|Joseph Price Papers
(1 linear feet)
©The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust Street * Philadelphia, PA 19107-5699
|Table of contents||
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.
|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|
|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.
|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|