New Discoveries on the Powel Children Pt. II

In this post, I would like to explore my findings about Samuel Powel Jr., the first son of Samuel and Elizabeth Powel, from the transcripts in the“Bringhurst, Claypoole, Evans, Foulke and Parker papers” scrapbook, located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The following excerpt from the multi-page, transcribed memorandum (whether inserted into the Shippen bible, or loose, is unclear), is full of information about Elizabeth Powel’s Shippen ancestors, her parents, and her siblings. She included birth, baptismal, and death times and dates when applicable. While this information is important, the most valuable piece of this transcribed memorandum is the portion on her children, including her first son, Samuel Jr.

Samuel Powel Jr. was born on June 29, 1770, “at a half hour past Eight in the Morning”. A good friend of the Powels, Reverend Jacob Duché, baptized Samuel a month later. Deborah Norris Logan, a prominent Philadelphia Quaker, recollected on Samuel Powel’s birth in 1770, in a diary entry written shortly after the death of Elizabeth Powel in January 1830. She wrote, “I well remember when a girl at school hearing the Bells of Christ Church ring a merry peal for the birth of a Son which [Mrs. Powel] had, the only time I think I ever heard them upon such an occasion.”[1]Few other pieces of evidence exist about the short life of Samuel Jr., just a financial record for purchase of a child’s chair and a “child’s carriage”, located within the PhilaLandmarks’ collections.[2]

Based upon church and financial records, Samuel passed away less than a year later, in July of 1771.[3] Logan also wrote about the death of Samuel in her diary, in which she stated, “…the child did not survive its infancy, it died of the small pox for which it was inoculated by Dr. Morgan…” However, until the discovery of the following transcription, no written record from the Powels ever confirmed Samuel’s death from smallpox, or his inoculation by Dr. John Morgan.4

Deborah Norris Logan diary entry, caption: Diary entry, January 1830

Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Pennsylvania

However, with the discovery of the following transcription, it is now clear that Elizabeth and Samuel’s first son did indeed die of smallpox, at just under a year old. It was a dangerous and emotional choice to inoculate their son at only five months old. This could be why the Powels brought in their trusted friend, the highly educated doctor, John Morgan, to perform the procedure. Elizabeth wrote,

“Samuel Powel first Child of Samuel & Elizabeth Powel was born on Friday June ye 29th, 1770 at half an hour past Eight in ye Morning & was baptized on Saturday July 28thby the Rev’d Mr. Duché. Ann Willing [Fr], Tho.s Willing, John Morgan & Mary McCall being Sponsors; was inoculated for ye Small Pox on Sunday November ye 4thwhich not appearing as was expected, the Patient from whom he was inoculated was brought to him & Matter taken from his Arm rubbed afresh into the Child’s Arm; a Day or two after which, the Pustules appeared as was thought (by the Doctor Morgan) very favorably, and some of them appeared to go through the different Stages. On Wednesday June ye 26th1771 my dear Infant was seized with a severe La[?] which continued till Wednesday July ye 5th& on July ye 7ththe small Pox appeared, in the natural way was of the confluent kind & Entirely covered him in a dreadfull Manner, of this my sweet Angel languished till Sunday ye 14thwhen it pleased God in mercy to remove him at 4 o’Clock in the Morn.g & at 7 in the Evening his dear Remains were deposited in Christ Church burying Ground about 3 feet to ye Southward of his Grandfather, Charles Willing Esqr.”

Description of the birth and death of Samuel Powel Jr.

Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Powels themselves may have also chosen to be inoculated, though there is not an official record of this. In the Powel Ledger Book, located at HSP, there are several entries showing that Samuel paid in 1770-1775 for “medical attendance and advice”, from Drs. William Shippen and William Shippen Jr., both trusted family members and well-respected doctors, though this includes the birth of their four children. Samuel also paid Dr. John Morgan for “medicine and attendance on his family”, in 1775, which may correlate with the inoculation of Samuel Jr.[4]

John Morgan receipt book entry, caption: Entry in Samuel Powel’s 1773 receipt book

Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Smallpox inoculations happened both in America and abroad, as the Washington, Custis, Jefferson, and Jay families, among others, chose to inoculate themselves and their children throughout the 1770s, and shortly after the Revolutionary War ended. The youngest of the children inoculated within these families was little Martha Custis [Peter], George and Martha Washington’s first granddaughter, at only three months old. But, as shown in the transcription above, sometimes, though these inoculations “took”, the disease could return, even months later.

