McCall family papers

Collection 4088

1742-1936, undated (Bulk 1821-1891)
(6.8 Linear feet ; 16 boxes, 6 flat files)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
McCall family papers
1742-1936, undated (Bulk 1821-1891)
6.8 Linear feet ; 16 boxes, 6 flat files
Finding aid prepared by Randi M. Kamine.
The McCall family papers consist primarily of the business and personal letters of Peter McCall (1809-1880). McCall was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. He practiced law from 1830 until his death, and he server as mayor of Philadelphia from 1844 to 1845. The collection also includes many documents from the Keating family, particularly Peter McCall Keating (1884-1959), son of Edith McCall Keating (daughter of Peter McCall) and Dr. John M. Keating. Comprising much of the collection are business and personal invoices and receipts, which provide insights into the lifestyle of the McCall family. Personal and business correspondence, wills, and deeds further inform the society in which the McCalls lived. There are also newspaper clippings that cover the years 1787 to 1936, as well as miscellaneous items and ephemera.

Preferred citation

[Indicate cited item or series here], McCall family papers (Collection 4088), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

Peter McCall’s prominence as a successful Philadelphia lawyer brought him in contact with many notable persons in the Philadelphia area. He graduated Princeton University in 1826. He was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the Law Academy of Philadelphia. Involved in all manner of things Philadelphia, he was a member of the City Council for several terms in the 1840s and 1850s and mayor in 1844 and 1845. He married Jane Byrd Mercer (1825-1895) in 1846, and they had eight children together.

The McCall family’s history in Philadelphia began when Peter’s great-grandfather. George McCall (1683-1740). immigrated from Scotland in 1701. George became a successful businessman in the city in partnership with his brother Samuel (1681-1759). The family continued to be prosperous and in high regard within the community.

Peter McCall’s sister, Edith, married John M. Keating, MD. The Keatings were also a prestigious Philadelphia family, and they had deep Irish roots. Dr. Keating was a civically-minded and well-regarded person within the Philadelphia community.

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Scope and content note

Documents in the McCall family papers date from 1749 to 1936, with the bulk dating to the mid-ninteenth century. The McCall family’s involvement with all manner of Philadelphia society reflected in legal documents and personal correspondence would be of interest to any researcher delving into the social, political, and cultural life of well-to-do Philadelphians in the early to mid-nineteenth century. The business and legal correspondence could be significant tools for those interested in the legal practices of the day. To some extent, commercial activity can be gleaned from the abundance of invoices and receipts in the collection.

Peter McCall’s legal work, primarily involved inheritance and real estate, is the primary subject of most of the materials present. He helped prepare wills and deeds for many prominent local families, including the Keatings, Pages, and Reads. Among the many wills in the collection is that of his own, probated 1880. There are also scores of land deeds indicating that much of McCall’s legal responsibilities concerned the buying, selling, and renting of property, as well as estate management.

There are scant papers from the Civil War years; however, there is an interesting letter from George G. Meade to McCall. Written in 1860, when Meade was still a captain, he writes to McCall requesting the favor of writing to a mutual acquaintance and to act on Meade’s behalf. A separate folder contains letters written during the war years. Many are written by Peter’s nephew, Charles A. McCall.

The pro-slavery essay, Bible View of Slavery, published in 1861 by Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vermont, drew McCall's interest. Correspondence in this collection suggests that McCall had Copperhead leanings. (McCall was elected as a Whig when he ran for mayor of Philadelphia in the 1840s, but he was a Democrat during the Civil War.) A treatise located in Box 1, Folder 6, asks, “Negro suffrage in the South – What does that mean there?” The response, written by an unknown author, is: “Why, it means to put the old masters under the feet of their former slaves – It means the subordination of the white to the black race –the men of Caucasian descent to the Children of Ham.”

Correspondence shows that Peter McCall had personal and business relationships with A. Sydney Biddle, Horace Binney, and the Cadwalader family (with whom the McCalls were related by marriage). Another distinguished Philadelphian with whom McCall had a relationship with was Doctor Benjamin Rush, who was a good friend. The many personal letters in the collection shows that McCall had a close and loving connection to many members of the close-knit Rush family.

