Joseph Price Papers
(1 linear feet)

Collection 1657

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust Street * Philadelphia, PA 19107-5699
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 1300 Locust Street Philadelphia, PA 19107-5699
Table of contents Abstract
Joseph Price, a Quaker farmer, was born in 1753. He was the fourth generation of a prominent Welsh family to live in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County. His ancestors, named "Rees," set sail from Wales on the ship Lyon in 1682. Price owned a farm near Merion Meeting, where he was much involved in public affairs. He was a militia captain and major and member of the Masons. He also operated a sawmill, was an innkeeper, a carpenter, and coffin-maker. He wed Mary Walter in 1797, and they had eight children. Joseph Price died in 1828.

Price's diaries, a compilation of daily notes recorded over a forty-year period, comprise the majority of the collection. His interests as a farmer, Quaker, family man, neighbor, and tradesman are chronicled. Also included in the collection are a harvest book, 1816-1823; account books, 1794-1796 and 1820-1822; the Blockley Township "Return of Taxables," 1783; and minutes of the commissioners who selected the site of the Montgomery Almshouse, 1806-1807.

Background note
Joseph Price, a Quaker farmer, was the fourth generation of the Rees family to reside in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. His great-grandparents, Edward and Mabby Rees, set sail from Bala, Merionethshire, Wales, on the ship Lyon, and arrived at the banks of the Schuylkill River near Pencoyd on August 14, 1682. Edward Rees was one of the founders of the Lower Merion Monthly Meeting. The name "Price" derives from the Welsh "Ap-Rees," "Ap" meaning "son of" or "descended from."

Joseph's father was John Price, who died June 20, 1792. His mother, Mary, died March 18, 1808. John Price, his brother, was born March 16, 1772, and died October 30, 1801. A sister, Hannah, died January 15, 1796. Another sister, Elizabeth "Betsy" Price, was born ca. 1776 and died October 21, 1789. On June 1, 1797, Price wed Mary Walter. He was 43, she 27. Their first home was "Locust Hill." They had eight children. Mary died February 27, 1828, after a long illness.

Price was an innkeeper, carpenter, sawmill operator, and coffin builder. He fought as a private in the American Revolution and attained the rank of major, Cavalry division, during the War of 1812. He was an elder in the Merion Friends Meeting. In 1794, Price was also involved in the construction of the Lancaster Turnpike. He cut and set the milestones along the new highway, the first of its kind in the country. In 1806, he served on a committee, appointed by the County Commissioners, to procure a site for the Montgomery Almshouse. Price died several months after his wife Mary, in 1828.

Scope and content
Price began his diary when he was thirty years old. He made his last entry a few days before his death at age seventy-five. With the exception of gaps from July 20, 1810 to December 21, 1816; March 12, 1819 to April 23, 1820; and August 4, 1820 to January 3, 1824; it is a remarkably complete and descriptive chronicle of forty years of life. His diary describes his daily activities, including his work as a farmer and carpenter. Price commented on religion, politics, current events, and local news. He also faithfully recorded the weather each day.

The harvest book records seasonal work done by Price, his sons and neighbors. Entries mention sowing, planting, and harvesting of their crops. Price's penchant for descriptive narratives offers more than a cut-and-dried report on seasonal crop plantings, yields, and prices. Account books chronicle his work on the Lancaster Turnpike.

The "Return of Taxables" was prepared for the year 1783 but does not contain tax figures. Columns contain such headings as property owners or "keepers," occupations, and acreage owned. The name of Edward Heston, a friend of Price's, appears on the cover, but it is unclear who owned the book.

Commissioners' minutes report meetings held over a four-month period in 1807 to select a site for the Montgomery Almshouse. Price and other committee members spent January and February traveling to locations. In March they selected a site in Norristown.

Series I. Diaries 1783-1828 4 boxes
Series II. Account books 1794-1796 & 1820-1822 2 folders
Series III. Harvest book 1817-1823 1 folder
Series IV. Return of taxables 1783 1 folder
Series V. Minutes of commissioners 1806-1807 1 folder

Administrative information
The collection is open for research.

Provenance unknown.

Preferred citation
Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Joseph Price Papers (Collection 1657), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Processing information
Processed by Monica Crystal, August 2003. Processing made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Alternate formats
Joseph Price's diary has been transcribed and can be found online at the Lower Merion Historical Society website :

Additional information
Separated material

Related material

Becker, Gloria O. Mill Creek Valley Architecture, Industry, & Social Change in a Welsh Tract Community 1682-1800. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1984.

Develin, Dora Harvey. Historic Lower Merion & Blockley. Philadelphia, PA: George H. Buchanan Company, 1927.

________. Some Historical Spots in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania: Eastland Publishing Company, Fernwood, PA, 1906.

