Jasper Yeates papers

Collection 0740

(19.2 Linear feet ; 50 boxes)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Yeates, Jasper, 1745-1817.
Jasper Yeates papers
Date [inclusive]
19.2 Linear feet ; 50 boxes
Finding aid prepared by Michael Fiorelli.
Processing was made possible by a generous donation from Maxine Lewis.
Mixed materials [Box]
Jasper Yeates (1745-1817) was a leading lawyer in Lancaster County and associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; the collection contains his notes on trials, evidence, arguments, depositions, and judicial opinions rendered in numerous legal cases. Making up a large portion of the papers is his personal correspondence with noted men such as Edward Burd, Thomas Hartley, Richard Peters, William Tilghman, and others, which deals with political events, public questions, and congressional and administrative affairs. There is also Yeates's personal correspondence with his wife Sarah Yeates. The collection also contains papers of John Yeates that relate chiefly to commerce and shipping between the Middle Atlantic colonies and Barbados, Antigua, and other islands in the West Indies. Other items include Redmond Conyngham letters and essays, Peter Grubb estate papers and accounts, Jasper Yeates Cunningham family papers, the work Chronology of the History of the World, and Yeates family genealogical notes.

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Jasper Yeates, the son of John Yeates (1705-1765) and Elizabeth Sidebotham (1704-1763; also spelled Sidebottom), was born on April 17, 1745 in Philadelphia. His grandfather, Jasper Yeates (1670-1720), a native of Yorkshire, came to Pennsylvania in the late seventeenth century and became a successful merchant as well as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Province of Pennsylvania (1691-1711). The elder Jasper Yeates's third son, John, married Elizabeth Sidebotham in 1730, and went on to become a prominent merchant in Barbados and Pennsylvania throughout the 1740s and 1750s. After experiencing financial difficulties he was commissioned comptroller of customs at Poconoke, Maryland, a position he held until his death.

Jasper Yeates earned a bachelor's degree from the College of Philadelphia in 1761, and shortly thereafter he went on to study law. After his admission to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1765, Yeates started his law practice in Lancaster where he became the most prominent lawyer of the county. In 1767 he married Sarah Burd, the daughter of Colonel James Burd and Sarah Shippen, and together they had at least four children, John, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Catherine. Yeates led a distinguished legal career until his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1791, but he also performed many public functions. He was the chairman of the Lancaster Committee of Correspondence in 1775, which communicated with the second Continental Congress. He also served as captain in the Lancaster militia under Colonel Matthias Slough and played a vital role with the organization and equipping of the militia. His militia duties were interrupted the following year, however, when the Continental Congress appointed Yeates to a Commission of Indian Affairs to negotiate a treaty with the Lenape (Delaware) Indians at Fort Pitt. The Commission's efforts resulted in the Treaty of Fort Pitt in 1778, which gave American soldiers the right to travel through Delaware territory, among other things. He wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin accepting the post on July 6, 1776. In 1787, Yeates, Chief Justice Thomas McKean, and James Wilson served as delegates to the Pennsylvania State Convention which ratified the U. S. Constitution. Following ratification, Yeates became a Federalist, and on August 8, 1794, George Washington appointed him to a commission to negotiate with the participants of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. The commission produced a treaty titled "Treaty between Com’n & Committee of Insurgents, Sept. 2, 1794," which guaranteed the rebels a pardon.

The only negative mark on Jasper Yeates's legal career was his impeachment by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1803, along with Chief Justice Edward Shippen and Thomas Smith, for charging a man named Thomas Passmore with contempt of court. Yeates and his colleagues were acquitted by the Senate in 1805, however, and Yeates continued to serve until his death in 1817. During his tenure, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined British statutes would remain Pennsylvania law. This work culminated in the publishing of the Digest of Select British Statutes (1807). A collection of his notes on the Supreme Court was published posthumously as Reports of Cases adjudged in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: with some select cases at Nisi Prius, and in the Circuit Courts (4 volumes, 1817-1818).

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Scope and Contents

The Jasper Yeates papers (1733-1876; bulk 1733-1816) contain information on the business affairs of Yeates and his father John Yeates, as well as their correspondence, which further illuminates their professional careers and family matters. Jasper Yeates's legal papers form the bulk of this collection. His tenure as a lawyer in Lancaster and associate justice of the Supreme Court offers a look into the legal history of Pennsylvania. The collection is divided into three series: Series 1, Business and Financial, which spans from 1740 to 1876, Series 2, Correspondence, spanning from 1733 to 1876, and Series 3, Legal and Miscellaneous, spanning from 1737 to 1831. Despite the divisions of the collections, the subject matter of the series often overlaps, as people and events that appear in Series 1 often appear in Series 2 and 3. Papers in each series are arranged mostly in chronological order.

