MS – 195: Early American Document Collection

(2 boxes, 2.87 cubic feet)

Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF

Inclusive Dates:  1685-1812

Bulk Dates: 1727-1728; 1775-1787


Processed by: Tyler Black ‘17

July 2016



The Early American Document Collection is an artificial collection comprised of Colonial Era documents from a variety of donors and locations.  Most are land and legal documents from Pennsylvania.

Many of the documents in this collection were donated to Gettysburg College before the existence of Special Collections, thus there is no known donation information or accession records. 

Available provenance notes include:

  • “Presented in memory of E.C. Goebel by his wife Janet C. Goebel”
    • Land Indenture for John Beard, from Samuel Miller and Wife, February 15, 1812
  • Rosenberger Collection
    • Land Deed for Tench Francis, from William Gregory, August 20, 1787
    • Land Deed for Henry Drinker, from Tench Francis, May 23, 1794
    • Land Grant for Henry Drinker, from Tench Francis and William Gregory, October 10, 1796
  • Donation of John George Butler (1826-1909), Class of 1850, College Trustee.  Acquired from Philadelphia City Archives
    • Letter from Jos. Stamson to Rev. Benjamin Colman of Boston, containing a Catalog of Assorted Books, March 20, 1717
  • Donation from Stanley L. Klos, 2005 (Accession 2005-0291)
    • Land Deed for Samuel Dilworth in Northumberland County, signed by Thomas Mifflin, 3 March 1794
  • Purchase from William Reese (formerly VFM on “Thomas, Charles Secretary of the Continental Congress,” accession 2015-0097)
    • Resolution from the Continental Congress Requisitioning Flour for the Continental Army, December 11, 1779
  • Purchase from Denning House Antiquarian Books and Manuscripts (formerly VFM on “Uniform for the Army of the United States (1799),” accession 2012-1120)
    • Broadside describing the Uniforms of the New American Army, January 9, 1799
  • Pennsylvania Hall Vault
    • Broadside titled “An Indian’s Speech, in Answer to a Sermon presented by a Sweedish Missionary at Cannestoge / Anno Domini 1710,” 1781
    • Purchase from Kurt Gippert Books
      • Land Indenture from William Penn to Joseph Baynes, 1683


    Historical Note

    The Early American Documents Collection has great variety in its subjects.  Many of the court, petition, and survey documents concern the wards and organization of colonial Philadelphia.  Philadelphia first organized into the ward system in 1705.  The City Council organized portions of the city into ten wards; this collection has all of the ward survey documents from April 2, 1728, minus the Dock Ward return (if one was completed).  It is not known how often this type of survey was conducted.  This ward system would be retained for eighty years.[1]  The collection also has manuscripts from early mayors in Philadelphia.  The Mayor of Philadelphia, from 1701 to 1775, was appointed by the colonial Common Council every October to a one-year term.  The two mayors found within the documents are William Fishbourn (in office 1719-1722) and Thomas Lawrence (in office 1727-1729; 1734-1735; 1749-1750; 1753-1754).[2] 

    The material with which the documents were produced can also be telling.  More precious documents, meant to be preserved rather than disposed of, would be committed to parchment, made of stretched animal hides.  The vast majority of the manuscripts and otherwise printed documents in this collection are of handmade, chain-laid paper, identifiable by the faint lines when the paper is exposed to light.  Woven handmade papers, as well as machine-made papers, would not come into common production and use until the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Many of the papers in the collection have a small hole in the top left corner, an indicator that they would have been bound with cord for grouping.[3]  A trademark of the handmade chain-laid papers was the watermark, a hidden symbol laid into the paper itself by the papermaker for recognition.  Papermaking in general did not start in America until 1690, when Germantown settler and German immigrant William Rittenhouse started domestic production.  His descendants, notably Klaus Rittenhouse, also produced paper.  Others families and individual papermakers, like Frederick Bicking, also began papermaking.  Each of these papermakers had their own watermarks for identification.  As an example in the collection, the “KR” watermark is that of Klaus Rittenhouse.  Sourcing the papermaker can speak to connections between its production and use, like an imported paper being used on an important document, rather than a domestic product.  Watermarks may also be cut during the cutting of the paper itself, meaning that two sheets of paper can be identified as coming from the same larger sheet (there is an example of such in the collection, also a “KR”).  A majority of the handmade chain-laid papers in this collection contain watermarks, as simple as an “H” or as elaborate as the crest of Amsterdam.  An album of the watermark photographs in the collection is also available digitally through Special Collections.

