Reed and Forde papers

Collection 0541

(9.5 Linear feet ; 21 boxes, 13 volumes, 4 flat files)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Forde, Standish, 1759-1806 and John Reed
Reed and Forde papers
Date [inclusive]
9.5 Linear feet ; 21 boxes, 13 volumes, 4 flat files
The Reed and Forde papers consist of the manuscript records of Philadelphia merchants John Reed and Standish Forde, ranging from 1759-1829. The pair engaged in the importation of goods from various European countries and the West Indies, selling out of their Philadelphia store as well as trading west of the Ohio Valley and along the Spanish settlements of the Mississippi, including New Orleans. The documents mainly relate to foreign commerce and include accounts, receipts, invoices of goods, bills of lading, insurance policies, charters of vessels, with detailed accounts of business transacted in England, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, the West Indies, and French and Spanish America. These materials describe the hazards of American shipping due to European wars, French and Spanish embargoes, capture by privateers and war vessels, litigations, trade and travel along the Mississippi and the prices and variety of goods traded, including grain, salt, furs, cloth, tea, metals, powder, rum, sugar, and wine. As a whole, this collection provides valuable information about shipping, trade, and western expansion in early modern America.

Preferred citation

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Reed and Forde papers (Collection 541), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Background note

John Reed and Standish Forde established their partnership as merchants near the end of the American Revolution (approximately 1778) in Philadelphia. The pair did well enough in a short number of years to import on credit a large quantity of dry goods from suppliers in England. In an attempt to liquidate their goods and avoid bankruptcy after the collapse of the post-war boom, Reed and Forde speculated in lands in Kentucky and western Virginia, establishing a store at Tenmile Creek and later, Natchez. From 1785 to 1792, they engaged in heavy trade with Spanish settlements along the lower Mississippi, including New Orleans in addition to settlements west of the Ohio. In addition to these ventures, they also loaned money to various prominent figures including Edmond Randolph and Robert Morris. The two managed to stave off their creditors until the death of Standish Forde in 1806 or 1807 at which time the partnership folded and John Reed was held responsible for the remainder of their debt.

Scope and Contents note

The contents of the Reed and Forde papers cover the years 1759-1829. The collection consists of twenty-five boxes of loose leaf original and copied manuscripts containing a rich quantity of correspondence to and from Reed and Forde both individually and as partners, as well as that of John Reed’s son, John Reed, Jr. The boxes also contain numerous documents related to shipping as well as land papers, legal documents, and French language documents. In addition to these boxes, the collection also contains thirteen bound volumes consisting of letterbooks, ledgers, day books, waste books, and account books. Correspondence ranges from 1789-1792, with correspondants including James Wilkinson, Daniel Clark, Daniel Cox, Captain Abner Dunn, Clement Biddle, Robert Morris, John Nicholson, J. Ball, Thomas Morgan, and numerous other merchants which illustrate the partners' business transactions and land ventures in the Floridas, New Orleans, Kentucky, Virginia, west of the Ohio, Mississippi, and other territories. Also included are land records, indentures, warrants for land in various estates ranging from 1764-1816; James Wilkinson's letter to Captain Dunn, on trade with Florida by Kentuckians, 1789; an agreement with James Wilkinson to ship goods to the Mississippi and the Spanish country, 1790; French legal papers concerning goods shipped to St. Pierre, Martinique and other places; Reed and Forde letterbooks, 1787, 1788-1790, 1793-1794, 1801-1803.

Ledgers range from 1776-1779 and 1779-1780; daybook, 1785-1791; account books, 1766-1784; daybook of Reed and Forde estates, 1808-1815; John Reed letterbook, 1808-1814; Joseph Boggs waste book, 1791-1792; Samuel Israel letterbook, 1804-1807; Joseph Graisbury (tailor) ledger, 1759-1773; Reed and Forde commonplace book, 1782-1790, which contains a list of invalids belonging to the Pennsylvania Line; memo booklets, 1777-1819.

Included among the business papers are: Forde and Reed bankbooks, Bank of Pennsylvania, 1793-1805; Bank of North America, 1782-1791; Bank of the United States, 1792-1796; Andrew Summers' bankbook of North America, 1790-1791; apprentice indentures, 1784-1795; bonds and notes, 1782-1801; lottery sale records, 1773-1802; Forde journal of a trip to New Madrid, Tenn., 1790, and one from New Madrid to New Orleans, 1790-1792; his certificate of membership in the Hibernian Society, 1793; John Reed bankruptcy papers, 1801-1814; will of Rebecca Cappers, 1793; and other items.

Also included in the collection are letters and papers pertaining to Robert Morris, ranging from 1795-1802 which deal with his financial difficulties and assignment of his property. Also included are papers and letters of John Reed, Jr. ranging from 1814-1823, describing his service in the Navy, his active duty in the West Indian waters on the U.S.S. Congress, Guerriére, Constitution, Independence, and Macedonian.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2014

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107


The collection is open for research.


Purchased, 1911.

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Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Biddle, Clement, 1740-1814
  • Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
  • Nicholson, John, 1757-1800.


  • Commerce--Philadelphia--18th century.
  • Commerce--Philadelphia--19th century.
  • Commerce--West Indies--18th century.
  • International trade--18th century.
  • International trade--19th century.
  • Maritime History--18th century.
  • Maritime History--19th century.
  • Maritime History--Spoliation.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Commerce--History--18th century.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Commerce--History--19th century.
  • West Indies--Commerce.

Collection Inventory