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Comly-White Family Papers

Identifier: SFHL-RG5-030

Scope and Contents

The collection contains papers of the Comly-White families, including family correspondence; the journal of John Comly's brother, Isaac; other manuscript writings, financial and legal papers, and miscellaneous papers. Also includes the ledger and memorabilia relating to Pleasant Hill Boarding School and Helen Comly White's student years at Swarthmore College from 1870-75.


  • Creation: 1771-1961


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some of the items in this collection may be protected by copyright. The user is solely responsible for making a final determination of copyright status. If copyright protection applies, permission must be obtained from the copyright holder or their heirs/assigns to reuse, publish, or reproduce relevant items beyond the bounds of Fair Use or other exemptions to the law. See

Biographical / Historical

  • 1773-ca. 1793 John Comly, son of Isaac and Asenath (Hampton) Comly, was born 19 Nov. 1773, shortly after his parents purchased a farm called “Old Sod” of about 140 acres on Thornton Road in Byberry Township, Pennsylvania. John was educated at a Latin School kept by the Baptist minister at Pennypack where he learned some Latin and Greek. He also practiced the life usual for a farming family.
  • 1794-1800, 1801-1803 At age 21, in 1794, he became schoolmaster of the Friends' School at Byberry, with at least 50 students. When he was 27, he went to Westtown Boarding School where he taught grammar, Latin, and reading from April 1801 to November 1802. There he met another young teacher, Rebecca Budd of Mt. Holly, New Jersey, who had been among the first students at Westtown when it opened in May 1799 and was hired in Nov. 1799 to teach arithmetic, grammar, and writing to the female students. John and Rebecca fell in love during his time there, but she was not free to leave her teaching until Feb. of 1803.
  • 1803, 1804-1810, 1810-1815 John and Rebecca Comly were married at Mount Holly Monthly Meeting on June 16, 1803. In the meantime, John had written and published in 1803 his first book, English Grammar. After their marriage they settled on a farm John had purchased in Byberry on Academy Road which they named “Pleasant Hill.” They lived in a small log house on the property while building a house with thirteen rooms, large enough to serve as a boarding school. Pleasant Hill Boarding School for Female Education opened in 1804 with 23 girls. In 1810 it became a school for boys and continued until 1815.
  • 1813-1827 Subsequently, John Comly compiled and published a spelling book, a primer, and a reader which were widely used for many years. He was also a farmer, educator, surveyor, and conveyancer. He was recorded as a minister in July of 1813. At the time of the Separation in 1827, he became Clerk of the new Hicksite Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
  • 1830s-1850s, Aug. 17th 1850 John and Rebecca Comly had two daughters, Ann and Sarah, and two sons, Charles and Emmor. John Comly died at Pleasant Hill on Aug. 17, 1850. Charles Comly inherited Pleasant Hill, to which he brought his wife, Debby Ann Newbold, in Dec. 1830.
  • 1854, 1886 Charles and Debby Ann Comly had ten children, one of whom was Helen Trump Comly. She was born in 1854 and married Howard White in 1886.


3 linear ft. (6 boxes)

Language of Materials



John Comly, a Quaker minister and school master, was born in 1773. He married Rebecca Budd, a fellow teacher at the Westtown School, in 1803. They operated the Pleasant Hill Boarding School on their Byberry farm from 1804-1815. The collection includes family correspondence, the journal of John Comly's brother, Isaac, other manuscript writings, financial and legal papers, and miscellaneous papers. Also includes the ledger and memorabilia of Pleasant Hill Boarding School and papers of Helen Comly White relating to her student years at Swarthmore College from 1870-75.


The collection is divided into seven series:

  1. Biographical and genealogical
  2. Correspondence
  3. Writing
  4. Financial papers
  5. Swarthmore College
  6. Pictures
  7. Memorabilia.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Edith Lewis White, 1981, 1983

This collection appears to have been preserved by Helen Comly White, a grand-daughter of John and Rebecca (Budd) Comly, and passed down to her son, Barclay White, and his wife, Edith Lewis White.