McCall also had a particularly close relationship with his nephew Rodolph McCall. McCall apparently paid for his school tuition when he was in school in the 1860s. There are personal letters and report cards from that time (Box 1, Folder 8). Other interesting items among McCall's personal materisls (Box 1, Folders 1-5) include letters that speak to the issue of slavery, and those beseeching help from acquaintances. One letter mentions the 1844 Philadelphia riots. Another mentions Indian affaira. And there is one is from McCall discussing women’s rights. There is also an invitation to participate in a testimonial for the late Chief Justice Roger Taney (died 1864), a draft of a letter to General Lafayette dated 1829, a letter dated 1852 to McCall that recalls the sinking of the USS Powhatan off the coast of New Jersey in 1854, as well as one on the sinking of the  SS City of Glasgow that same year.

Beyond letters, there are receipts and invoices in the collection that reflect both business and personal expenses of the McCalls between 1829 and 1924. They demonstrate well the family's upper-middle class lifestyle. There are bills from jewelers, and those for merchandise such as lady’s handbags, traveling trunks, towels, napkins and other household goods. There are also invoices that show maintenance outside the home – brick, wood, paint,and so on. Business receipts include payments for work done, including hauling office equipment to McCall’s office, rent receipts, and bank notes.

During processing, sub-groups of papers emerged from the larger collection, such as legal papers of the Gibson, Page, and Read families. There is also a large grouping of documents from the Keating family. Peter McCall Keating (1884-1959), grandson of Peter McCall and a physician, went to France before the United States entered the First World War to work on one of the first ambulance trains. These trains became field hospitals serving French soldiers on the front line. Seventeen letters are in the collection written in 1915 and 1916 from France to McCall’s mother, Edith McCall Keating (Box 9, Folder 10).

This is also an extensive series of letters that detail a long ongoing litigation over a parcel of land in Virginia (Box 3, Folder 8). Letters pertaining to this legal battle are dated from 1852 to 1868. A reading of these letters could help the researcher track the development of, and shed light on, property rights in the mid nineteenth century.

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Overview of arrangement

Series 1. McCall Personal Documents,1821-1924, undated

Subseries a. Correspondence, 1821-1876, undated

Subseries b. Personal invoices and receipts, 1828-1924, undated

Series 2. McCall business and legal documents, 1742-1913, undated

Subseries a. Business correpsondnece, 1824-1891, undated

Subseries b. Wills and deeds, 1742-1913, undated

Subseries c. Miscellaneous legal matters, 1773-1904, undated

Series 3. Keating family papers, 1818-1936, undated

Series 4. Gibson, Page, and Read families legal matters, 1805-1857

Series 5. Miscellaneous, 1749-1936, undated

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2019

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Access restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Gift of Peter McCall, courtesy of James Sands and Mark Willcox, 1990.

Accession number 90.5.

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Related Materials

Related materials

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Cadwalader family papers (Collection 1454)

George Archibald McCall papers (Collection 1635)

Samuel McCall journal (Am.9218)

McCall family papers (Collection 1786)

For an interesting contemporary observation on the character and accomplishments of Peter McCall see: A memoir of the late Hon. Peter McCall read before the Association at the Hall of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Thursday evening January 13, 1881, (call number Biog. M122h 1881).

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Controlled Access Headings


  • Business records.
  • Legal records.


  • Business history
  • Business Transactions--Philadelphia--19th century
  • Business--History--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia--19th century.
  • Business--Litigation and Lawsuits--18th century
  • Legal Disputes--19th century.
  • Legal Documents--19th century.

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General note

For an interesting contemporary observation on the character and accomplishments of Peter McCall see: A memoir of the late Hon. Peter McCall read before the Association at the Hall of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Thursday evening January 13, 1881, (call number Biog.M122h 1881).