Lower Merion Historical Society. The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion. Ardmore, PA: Diane Publishing Company, 2000.

Maier, Phyllis C. & Mary Mendenhall Wood. Lower Merion-A History. Broomall, PA: Havertown Printing Company, 1988.

McKeehan, Charles L. Historic Merion--A Paper read at the Fifty-first Annual Dinner of the Merion Cricket Club, December 2, 1916. Merion, PA 1916.

Added entries
  • Agriculture--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Agriculture--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Alcoholism--18th century
  • Alcoholism--19th century
  • Blacksmithing--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Blacksmithing--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Carpentry and building--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Carpentry and building--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Coffin industry--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Coffin industry--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Country life--Pennsylvania--18th century
  • Country life--Pennsylvania--19th century
  • Logging--Pennsylvania
  • Manners and customs--Pennsylvania--18th century
  • Manners and customs--Pennsylvania--19th century
  • Masonry--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Masonry--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Mills and mill-work--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Mills and mill-work--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike (Pa.)
  • Price, Mary, 1770-1828
  • Quaker businesspeople--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Quaker businesspeople--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Quaker church buildings--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Quaker church buildings--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Reese family
  • Society of Friends--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Society of Friends--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Taverns (Inns)--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Taverns (Inns)--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Tax assessment--Pennsylvania--18th century
  • Tax assessment--Pennsylvania--19th century
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Veterans
  • Weather--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Weather--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Wheelwrights--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--18th century
  • Wheelwrights--Pennsylvania--Lower Merion Township--19th century
  • Yerex family
  • Contributors
  • Price, Joseph, 1753-1828
  • Contact information
    The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
    1300 Locust Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19107-5699



    Sponsor:Processing made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
    Collection overview

    Series I. Diaries 1783-1828 Boxes 1-4

    Whether logging timber, looking for sheep that wandered to a neighbor's field, conducting business with friends, or going into town to consult with a doctor about his brother's drinking, Price was never idle. His diaries describe his rounds of chores and, depending on the time of year, mention farming: "June 22nd, 1820 Wind S.W. & fine warm hay day Son George John Holland & Wm. Prest boy here Mowing In new Orchard very Excelent fine Crop of Timothy & Clover at pike & at Coopers home to dinner Rakeing hay heavy thunder to west one Gust went N the other to S about none here at Robesons Evening." He starts another entry about potato-digging with a poem: "Novr. 5th 1800 Wind I gess about West S. West it has Such of Rest, but I will Go to my nest, I think will be best; and Let them Gess at the rest-- for I am no poet I protest."

    It is interesting to note that although he wrote for forty years, he seldom reflected on evenings at home with his wife, Mary. When he did, it was not flattering: "November 12, 1802 . . . had a great spat with wife because I stayd tea last night at Jones did not come home sooner and take care of things and the eternally abbraiding me about my poverty or one thing or other . . . the Lord knows I have enough to try me with an Illnatured, Illittered woman." "March 30, 1803 . . . much disturbed with the reflections of my wife, who is frequent reflecting and abraiding me on things that happened befor I was married."

    Price recorded the weather daily, and sometimes in vivid detail, as with this description of a late snowstorm: "May 8, 1803, snowing most violent when I got up. Broke the Lombardy trees, apple trees, pair trees bent down, broke many limbs. Perhaps there never was such a snowstorm so late in this part of the country. Snow had an alarming appearance this morn to see the contrast, the grape leaves of tree so green, the snow so white interwoven together."

    Many of Price's entries reflect his activities as a tavernkeeper, carpenter, and coffin-maker. In 1798, Price built an inn on the edge of his land, near the Turnpike's six-mile stone, and named it "Old William Penn." As a Quaker, he suffered pangs of guilt at operating an inn. Nonetheless, he enthusiastically ordered the required furnishings and supplies and looked forward to plying the Conestoga wagon trade that traveled the turnpike. He soon found, however, that keeping a tavern was not as profitable as he had anticipated. The drivers preferred to sleep in their wagons in good weather and only purchased drinks or feed for their horses. The demand on the Prices to be available to their customers both day and night was burdensome. When Samuel Drake offered to lease the inn a few years later, Price readily agreed.

    In 1803, he built a house for his first cousin, Rees Price, a prosperous farmer and, like Price, a Revolutionary War veteran. All joined in to help at the roof raising, even Thomas Adams, son of the ex-president, who was living in Philadelphia at the time. A great social occasion, the men looked forward to a jolly good visit with plenty of food and drink.

    In 1805 Price received a commission to build the Merion Friends caretaker's house on land given to the Meeting by John Dickinson. In June of 1812, trustees of the Lower Merion Academy selected Price and another contractor to construct the Lower Merion Benevolent Schoolhouse. They were charged with finding materials for building "a good and substantial stone house for a school and the accommodation of a Family, fifty five feet front and thirty six deep, three stories high in the front and two stories and Cellar back." The structure can still be seen along Bryn Mawr Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.

