Potts family papers

Collection 0520

1683-1891, undated; bulk 1851-1880
(2.2 Linear feet ; 6 boxes)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
James, Isabella (Batchelder) "Mrs. T. P. James", 1819-
Potts family.
Potts family papers
1683-1891, undated; bulk 1851-1880
2.2 Linear feet ; 6 boxes
Finding aid prepared by Randi M. Kamine.
The Potts family papers includes the correspondence of Mrs. Thomas (Isabella) Potts James regarding the writing of her book: Thomas Potts, Junior, Who Settled in Pennsylvania, With a Historical-Genealogical Account of his Descendants to the Eighth Generation (1874). Thomas Potts, an ancestor of Isabella Potts James, was the founder of Pottstown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Documents in the trace the family genealogically. There is little Information on the particulars of the founding of Pottstown, however, these items provide insights into the general history of the area. Some documents include information on the foundries and mines owned and operated by the Potts family.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Potts family papers (Collection 520), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Background note

Thomas Potts came to America in December 1677 on the ship Shield, which sailed from Stockton England to Burlington, New Jersey. He came with his wife and children. Many of the passengers of the ship belonged to the Society of Friends (Quakers), of which the Potts family were members. John Potts, the oldest son of Thomas (born 1735) purchased 995 acres of land in Pennsylvania, about 60 miles from Philadelphia. Pottstown was founded in 1732. The Potts family established an iron forge in the town and became leading figures in the area.

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Scope and content note

Many of the documents are replies to letters that Mrs. Thomas (Isabella) Potts James (b.1819) wrote in gathering information for her book, Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior, who settled in Pennsylvania; with a Historic-genealogical Account of his Descendents to the Eighth Generation (1874). Some letters give information about the lives of prominent Potts family members. Other documents are segments with little information on where the documents came from. Most of the genealogy correspondence expresses appreciation for James’s efforts.

James was planning to write an historical sketch of the iron industry of New England. This project was abandoned because the patrons of this work, The American Iron and Steel Association, could not support it due to the Panic of 1873.

Letters will be of interests to genealogists. It is informative to see how much work, and how much correspondence, went into the production of James’ book. James’ system of gathering information from whomever she could find it shows her persistence and personality.

Aside from letters giving genealogy information, there are others with tidbits that give interesting insights into the times and culture. For example, here is a quote from a fragment of a letter (probably written in 1790) that tells of the intolerance toward Quakers (and the priority of this husband):

Returning from one of his frequent visits to Phila, he found his wife horse tied to a tree in front of this meeting house and dismounting from his own, he wrote upon the saddle the following: ‘Your walls are thick and your people are thin. The Devil’s without and Grace is within’. (Box 1 Miscellaneous.)

Despite the Potts Quaker pedigree, the family owned slaves, as indicated by wills in the collection. Also included is a letter written in 1776 announcing the arrest and banishment of several Pembertons, Henry Drinker, and other Quakers for their anti-Revolutionary War stance.

The collection includes a significant number of accounting and billing documents, and business correspondence. John Potts (1710-1768), eldest son of Thomas Potts, was a successful iron-master. Many of the accounting documents concern the foundries, mines and forges owned by John Potts. Researchers interested in the history of mining in the Eastern United States would find these of interest.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2022.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Access restrictions

Collection is open for research.


Gift of Mary I. Gozzaldi.

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pottstown (Pa.)--History--18th century.
  • Pottstown (Pa.)--History--19th century.
  • Pottstown (Pa.)--History.

Personal Name(s)

  • Potts, Thomas, Jr.


  • Genealogical correspondence.
  • Genealogy & local history.
  • Genealogy--Potts family.
  • Genealogy.
  • Memorials.
  • Pennsylvania--Genealogy.
  • Pottstown (Pa.)
  • Pottstown (Pa.)--Genealogy.

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James, Mrs. Thomas Potts. Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior: Who Settled in Pensylvania…, Privately Printed (1874).

Pottstown Historical Society. https://phspa.org

J.T Rothrock, "Biographical Sketch of Thomas Potts James." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, (Vol. 20, No. iii), 1882, p. 293-297.