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Collection Inventory

 Series 1:  McCall personal documents 

 Subseries A:  Correspondence 

Box Folder

Friends and acquaintances 1821-1876, undated 

1 1-5

Friends and acquaintances 1861-1865 

1 6

Relatives 1828-1876, undated 

1 7

Rodolph McCall (nephew) 1860-1862 

1 8

 Subseries B:  Personal invoices and receipts 

Box Folder

Invoices and receipts 1828-1924, undated 

2 1-8

Invoices and receipts (Richmond) 1832-1856 

2 9

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 Series 2:  McCall business and legal documents 

 Subseries A:  Business correspondence 

Box Folder

Business letters 1824-1891, undated 

3 1-6

Erie, Pennsylvania, property correspondence 1828-1843 

3 7

McCall v. Jackson land suit 1852-1868 

3 8

 Subseries B:  Wills and deeds 

Box Folder

Wills and deeds not related to the McCall family 1832-1880 

4A 1

Wills and deeds related to the McCall family 1829-1882 

4A 2

Wills and deeds relating to the Keating family 1833-1849 

4A 3

Deeds, land sales, and rents 1683-1896 

4A 4-6

Deeds 1742-1913, undated 

4B 1-3

 Subseries C:  Miscellaneous legal matters 

Box Folder

Miscellaneous agreements, loans, other items 1779-1904, undated 

5 1-2

Court documents 1864-1872 

5 3

Comte de Mons D'Orbingy 1836-1896 

5 4

Business invoices and receipts 1773-1894, undated 

6 1-10

Taxes 1794-1923 

7 1-3

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 Series 3:  Keating family papers 

Box Folder

Marriage settlement, correspondence 1818-1891 

8 1-6

Miscellaneous family papers 1892-1933, undated 

9 1-7

Correspondence with Lippincott and other publishers 1887-1894 

9 8

Jamestown property 1895-1901 

9 9

World War I letters 1915-1916 

9 10

Percy Keating 1893-1936, undated 

10 1-3

Keating biographical notes undated 

10 4

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 Series 4: Gibson, Page, and Read families legal matters 

Box Folder

Gibson family legal matters 1818-1855 

11 1-2

John Read family legal papers 1805-1829 

12 1

George and William Read family legal papers 1826-1853 

12 2

Page family legal matters 1836-1857 

12 3

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 Series 5:  Miscellaneous 

Box Folder

French spoliation document 1845 

13 1

Mayor of Philadelphia document 1845 

13 2

Tuckett’s Monthly Insurance Journal 1856 

13 3

The Library Company memberships 1840-1871 

13 4

The Library Company reports 1878 

13 5

The Library Company administration 1878-1886 

13 6

Miscellaneous, commentary, and ephemera 1876-1910, undated 

13 7-8

Small volumes 

Inventory of volumes

Sarah McCall account book, 1831

Diary - Writer Unidentified (leather), 1847-1849

Diary - Writer unidentified, 1862

Diary - Writer unidentified, 1867

Diary - Writer unidentified, 1886

Diary - Writer unidentified (list in front: “Celebrities we have met” ), 1888

Diary - Writer unidentified, 1890

Account book, 1834

Account book, 1847

Account book, 1875

Joseph II and his Court, by L. Muhlbach, 1864

Collection of ancient and Modern British Novels and Romances; Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortly Montague, 1837

Book of handwritten quotes (in English and French), undated

Notebook (hints on how to build houses), undated

Travel diary of Percy Keating, 1879

Letter book belonging to Dr. J. M. Keating



Inventory of items

Three unidentified photos in an album, undated

Photograph album (includes the name of the person photographed. And some dates. Inscribed, “? Margaret Keating from Her Affectionate Brother, John M. Keating.”), undated

Small unidentified child, undated

Portrait of Hubert Van Fidler, undated

Unidentified woman in chair, undated

Portrait of Mrs. William R. Mercer (nee Miss Chapman), undated

House built for William Griffith of Philadelphia, undated

Map of Pennsylvania with graphics (canvas folded book), 1866


Miscellaneous deeds 1749-1801 


Oversized items 

Inventory of flat files

Flat file 1: Indenture, 1832 (fragile)

Flat file 2: Fire insurance contracts - American Fire Insurance Company and Franklin Fire Insurance Company, 1828, 1848, 1868

Flat file 3: Ground rents and sheriff sales, 1845-1856

Flat file 4: Newspaper articles, 1787-1936

Flat file 5: Diploma, 1787; Citizenship document, 1798

Flat file 6: Petrum McCall diplomas, 1826

Flat files 1-6

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