Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Burd-Shippen Collection

The Swain Report, Number Five

In his most recent Swain Report, David writes about the Burd-Shippen collection the Library recently acquired from the Pennsylvania State Archives. The Collection contains a wide array of documents from the Burd, Shippen, Yeates, and Hubley families. These families were among the most prominent Pennsylvanians in western Pennsylvania, especially Lancaster and Cumberland Counties, during the colonial and revolutionary eras. The families were involved in all aspects of society, and their papers touch on important matters relating to law, business, and politics.

Patrick Spero

Burd-Shippen Family Collection

by David Swain

Introductory Information

The David Library owns two reels of microfilmed documents of the papers of the Burd and Shippen families, which are owned by the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The papers contain letters/documents of several generations of several closely intermarried families, including the Burd, Shippen, Yeats, and Hubley families. Overall, the papers cover the period from 1704 through 1900 (with a number of gaps, notably between 1834 and 1899).

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.)

Compared to some other microfilmed manuscript collections, the documents in this collection are much more clearly written and microfilmed (in negative), making them fairly readable, with some deciphering effort.

This review of the contents is limited primarily to the period up to about 1800. Over these years, the individuals most prominent in the manuscripts include:
-- Edward Shippen III of Philadelphia (1703-1781)
-- Joseph Shippen, brother of Edward III (1706-1793)
-- William Shippen, brother of Edward III (1712-1801); a physician with few letters in this collection
-- Edward Shippen IV of Philadelphia, son of Edward III
-- James Burd of Lancaster and Carlisle (1726-1793); married Sarah Shippen, daughter of Edward III (1730-1784)
-- William Shippen of Philadelphia, son of Edward III
-- Joseph Shippen Jr., son of Edward III
-- William Shippen, son of Edward III
-- Joseph Burd, son of James Burd
-- Jasper Yates of Lancaster (1745-1817); married Catherine Burd, daughter of James Burd (1745-1817)
-- Edward “Neddy” Burd of Philadelphia, son of James, grandson of Edward Shippen III (1751-1833); attorney
-- Edward Shippen Burd, son of Edward Burd
-- John Shippen, son of Edward IV
-- Edward Shippen (V), son of Edward IV, cousin of James Hubley
-- Jacob Hubley
-- James B. Hubley, son of Jacob, cousin of Edward Shippen (V)

Microfilmed Documents

The two microfilm reels are organized as follows:

-- Reel 1: manuscripts (manuscript folders 1 through 30).
-- Reel 2: transcripts (manuscript folders 31 through 45).

Each reel contains a detailed typewritten (but not always clearly legible, due probably to microfilming error) list of contents, by folder. This tool is invaluable for identifying documents and their organization/location.

Reel 1—Manuscripts

The generalized contents are as follows:

-- Accounts 1768-1779, 1801 (folder 1)
-- Appointments, Commissions 1759, 1791 (folder 2)
-- Articles of Agreement 1789, 1810, nd (folder 3)
-- General Correspondence 1715-1833, nd (folders 4 through 25)
-- Legal Papers 1719-1829, nd (folders 26 through 30)

The Accounts, Appointments and Commissions, and Articles of Agreement contain few documents in each folder and collectively are not of particular interest.

The General Correspondence is voluminous and interesting—and, in general, fairly clearly written and clearly microfilmed. Generally speaking, the content is a mixture of:
-- personal sharing of family news and mutual appreciation,
-- family business information sharing and decision making, and
-- a few legal documents interspersed among the letters.

Several more specific items of content are worth recording:

- Among the family businesses was land speculation and perhaps lumbering. A 1769 letter includes information about a request to the Crown to purchase 80,000 acres of land “in the Alleghenies” (i.e. somewhere west of Carlisle ?) on which the plan was to settle 60 families. The deal was approved in 1771 but for only 50,000 acres. However, in March 1779, the family was busy seeking US and PA recognition of their titles to the land. (See the PA Archives website description of this set of papers (Manuscript Group 30) for more on

-- On September 16, 1769, Edward Burd wrote to his grandfather Edward Shippen about his frustration that he could not purchase books from France because of the “Revenue Act,” which he felt would soon be repealed.

