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Collection Shippen Family Papers

About this Collection

The papers of the Shippen family, a wealthy and powerful group of Philadelphians connected by blood and marriage who reached the height of their influence in the mid-eighteenth century, span the years 1671-1936, but date mainly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The collection consists of 6,500 items (15,666 images) digitized from 15 reels of previously produced microfilm.

The Shippens were merchants, doctors, lawyers, and landowners, who held offices in Pennsylvania’s colonial government and were connected by marriage to other influential colonial families, including the Livingstons of New York and the Lees of Virginia. Among their most prominent members were William Shippen Sr. (1712-1801), a physician and Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress; his son, also a physician, William Shippen Jr. (1736-1808), head of hospitals for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War; and his nephew, Edward Shippen IV (1729-1806), who became chief justice of Pennsylvania in 1799, and whose daughter, Margaret, married Benedict Arnold, the Continental Army war hero who famously defected to the British side in 1780.

The papers chiefly concern the family of William Shippen Jr. and consist of correspondence, diaries, account books, estate papers, and business, financial, and real estate papers, including maps and deeds.  They reflect the family’s experiences during the Revolutionary War, their participation in the Philadelphia social circle that surrounded George Washington during his presidency, and the family’s engagement with national politics. They relate to William Shippen Jr.’s medical practice, the family’s dealings in Philadelphia real estate, the administration of family estates, and the private lives of family members, including mostly William’s father, William Shippen Sr. (1712-1801), William Jr.’s wife Alice Lee Shippen (1736-1817), their daughter, Anne (known as Nancy) Home (or Hume) Shippen Livingston (1763-1841), and their son, Thomas Lee Shippen (1765-1798).  Correspondents of note include Francis Scott Key (to Rebecca Nicholson), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison (1749-1812), Richard Rush (who appears to have administered the estates of William Shippen Jr. and his son, Thomas Lee Shippen), William Short, and George Washington (two letters to William Shippen Jr., May 3, 1777, and May 7, 1789). Also included is correspondence with and material from members of the Carter, Lee, Nicholson, Roberdeau, and other families.

Two oversized account books, 1763-1776 and circa 1775-1793, maintained by William Shippen Jr. contain, among his routine household accounts, records of his medical practice, including purchases of drugs and payments from patients with brief notes on their conditions. Shippen’s correspondence includes letters concerning his hospital post during the Revolutionary War, and exchanges with his children, Edward Shippen, and others.

The collection is notable for its documentation of the lives of women family members through diaries, letters, and such ephemera as embroidery patterns. Anne (“Nancy”) Shippen Livingston’s life is reflected in diaries, correspondence, and letterbooks. These document her romance with French diplomat Louis-Guillaume Otto, comte de Mosloy, her unhappy marriage to Henry Beekman Livingston, her separation from Livingston and loss of custody of her child, Margaret “Peggy” Beekman Livingston, her observations on women’s position in society, her life in and around Philadelphia, travels to New York to see her daughter, and more. Her correspondence is with her parents, husband, daughter, uncles Arthur Lee and Richard Henry Lee, and members of the Livingston family.

The diaries and correspondence of Thomas Lee Shippen document his travels in Europe during the 1780s, and subsequent family life until his death in 1798. Correspondence of his wife, Elizabeth Carter (Farley) Bannister Shippen, is also included. (A young widow at the time of her marriage, Elizabeth Shippen married George Izard after Thomas Lee Shippen’s death.) Thomas Lee Shippen’s correspondence includes letters from Thomas Jefferson advising him on his European travels, including a detailed itinerary, dated June 19, 1788. There is substantial correspondence on political and family topics between members of the family and Alice Lee Shippen’s brothers, particularly diplomat Arthur Lee and Revolutionary War figure and United States senator Richard Henry Lee. Alice Lee Shippen’s correspondence is largely to her children and to her niece, Lucy Carter.

Also included is a substantial group of papers of Joseph Hopper Nicholson (1770-1817), a Maryland congressman (1799-1806), and subsequently a judge; his wife Rebecca Lloyd Nicholson; father, Joseph Nicholson Jr., and other members of their family. Joseph Hopper Nicholson’s correspondence includes letters from congressional colleagues, including Nathaniel Macon, John Randolph, and Caesar Augustus Rodney. There are also letters from Frances Few, niece of Hannah Gallatin and Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury. A separate collection of Joseph Hopper Nicholson Papers as well as additional Shippen family correspondence may be found in other collections at the Library of Congress (see Related Resources) and at other libraries, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society, both in Philadelphia.

A finding aid (PDF [149KB] and HTML) to the Shippen Family Papers is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

The collection is arranged in six series:

  • Diaries and Journals, 1783-1890 (Reels 1-2)
    Diaries, journals, memorandum books, and account books of family members Anne ("Nancy") Shippen Livingston, Howard Post, Mary Elizabeth Roberdeau, Edward Shippen, and Thomas Lee Shippen. Arranged by name of family member and therein by type of material and chronologically.
  • Correspondence, 1776-1817 (Reels 2-3)
    Letters received by members of the Cutting, Farley, Lee, and Shippen families. Includes letters from Francis Scott Key, Lord Lansdowne, Arthur Lee, Richard Henry Lee, James Madison (1749-1812), and George Washington. Arranged by name of correspondent and therein chronologically.
  • Family Papers, 1754-1936 (Reels 3-10)
    Correspondence, memorandum books, financial and legal documents, and miscellaneous material chiefly of members of the family of William Shippen Jr, including Alice Lee Shippen, Anne Home Shippen Livingston, Thomas Lee Shippen, and others. Arranged by name of family member and therein by type of material.
  • Miscellany, 1693-1875 (Reels 10-12)
    Financial and legal records, miscellaneous correspondence, genealogical material, memorabilia, poetry, printed matter, and other miscellaneous items. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • Nicholson Family Papers, 1671-1860 (Reels 12-15)
    Chiefly correspondence with some legal material and miscellany. Arranged by name of family member and therein by type of material and chronologically.
  • Oversize, 1759-1793 (Reel 15)
    Three volumes containing financial records and patient records, kept by William Shippen Sr. (1712-1801) and his son, William Shippen Jr. (1736-1808). Arranged by size.