Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
The Biddle family has a long history on American land with Quaker ancestors emigrating in 1681 and settling in Philadelphia around 1725. This collection documents the family relationships, and to a lesser extent, the work and military service of six generations of one branch of that family, starting with Clement Biddle (1740-1814), and following the descendants of two of his sons: Thomas Alexander Biddle (1776-1857) and Clement Cornell Biddle (1784-1855). These papers tell the stories, to varying degrees, of more than 30 individual Biddle family members through correspondence, financial records, professional papers, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs.
The Biddle family has a long history on American land with Quaker ancestors emigrating in 1681 and settling in Philadelphia around 1725. This collection documents six generations of one branch of that family, starting with Clement Biddle (1740-1814), who served as a Revolutionary War soldier, the first U.S. Marshall for Pennsylvania from 1789 to 1793, a notary, scrivener, and a broker. He and his wife, Rebekah Cornell (1755-1831), were the ancestors of both Julia Biddle (1858-1952) and Arthur Biddle (1852-1897), who appear to be the center of this particular collection's content.
The collection best documents the descendants of two of Clement Biddle's sons: Thomas Alexander Biddle (1776-1857) and Clement Cornell Biddle (1784-1855). Thomas Alexander Biddle married Christine Williams (1780-1861), daughter of General Jonathan Williams (1751-1815) in 1806. They had five children, including a son, Thomas Alexander Biddle (1814-1888), who married Julia Cox (1819-1896) in 1845 and together, they were the parents of seven children. Their daughter, Julia Biddle (1858-1952), married her cousin, Arthur Biddle (1852-1897), grandson of Clement Cornell Biddle (1784-1855).
Clement Cornell Biddle (1784-1855) married Mary Searle Barclay (1785-1872), daughter of John Barclay (1749-1816), Revolutionary War soldier and mayor of Philadelphia, in 1814. They were the parents of four children including George Washington Biddle (1818-1897), a Philadelphia lawyer who married Maria Cox McMurtrie (1818-1901). They had three children including Arthur Biddle (1852-1897), a Philadelphia lawyer, who married his cousin, Julia Biddle (1858-1952), granddaughter of Thomas Alexander Biddle (1776-1857).
Julia and Arthur Biddle had three children: Edith Frances Biddle (1881-1938); Alfred Alexander Biddle (1885-1967) who married Gertrude Heckscher (1894-1942); and Julian Cornell Biddle (1890-1917). While the collection documents all three of Julia and Arthur's children, the bulk documents Alfred A. and Gertrude Biddle, and their children: Constance Monica Biddle (1923-2005) who married her cousin Sydney Francis Biddle (1918-2004) and was the mother of the donor's wife, Alexandra (1949-2008); Anne Gertrude Biddle (1925-2006); Julian Cornell Biddle (1929-2008); and Edith Sheila Biddle (born 1931).
The Biddle family was prosperous and influential; thus they interacted socially with (and indeed married) a number of equally prosperous and influential people. Families attached to this line of Biddles include Barclay, Blair, Cadwalader, Cox, Lyman, Meigs, Rush, and Williams. John Barclay (father-in-law of Clement Cornell Biddle) corresponded with Aaron Burr and Alexander J. Dallas. Military service appears to have been engrained in the family, with individuals serving in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I and World War II. Despite their power, prestige, and influence, however; the family was first and foremost, a family. Their papers document their work (largely in finance and law), their relationships, their patriotism, and their pride in their heritage.
This collection documents the family relationships, and to a lesser extent, the work and military service of six generations of the prominent Biddle family of Philadelphia. These papers tell the stories, to varying degrees, of more than 30 individual Biddle family members. The correspondence in the collection occasionaly describes world events such as politics and government in the United states, the Quasi War with France in 1800, Native Americans, the Panic of 1837, slavery, the American Civil War, World War I, and to a limited degree, World War II; business and financial matters, including canal and railroad companies, the coal industry, the effect of the Panic of 1837 on the Biddle businesses, the stock market, and banking issues; and family matters, including news of births, deaths, health, education, travel, etc., as well as advice. As is typical with family correspondence, there are constant requests for more letters and more news.
The lineage of the family is complex, primarily because Julia Biddle (1858-1952) and Arthur Biddle (1852-1897), who married in 1880, were cousins. Their grandfathers (Thomas Alexander Biddle and Clement Cornell Biddle) were brothers and their descendants (including Julia, Arthur, their children, and their grandchildren) generated the bulk of the material in this collection.
The collection is arranged in seven series: Series I. "Julia and Arthur Biddle and descendants;" Series II. "Julia Biddle's siblings and ancestors;" Series III. "Arthur Biddle's sibling and ancestors;" Series IV. "Julia and Arthur Biddle's ancestors;" Series V. "Images;" Series VI. "Wills, trusts, and legacies;" and Series VII. "Research on family history and genealogy." Information regarding the family members and the contents of material in each series can be found at the series level.
Prior to donation, John Basinski (donor and family member) identified many of the senders and recipients of letters and created document summaries of a large majority of the documents in the collection. Copies of his summaries remain throughout the collection with the relevant documents.
Researchers interested in Philadelphia families, life in Philadelphia from the late 18th to mid-20th century, early national period finances (via John Barclay, largely), and responses to events in American history over a period of more than 200 years will likely find this collection to be of value.
Cohen, Charles J. Memoir of Rev. John Wiley Faires: Founder and Principal of the Classical Institute of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1926
Jordan, John W. Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Clearfield Company, 1911.
The Pennocks of Primitive Hill (http://www.pennock.ws//surnames/names13.html#Biddle), accessed 2018 June 18.
Primarily overlapping in content for Arthur Biddle (1852-1897), Julia Biddle (1858-1952), Edith Frances Biddle (1881-1938), Alfred Alexander Biddle (1885-1967), Gertrude Heckscher Biddle (1894-1942), and Julian Cornell Biddle (1890-1917).
Primarily overlapping in content for Clement Biddle (1740-1814), Thomas A. Biddle (1776-1857), Clement Cornell Biddle (1784-1855), Clement Biddle (1810-1879), Alexander W. Biddle (1819-1900), Henry Jonathan Biddle (1817-1862), George Washington Biddle (1818-1897), and Algernon Sydney Biddle (1847-1891).
University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Finding Aid Date
2018 May 22
This collection is open for research use.
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