Monday, March 22, 2010

Yeates Collection Finding Aid

The Swain Report, Number Four

In 2009, the David Library made a large acquisition at the Pennsylvania State Archive. The Papers of Jasper Yeates was among those acquired. As you'll note in David̢۪s report, Yeates was a very important figure in revolutionary Pennsylvania. Stationed in Lancaster County as a prominent lawyer, he served on the Committee of Safety for the County, was a member of the Middle Department for Indian Affairs during days immediately following Independence, and served as a Supreme Court judge for the state of Pennsylvania. The Collection we have contains a wide-range of his papers. Other portions of his papers can be found in the Lancaster County Historical Society and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Patrick Spero

Jasper Yeats Family Papers

by David Swain

Biographical Information

Jasper Yeats (or Yeates) was born in 1745 and died in 1817. His father, John Yeats, was a Philadelphia merchant, so Jasper may have been born in Philadelphia and moved to Lancaster when he decided to start a law practice. He married Catherine Burd, whose family came from Carlisle, and his business correspondence includes a number of letters from two of her brothers, Joseph and Edward. Another in-law family was the Shippens of Lancaster. The Yeats, Burds, and Shippens all knew each other well and intermarried closely. Judging from his family papers, Jasper practiced law from the early 1760s until he died. In 1791, he was appointed an associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a position he held until he died.

Note: The David Library owns microfilm collections containing images of three closely interrelated sets of family papers—the Jasper Yeats Family papers, the Burd-Shippen family papers (both manuscripts and transcripts), and the Edward Shippen Thompson family papers. Given the extraordinary extent to which the three complement one another and overlap one another, researching them together would be advisable. (Each set is described in a separate Swain Report.)

Microfilmed Documents

The Yeats family papers, on three reels of negative microfilm, were acquired for the David Library from the Pennsylvania Sate Archives, which owns the original manuscript collection. The papers are organized as follows:

-- Reel 1: general correspondence from 1726 to 1830 (John’s, Jasper’s, and Jasper’s wife’s after Jasper died); legal papers, including “accounts” from 1725 to about 1765 (first John’s papers, then papers of Jasper’s law practice).

-- Reel 2: more legal papers, including the continuation of “accounts” (Jasper’s law practice and other papers from about 1766 to 1817 when he died and additional business papers to 1804); and “articles of agreement” (which are more legal papers) from 1769 to 1774.

-- Reel 3: more legal papers, including “bonds” (more legal papers) from 1762 to 1799 and 1803. Two additional short sections complete the set of microfilmed papers: “Commissioners for Indian Affairs for the Middle District” from July to December 1776; and “Committee of Safety,” March to April 1776.

Within each of the four sections (correspondence, legal papers, commissioners, and committee), the papers are organized and microfilmed in chronological order, with “no date” papers at the end.

Each microfilm reel contains, at the beginning, a typed list of contents. This includes a one-page general contents list and a three-page letter-by-letter list (name and place to; name and place from; date) of the papers in the correspondence section. (Several errors and omissions exist in the letter-by-letter list, but it remains a useful tool for researchers.) The letter-by-letter list contains no information about the specific content of each letter.

-- Correspondence: Most of the letters are business letters from others to John Yeats and later to Jasper Yeats. The largest number are letters Jasper received concerning details of individual law cases (all civil law; a fair number land-transaction cases) that he was handling. Two of these letters are written in German. A few are copies of letters by Jasper to others, usually concerning billing for legal services rendered. A few others are by females in the Yeats family. These tend to be personal letters to relatives. One is a 1774 letter from Sarah Yeats (Jasper’s daughter?) to “Grandma” Shippen in Lancaster.

In 1804, the correspondence section gets a bit lively with a March 6 entry that is not a letter but a copy of excerpts from a Committee on Grievances report with “resolves.” The grievance was against the PA Supreme Court judges, and the proposed remedy was impeachment, apparently of the whole lot. However, the committee tied 14 to 14 on the question of impeachment, so it resolved to send the matter back to the PA House of Representatives to do with what they wished. I did not research the cause of the grievance or the outcome of the House’s deliberations….

-- Legal papers: Accounts: This section contains papers dealing with financial matters, mostly of Jasper’s law practice, but the papers are not limited to account books. Some papers do contain itemized lists in pounds or dollars, but the section also contains a variety of receipts and other legal documents, including printed form documents with the particulars filled in by hand. For a researcher interested in the detailed history of law practice, of civil law in action, or of land transactions, this section (the whole set of papers in fact) could be of interest. Otherwise, it is probably too detailed and too specialized to be of much interest to most DLAR researchers.

-- Legal papers: Letters of agreement: The contents of this section are more legal documents from Jasper’s law practice. Many more such documents are contained in the Accounts and Bonds sections, but a few have been placed separately in what once was a separate folder of papers.

-- Legal papers: Bonds: The documents in this section are mostly printed forms filled in by hand concerning the binding of individuals to pay debts to or through the government. (I do not understand well the nature of these bonds and did not research them further. Some of them may relate to indentures but others appear to pertain to money debts. The form itself left me quite confused.)

-- Commissioners for Indian Affairs for the Middle District: This brief section of papers is fascinating but confusing. The Continental Congress established a Commission for Indian Affairs with three districts that together covered all 13 colonies, a Northern, Middle, and Southern District. Pennsylvania was in the Middle District. Yeats may have been involved in issues concerning Indians within his state, especially the Susquehannock Indians (an Iroquoian-language tribe), who lived largely within what became Lancaster County. A subgroup of these Indians, called Minqua Indians, are mentioned in the documents.

The papers in this section are all financially related, suggesting that Jasper played some sort of treasurer role on behalf of the commissioners or as one of their members. The gist of the papers suggests that the Commission was involved in what we might call a welfare effort, “doling out” in-kind items and cash amounts to cover what appear to be emergency or survival needs. Some researcher with a very particular interest might be thrilled to find this little cache of papers. Also, the cache actually “leaks” over into the correspondence section, in which a few similar documents are found dated in the latter half of 1776.

-- Committee of Safety: As with the Indian Affairs Commission, Jasper’s role in the Lancaster County Committee of Safety is not clear. By 1775, committees of correspondence had evolved through being committees of observation to being committees of safety. The difference in the latter name was that it implied a mission of action, for the safety of the province, potentially through the use of the provincial militia. In PA, after having “put aside” a governor they did not like, the colonial assembly appointed a statewide Committee of Safety on June 30, 1775 to assume control over military policy and preparation for the province. That Committee remained on duty until replaced by a Council of Safety appointed by a Provincial Convention in July 1776. This section of the papers is tantalizingly short, with little of substance in it.

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