James Gibson papers

Collection 0236

( Bulk, 1770-1800 ) 1712-1849
(2.5 Linear feet 2.5 linear feet, 7 boxes, 1 volume, 1 flat file)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Gibson, James, 1769-1856.
James Gibson papers
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1770-1800
Date [inclusive]
2.5 Linear feet 2.5 linear feet, 7 boxes, 1 volume, 1 flat file
Finding aid prepared by Cary Majewicz
Processing made possible by a generous donation from Howard Lewis.
Language of Materials note
Most of the collection is in English, however, there are a few items in Spanish, French, Polish, and Italian.
Graphic materials [Volume]
Graphic materials [Oversize]
Mixed materials [Box]
The James Gibson papers relate to Pennsylvania's colonial and early national periods, with particular emphasis on the work of the Pennsylvania Population Company, which sought to settle lands in the western part of the state. James Gibson (1769-1856) was a lawyer from Philadelphia who worked with the Pennsylvania Population Company and other similar organizations. The collection spans from the early 1700s to the mid 1800s and contains an assortment of papers such as family materials, correspondence, adminstrative papers, accounts, mortgages, powers of attorney, minutes, maps, and surveys.

Preferred Citation note

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], James Gibson papers (Collection 236), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

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Background note

James Gibson (1769-1856) was from Pennsylvania and studied at Princeton University. He was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1791 and admitted to the Philadelphia Supreme Court in 1793. He married Elizabeth Bordley (1777-1863) and was related to the Shippen family of Philadelphia.

In addition to his work as a lawyer, Gibson worked with several companies that dealt with the speculation in and distribution of Northern and Western Pennsylvania lands, and he may have served as an agent for those interested in these lands. Among the companies for which he worked were the Asylum Company, which worked with lands in Luzerne, Northampton, and Northumberland counties; the Holland Land Company, which had bought land in western New York State; and the Pennsylvania Population Company, which oversaw lands in far western Pennsylvania counties such as Erie, Crawford, and Allegheny.

In 1792, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed an "act for the sale of vacant lands within this Commonwealth." At least some of these lands, particularly those in western Pennsylvania, were to be given to Revolutionary War soldiers. Shortly after the act's passage, the Pennsylvania Population Company was formed by the state's Comptroller General John Nicholson, land agent Theophilus Cazenove, Dr. William Irvine, and others, to control lands in the "Erie Triangle" (Erie County) that had been deeded to Pennsylvania from the government in 1792, and other portions of westernmost Pennsylvania.

Though it is not clear exactly what role Gibson played for the Population Company, he presumably handled its legal affairs, and may have been somewhat involved in ensuring that some of the lands were given to Revolutionary War soldiers, as was the government's original intent.

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Scope and Contents note

Comprising the James Gibson papers are two series of documents that together span from the early 1700s to the mid 1800s. Each series is arranged chronologically. The first series, Personal and collected groups of papers (Boxes 1, 6 and Volume 1), contains an assortment of items, from a few folders of papers from family members to foreign language documents. The second and larger series,  Pennsylvania Population Company papers (Boxes 1-7 and Flat File 1), consists of an assortment of deeds, correspondence, legal papers, surveys, and other items documenting the history of the company's work in overseeing lands in western Pennsylvania. Most of these materials originated from John Nicholson, Robert Morris, and other founders of the company.

While this collection documents Gibson's legal relationship with the Pennsylvania Population Company, it also contains records of Gibson's other legal work, such as handling the Indiana County and Cambria County land purchases of the Gilpin and Fisher families during the early 1800s. While there are a few folders of papers from Gibson's wife (Elizabeth Bordley) and other family members, the collection contains little from Gibson himself.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2012

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Access note

The collection is open for research.


Provenance unknown.