Related Materials

See also:

  1. Small Collections, Comly Mss., undated, for letter of Emma Bowman Reid to Edward and Lavinia Comly giving information about the John Comly desk in the FHL Reading Room, which was given to the College by Emma Bowman Reid.
  2. Misc. Mss., undated, for “History of Old Sod”, by Joseph Comly, brother of John Comly.
  3. BX7796. C692A3 Journal of the life and religious labors of John Comly, published by his children, Philadelphia, 1853.
  4. Rebecca Budd's diary for the period she was at Westtown is in the collections of the Chester County Historical Society.
  5. 28 cased photographs and 1 cased watercolor, Acc. 1997.054. Gift made in the name of 5 generations of Swarthmore women alumni: Helen Trump Comly White (1875), Edith Spencer Lewis White (1906), Mary Elma White Price (1936), Patricia Price Paxson (1960), Julia Paxson Jankovsky (1993). Stored in PA 107, detailed inventory and other documentation stored in RG5/030, Comly-White Accession file.

Separated Materials

The following books wre removed from the collection and catalogued with FHL books:

  1. Comly, John. A New Spelling Book..., printed 1842 by Porter and Coates, Philadelphia.
  2. Comly, John. A New Spelling Book..., printed 1843 by Kimber and Sharpless, Philadelphia.
  3. Comly, John. Comly's Spelling and Reading Book, Philadelphia, Thomas L. Bonsal, 1842.
  4. Comly, John. Comly's Spelling and Reading Book, Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1842.
  5. Comly, John. English Grammar Made Easy, Philadelphia, Kimber and Conrad, 1810 and 1812.
  6. Comly, John. English Grammar Made Easy, Philadelphia, Kimber and Sharpless, 1832, 1839, and 1841. Also printed by Uriah Hunt and Son, 1850.
  7. Books used by John Comly in teaching at Pleasant Hill Boarding School, Byberry.
  8. The Elements of Euclid Explain'd, 3rd edition, Oxford, Eng., 1700.
  9. Select Fables of Aesop, by H. Clarke, translator, Dublin, Ire., 1771.
  10. The Friendly Instructor: or a companion for young ladies and young gentlemen, London and Philadelphia, printed by Joseph Crukshank, 1780.
  11. Fifteen discourses on the marvelous works in nature, by Charles Christopher Reiche, Philadelphia, 1791.
  12. Woolman, John. Word of remembrance and caution to the rich, London, 1794. Comly's personal copy.
  13. Smith, Charles. Universal Geography made easy, New York, 1795.
  14. The Juvenile Magazine, vol. 4, Philadelphia, 182. Gift of Emmor Kimber to Comly.
  15. Pious reflections for every day of the month, translated from Fenelon, printed by Isaac Collins and Son, New York, 1803.
  16. The American Orthographer; or new book of spelling, printed by Isaac Collins and Son, New York, 1803.
  17. Mrs. Pilkington. Goldsmith's Natural History, abridged for the use of schools, vol. 1, Philadelphia, 1804.
  18. Comly, Isaac. A new assistant: or first book for youth who are entering on the study of arithmetic, Philadelphia, 1809.
  19. Carver, James. A new and easy introduction to the art of analytical penmanship..., Philadelphia 1809.
  20. The Child's Own Primer., Philadelphia, undated.
  21. Wilkins, John. Epistle to His Highness, the Prince Elector Palatine, belonged to John White in 1820 (concerns mathematics).
  22. Emerson, B.D. The Third-class Reader; Philadelphia 1847. Belonged to Ella Comly.
  23. Mitchell, S. Augustus. A system of modern geography..., Philadelphia 1864 and 1870.