Series 1 primarily consists of bills, invoices, and receipts concerning Jasper Yeates's clients while he was a lawyer in Lancaster and provides a look into his own personal expenses. This series also contains John Yeates's invoices, bills, and receipts when he was a merchant in Barbados and Pennsylvania. The end of the first series includes minimal material on the business affairs of Jasper Yeates's daughter Catherine Yeates.

Series 2 has a small number of John Yeates's letters from other merchants in the Caribbean which provides a look at commerce with the West Indies. The highlight of this series, however, is its insight into Jasper Yeates's life during the Revolutionary War and the early Republic. It contains correspondence with his wife as well as prominent Pennsylvanians such as Edward Burd, Sarah Yeates's brother and future associate justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, as well as James Hamilton, one of the founders of Lancaster. Also included is a rough draft of the Lancaster Committee’s letter to the Pennsylvania Continental Congress, and correspondence concerning the Lancaster militia and the Commission of Indian Affairs. The correspondence and speeches of Yeates's son-in-law Redmond Conyngham and his grandson, Jasper Yeates Conyngham, round out the collection. Other items of interest include the Yeates geneaology, meteorological observations, and a book titled Chronology of the History of the World, from the creation to 1750. Series 3 contains John Yeates papers as a lawyer in Lancaster and an Associate Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Yeates's Supreme Court papers contain his notes on the arguments, evidence, in legal cases as well as the opinions of his colleagues. The end of the collection contains Redmond Conyngham's legal papers and undated materials.

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Overview of Arrangement

Series I. Business and Financial (1740-1876); 1.8 linear feet

Series 2. Correspondence (1733-1876); 2 linear feet

Series 3. Legal and Miscellaneous (1737-1831); 15.4 linear feet.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania ; 2011.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Access note

The collection is open for research.

Processing Information note

As of July 2011, we have been unable to locate the 1718 survey of Richard Hill’s plantation by Jacob Taylor. Once found it will be added to the finding aid.

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Related Materials

Related Materials

Related collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Edward Shippen Burd collection (Am .912356), 1798-1858

Shippen Family papers (Collection 595), 1701-1856

Shippen Family papers (Collection 595C), 1749-1860

Yeates-Burd collection (Collection 1494), 1733-1894

Related collections at other institutions:

Yeates, Aungst, Collection, 1765-1810, Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster, Pa.

Yeates, Carson, Collection, 1700-1874, Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster, Pa.

Yeates, Lancaster County Historical Society Collection, 1699-1934, Lancaster County Historical Society, Lancaster, Pa.

Jasper Yeates Papers, 1760-1816, American Philisophical Society, Philadelphia, Pa.

Jasper Yeates family papers, 1726-1830, MG 137, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pa.

Jasper Yeates Papers, 1781-1817, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Pennsylvania--Politics and government.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Commerce.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.).

Personal Name(s)

  • Burd, Edward, 1751-1833.
  • Conyngham, Jasper Yeates, ca. 1810-ca. 1880.
  • Conyngham, Redmond, 1781-1846.
  • Grubb, Peter, 1692-1754.
  • Hartley, Thomas, 1748-1800.
  • Hill, Richard, 1673-1729.
  • Peters, Richard, Jr., 1744-1828.
  • Taylor, Jacob.
  • Tilghman, William, 1756-1827.
  • Yeates, John, 1705-1765.


  • Chronology, Historical.
  • Decedents’ estates--Pennsylvania.
  • Middle Atlantic States--Commerce.
  • Pennsylvania--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Pennsylvania--History.
  • Plantation.
  • Plantations--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • Shipping--Middle Atlantic States.
  • West Indies--Commerce.

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Jordan, John W., ed. Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978, 400-407.

Keen, Gregory B. "The Descendants of Jöran Kyn, the Founder of Upland" (continued), The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 7, no. 2 (1883): 200-205.

Keen, Gregory B. "The Descendants of Jöran Kyn, the Founder of Upland" (continued), The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 7, no. 2 (1883): 200-205.

Wood, Jerome H., Jr. "The Town Proprietors of Lancaster, 1730-1790," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 96, no. 3 (July 1972): 346-368

Pittman, R. Carter. "Jasper Yeates's Notes on the Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, 1787," The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 22, no. 2 (April 1965): 301-318.

Landis, Charles I. "Jasper Yeates and His Times," The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 46, no. 3 (1922): 199-231.