A poem from this same set of transcriptions appears just after the description of Samuel’s birth and death. It was written by his cousin, likely Hester Griffitts (1754-1809), and copied by Elizabeth Powel. Griffitts was the daughter of Abigail Powel Griffitts (1735-1797), the sister of Samuel Powel.

“On the Death of Samuel Powel jr. Aged one Year & two Weeks. Addressed to his Mother by his Affectionate Cousin Kitty Griffitts.

“Those Sparkling Eyes forever closed

Th’immortal Spirit fled

And the once lovely Babe reposed

Among the silent dead.

“His opening Charms no more shall please

Nor glad his Parents eye

“No more shall give an Heart felt Ease

Those pleasing Prospects fly.

“And Melancholy now takes place

Each gleam of Joy is o’er

Sad Grief’s depict’d in Each Face

And e’en fond Hopes no more.

“While Pity heaves a tender Sight

Religion lends her Aid

Teaches the Mind’s Ideal Eye

To see beyond the Grave.

“To upward soar to heavenly Realms

Mix in Eternal Day

Forbids pale Sorrow to ‘oerwhelm

And darts a clearing Ray.

“Of Hope well grounded & secure

The Cherub is in Bliss

Where no Temptations him allure

Bright Virtue’s Path to miss.

K. Gr______’s

A very touching tribute to the loss of the Powels’ son from their family. Elizabeth Powel herself may also have written a poem in memoriam to her son, as transcribed in David Maxey’s monograph, “A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1830)”.[5] Besides these transcriptions, I also recently found a 1937 newspaper article from The Daily Item, a newspaper published out of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, which talks about a diamond mourning ring once owned by Elizabeth Powel, with the inscription “Samuel Powel, Jun. O. B. July 14, 1771. AE 1 yr.”, that ended up in an antique store in Washington, D.C.[6] Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace the location of the ring as of 2019.

Though the Powels experienced four losses, they both established close relationships with their nieces and nephews and other family friends, which provided some relief and happiness after their losses. In my next post, I will discuss my discoveries in the bible transcriptions that relate to the other Powel children, and how these, along with known artifacts and records, create the narrative of the Powel children.

September 28, 1937 article from The Daily Item | Photo courtesy of


1.Diary, Volume 12 1828 June 7-1830 February 12, Logan family papers, 1638-1964 (bulk 1670-1872), (Collection 379), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

2. Financial entry: “William Savery -- 1770, December 10 – by his Acco.t for a Child’s Chair”pg. 134, Ledger (1760-1793), Powel Family Papers, The Library Company of Philadelphia.

3.“Christ Church Register Details: Burials.” Christ Church Historical Collections Online. Accessed March 30, 2019.; Financial entry: “George Claypoole – 1771, July 14 – by his Acco.t for a double coffin for my Son.”in, Ledger (1760-1793), Powel Family Papers, The Library Company of Philadelphia.

4.Diary, Volume 12 1828 June 7-1830 February 12, Logan family papers, 1638-1964 (bulk 1670-1872), (Collection 379), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

5. Financial entries for Drs. William Shippen and William Shippen Jr., pgs. 130, 137, 179 Ledger (1760-1793), Powel Family Papers, The Library Company of Philadelphia. ; pgs. 23-24, Maxey, David W. A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1830). Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2006.

6. Quoted in David Maxey’s A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743-1830). Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2006., pg. 24. The original copy of this poem, written in Elizabeth Powel’s hand, is now located in the unprocessed collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

7. The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), 28 Sep 1937, Tue, Page 4

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