The following marriage certificates were removed from the collection, cataloged, and filed in oversize chart case:

  1. 10 Apr. 1771-Isaac Comly (1743-1822), son of Isaac and Abigail Comly of Byberry, to Asenath Hampton (1749-1826), daughter of John and Ann Hampton, at Wrightstown MM.
  2. 28 Jun. 1781 - Samuel Howell (1755-1806) of Philadelphia, son of Samuel Howell1 to Susannah Hanson (1761-1791), daughter of Thomas and Mary Hanson of Kent Co., DE, at Little Creek Meeting House, under the care of Duck Creek MM.
  3. 14 Dec. 1796 - Evan T. Knight (1771-1841), son of Giles and Phebe Knight of Bensalem Township, Bucks Co., to Martha Comly (1771-1851), daughter of Isaac and Asenath Comly, at Byberry Meeting House.
  4. 8 Jan. 1818 - Caleb Richardson, son of Joseph and Dinah Richardson of Little Britain Township, Lancaster Co., to Sarah Newbold, daughter of Joshua and Rebecca Newbold, at Trenton Meeting House, under the care of Chesterfield MM.
  5. 9 Dec. 1830 - Charles B. Comly (1808-1894), son of John and Rebecca (Budd) Comly of Byberry Township, to Debby Ann Newbold (1812-1882), daughter of Samuel and Abigail Newbold, at Byberry Meeting House.
  6. 26 Apr. 1832 - James Saunders of Woodbury, NJ, son of Thomas and Rachel Saunders of Deptford Township, NJ, to Sarah N. Richardson (1785-), widow of Caleb Richardson, and daughter of Joshua and Rebecca Newbold.
  7. 10 Jun. 1879 - Daniel Smith White (1853-1935), son of Barclay and Beulah (Shreve) White, to Serena Bremer Green (-1932), in a ceremony at 1608 Chestnut St., Phi Also certificate of 50th anniversary, held at New Lisbon, NJ, in 1929.

Other materials that have been removed and recatalogued include:

  1. Program of Junior Exercises, 16 May 1874, removed a placed in RG 6, Ser. 2, Official publications, Announcements of College events. Also Class Day Exercises, June 1875, and Commencement Program 15 Jun.1875, in same box.
  2. Junior Class Poem, 16 May 1874, by William H. Ridgway, placed in RG 6

Photographs of the Class of 1906, have been removed from this collection and placed in the oversize picture file:

  1. Mandolin Club - 2
  2. Track team
  3. Class picture
  4. Basketball team
  5. 20th Reunion, 1926

A carton of relics was removed from the collection and cataloged with other relics. These include:

  1. Several types of cases to hold needles and thread, including one made by Rebecca Comly for John Comly to use when travelling in the ministry, as well as buttons from a suit he wore.
  2. Fichus, caps and kerchiefs, as well as a silk bonnet and shawl which had been made and work by Rebecca Budd Comly.
  3. Cylindrical leather case in which Rebecca Comly kept patterns and other materials she used in making women's caps.
  4. Box covered with wallpaper made by Asenth Cornly for her son John to carry medicines in when he traveled. He carried it on his extensive journey to New York and New England in 1815.
  5. Cloth doll with china head and torso, made by Ann Ross of Nebraska or Beulah (Shreve) White, between 1871 and 1876.
  6. Towel made from imported linen bed-ticking used at Pleasant Hill Boarding School about 1810, given by Sarah Comly Haviland to her niece Susan C. Hallowell in 1901.
  7. Notes by Sarah (Comly) Haviland, identifying relics.
  8. Lists of pamphlets, and printed pamphlets.

Processing Information

A small amount of material which had been kept by Barclay White pertaining to Lansdowne Monthly Meeting has been removed and placed in RG 2, Meeting Records, Lansdowne Monthly Meeting.


An Inventory of the Comly-White Family Papers, 1771-1961
FHL staff
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Encoding made possible by a grant by the Gladys Kriebel Delmas Foundation to the Philadelphia Consortium of Special Collections Libraries

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