Purviance Papers, 1766-1849, MS 1394

Purviance Papers, 1766-1849


Maryland Historical Society
 

  

(Text converted and initial EAD tagging provided by Apex Data Services, March 1999.)
 

Purviance Papers, 1766-1849
Maryland Historical Society

Contact Information:
Manuscripts Department
Maryland Historical Society Library
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
410.685.3750
Fax: 410.385.2105
library@mdhs.org
www.mdhs.org

 


Descriptive Summary

Microfilm Edition of the Purviance Papers, 1766-1849

MS 1394

Maryland Historical Society

Baltimore MD 21201-4674

1973

Edited by Susan Jane Butler

Sponsored by the Society of Colonial Wars

in the State of Maryland

 


Descripti

on of the Purviance Papers

The Purviance Papers fall naturally into four distinct divisions. The four sections comprising the collection are the correspondence, Robert Purviance Jr.'s A Narrative of Events which Occurred in Baltimore Town during the Revolutionary War, receipts for sums paid by the Collector of Customs for the port of Baltimore, and a commonplace book kept by Robert Purviance, Jr. A brief description of each section should aid the reader in his research.

The first section consists of all the correspondence included in the collection. Because of the relatively small number of letters, they were placed together in a strictly chronological arrangement. The earliest correspondence is dated 1766 and it continues, although quite sporadically, through 1846. The sporadic nature of the correspondence is immediately apparent. While the correspondence of 1774 and 1776 is rather complete, the collection lacks any from the year 1775.

Most of the correspondence consists of letters exchanged among the various committees established in the American colonies for the purpose of coordinating their revolutionary strategies. The correspondence begins with letters referring to Boston's attempt to build colonial support in resistance of the Boston Port Bill, passed by Parliament in March 1774. The papers provide substantial evidence of the remarkably efficient and effective lines of communication established between the colonies. Committees in Baltimore, Annapolis, Boston, Philadelphia and other towns are represented in the correspondence. While the Revolutionary War material forms the bulk of the correspondence, several letters pertaining to the private business interests of the Purviance brothers and several letters dealing with the genealogical history of the Purviance family are also included in the collection. A complete index of the correspondence is contained in this guide.

Before examining the correspondence of the collection, the researcher should be aware of several facts. In many cases the letters in the collection are not originals but contemporary copies. Difficulty may arise in some instances where the content of a letter refers to enclosures mailed with that letter. Although such references usually indicate the subject matter of the enclosure, in some cases it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to establish the identity of the enclosure. The correspondence given to the Maryland Historical Society by Robert Purviance, Jr. and used in preparing his narrative is numbered on either the address leaf or the back of the letter. These numbers correspond to the numbers of the transcripts included in the second section.

The second section of the Purviance Papers is the handwritten manuscript volume of A Narrative of Events which Occurred in Baltimore Town during the Revolutionary War, written by Robert Purviance, Jr. in 1849. The narrative includes an appendix of Purviance's transcripts of the letters found in the search of the Baltimore Custom House in 1847. The numbers on the transcripts correspond to numbers on the address leaf or back of the originals found in the first section of the collection. The originals of transcripts 1, 25, 26, 42, 66, 76, 83, and 85, however, are not included in the collection. Although these letters might have been included in Purviance's gift to the Maryland Historical Society in 1849, they are no longer contained within the Purviance Papers, nor are they located elsewhere in the Society's holdings. In addition, Purviance also included several unnumbered transcripts in the appendix of his narrative. The originals of these transcripts are in the Gilmor Papers (MS. 387.1) at the Maryland Historical Society.

Although most of Purviance's transcripts are essentially accurate, in some cases they are not exact duplicates of the originals. Care should particularly be used in cases where Purviance furnished signatures not found on the original copy of the letter. In most cases the originals are clearly legible and the scholar, exerting caution in accepting some of Purviance's insertions, should rely primarily on the originals.

The third section of the microfilm edition consists of receipts for sums paid by Robert Purviance, Sr. during a portion of his service as Collector of Customs for the port of Baltimore. The receipts date from October 1798 to May 1799 and, with a few minor exceptions, they are arranged in chronological order. Although restorative processes have preserved the condition of the receipts, the material was previously damaged severely and portions of the individual receipts are either illegible or completely destroyed.

