Skip to main content

Josiah White papers

Identifier: HC.MC-1166

Scope and Contents

Josiah White was a 19th-century engineer and the inventor of a method to bring coal down the Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. He was also heavily involved in the education of many among America's less privileged, establishing a number of manual labor schools in the midwest. The collection includes White's business and personal papers, as well as the papers of Hannah White Richardson and Rebecca White, his daughters, whose interests extended to religious and community affairs.

In Josiah White's correspondence, many of his letters, especially to his wife, Elizabeth,make reference to his work, instructions on running the household and health issues. Some letters are co-written with his children, as for example, some from Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania to Elizabeth White from Josiah White include letters from their son Solomon. Letters from Elizabeth White to her husband form part of his correspondence and are domestic in nature, conveying the state of various people's health, medications used, bills to be paid, visitors received at home, attendance at Meeting, etc. Elizabeth White's other correspondence is filled under her own name.

Principal correspondents of Josiah White include: Elizabeth White (his wife) and Mahlon Day; other correspondents include: Sarah Mapps Douglass, Edith Griffith, Eli Jones, Sybil Jones, Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity, Ann Preston, Elizabeth Stern, William Still.

The collection includes 11 journals or memoirs by Josiah White. The 1832 memoir, “Josiah White's History Given by Himself” is written in two hands: White's and his business partner's Erskine Hazard's. On pp. 47-48 is a printed text about the Delaware River Canal; on p. 55 is “A History of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co.”inscribed “This pamphlet (History) I have appended to mine as giving as far as it runs, my history, wrote out Ruff (first) by myself and finished by E. Hazard. J. White”

Josiah White's letterbook, 1832-33, contains copies of his letters in chronological order, both fair copies and manuscript copies in two other hands. Letters describe White's work for his Lehigh Navigation and Coal Mine Company on the Delaware Canal in 1832. The Lehigh Company was started in 1818 with a lease and later purchase of coal lands and with a grant of authority from the legislature of Pennsylvania to improve the navigation of the Lehigh River to enable White and partners to send their coal to Philadelphia. A test of the market suggested it would be profitable to build a canal from Mauch Chunk to Philadelphia by the Delaware Canal and to New York by the Morris Canal. Much of the scope and creativity of this endeavor is expressed in the letterbook.

Josiah White's business papers deal with capital investment, such as purchase of land and a hardware business, business agreements, inventions, White's will and other papers related to his death, and printed materials annotated by Josiah White; White's Quaker Meeting papers relate especially to the New England Yearly Meeting Wilburite-Gurneyite controversy, 1832-47.

The papers of the Manual Labor Schools relate to legal, financial, and property matters pertaining to the proposed Manual Labor Schools in Iowa and Indiana and acceptance by Indiana Yearly Meeting of the trust for the Manual Labor School in Indiana.

Letters to the White family are arranged in alphabetical order. Several printed flyers, indicating interests of White family members in Black education and employment of the poor, e.g., are retained here.

Unattributed fragments and miscellaneous materials include documents, financial accounts, journals and letters of people not directly named White; also unattributed, fragmentary and miscellaneous material.

White family materials include correspondence and journals of direct and extended White family members. Amongst the papers of Elizabeth White, her letters to daughter, Hannah at Westtown Boarding School in the 1820s mostly describe trips, daily life and mention acquaintances; some include messages also by Josiah White. All Elizabeth's letters from the 1830s are to her husband, Josiah White, and are filed with his correspondence. In the 1840s and 1850s, Elizabeth White's topics fairly parallel those in the 1820s. Solomon White's (son) letters to his parents in the period 1822-31, but primarily in 1829, are written from Philadelphia to them in Mauch Chunk on news of family, acquaintances and local events. Some of Solomon's letters include messages from Hannah White Richardson and Charles Roberts, the latter in June 1829 discussing costs connected with the Falls Bridge and other business matters.

Hannah White Richardson's (daughter) papers include notes for her sermons; her diaries; and her work for Woman's Hospital in collection of donations. Some letters of Hannah White Richardson are written jointly with other family members. Richardson became an author of spiritual works and founder and benefactor of the Medical College of Pennsylvania. The letters of Richard Richardson are primarily on topics of travel and business.

Rebecca White's (daughter) correspondence often indicates her philanthropic interests. White was a Quaker member of the Board of Managers of the Woman's Hospital and Corporation member of the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Rebecca White's papers include financial accounts, certificates and invitations, and miscellaneous materials.


  • Creation: 1797-1949


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Standard Federal Copyright Laws Apply (U.S. Title 17).

Biographical / Historical

Josiah White (1781-1850) was the builder of the first major economically sound canal in North America (used to bring coal to Philadelphia by way of the Lehigh River), inventor of the world's first wire drilling method in the world, builder of the world's first wire suspension bridge (at Falls on Schuylkill River in Philadelphia), and designer of schools based on spiritual and manual labor education in Iowa and Indiana.

White was born a Quaker in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. He apprenticed in the hardware business and entered the trade when he was 21. At 28, he married Elizabeth White, daughter of Solomon White. Josiah then purchased property at Falls on Schuylkill River near Philadelphia with waterpower rights to the river. He built a dam, canal, and lock on the Schuylkill.

In 1812, White patented a machine to make nails and roll wire. Under the name “Schuylkill Navigation Company,” White and others requested permission of the Pennsylvania legislature to operate the Schuylkill River for boat traffic by means of dams and locks using waterpower to raise the water.

White and his business partner, Erskine Hazard, worked on the idea of the transportation of coal by river waterpower. In 1818, Hazard and White turned their attention to the improvement of navigation on the Lehigh River by means of a system of beartrap locks. This stimulated the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Philadelphia. At this time, George Hauto joined their enterprise, the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. In forming the Lehigh Navigation and Coal Mine Company in 1820, Josiah White's primary business agreement was with Erskine Hazard and George Hauto. Soon after, Josiah and Elizabeth White and their children moved to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.

In 1832, Josiah White was the engineer for the Delaware Canal project, without salary, so as to get the portion of navigation from Easton to Philadelphia working better, i.e., allowing passage of larger boats and abolishing the problem of low water levels of the canal. In 1839, White received a patent for the design of balance locks to weigh canal boats in order to set tolls. In 1842, White proposed a system of canals and railway travel to open commerce between Pennsylvania and the interior states.

From 1839 to 1844, White was a member of the Board of Managers of Haverford College. Edwin Douglas, an engineer whom Josiah White had employed earlier, began assuming many of White's former duties by 1841.

In 1850, White recorded his ideas for the education of formerly enslaved Black Americans, Indigenous Americans, and poor children through the establishment of manual labor schools in Iowa and Indiana under the care of the Indiana Yearly Meeting “in the same manner as is Westtown School under the care of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.” White's Institute in Wabash, Indiana, and Quakerdale, in New Providence, Iowa, continues to offer schooling to children.


4 linear ft. (6 boxes and 9 volumes)

Language of Materials



Josiah White was a 19th-century engineer and the inventor of a method to bring coal down the Lehigh River, a tributary of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. He was also heavily involved in the education of many among America's less privileged, establishing a number of manual labor schools in the Midwest. The collection includes White's business and personal papers, as well as the papers of Hannah White Richardson and Rebecca White, his daughters, whose interests included religious and community affairs.

Processing Information

Original processing information unknown. Reboxed and revised April 2021 by Ella Culton.

Josiah White papers, 1797-1949
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • April 2021: Reboxed and finding aid updated
  • June 2022: by Nathaniel Rehm-Daly, Harmful Language Revision Project

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 Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections Library

370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford PA 19041 USA US