University of Delaware Library

Special Collections

A Manuscript Sampler


The Delaware Collection is a constantly-evolving collection which strives to document all aspects of history and life in Delaware from the prehistoric period and earliest plans for settlement by the Swedes in 1624 to contemporary life. The collection includes the history, culture, domestic, business, and social aspects of Delaware as documented in correspondence, manuscripts, legal documents, diaries, journals, account books and ledgers, maps, printed ephemera, family papers, business records, archival material, photographs and graphic materials, and miscellaneous items.

The Delaware Signers

One of the most popular and more competitive activities of high-spot American autograph collectors has been the collecting of original manuscripts, documents, and even signatures of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence. Displayed here are original documents produced by the three Delawareans who signed the Declaration of Independence: Thomas McKean, George Read, and Caesar Rodney.

Thomas McKean, 1734-1817.
Autograph letter signed, to Governor [George] Clinton, 21 September 1781, 1 p.

At the time he wrote this letter, McKean was serving as President of the United States Congress; his recipient, George Clinton, was Governor of the State of New York.

Gift of Rev. and Mrs. Alex W. Boyer

George Read, 1733-1798.
Autograph letter signed, to William and Samuel McAntier, 19 July 1786, 2 pp.

In addition to signing the Declaration of Independence, George Read helped draft the Delaware State Constitution and was active in state government, serving for one period as President (Governor) of Delaware. He was also was also a member of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. A prominent attorney, in this letter Read is advising two of his clients in some pending litigation.

Gift of Rev. and Mrs. Alex W. Boyer

Caesar Rodney, 1728-1784.
Autograph letter signed, to Thomas Rodney,
7 October 1765, 1 p.

Best known for his historic ride in July 1776 to cast Delaware's deciding vote for independence, Caesar Rodney played an active and important role in Delaware politics for nearly three decades. This letter to his brother Thomas was written while Caesar Rodney served as one of Delaware's delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York.

Thomas McKean, 1734-1817.
John Dickinson, 1732-1808.
Autograph letter to Caesar Rodney, 22 June 1779.

In this letter, two of Delaware's delegates to Congress write Caesar Rodney, who was then President [i.e. governor] of Delaware, concerning the capture of four British prisoners for whom they are requesting guards to facilitate transport. John Dickinson, who as a representative from Pennsylvania voted against the resolution for independence, was elected to Congress from Delaware in 1779 and successively as president (governor) of Delaware and Pennsylvania between 1781-1785. Dickinson served a delegate from Delaware to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and strongly supported the Constitution, writing numerous public letters in its defense, and eventually becoming known as Penman of the Revolution for his efforts.

Caesar Rodney, 1728-1784.
Autograph letter signed, to Thomas Rodney, 14 June 1782, 1 p.

In this poignant letter, Caesar Rodney, who was in declining health and would die in 1784, asks his brother to come for him and take him to the latter's home in Philadelphia.

Thomas McKean, 1734-1817.
Autograph letter signed to Caesar Rodney, 6 October 1762, 1 p.

In this early connection between two of Delaware's most notable patriots, McKean writes on a legal matter, possibly responding to a request from Rodney to represent him.

Early Delaware Manuscripts

Eric Biörck, 1668-1740.
Autograph letter to Carl Widstrom, 3 & 4 May 1711, 6 pp.

Born in Koping, Sweden, Reverend Eric Biörck was one of three clergymen sent to America 1n 1696 by the King of Sweden. Biörck was sent to "the lower Parish," Christina, where he founded Holy Trinity Chruch in Wilmington. In this comprehensive letter written from "Christina parish in Pennsylvania" to the minister at Hedvig Eleonara parish in Stockholm, Biörck points out his concerns about Sweden's current military situation and also requests more ABC books and Catechisms be sent because his supply has become worn with usage. The final pages in the letter include descriptions of books which he received from Sweden between 1699-1707.

Melva B. Guthrie Fund

John Quincy Adams, 1760-1848.
Document signed, Washington, 13 November 1824, 4 pp.

This printed document, with the letterhead of the Department of State, is directed to the editor of The Watchman, of Wilmington, Delaware, and authorizes The Watchman to be an official printer of government news in Delaware. The document is signed by John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, less than five months before he was inaugurated as the sixth President of the United States.

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates

John Lukens, 1720?-1789.
Lukens Family papers, 1750-1904.

John Lukens served as Surveyor-General of Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1761-1776, and of Pennsylvania, 1781-1789. Lukens was involved with many influential men in Philadelphia. He co-founded the Hatsborough Public Library in 1755, and was acquainted with figures such as David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Franklin, and Francis Alison. Lukens's public position gained him a role in the team which surveyed the tangent line, middle point, and the twelve mile radius from the center of the New Castle Courthouse which formed the northern boundary of Delaware. These measurements, taken in 1762, were used by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in laying out the final Mason-Dixon line. Lukens belonged to learned Philadelphia associations such as the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge and the American Philosophical Society. Those types of associations lead to his appointment by Thomas and Richard Penn in 1761 to the position of Surveyor General.

David Rittenhouse, 1732-1796.
Autograph letter signed, to John Lukens, 12 December 1763, 1 p.

One of the leading American scientists of his time, David Rittenhouse was an internationally-known astronomer, master craftsman of scientific instruments, surveyor, and patriot. In 1769, Rittenhouse observed and recorded the transit of Venus across the sun using his own precise surveying instrument. His records of those observations were distributed by the American Philosophical Society and brought the Society world-wide scientific recognition. His expertise in astronomical calculations and surveying made him a valuable colleague of Lukens and he helped determine the accuracy of numerous boundaries and surveys. In this very early letter, writing from his family's Norristown farm, Rittenhouse informs Lukens that he has been asked to help settle a boundary dispute through the use of astronomical calculations.

Francis Alison, 1705-1779.
Autograph letter signed, to John Lukens, 10 April 1776, 1 p.

In this letter, the founder of the New London (Pa.) Academy, to which the University of Delaware traces its origins, asks Lukens for assistance in obtaining some property.

John Lukens, 1720?-1789.
Autograph survey map, [1763], 1 p.
This map was prepared by Lukens as part of a survey team assigned to determine the boundary line between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Their work was later completed by their more famous successors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in 1764.

Slave Manumission
Autograph Document signed, 4 March 1834, 1 p.
The legal term "manumission" refers to the formal act of the freeing or emancipation of slaves by their owners. The term also refers to the legal document itself in which the manumission is granted. In the wake of the American Revolution, manumission became more common in the Upper South. In this particular manumission, Gideon Waples, of Broadkill Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware, sets free, manumits, and discharges "my Negro man John aged thirty one years on the first day of January eighteen hundred and thirty five…."

From the Waples Family papers, gift of Mrs. Charles D. Carey

Introduction | Science | 18th and 19th c. Literature & Politics |20th c. Literature | 20th c. History & Politics

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Last modified: 12/21/10

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