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Collection Inventory

 Series 1: Business and financial (1740-1876) 

Series Description

Box 1 of this series contains a wealth of information on colonial trade between Pennsylvania and Barbados, Antigua, and other islands in the West Indies. Invoices from merchant ships provide a look into the prices of commodities as well as the contents of the ships. Box 1 also contains some invoices for the expenses of Jasper Yeates's militia as well as bills for the issue of goods to Indians. The bulk of this series (Boxes 1-3) contains Jasper Yeates's business papers regarding his clients, including the Grubb family. Jasper Yeates’ receipts from his own personal expenses and business ventures appear throughout the collection. Box 3 contains the expenditures of Jasper Yeates's son, John (1772-1844). Box 5 includes the business correspondence of Elizabeth Yeates Conyngham and her son Jasper.


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 Series 2: Correspondence (1733-1876, undated) 

Series Description

This series contains correspondence on a wide variety of topics including the Caribbean trade of the mid-eighteenth century, the historical events of the American Revolution, and Jasper Yeates's legal career. Also included are the Peter Grubb estate papers, court circuit routes, and court schedules. The end of this series contains some miscellaneous material concerning Redmond Conyngham and Japer Yeates Conyngham. Box 6 contains John Yeates's correspondence with other merchants in the West Indies, primarily Barbados. While the majority of letters concern business affairs, sometimes other topics of interest emerge, including the state of trade and the conditions on the islands.

Boxes 7-8 often reflect the issues of the Revolutionary War and the early Republic. Box 7, Folders 1 and 2 contain some letters to John Yeates, but the remainder of these boxes contain letters from Jasper Yeates's friends such as Richard Peters and Thomas Hartley, and his wife, Sarah. A few letters from Sarah Yeates's friends and her brother Edward appear in this box as well. These letters often reflect on their friendships and contemporary political issues such as the Stamp Act. During the Revolutionary War, the correspondence becomes more oriented to the political issues of the time period, as it contains material related to the Lancaster Committee of Correspondence (Box 7, Folder 9) and Yeates's militia (Box 7, Folder 10). It also contains correspondence related to the Commission of Indian Affairs, including his letter to Benjamin Franklin in 1776. Letters in the collection discuss important events such as the Continental Army’s victory at Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris. Box 8 contains a letter from Edmund Randolph regarding a committee to negotiate with the participants of the Whiskey Rebellion.

Box 9 contains some undated material, circuit routes, and court schedules. Of special interest are court cases that are particularly important to Yeates's career, including the Thomas Passmore case which led to his impeachment. Other cases involve famous figures such as Aaron Burr, Benjamin Rush, and the Penn family. The box includes indentures, a list of executions, and the leases of William Hamilton.

Box 10 contains bills and receipts for Jasper Yeates's accounts with General Edward Hand (1783-1795), meteorological observations, legal papers regarding Peter Grubb’s estate, Edward Shippen’s accounts with George Craig of Chester, and a book titled Chronology of World History from Creation (1760). Box 11 contains Redmond Conyngham’s correspondence and political speeches on miscellaneous subjects, as well as his son Jasper Yeates Conyngham’s correspondence. The box also includes the Yeates family genealogy and provenance data.


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 Series 3: Legal and Miscellaneous (1737-1831, undated) 

Series Description

The bulk of this series contains papers from Jasper Yeates's time as a lawyer and as a Supreme Court justice. They contain his notes of argument as well as his verdicts. Also included are printed versions of the acts of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, lists of distringas (writs of seizure), and circuit court issue lists. The early boxes often address issues that are pertinent to the Revolutionary War. For instance, Box 13, Folder 4 contains papers related to the Treaty of Pittsburgh, while the treaty itself is in Folder 6. The seventh folder contains a case concerning loyalists who harbored British soldiers, and similar cases are documented in Box 15.

Records of court cases concerning the legal and social status of African Americans in the wake of Pennsylvania’s gradual abolition law of 1780 appear throughout the collection and often include the Supreme Court’s notes. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to resolve the confusion over the interpretation of the law. Box 25, Folder 1 contains documents from a relevant case in which a black indentured servant named Flora sued for her freedom on the grounds that her master had died. Some papers in Box 27, Folder 2 document a case involving a man trying to keep two mulatto indentured servants past the age of 28, the legal limit according to the law of 1780. Box 44, Folder 4 contains records of a notable case called Commonwealth ex rel Louis vs. Holloway, which involved South Carolina representative Langdon Cheves's slave Louis. Cheves had resided in Pennsylvania longer than six months, the legal limit a slave could reside in Pennsylvania before being set free. Thus, Louis argued that he was free as well, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cheves.

Boxes 48 through 50 contain undated papers and some miscellaneous material, including a "commonplace book of enigmas."


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