Processing Information note

This collection once contained a group of letters, 1824-1846, addressed to Carey & Lea; Carey, Lea, & Carey; and Lea & Blanchard, booksellers and publishers. These papers have been moved to the Edward Carey Gardiner collection (Collection 227A), Box 29.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Asylum Company records (Collection 21)

Gibson and Mifflin diaries (Am .069)

Gilpin family papers (Collection 238)

Hopkinson family papers (Collection 1978)

John Nicholson letterbooks (Am .1085)

Pennsylvania Population Company records (Collection 489)

Records of land companies established in Pennsylvania (Am .2673)

At other institutions:

Records of the Land Office (RG-17), Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pa.

Sequestered John Nicholson Papers, 1765-1852 (bulk 1778-1800) (Manuscript Group 96), Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pa.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Asylum Company.
  • Erie and Waterford Turnpike Company.
  • Holland Land Company.
  • Pennsylvania Population Company.

Family Name(s)

  • Bordley.
  • Gibson.

Geographic Name(s)

  • Allegheny County (Pa.)--History.
  • Cambria County (Pa.)--History.
  • Cambria County (Pa.)--Maps.
  • Crawford County (Pa.)--History.
  • Erie County (Pa.)--History.
  • Erie County (Pa.)--Maps.
  • Indiana County (Pa.)--History.
  • Indiana County (Pa.)--Maps.

Personal Name(s)

  • Cazenove, Théophile, 1740-1811.
  • Colt, Judah, 1761-1832.
  • Denny, Ebenezer, 1761-1822.
  • Hoge, John, 1760-1824.
  • Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
  • Nicholson, John, 1757-1800.
  • Parker, Daniel, 1782-1846.


  • Land settlement and speculation--Northeastern states--18th century.
  • Land speculation--Pennsylvania--Federal period.
  • Land Surveys--18th century.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Economic aspects.

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Crain, Caleb. American Sympathy: Men, Friendship, and Literature in the New Nation. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 2001. (call number PS 173 .M36 C7 2001)

Hale, R. Nelson. "The Pennsylvania Population Company," Pennsylvania History 16 no. 2 (April 1949), 122-130.

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Collection Inventory

Personal and collected groups of papers 1712-1839 

Series description

This group of papers contains items from members of Gibson's family, a few papers from Gibson himself, and folders of other mostly legal papers that do not directly relate to the Pennsylvania Population Company. While most of the papers are in Box 1, one folder is in Box 5 and oversized materials are in Boxes 6 and 7.

Among the assorted papers are Bordley family land claims and deeds of Maryland from the early 1700s (Box 1, Folder 1), French and Spanish passports for trade and shipping (Box 1, Folders 4 and 5), agreements of Philadelphia merchants to decline acceptances of notes of credit in lieu of specie (Box 6, Folder 1), and correspondence on local affairs and general politics. Additional items of note include papers from both John Nicholson (Box 1, Folder 10) and Robert Morris (Box 6, Folder 2), accounts of money paid out on warrants by the Auditor General John Gibson (Box 1, Folder 8), and scattered materials from several other companies such as the Asylum Company (Box 1, Folder 11), the Holland Land Company (Box 1, Folder 13), and the Erie and Waterford Turnpike Company (Box 1, Folder 15).

There are also miscellaneous administrative and legal documents, such as minutes of proceedings in charges brought against the Board of the Treasury by Francis Hopkinson, a statement of Treasury accounts of Francis Hopkinson, contract between Robert Morris and Daniel Parker to supply rations to the Revolutionary Army, register of accounts and claims against the United States, and a review of the business transacted by the Chamber of Accounts. An additional group of papers in Box 7 relates to the land purchases of the Gilpin and Fisher families in Indiana and Cambria counties. While Gibson's name appears infrequently among these papers, it seems that he worked as their lawyer or land agent during the transactions. There are deeds, surveys, printed lists of lands, and accounts.

There is one volume in this series titled "Maps of Mackenzie's Track" from 1801. The book contains three bound and folded printed maps showing Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie's route across Canada in the 1790s.