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Genealogy correspondence, other correspondence, miscellaneous 1868-1888, undated 

Box inventory

Box 1, Folder 1: May 8, 1868–December 15, 1869. Genealogy Correspondence. Letters to Mrs. Thomas (Isabella) Potts James in reply to her requests for information on the extended Potts family. The letters track the efforts that Mrs. Thomas Potts James made to compile the information for her Memorial of Thomas Potts, Junior.

Box 1, Folder 2: February 2, 1870 – December 2, 1871. Continuation of correspondence as above in Folder 1

Box 1, Folder 3: March 6, 1872–December 18, 1872. Genealogy Correspondence. One of the more interesting letters is from William John Potts to Mrs. Thomas Potts James May 1, 1872 in which he takes issue with her findings.

Box 1, Folder 4: February 14, 1873-December 20, 1873. Genealogy Correspondence. A letter dated March 16, 1873 mentions the Great Fire of 1850 in Philadelphia.

Box 1, Folder 5: January 14, 1874-December 29, 1874. (After Memorial was published in 1874.)

Box 1, Folder 6: January 4, 1875-July 5, 1888. Genealogy Correspondence.

Box 1, Folder 7: Fragments of genealogies sent to James. Various dates, many fragments are unidentified; some identify the extended Potts family.

Box 1, Folder 8: February 12, 1871-January 23, 1875. Correspondence concerning the history of iron works. Book was researched by James but never published. (See June 23, 1875 letter from The American Iron and Steel Association.)

Box 1, Folder 9: Miscellaneous envelopes.

1 1-9

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Genealogies, correspondence, ephemera, articles, draft of Memorial of Thomas Potts, miscellaneous 1826-1880, undated 

Box inventory

Box 2, Folder 1: Genealogies, many undated, sent from various correspondents. Some are from extended Potts families.

Box 2, Folder 2: March 6, 1872–November 14, 1874. Miscellaneous correspondence.

Box 2, Folder 3: August 27, 1826-1880. Miscellaneous and undated letters, survey map.

Box 2, Folder 4: 1862-undated. Ephemera, Newspaper articles, other.

Box 2, Folder 5: Draft of Memorial of Thomas Potts. Fragments.

2 1-5

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Accounts, business papers, legal papers, miscellaneous 1691-1891, undated 

Box inventory

Box 3, Folder 1: 1775. Account book. Account of hauling coal.

Box 3, Folder 2: May 27, 1794-December 29, 1799. Business correspondence. Among some, the Potts brothers discuss their mutual business concerns.

Box 3, Folder 3: May 23, 1800-December 6, 1814. Business correspondence.

Box 3, Folder 4: April 4, 1815-May 8, 1891, undated. Business correspondence.

Box 3, Folder 5: October 17, 1683-March 16,1879. Wills, Death Notices, list of assets, many undated. Includes the will of Thomas Potts, Senior (1747). Also includes notes of receipts from debts owed by Anna Potts’ estate, settled in 1796. Shows Potts family owned slaves.

Box 3, Folder 6: August 6, 1691-December 30, 1826. Legal (court) documents. This folder includes some documents referring to the Pottstown coal and iron mines.

Box 3, Folder 7: List of furnaces and forges in Pennsylvania, undated.

3 1-7

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Account ledgers, receipts 1731-1850, undated 

Box inventory

Box 4, Folder 1: 1731-1795. Financial.

Box 4, Folder 2: 1796-1811. Financial.

Box 4, Folder 3: 1800-1850. Financial.

Box 4, Folder 4: Undated account ledgers.

4 1-4

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Potts family letters, miscellaneous 1777-1884, undated 

Box inventory

Box 5, Folder 1: June 16, 1884. Joseph Potts passport from State Department.

Box 5, Folder 2: Essay on Labadists. Author unknown, undated.

Box 5, Folder 3: [September 9, 1777]. Copy of letter announcing the arrest and banishment of several Pembertons, Henry Drinker, and others during the Revolutionary War.

Box 5, Folder 4: April 12, 1777-August 28, 1851. Personal and family letters.

Box 5, Folder 5: 1718-1834. Indentures, contracts. This folder includes some documents referring to the Pottstown coal and iron mines.

5 1-5

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Signature blocks and other stamps undated 


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