him of corrupting her relationship with her daughter. There also are some letters written in French by Madame de Carron to one or more of her daughters describing her anguish at being committed to the mental hospital as well as a few letters written by Harmon complaining about his mother-in-law’s irrational behavior. The correspondence provides researchers with insight into late 18th century mental health, women’s health, and family life.
The series “John Meredith Read III: Autobiography and family history” contains one bound volume dating circa 1900. The volume contains a hand-written memoir of the life of John Meredith Read III, who was Harmon Pumpelly Read’s brother and General Meredith Read’s other son. The memoir provides supplementary insight into other genealogical research found elsewhere in the collection.
The series “James Read account book for Rings End and Point (part 9)” consists of a single bound financial volume, dating from 1761 to 1765. The account book contains financial records for James Read, who was the brother of George Read, the signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The series “Collected Meredith family papers” is a collection separately acquired and added to the Read Family collection. The series contains mostly correspondence written by Read family members to each other, dating from 1667 to 1892. The series is arranged in chronological order. Items of correspondence are from Samuel Meredith to his wife Peggy Meredith, Martha Read to Peggy Meredith, James Gibson to Peggy Meredith, John Read to Thomas Meredith, Thomas Meredith Maxwell to General Meredith Read and several others. Also included is a copy of a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Meredith.
Bequest of Marguerite de Carron Read, 1940.
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.
- Collis, Charles H.T., (Charles Henry Tucky), 1838-1902
- Collis, Septima M., (Septima Maria), 1842-1917
- Read, Harmon Pumpelly, b. 1860
- Read, John Meredith, 1797-1874
- Read, John Meredith, 1837-1896
- Read, John, 1769-1854
- Library Company of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Megan Atkinson and Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe.
- 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 with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.