The fourth section of the collection is a commonplace book kept by Robert Purviance, Jr. Although the book is largely written in French, some portions are in English. The book contains notes on Purviance's travels in Europe as well as essays on numerous people and places of historical significance. Purviance's comments include notes on the reaction to Jay's Treaty, the foreign diplomacy of the United States, and the value of merchandise exported by the United States. This commonplace book was written between 1794 and 1800.

 


Biographical Sketch of the Purviance Family

The distinguished Purviance family of Baltimore was of Huguenot descent. The French origins of the family tied them to that country until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. At that time the search for freedom from religious persecution drove the Purviance family to the northern section of Ireland. It was in County Donegal, Ireland, that Robert and Samuel Purviance were born. The Purviance brothers emigrated to America around the year 1763 and, shortly thereafter, established a flourishing commercial house in Baltimore Town. The stature of the Purviance family in Baltimore was firmly established by Robert and Samuel's positions as eminent merchants. The fact that they were active participants in the revolutionary struggle increased their prestigious position in the history of Baltimore. Evidence of the Purviance's willingness to aid the revolutionary cause is abundant. In the winter of 1779 Robert and Samuel Purviance were among the largest contributors of supplies needed by a southern bound detachment.

As this manuscript collection amply illustrates, both the Purviance brothers were prominent participants in the Baltimore Committee of Correspondence and the Committee of Observation. Yet Samuel Purviance's role in the revolutionary struggle was more obvious than that of his brother. Samuel served as chairman of several revolutionary committees, and therefore his name is prominently displayed on much of the correspondence. Samuel was probably best known, however, for his bold instigation of the plot to capture Robert Eden, the royal governor of the Maryland colony. For this premature act Samuel was arraigned by the Maryland Convention and officially reprimanded for assuming unwarranted authority. In addition to his activities as a patriot and as a prominent merchant, Samuel Purviance acted as a warden for the port of Baltimore and aided in the organization of an agricultural society in 1780s. In 1788, while traveling to Kentucky, Samuel was captured by a band of Indians and presumably murdered.

After the adoption of the Federal constitution in 1789, Robert Purviance was appointed the first Naval Officer of the port of Baltimore. With the death of Otho Holland Williams in 1794, Robert Purviance moved into Williams' position as Collector of Customs and held that position until his own death in 1806. In addition to his duties at the port of Baltimore, Robert was also highly influential in the establishment of the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

Robert Purviance, Jr., author of A Narrative of Events which Occurred in Baltimore Town during the Revolutionary War, was born in Baltimore in 1779. In many respects Robert followed the footsteps of his father and his uncle. Having been educated at the commercial house of Samuel and John Smith, Robert entered the mercantile world and soon reached a level of prominence in Baltimore. Robert was one of the first directors of the Northern Central Railway Company. In addition, Robert, like his father and uncle, was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church. Robert Purviance, Jr. died in 1858.

 


Source of the Purviance Papers

In 1849 Robert Purviance, Jr. presented a bound manuscript volume entitled A Narrative of Events which Occurred in Baltimore Town during the Revolutionary War to the Maryland Historical Society. The inspiration leading to the creation of this narrative, which was published in Baltimore by Joseph Robinson in the same year, was the astonishing discovery in 1847 of nearly one hundred Revolutionary War period papers in the Baltimore Custom House. Apparently Purviance's father had stored these papers at the Custom House during his tenure, from 1794 to 1806, as Collector of Customs for the port of Baltimore. Recognizing the historic value of the papers, the younger Purviance included them in his 1849 gift to the Maryland Historical Society. Purviance's donation constitutes the first and largest contribution to the collection of Purviance papers at the Society.

Additional manuscripts, supplementing Purviance's original gift, were added to this valuable collection in the twentieth century. In 1940 Louis Henry Dielman gave the Society several letters pertaining to the business interests of the Purviance merchants. Maria Atkinson expanded the scope of the Purviance Papers in 1950 with her donation of several letters containing genealogical information of the Purviance family. The papers given by Robert Purviance, Jr., Louis Henry Dielman, and Maria Atkinson provide a valuable source for the study of the organizations of communication and preparation implemented by the American colonies in the Revolution, as well as providing information on the men who readily accepted the Revolutionary cause.