Box Folder

Bordley family papers 1712-1726, 1816, undated 

1 1

Miscellaneous legal papers 1716-1835 

1 2

Miscellaneous 1725-1811 

1 3

Spanish documents 1757, 1803 

1 4

French documents 1759-1805 

1 5

John Gibson papers 1761-1770 

1 6

Philadelphia merchants - agreements to decline receiving bills of credit as money 1766 

6 1

Powers of attorney 1769, 1770, 1807 

1 7

Robert Morris papers 1770-1796 

6 2

Auditor General John Gibson papers 1777, 1778 

1 8

Congressional papers 1780-1782 

6 3-4

Ann Gibson papers 1786, 1787 

1 9

John Nicholson papers 1790-1797, undated 

1 10

Land grant - State of South Carolina to Elias Bates 1791 

5 7

Asylum Company - Articles of agreement (partial) and meeting notice 1794 

1 11

James Gibson correspondence, receipts, and legal papers 1798-1820 

1 12

Holland Company - certificate of the withdrawing of caveats [1799] 1800 

1 13

John Gibson papers relating to China trade 1806, 1809 

1 14

Erie and Waterford Turnpike Company 1806-1821 

1 15

Aldophus Peries correspondence 1836 

1 16

Broadsides 1839, undated 

1 17

Deeds, surveys, and other documents concerning the Indiana County and Cambria County lands of the Gilpin and Fisher families 1777-1812, undated 

7 2-6

"Maps of Mackenzie's Track" 1801 


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Pennsylvania Population Company papers 1791-1849 

Series description

This group of documents, which is housed in Boxes 1 to 5 and 7, relate directly to the formation and operation of the Pennsylvania Population Company, founded in 1792. There are also papers concerning James Gibson's own Erie County lands (Boxes 2-3), and the donation lands that were provided to Revolutionary War soldiers (Boxes 3-4). Overall, the series is comprised of mortgages, agreements of sales, surveys, deeds, powers of attorney, claims, court proceedings, minutes of the board of managers, and plats. There is also a copy of the map and exemplification of the grant of the Erie triangle from the United States to Pennsylvania from 1792, and the correspondence of land agents, including Judah Colt and James Gibson. Numerous names recur among the papers, namely the company's founders and subscribers including Robert Morris, John Nicholson, Archibald McCall, Ebenezer Denny, John Hoge, and Theophilus Cazenove.


Map and exemplification of the grant of the Erie triangle from the United States to Pennsylvania 1792 

Box Folder

"Memorandum for tickets for the Pennsylvania Population Company" 1792 

1 18

General papers and correspondence 1792-1804 

    Box Folder
Text   2 1-2
    Box Folder
Text   1 19-20

Papers concerning Gibson's Erie County lands 1812-1849, undated 

    Box Folder
Text   2 3-6
    Box Folder
Text   3 1

Box Folder

Accounts 1813-1849, undated 

3 2

Accounts of Nathan Lufborough 1798-1800 

3 3

Pennsylvania Population Company vs. Thomas Rees (Reese) 1792-1800 

3 4-5

Donation lands to soldiers [A-B] 1792, 1794-1795 

3 6

Donation lands to soldiers [C-D] 1791-1795 

3 7

Donation lands to soldiers [E-H] 1791-1795 

4 1

Donation lands to soldiers [I-L] 1791-1794 

4 2

Donation lands to soldiers [M-O] 1792-1794 

4 3

Donation lands to soldiers [P-T] 1791-1794 

4 4

Donation lands to soldiers [U-Z] 1791-1794 

4 5

Warrant of William Maudlin 13 April 1792 

4 6

Letters of attorney 1799 

4 7

Mortgages 1804, undated 

4 8

Deeds 1792 

4 9

Copies of patents on warrants 1799 

5 1

Agreements 1796-1802 

5 2

List of claims for donation lands circa 1794 

5 3

Deed of trust, John Nicholson to Theophilus Cazenove circa 1792 

5 4

Deed to William Power 1797 

5 5

Deed poll of Robert Smith undated 

5 6

Maps and surveys 1800-1803, undated 

7 1

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