    Price was often cash poor and either was owed money and could not collect it or he owed money and could not pay it. The situation worried and upset him as is illustrated in his entry for February 15, 1804 in which he writes "I am deprest for want of money to pay 8 dollars I borr. Of Polly Yirkes. I have a good deal owing to me."

    As a coffin maker, Price was always looking at death. He buried many children, but his entries, like that of May 13th, 1788, are made as a matter of course. "Making a Coffin for Ben Holland's Child and sowd 21/2 bushels of Oates in midlefield raind a Little wind N.E. great Deal of Lightening and thunder."

    In addition to describing his own work, Price often noted community news and events. He graphically described a graining house explosion in October 1804, in which several men were gravely burned: "About 11 o'clock, opposite the Powder Mill in Hagy's Road, the Graining house blew up . . . perhaps not much above a minute before we were their, two men badly Burnt, one jumpt in the Race, he not so bad to appearance, the other's belly, privates, face, head, nay almost all over burnt crispt, he can't Live in most excruciating pain from his complaints, wanted some of us to kill him."

    Even the putting down of an old warhorse was duly noted: "April 15, 1805 Sam'l W. Jarvis gave Briar Hoffman one Dollar to shoot his old horse that they have had this 20 years. They say he belong to the French army when they were here in the Revolutionary war. No doubt but is very old. Great mourning amongst the people about his killing the horse."

    There were civic duties at the Friends Meeting House: "November 29, 1800, Meet the Society on Election day. I decline being Secretary." He was a major in the militia: "July 18, 1801 Off to Norristown to meet the troop, 37 of us performed many maneuvers. Dined in Court House. Drank good deal of Madeira wine." There were horse races: "October 1, 1800, fine day, set off to York Road to see horse race. 3 horses run 3 miles, a Sorrel horse from Maryland took 2 heats and won the Pirs 200 dollars."

    Although Joseph Price's formal education was minimal, he was an avid reader and particularly enjoyed history. "June 12, 1803, Afternoon at home reading history, England, Bloody Mary's reign." "I at home all day, reading the history of the American Revolution wrote by Ramsay." On trips into town, he often purchased books for his children.

    Price recorded historic events such as Richard Allen presiding at a local funeral in April 1797 and the burial of Alexander Hamilton on July 17, 1804. He mentions Thomas Jefferson's Inauguration: "March 4, 1801, Beautiful day, this the day the new President Jefferson to take his seat. Great rejoicing amongst the Democrats." He recorded a political discussion with neighbors, and his thoughts on the government: "David Roberts with up to Bevin. Tunis, Morris pint Wine Then walk with them to Streapers . . . Young & McClenechan Bouth opposed to the Executive part of our Government & full of French Politic, I am opposed . . . Let a man Raise by his Merrit then we might [have] some good of him."

    Price enjoyed working, visiting and drinking with his friends and business associates: "January 1st 1807 Wind N W White frost & I think it is a little Moderated Yerkus & I of[f] to Look at the Ice & at David Roberts & Jont Jones him & Ladys in town I home & dined on a potpye, afternoon at John Thomas . . . I back & went to Rees Prices put a lock on & Sup on a fine pig & oysters I think I never Eat So many at one time before & Drank Chery bounce till back about 9 OC-- Loyd Jones & wife Paul Jur & wife & James Wilson made the party Spent 51/2 to day at Yerkus's."

    Joseph Price was a man guided by the moral principles imposed on him by his religion. But he had weaknesses and could be influenced by others. In July 30, 1802, reflecting on his health and the temptations of drinking, Price wrote: "I feel some symptoms of the gout in my feet a most extraordinary thing. Naterly thin but arose from drinking wine last year and in the winter beer . . . Lord give me fortitude to resist the temptations of drink."

    In the last year of his life, Price often mentioned in his diary that he was ailing with a bad back and knees, but there are not many details about medical treatment or other causes. His last entry on September 15th is brief, but optimistic: "Wind N W & fine day." Joseph Price died three days later. The man who had fashioned coffins for, and interred, many of his friends and neighbors, was then laid to rest in Merion Meeting burial ground.

    Series II. Account books 1794-1796, 1820-1822 Box 5

    Except for paying B. Tunis three dollars for hewing gateposts, Price lists few details for early accounts. Later entries are for contract work on the turnpike for hauling gravel and earth.

    Series III. Harvest book 1817-1823 Box 5

    The book marks the seasons of work done by Price, his sons, and neighbors. Entries mention sowing, planting, and harvesting of their crops. Price notes such things as the fluctuation of crop prices, the decimation of a corn crop by grubs, killing hogs, and weather conditions.