-- In about 1776, Joseph Shippen Jr wrote to James Burd about land speculation—something about buying up soldiers’ warrant rights to land (enticements for PA men to enlist on the PA militia and Continental Army?).

-- On August 13, 1776, Jasper Yeats wrote to Edward Shippen about the Commission of Indian Affairs (see Jasper Yeats papers for more on this).

-- During the Revolutionary War, James Burd served as a colonel, apparently concerned with recruitment and paying of troops.

-- In March 1779, Joseph Shippen wrote to Edward Shippen from Kennet Square, expressing optimism (based on undisclosable information) about an early peace and speculating about what he might do after the war.

-- In 1786 several letters reveal the family’s pain when a son-in-law of James Burd named Peter Grubb committed suicide.

-- By the mid 1780s and after, much of the correspondence pertains to Edward Burd’s Philadelphia law practice.

-- In 1794, the Burds and Shippens corresponded about shares one of them owned in a “turnpike road.”

-- By the early 19th Century, both Burds and Shippens were living in newly founded Shippensburg, PA, SW of Carlisle.

The Legal Papers are also voluminous, containing detailed records of court cases and legal arguments used, with legal citations, as well as some legal documents interspersed. Few of these cases seem to pertain to family business; most pertain to the law practices of Burd and Shippen family members.

In the midst of these, the collection contains an interesting printed flyer that must date from the 1824 presidential election campaign. It brands Jackson the “military candidate” and Adams the “national candidate,” and makes a pitch for voting for Adams.

Reel 2—Transcripts

This reel contains a fascinating assortment of both handwritten copies and typewritten transcripts of original manuscript documents in the Burd-Shippen Family Collection and in the Jasper Yeats Family Papers (both in the Pennsylvania Archives and both on microfilm in the David Library).

In retrospect, it appears that some of the “original” documents found in both the Burd-Shippen Collection (reel 1) and in the Jasper Yeats papers may in fact be handwritten copies, although none of them is a typewritten transcript.

Also, it appears that a few of the transcript documents are copies of documents not in the manuscript collections. In particular, the transcripts contain a 1704 letter, but the oldest original manuscript letter in this collection is dated 1715.

Many of the transcripts microfilmed on reel 2 were written on or typed on the back of or even on the front of “reused” pages of paper. Since both sides of these pages were microfilmed, we know what was on the back of the transcript pages. Most were blank legal forms, but a few were filled-in legal forms. Since many of these contain dates, we can approximate the dates of transcription. Most of the blank forms contain some version of an “18xx” date. However, some contain the exact filled-in year of 1900. Based on this evidence, one might logically surmise that most of the copying and transcribing took place in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. The last item in the collection of transcriptions is what appears to be a totally unrelated legal document dated 1900. Perhaps a member of the law firm described on the masthead had a (not evident) family connection with the Burd, Shippen, and Yeats families.

That some care was being taken by someone to preserve, organize, and perhaps even understand these papers is evident from the effort made to file the documents chronologically in folders and even to make manuscript, numbered lists (included in the transcript pages) of the letters transcribed. Nevertheless, the chronological filing is not completely accurate, at least in the order in which the documents are microfilmed. Quite a number of items are out of order, by several years or even decades. This anomaly should keep any researcher on his or her toes.

One of the joys of this microfilm reel is that most of the pages are readily readable. What a difference a typewriter can make. That the transcribers had difficulty with accuracy is evident from the number of corrections penned in on typewritten pages. Another challenge with this collection for researchers will be the need to check readable transcripts for accuracy against perhaps barely readable original manuscripts.

Consistent with the contents of the manuscript collection itself, the transcribed documents consist almost entirely of family correspondence among the many members of the extended Shippen, Burd, Yeats, and Hubley families.

The interrelated families conducted an extensive business, initially based in commerce, including the “triangular trade” among Europe, the West Indies, and America (centered on Philadelphia). Beginning sometime in the 1740s, the business expanded into land development and speculation, mostly around the area whose main town became Shippensburg, SW of Lancaster, where members of the Shippen, Burd, and Yeats family all lived by the early 1750s. The transcribed documents make clear that, from sometime in the 1770s into the 19th Century, Jasper Yeats acted as attorney for the integrated family businesses (although Edward Burd was also an attorney).

