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American Studies, History, and Literature: North America, Colonial Era to ca. 1800

Early American collections in the Kislak Center include both manuscripts and printed materials, with notable strengths including literature; travel and exploration narratives; Judaica; and music.

Illustration of the poet Phillis Wheatley, labelled "Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr John Wheatley, of Boston."

Collection Overview

This page presents an overview of holdings, across subjects and genres, related to early America, held in the Kislak Center with reference also to other collections at Penn. It is meant to provide a broad overview of collections in this field and descriptions of significant collections, with links to catalogs for researchers seeking more detail.

Accordion List

Holdings in these fields are to be found across the department's collections. These collections are of particular significance:

Robert Dechert Collection: European travel writing, exploration narratives, and some Native literature of the Americas, with strong holdings in French Americana, 19th-century American western exploration, and the writings of Bartolomé de Las Casas.

Caroline F. Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness: Over 6,000 works by women writing from, and about, the Americas (North, South, and Central), in many genres, from the 17th to the 21st centuries.

Berendt-Brinton Linguistic Collection: This significant collection of linguistic materials primarily centers on the indigenous languages of Central America, although a few manuscripts in it are from North America.

Manuscript holdings are quite varied, with numerous single items and some larger collections. Manuscripts are described in the online catalog, Franklin. Larger collections have separate finding aids.

17th century holdings include:

18th century holdings include:

Benjamin Franklin Papers: correspondence and documents, 1705-1788, primarily relating to Franklin's stay in France during the American Revolution and his role in the negotiations between France and the Continental Congress.

J. G. Rosengarten Collections: materials collected by Rosengarten (1835-1921), a Philadelphia lawyer and historian, on the American Revolutionary era and German participation in it.

Thomas Forster correspondence: letters, documentes, accounts, 1793-1837, of Colonel Forster (1762-1836), who led a volunteer regiment during the Whiskey Insurrection and was the first surveyor of the City of Erie, where he served as Collector of the Port from 1799 to 1836. [this material is not yet fully cataloged.]

Samuel D. Ingham correspondence (Ms. Coll. 889, 6 boxes): late 18th and 19th century letters and documents regarding Ingham (1779-1860), member of the Pennsylvania Legislature and the House of Representatives, and Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.

Printed materials from early North America may be found across multiple collections in the department. This represents a summary of highlights: researchers should consult the online catalog, Franklin, for the most precise information.

Curtis Collection of Franklin Imprints: more than 300 titles printed by Benjamin Franklin and his associates between 1719 and 1786.

Thomas Paine collection: approximately 140 books and pamphlets donated by Mrs. Alfred Stengel, including many early printed editions of Common Sense.

The American Culture Class collections gather a significant portion of the department's printed holdings (although by no means all of them) together under a cataloging heading of "American" books, in chronological divisions from 18th-20th centuries.

Newspapers: not all holdings are in the online catalog. Significant groups include:

Broadsides: early American broadsides include imprints from early Pennsylvania, legal documents, and other materials

Wetherill Papers: business records, ca. 1762-1899, of the store and White Lead Works founded by Samuel Wetherill in the late 18th century.

Wayne Family Papers, ca. 1778-1881: documents primarly concerning the legal, financial, political, and family affairs of Isaac Wayne

Vanuxem family papers (Ms. Coll. 57, 9 boxes): documents the history of the Vanuxem and Peirce families and their business operations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The primary repository for the University's historical materials is the University Archives and Records Center. Nevertheless, some collections are housed within the Libraries. These include:

Founders Collection: the early library holdings of the university.

William Smith Papers (Ms. Coll. 599, 2 boxes): correspondence, sermons, writings, lecture notes, and other papers of the University's first Provost. (Related collections are at the University Archives.)

Benjamin Rush lecture notes, 1783-1810 (Ms. Coll. 225): 34 notebooks kept by medical students at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, housed at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies Library, includes over 11,000 items documenting the lives of Jews in the Americas, from commercial, social, religious, political, and cultural contexts, from the colonial era through the 19th century.

Among the department's broad music collections are several groups of material relating in particular to early America:

Keffer Collection of Sheet Music: The over 2,500 scores from ca. 1790 to 1895 in this collection contain an extensive range of early American popular songs and piano music. Many scores have printed illustrations.

Francis Hopkinson Collection: Hopkinson's personal collection of music, mainly printed in England, along with manuscript music and other printed and manuscript materials by or relating to Hopkinson and his family.


Francis Daniel Pastorius, Beehive manuscript
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Francis Daniel Pastorius, [Beehive manuscript], Ms. Codex 726, 49 (v.1) (excerpt)

Illustration of the poet Phillis Wheatley, labelled "Phillis Wheatley, Negro Servant to Mr John Wheatley, of Boston."
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Phillis Wheatley, Poems (London 1773), frontispiece (RBC AC7 W5602 773p)