    The first three pages of the book are torn and contain only the lower half. The first complete entry begins on May 12, 1817, and continues, with several gaps, through November 21, 1823.

    Series IV. Return of taxables 1783 Box 5

    This volume lists taxable property and items for Blockley Township in 1783. Although the taxable property was recorded, the amount of taxes owed was never noted. The name "Edward Heston, Cynwyd, Montgomery County Pa." is written on the cover. Heston was an old friend of Price's who served in the legislature. It is unclear who kept the account book, but Price's December 26, 1798, diary entry mentions visits to several property owners: "Set off after breakfast & up to Curwens, begun with his return of his Property, a new thing. Take account of windows & value dewing (doing) houses," and "Made 8 places viz got their acct. of house, land." Column headings list property owners, their occupations, total acreage owned, dwelling houses, barns and stables, inmates' names, single foremen's names, Negroes and mulattoes, horses and mares, horned cattle, sheep, riding chairs, ferries, grist mills, saw mills, "distillerys," the number of white inhabitants, land out of the county, and where it was situated.

    Series V. Minutes of commissioners 1806-1807 Box 5

    The commissioners met in Norristown, twelve times over a four-month period, to discuss, plan, and secure a site for the Montgomery Almshouse. They began with an agreement to receive proposals for possible sites. Price and the committee received fifteen applications. January and February of 1807 were spent traveling to view these locations. Price was the only member of the committee who showed up to view the Warder property.

    At the beginning of March, the committee agreed on the Vanderslice site. At the last minute, Mr. Vanderslice sent his son to the meeting to say that he had changed his mind. The March 9, 1807, entry notes that Price was displeased because "the site was the only place that had all the right ingredients." The committee met on March 16th to make an alternate selection and chose the Gutwalt site in Norristown. The next day Price recorded an incident at the inn where they were staying: "was snowing pretty hard . . . my mare run off from Garver's tavern. The Boy rode after about two miles & caught her. Gave him 25 cents." That night at the inn, relieved of their site-finding duties, Price and the committee had an uproarious time talking and joking about who should sleep with whom in the only available three beds.

    Price met with the directors, commissioners and Mr. and Mrs. Gutwalt on April 3rd. "Gutwalt & wife Came & Executed the deed." The commissioners gave their bond in five equal payments, the first to be paid November 27th, the remainder in four equal parts annually. Price again noted in the minutes that traveling home was very difficult because the snow drifted as deep as four feet in places, and it was unusually cold.

    Detailed inventory

    Series I. Diaries 1783-1828

    Diary Jan. 1, 1789-Dec. 21, 1792
    Box 1: 1

    Diary Dec. 22, 1792-Apr. 20, 1795
    Box 1: 2

    Diary Apr. 10, 1795-May 14, 1797
    Box 1 : 3

    Account due [removed from diary] Nov. 1, 1791
    Box 1 : 4

    Bill for Services Rendered [removed from diary] n.d.
    Box 1 : 5

    Meeting notice[removed from diary] Mar. 14, 1794
    Box 1 : 6

    Diary May 15, 1797-May 3, 1799
    Box 2 : 1

    Diary July 2, 1800-Dec. 27, 1801
    Box 2 : 2

    Diary Dec. 28, 1801-Apr. 30, 1803
    Box 2 : 3

    Diary May 1, 1803-May 26, 1804
    Box 2 : 4

    Discharge of loan [removed from diary] n.d.
    Box 2 : 5

    Troop orders [removed from diary] Oct. 3, 1803
    Box 2 : 6

    Diary May 27, 1804-Dec. 6, 1805
    Box 3 : 1

    Diary Dec. 8, 1805-Apr. 29, 1807
    Box 3 : 2

    Diary June 16, 1806-Aug. 16, 1806
    Box 3 : 3

    Diary Aug. 17, 1806-Sept. 17, 1806
    Box 3 : 4

    Diary May 14, 1807-July 18, 1807
    Box 3 : 5

    Diary Nov. 1, 1807-July 17, 1810
    Box 3 : 6

    Diary Dec. 22, 1816-Mar. 11, 1819
    Box 4 : 1

    Diary Apr. 24, 1820-May 3, 1826
    Box 4 : 2

    Diary May 3, 1826-Sept. 15, 1828
    Box 4 : 3

    Series II. Account books 1794-1796, 1820-1822

    Account book 1794-1796
    Box 5: 1

    Account book 1820-1822
    Box 5: 2

    Series III. Harvest book 1817-1823

    Harvest book 1817-1823
    Box 5: 3

    Series IV. Return of taxables 1783

    Return of taxables 1783
    Box 5: 4

    Series V. Minutes of commissioners 1806-1807

    Minutes of commissioners 1806-1807
    Box 5: 5