    Three of the documents in the collection are published in German.  These announcements would have been directed towards the German-speaking peoples in Pennsylvania, known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Since 1683, Germans had been immigrating to William Penn’s religiously-tolerant colony.  These persecuted Germans founded Germantown, just outside Philadelphia.  The German-speaking population boomed over the next century, as more Anabaptist groups, such as the Amish and Mennonite, found homes in southern Pennsylvania.  Other Germans, inspired by the promises of indentured servitude and new life, also immigrated to the region in the early to mid-1700s.  By the Revolution, when the German broadsides in the collection were published, about a third of Pennsylvanians were of German heritage.  The number of Germans grew as thousands of Hessian mercenaries from the British forces defected during the Revolution to start a new life among the Pennsylvania Dutch.  360,000 German Americans lived in the now-United States by 1800.[4] 






    Scope and Content Notes

    The Early American Document Collection contains broadsides, manuscripts, and other material from the colonial era and early republic.  The material covers a broad range of subjects, mostly pertaining to administration in colonial Philadelphia, and the American Revolution.  The series listing below further specifies the subject areas within the collection.  Possible research topics include: colonial-era legal, land, or government documentation, the influence of broadside announcements, the use of German in colonial American documents, and for a general investigation into the happenings of the Continental Army.  The military documents are more sparse in subject area, and do not include engagement information.  The dates are largely bulked from 1727-1728, and also from 1775-1787.  The collection does not contain mid-century documents pertaining to topics like the French and Indian War, or specific topics on daily colonial life.

    The Early American Document Collection also contains a strong variety of colonial watermarks, from domestic and foreign paper.  Possible research topics concerning watermarks include: sourcing of the papermaker, the inspiration behind the designs, the region of production, the trade connections between papermaker and user, and the connections between documents with the same watermarks.  Further historical information on the use of watermarks in early American documents can be found in the historical notes above.



    Adams, John

    Broadsides – Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Dutch Country – History

    Broadsides – United States


    Economic Surveys – United States

    Land Grants – Pennsylvania (also Land Titles – Pennsylvania)

    Pennsylvania – History

    Pennsylvania – History – Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775

    Pennsylvania – History – Revolution, 1775-1783

    Philadelphia (Pa.) – History

    Philadelphia (Pa.) – History – Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775

    Philadelphia (Pa.) – History – Revolution, 1775-1783

    Philadelphia (Pa.) – Politics and government


    United States – History

    United States – History – Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775

    United States – History – Religious aspects

    United States – History – Revolution, 1775-1783

    United States – History – Revolution, 1775-1783 – Propaganda

    United States – History – 1783-1815

    Washington, George, 1732-1799


    Series Description

    This collection is divided into eight Series.  Series 1: German-language Declaration of Independence, Series 2: Military Documents, Series 3: Court Documents, Series 4: Land Indenture and Ownership Documents, Series 5: Return Survey Manuscripts for the City of Philadelphia Wards, Series 6: Manuscripts from the Mayors of Philadelphia, Series 7: Documents concerning Religious Affairs, Series 8: Catalog Manuscript

    Series 1 consists of a German-language Declaration of Independence for the United States, published in Philadelphia by the Continental Congress, 1776.  The original is a vaulted item, and the photocopy of the document is within the collection box.

    Series 2 consists of early American military documents, ranging in date from 1775-1799.  The various forms of documents include broadside announcements (in German and English), a congressional resolution, and a parchment certificate.

    Series 3 consists of early American court documents, from about 1727-1728.  The records from Philadelphia are general court reports and “Quarter Session” petitions.

    Series 4 consists of land and ownership documents, ranging in date from 1685-1812.  The series contains Pennsylvania land deeds or grants, and land indenture certificates.  Box 2 (Oversized) is a continuation of Series 4.

    Series 5 consists of return survey manuscripts for the wards of Philadelphia, likely all from 1728.

    Series 6 consists of manuscripts from early mayors of Philadelphia, ranging in date from 1721/2 – 1728.  The manuscripts include mayor orders, as well as attached jury lists.

    Series 7 consists of early American documents concerning religious affairs, ranging in date from 1781-1799.  The documents are broadsides, in English.

    Series 8 consists of a manuscript letter, dated 1717, containing a catalog of books.


    Link to Full Finding Aid - PDF



    [1] Philadelphia City Archives. “Chronology of the Political Subdivisions of the City of Philadelphia, 1705-1854.” Accessed June 25, 2016.

    [2] Philadelphia City Archives. “Mayors of the City of Philadelphia 1691-2000.” Accessed June 30, 2016.

    [3] Mary Wootten, conservator at Gettysburg College Special Collections.

    [4]GaleGroup US History. “German Immigration.” Accessed July 7, 2016.


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