Besides business, the letters contain family news and information (gossip?) about other people the family knew, as well as news and speculation about politics and military operations (especially since James Burd was a colonel during both the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War). With the benefit of the typed transcripts, the correspondence readily comes alive, making for fascinating reading and a valuable collection of documentation for commercial business, public affairs, and personal living, especially from the 1740s through the rest of the 18th Century and well into the 19th Century.

To illustrate the potential for finding “gems” in the lengthy substance of all the transcriptions in the collection, a few quite diverse direct quotes, discovered as this collection was perused, are offered.

-- Boston, July 13, 1719, from Eliza (Shippen) Buroughs to her grandson Edward Shippen in Philadelphia: “Dear Child, I understand it is your desier to live in Boston. It is my desier you should live hear for It will be very pleasing to me to See you I have had many a thought about you Concerning your Comfort & I believe it would be very much for your advantage to come down…. Yor. Loveing and Afectionate Granmother….”
Comment: Edward did not move to Boston. If he had, how different Pennsylvania history might have been, and the town of Shippensburg, PA might instead have been Shippensville or Shippenston, MA.

-- Philadelphia, August 10, 1750, from Edward Shippen (III) to Joseph Shippen: “…I dined yesterday at Govr Belcher’s when I had the Pleasure to hear Miss Betsy tell his Excellency that you bore the Character of a Diliquent Student…. Our Proprietor has absolutely gained his point over my Lord Baltimore.”
Comment: Social intrigue was clearly alive and well in mid 18th Century Philadelphia (and Maryland). Further research might reveal what this cryptic message is all about—and whether it had any significant social consequences.

-- Lancaster, July 2, 1757, from Edward Shippen (III) to Colonel James Burd: “I told you before that Col. Stanwix had ordered hundred Barrels of the remains of Braddock’s Powder here, which is under my care.”
Comment: This is one of many communications between these two during the French and Indian War, indicating that both, Edward as a civilian leader and James as a military leader, were directly involved in the British/colonial military effort. It also reveals that, although Braddock’s army was decimated in 1754 near Fort Duquesne, somehow a large amount of his gunpowder was retrieved for later use in the same war.

-- Lancaster, March 27, 1759, from Edward Shippen (III) to Colonel James Burd: “Point d’argent, Point de Suisse, so that I say nothing more to you of your buying Mr. Ross’ negro girl, who is a very fine one by all accounts, and I wish with all my heart Sally had her. The price will be fifty or sixty pounds at most, and I hope, as the girl is not yet sold, that in a week or two you will be able to pay for her; and if not otherwise, we must be contented.”
Comment: This needs no explanation. It appears among other business and personal matters—obviously business as usual for the families.

-- Philadelphia, September 10, 1765, from Edward Shippen (IV) to Edward Shippen (III): “…I have got you a Barrel of Sugar from Mr. Pennington who will send it up by the first Waggon. The Chocolate will likewise be sent. You observe by the public Papers that great Riots & Disturbances are going forward in New England in Opposition to the Stamp Act & Stamp Officers. I think the Act an oppressive one, and I wish any Scheme for a repeal of it could be fallen on; but I am afraid these violent Methods will only tend to fix Chains upon us sooner than they would otherwise come. There is a general Threat thro’out America of destroying the Stamp Paper as soon as it shall arrive; what will be the Consequence of such a Step I tremble to think of….Poor America! It has seen its best Days.”
Comment: The transcripts reveal that the interlocked families shared economically motivated desires for free trade but also for peace and stability. By a decade later, they had firmly lined up on the side of the Patriots.

