New Discoveries on the Powel Children Pt. I

November 4 1792 letter from EWP to GW about his presidential resignation

Photo courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies Association

My name is Samantha Snyder, and I am one of the librarians at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington (GWNL), located at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. I first became interested in Elizabeth Willing Powel through a letter located within the collections of my library, dated November 4, 1792. Elizabeth wrote this letter to convince George Washington to not step down from the Presidency, and serve a second term. We pull the letter quite frequently for document viewings, and I first remembered it because of the date, which is my mother’s birthday (169 years earlier, that is). However, Elizabeth’s way of writing is what hooked me in. I started learning more about her life, and began constructing an idea for what I plan to be an eventual book. I first transcribed the 30 or so letters between she and George Washington located within the GWNL’s collection, and in January 2018, I met the staff of PhilaLandmarks, got a fantastic tour of the Powel House, and visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) for the first time. I have since spent the past year and a half doing in-depth research on Elizabeth’s life and legacy by studying and transcribing the primary sources from her life. Her primary sources consist of a vast amount of correspondence and financial records, mostly located at HSP. I have also been reading (and transcribing) the papers of her immediate and extended family, as well as other prominent Philadelphia families.

Elizabeth’s papers are extensive, and detailed. She kept meticulous financial records, some of which are located within the collections at PhilaLandmarks, and copies of the majority of her outgoing correspondence, which date from 1768-1826, with gaps during the 1770s. Samuel Powel’s papers are also located primarily at HSP, as well as one receipt book at Winterthur Museum & Gardens. While the correspondence in Samuel’s collection is scarce, his financial records provide an excellent example of a wealthy eighteenth century Philadelphia merchant and politician.

For the next two posts, I will highlight some of the findings I have found through my research with a scrapbook that will piece together a newly expanded narrative on the children born to Elizabeth and Samuel Powel. I first came upon this scrapbook when I was looking for the 1787 Journal of Samuel Powel, which documents his visit to Mount Vernon. We have a typescript of the journal at Mount Vernon, completed in 1949, which lists the source as the “Bringhurst, Claypoole, Evans, Foulke Papers”, located at the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP). After getting in touch with GSP, they told me these papers had since been moved to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. These “papers” turned out to be a scrapbook, indeed located within the collections at HSP.

Because I live in Virginia, it is not always easy for me to travel to Philadelphia, so I asked my librarian colleague at HSP if he could figure out what exactly this scrapbook was. To my surprise and joy, he informed me the scrapbook had likely been digitized by FamilySearch, who hosts HSP’s genealogy scrapbooks and family history materials. He connected me with his contact there, who had a hard time finding the file, because it was misnamed during the digitization process. Eventually she found it, and sent me the link to the scrapbook. This scrapbook is one of three volumes, which are full of information about the Bringhurst, Claypoole, Evans, Foulke, and allied family records, put together by Henry Carvill Lewis. The original journal I was looking for was useful, but it was another set of records transcriptions written by Julia Devaux Powel Foulke, daughter of John Hare Powel, and grandniece of Elizabeth Powel. She had transcribed materials loaned to her by her brother, Samuel Powel. The materials she transcribed are genealogical entries and memorandums that potentially were tipped into a bible originally owned by Esther Shippen (third wife of Elizabeth Powel’s great grandfather Edward Shippen), and eventually passed down to Elizabeth Willing Powel, then John Hare Powel, and lastly into the hands of Samuel Powel. Unfortunately, the location of the bible is currently unknown, but these transcriptions are a great substitute. The exact notes that list the state of ownership read:

Statement of owernship about how the bible passed down | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

(Transcription written by Julia DeVaux Foulke of a memorandum written by Samuel Powel (1818-1885), the original memorandum has not been found):

“(see a small folio Bible printed London, 1696 – which was originally the bible of Esther Shippen who was the third and last wife of the maternal great-grandfather of the aforesaid Mrs. Elizabeth Powel, and also the maternal great-great-aunt of Samuel Powel, the husband of Mrs. Elizabeth Powel.

*The said bible passed from Mrs. Elizabeth Powel to my Father John Hare Powel & he gave it to me as a family record some years ago (1851).”

Thomas Dobson bill for the return of re-binding the bible | Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

(Transcription written by Julia DeVaux Foulke, likely from a memorandum tipped into the bible, or a loose memorandum that has been lost):

“Memorandum – February the 21st 1801 –

This Bible was originally the property of Esther Shippen – the Third & last wife of my maternal great-grandfather Edward Shippen; - and also the maternal Great Aunt of my deceased husband Samuel Powel.

NB. This Holy Book is this Day returned to me by Thomas Dobson, Stationer, into whose Hands I had given it for the purpose of having it newly bound, as the original Cover & Binding was too much injured by Time to secure the Leaves and valuable Memorandums inserted by the various Possessors previous to its becoming the property of

Elizabeth Powel.”

So, why are these transcriptions so valuable? Check back in the next post to find out what I have uncovered about the oldest son of the Powel family children, Samuel Powel (1770-1771).

Memorandum about the return of the bible

Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

#SamuelPowel #ElizabethWillingPowel #JohnHarePowel #JuliaDeVauxFoulke #HistoricalBible

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