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Newtown Historic Association collection on Edward Hicks and family


Held at: Newtown Historic Association [Contact Us]Centre Avenue and Court Street, Newtown, Pennsylvania

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Newtown Historic Association. 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

"Edward Hicks was born in 1780 in Attleborough (now Langhorne), Pennsylvania, into a family that had suffered severe financial losses during the Revolution. After Edward's mother died in 1781, he was raised [in Newtown] by a Quaker family named Twining.

"Hicks apparently had no scholarly interests and at the age of thirteen was apprenticed to the Tomlinson brothers, coachmakers in Attleborough. This marked the beginning of his training as an artisan. This apprenticeship furnished him with the technical skills he would apply to the easel paintings he executed fairly late in his life. Hicks briefly set up his own business in 1800 but closed it to help a Northampton, Pennsylvania, doctor build a new kind of carriage. Religious discussions with this employer increased Hicks' awareness of his Quaker roots. After a severe illness, his lively character became more introspective, and he began attending Quaker meetings.

"Hicks moved to Milford (now Hulmeville), Pennsylvania, in 1801 to work for another coachmaker and painter; two years later he married Sarah Worstall, a childhood friend, with whom he had four children. Hicks at this time was painting signs, furniture, coaches, lettering, and floor cloths, but he became increasingly interested in the Quaker ministry. He set out on the first of his many preaching trips in 1811, the same year he moved his family to Newtown, Pennsylvania. His sermons reportedly attracted crowds, and he was described as one of the most popular and leading ministers of his time. From this point on his religious interest would dominate his life. Nonetheless, he continued painting, which he described as "one of those trifling insignificant arts" and principally a way to "get an honest living." He briefly left the painting trade for farming in 1813 but had returned to it by 1815, when he began to produce elaborate signs with the help of several assistants.

"In 1820 Hicks visited his cousin Elias Hicks, a principal figure in the theological rift that split the Quakers in 1827. Edward joined his cousin's Hicksite movement and remained a passionate defender of its tenets. Several of his paintings reveal how profoundly this controversy affected the artist's life. Elias Hicks appears in all of the canvases, and two of them include a verbal allusion to Hicksite doctrine.

"Hicks' religious concerns, however strong in the 1830s, did not totally eclipse his artistic life. While he continued to paint variations on the Quaker theme of peace and brotherly love throughout his life, as exemplified by his more than sixty versions of the Peaceable Kingdom, he also apparently offered artistic instruction. Hicks reportedly taught his younger cousin Thomas Hicks, and the Bucks County Intelligencer in 1864 reported that, as a youth, the academic painter Martin Johnson Heade was 'placed under the instruction of Edward be taught the art of painting.'

"The paintings from the 1840s, the last decade of Hicks' life, are considered his best... Edward Hicks died August 23, 1849."


Quoted text from: National Gallery of Art. "Edward Hicks: American, 1780-1849." Accessed February 4, 2013.

This collection includes a small amount of original primary documents from Edward Hicks and his family members, as well as a large amount of articles, research notes, manuscripts, photocopies of Hicks documents and paintings, and related secondary materials compiled by Hicks scholars.

The primary documents in this collection include letters, receipts, a diary, a daybook, a clippings scrapbook, and other assorted papers. The letters include correspondents Sarah Hicks, Edward Hicks Kennedy, Isaac Hicks, and Edward Hicks; of special note is an 1840 letter from Edward Hicks to his wife Sarah (Sallie) Hicks describing Newtown events that refers briefly to his paintings. The receipts pertain to Edward Hicks, circa 1802-1840, Isaac Hicks, 1841, and Willett Hicks, ca. 1832, among others. The collection includes a multi-volume diary (1881-1941) and an autograph album (circa 1876)that belonged to Edward's granddaughter, Sarah (Sallie) W. Hicks. The diaries are very extensive and detailed, providing insights into the daily life of a turn-of-the-century woman. There is also a newspaper clippings scrapbook created by a member of the Hicks family, circa 1873, as well as numerous miscellaneous documents created by various Hicks descendants, circa 1802-1946.

The collection also includes a set of papers relating to Thomas and Edward Penrose Hicks. These are mostly invoices relating to their farm as well as some letters, circa 1890-1930.

The highlight of the primary documents in this collection is a daybook that was used by the painter Edward Hicks and his son, Isaac W. Hicks, who worked together in a sign- and coach-painting business. The daybook spans circa 1833-1885.

Various scholars' articles and manuscripts on Edward Hicks are also part of the collection. Edna Pullinger wrote "A Vision of Peace: Edward Hicks of Bucks County" (1978); there are drafts of the article and color slides from her research, as well as a draft of her "The Little 'Hicks' Library House." From Alice Ford, author of Edward Hicks - Painter of the Peaceable Kingdom (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952) and Edward Hicks, His Life and Art (1986), this collection includes manuscripts, photographs of Hicks paintings and copies of Hicks documents, and some of Ford's research correspondence. Finally, the collection includes research notes, correspondence, and photos from L. L. Beans, author of The Life and Work of Edward Hicks (1951).

An item-level inventory for this collection is available in a database on-site.

Materials donated by Edward R. Barnsley, the various authors of articles or books on Hicks, and other sources.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

Detailed, computerized inventories of all of the items in this collection are available on site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Newtown Historic Association directly for more information.

Newtown Historic Association
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Faith Charlton through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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