-- Lancaster, April 11, 1774, from Edward (III) Shippen to Colonel James Burd: “….When the Act of Parliament for laying a duty upon cider in England was published, the farmers rose in a large body and declared publicly, that although this Act was passed by their own representatives, yet if they did not immediately get it repealed, they would vote for other men as soon as they had it in their power; and this menacing had so good an effect that the wicked Act was soon repealed. Lord North says that the English Parliament virtually represents us, but he can prove it no other way than by swords and guns and implements of war. Three men of war may be sent to Boston to enforce the payment for the tea, but I don’t believe that any Admiral of England, who really deserves such a title, will ever draw sword or trigger against the defenders of Great Britain.”
Comment: What insightful commentary, and what fascinating wishful thinking (without the benefit of hindsight) one year before Lexington and Concord.

-- Lancaster, April 17, 1775, Easter Monday, from Edward Shippen (III) to Joseph Shippen: “I Heartily congratulate you on the good news from England; if we are not happy hereafter we must blame ourselves. I think we have the ball at our feet; I hope we shall play with discretion.”
Comment: This extraordinary comment lacks context but, two days before Lexington and Concord, appears not to be politically directed but economically so. Perhaps the Shippens had struck some kind of lucrative trade deal in England. The transcripts do not reveal what impact, if any, the beginning of military conflict in America two days later had on the deal.

-- Philadelphia, June 30, 1775, from Edward Shippen (IV) to Edward Shippen (III): “….I find Neddy Burd [Edward, son of James Burd] has taken a Resolution to go Lieutenant to one of the Companys of Riflemen to Boston. I wrote him my Sentiments upon this Step the other day, and represented to him that not having been used to the Woods; nor to hunting, nor to the Use of Rifles, he would be deemed a very unfit person for that Service, and that it would appear to all the World a ridiculous thing for a young man bred in an office to attempt to command Riflemen, who are expected to be men bred in the woods and enured to Hardships. I suppose however Neddy will consider himself as too far engaged now to retract.”
Comment: Two months after Lexington and Concord, the family was split on whether or not to participate militarily. Actually, the pattern of the French and Indian War continued. Young Neddy did fight, and his father, James Burt, had his colonel’s commission reinstated but soon resigned over a controversy of honor. The Shippens, however, supported (and probably profited from) the Revolution as civilians. Still, the class-based aversion of having a “man bred in an office” fight with “men bred in the woods” is a fascinating and not uncommon sentiment, still in today’s America.

-- Lancaster, April 3, 1784, from Jasper Yeats to Edward Burd, Esq. (his brother-in-law): “….How goes on the Bank since the Coalition? And how deeply have you embarked? I have Thoughts of taking a Share or two more, if I saw my Way clear….”
Comment: Not long after the end of the Revolutionary conflict, the family members were back on track, making money in their various commercial ventures.

-- Lancaster, February 5, 1789, from Jasper Yeats to Edward Burd, Esq.: “Mr. Cyrus Jacobs will take Negro Nat.—I have agreed with him on the Subject. All Expences until the Delivery of him to Mr. Jacobs’ Order are to be paid by ourselves-& he will bring him up.”
Comment: Even as the US Constitution, with its huge compromises on the institution of slavery, was being put into practice, the everyday practice of slavery continued in Pennsylvania. It’s not clear whether this transaction was a sale or “gift,” but it is still a transaction of property, not of a human being with rights.

Many more details could be mentioned. For instance, in the 1750s and 1760s, James Burd was corresponding with his father, Edward Burd, who still lived in James’ birth town of Oriston, Scotland, near Edinburgh. Both sides of this correspondence are lengthy and interesting. Also, in 1764, James Burd wrote to Joseph Shippen in detail about the Conestoga Indian massacre by the so-called Paxton Boys.

He also reported, from his Lancaster vantage point, to Pennsylvania governor John Penn about the facts of the case, and references about the subsequent criminal prosecutions appear in the correspondence. The Shippens were especially close to the Penn family, the Shippen “patriarch” in America, Edward Shippen (I) (1639-1712) having served as the second mayor of Philadelphia. The Penn family also figured in some of the Shippen-Burd family land development and speculation. Many more interesting discoveries undoubtedly await the diggings of researchers into these papers.

Have something you want to share, such as a question, research find, or a personal story about the Library? Email Will Tatum at tatum@dlar.org

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