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Pemberton Manuscripts

Identifier: SFHL-MSS-039

Scope and Contents

The manuscripts are from two sources which were retained as series.

  1. Series 1: Family Correspondence, 1777-1812
  2. Series 2: Pemberton Correspondence, 1756-1778


  • Creation: 1756-1812


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Friends Historical Library believes all of the items in this collection to be in the Public Domain in the United States, and is not aware of any restrictions on their use. However, the user is responsible for making a final determination of copyright status before reproducing. See

Biographical / Historical

The Pembertons were a distinguished Philadelphia Quaker family, successful merchants and active in the Society of Friends. Phineas Pemberton arrived in America in 1682 and settled in Bucks County, Pa. His son Israel (1684-1754) moved to Philadelphia, began a successful business, and married Rachel Read in 1765. They had ten children, but most didn't survive childhood. The three surviving sons were: Israel Pemberton (1715-1779), James Pemberton (1723-1809), and John (1727-1795). Israel Pemberton expanded the family business and served on the Pennsylvania Assembly. He was active in the Society of Friends, serving as Clerk of the Yearly Meeting. He married first Sarah Kirkbride (1714-1746) and secondly Mary (Stanbury) Jordan. Mary Pemberton served as Clerk of the Womens Meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.

James Pemberton (1723-1809) also was a successful merchant, philanthropist, and leader in the Society of Friends in Philadelphia. He was a founder of Pennsylvania Hospital and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and active in other civic and educational organizations. James Pemberton served on the Pennsylvania Assembly for Philadelphia Co. and was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1768. He married Hannah Lloyd (1734-1764) in 1751. They had four children; Phineas (1753-1778); Rachel (1754-1783) who married Thomas Parke, M.D.; Hannah (1785-1788) who married Robert Morton; and Sarah (1756-1819) After his first wife's death, he married Sarah Smith who died in 1770 after the birth of a daughter, Mary (1770-1808, later wife of Anthony Morris.) In 1775, he married Phebe (Lewis) Morton, the widow of Samuel Morton.

The youngest brother was John Pemberton (1727-1795). He left the family business to devote his life to Quaker ministry, travelling to England and Europe. John Pemberton married Hannah Zane, daughter of Isaac and Sarah Zane, in 1766.

In accordance with the peace testimony of the Society of Friends, the brothers refused to take an oath of allegiance during the American Revolution or to bear arms. Eighteen prominent members of the Quaker community were arrested in August 1777 and imprisoned in Winchester, Va. from September 1777 to early 1778. They included the Pemberton brothers, John Hunt, Henry Drinker, Thomas Fisher, Thomas Gilpin, and Abel James.


.5 linear ft. (1 box)

Language of Materials



The collection contains primarily family correspondence of the three Pemberton brothers -- Israel, James, and John, prominent members of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia who were exiled to Virginia during the Revolutionary War for their pacifism. It also includes a small number of correspondence from Edward Stabler and Alexander White, an account on the life of James Pemberton, and the will of his wife, Phebe Lewis Pemberton. Topics include the Pembertons' exile to Winchester, Va., with other Quakers during the Revolution as conscientious objectors, Quaker ministers, the disposition of the estate of Anthony Benezet, and Quaker concerns especially pacifism.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1959

Gift of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1975

Related Materials

Quaker Collection, Haverford College, Pemberton Family Papers, 1741-1789

Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Pembertoon Family Papers

Processing Information

Series 1, Family Correspondence, 1777-1812, between James Pemberton and his third wife Phebe, was purchased in 1959. The letters include typed transcripts. Series 2, Pemberton Correspondence, 1756-1778, was given to Friends Historical Library by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1975. Most of the letters were written during the Pembertons' Virginia exile, 1777-1778, and include correspondence from the brothers, their spouses, and others. The two manuscript groups were retained in their original order, but cataloged as a single manuscript collection ca. 1980. In 2016 acidic folders were replaced and a more detailed inventory created.

An Inventory of the Pemberton Manuscripts, 1756-1812
Finding Aid Prepared by FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020: Updated outdated, harmful terminology related to enslavement, except where it appears in a title, quotation, or subject heading.

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

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Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA