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Writing History Through Material Culture

Selected Primary Sources

HIST 411/611 | Prof. Kasey Grier

Online finding aids are available:

Manuscript Collections

MSS 117 Latimer Family Papers, 1690-1927, bulk dates 1770-1870

Collection detailing the personal and business affairs of this family in the area of Chester County and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Particularly interesting for historical and economic documentation in the context of revolutionary America and early 19th century trade. Features papers of Dr. Henry Latimer, appointed in 1781 as Surgeon General of the Northern Division of the Continental Army, later elected member of the Delaware State Legislature and member of the U.S. House of Representatives; and John R. Latimer, who established an overseas trading business with China, 1815-1834.

US Custom House Papers

Receipts for materials brought into the port of Philadelphia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Selected items divided by category of goods (i.e. ceramic, textiles, metalwork, etc.) Using the collection will require individual consultation with Special Collections staff. Some items available on microfilm at the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Library.

MSS 97, Item 86 M.C.L. Worrel. Reminiscences of Wilmington, 1880s. Holograph manuscript (22 leaves)

Worrel's reminiscences describe Wilmington, Delaware, block-by-block as she remembered it to be "in the past time, in 1815 and the '20s." She includes residents, houses (often telling who built them and who lived there previously), and businesses. Ferris, Canby, Gilpin, Latimer, Grubb, Mendenhall, Richardson, Griffin -- all the old families appear. In addition, Worrel provides lists of her classmates at the Friends School, 1817-1820, and members of the Wilmington Meeting, recalled by their seating order in the pews.

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Selected Titles

These selected titles are a sample of books available in Special Collections. The Library's printed holdings are cataloged in the Library of Congress Classification System, and may be searched in the Library's online catalog, DELCAT. The following subject categories suggest useful research strategies for finding information about topics supporting your study of material culture.

Subject Access Terms:


A Directory and register for the year ... of the borough of Wilmington and Brandywine. [Wilmington, Del.] : Printed by R. Porter.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Delaware F174.24 .W7 D56


Bennett, George Fletcher.

Early architecture of Delaware / by George Fletcher Bennett ; introduction and text by Joseph L. Copeland. New York : Bonanza Books, c1932.

LOCATION: Special Collections | folio NA730 .D3 B4x 1932b

Hall, John, architect.

A series of select and original modern designs for dwelling houses, for the use of carpenters and builders: adapted to the style of building in the United States: with twenty-four plates. By John Hall ... Baltimore, J. Murphy, 1840.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Folio NA7207 .H35 1840

Pain, William, 1730?-1790?

The practical builder, or workman's general assistant: shewing the most approved and easy methods for drawing and working the whole or separate part of any building; ... Rules of carpentry; ... / The fourth edition, revised and corrected by the author William Pain, ... Engraved on eighty-three plates. Boston : printed and sold by John Norman, 1792.

LOCATION: Special Collections | folio NA2515 .P185 1792

Furniture & Household Goods

Dorman, Charles G.

Delaware cabinetmakers and allied artisans, 1655-1855 / by Charles G. Dorman. Wilmington, Del. : Historical Society of Delaware, c1960.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Delaware NK 2435 .D4 D66x 1960 | Non-Circulating

Hope, Thomas, 1770?-1831.

Household furniture and interior decoration, executed from designs by Thomas Hope. London. Printed by T. Bensley ... for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme ... 1807.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Folio+ NK2135 .H7

"Reflections in silver - Rockwood remembered" : a silver exhibition of the Shipley-Bringhurst-Hargraves families, showing work of Wilmington, Philadelphia, and English silversmiths, October 16 through November 12 ... 1978. [s.l. : s.n.], 1978.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Delaware NK7101.W5 R44

Etiquette & Entertaining

The American academy of compliments, or, The complete American secretary : containing the true art of inditing letters suitable to the capacities of youth and age ... to which are added the art of good breeding and behaviour ... : with a collection of the newest songs. Wilmington : Printed and sold by Robert Porter, 1814.

LOCATION: Special Collections | Delaware BJ2100 .A44x 1814

Cosnett, Thomas.

The footman's directory and butler's remembrancer, or, The advice of Onesimus to his young friends : comprising hints on the arrangement and performance of their work, rules for setting out tables and sideboards, the art of waiting at table and conducting large and small parties, directions for cleaning plate ... and advice respecting behaviour to superiors, tradespeople, and fellow servants. London : T. Cosnett, 1825.

LOCATION: Special Collections | TX331 .C6 1825b

Chinese Trade

Dunn, Nathan, 1782-1844.

"Ten thousand Chinese things" : a descriptive catalogue of the Chinese collection, in Philadelphia : with miscellaneous remarks upon the manners, customs, trade, and government of the Celestial empire. Philadelphia : Printed for the proprietor, 1839.

LOCATION: Special Collections | DS714 .D9

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Other Resources

Hillard, Harriet Low, 1809-1877.

Lights and shadows of a Macao life : the journal of Harriett Low, travelling spinster / edited by Nan P. Hodges and Arthur W. Hummel. Woodinville, WA : History Bank, c2002.

John R. Latimer was involved in the China trade during the time Harriet Low lived in Macao. He is mentioned several times in her diary.

LOCATION: Morris Library | CT275.H59869 A3 2002

Digital Collections

Includes Delaware maps, postcards, and images of local architecture.

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