In the early months of 1973, the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maryland contacted the Maryland Historical Society and expressed interest in sponsoring a microfilm edition of a manuscript collection as a bicentennial project. The historical value of the Purviance Papers made it a natural candidate for selection. The financial support of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maryland has now made this collection available to a wide range of students and scholars.

 


Publication and Microfilm Copying Restrictions

The written permission of the Maryland Historical Society must be obtained before any manuscript from its collections can be published in any form.

The user is further cautioned that unauthorized publication of manuscripts may be construed as a violation of literary property rights. These rights derive from the common-law principle that the author of an unpublished letter or other manuscript, or his executors, heirs, or legatees, has the sole right to publish the contents thereof; unless he or another authorized person affirmatively parts with that right, it subsists regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript. It is the responsibility of the would-be user or his publisher to secure from the owner of the literary rights permission to publish.

Roll duplication of the whole or any part of this film is prohibited. In lieu of transcription, however, enlarged photocopies of selected items contained on those rolls may be made to facilitate research.

Inquiries regarding permission to publish manuscripts from this collection should be addressed to the Curator of Manuscripts, Maryland Historical Society, 201 West Monument Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21201.

 


Availability of the Microfilm

The Microfilm edition of the Purviance Papers may be used at the Maryland Historical Society or purchased at $10 a roll. A copy of the pamphlet Guide is included in the purchase price of the set and is otherwise available at $1.00.

Please address all inquiries and orders to the Curator of Manuscripts, Maryland Historical Society, 201 West Monument Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.

 


Index of Correspondence

1766, August 9:

Corbin Lee to Robert Purviance

 

target

 

 

 

1772, July 21:

Ann Middleton to S[amuel] and R[obert] Purviance

 

 

 

1774, May 13:

Samuel Adams to Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence

 

target

 

 

 

1774, May 13:

Town Vote of Boston

 

 

 

1774, May 20:

Resolutions of Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, May 21:

Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence to [Henry] Stevenson, Samuel Purviance, Alex[ander] Lawson and other Gentlemen in Baltimore

 

 

 

1774, May 21:

[Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence] to Boston Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, May 25:

[Annapolis Committee of Correspondence] to Peyton Randolph and other Gentlemen of Williamsburg

 

 

 

1774, May 25:

Baltimore Committee of Correspondence to Gentlemen of Alexandria

 

 

 

1774, May 25:

Baltimore Committee of Correspondence to Gentlemen of Annapolis

 

 

 

1774, May 25:

Resolutions of Inhabitants of Annapolis

 

 

 

[1774, May 26]:

R[obert] Alexander to Baltimore Committee of Correspondence

 

2 targets

 

 

 

1774, May 26:

[Annapolis Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, May 27:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to Annapolis Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, May 27:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to Gentlemen of Baltimore County

 

target

 

 

 

[1774], May 27:

Resolutions of Virginia Association

 

target

 

 

 

1774, May 29:

[Alexandria Committee of Correspondence] to [Baltimore Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, May 30:

Resolutions of Inhabitants of Norfolk and Portsmouth

 

target

 

 

 

1774, May 31:

[Norfolk Committee of Correspondence] to [Gentlemen of Charles Town]

 

 

 

1774, May 31:

Resolutions of Inhabitants of Baltimore County

 

 

 

1774, May 31:

Virginia Committee of Correspondence to Maryland Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 2:

[Norfolk Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 4:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to [Boston Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, June 4:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to [Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, June 4:

Resolutions of Inhabitants of Ann[e] Arundel County

 

 

 

1774, June 13:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to [Boston Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, June 13:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to Philadelphia Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 16:

Boston Committee of Correspondence to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1774, June 17:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to Norfolk and Portsmouth Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 20:

Nath[aniel] Appleton to Samuel Purviance

 

target

 

 

 

1774, June 20:

[Frederick Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore County Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 21:

Cha[rles] Thomson to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1774, June 23:

Boston Committee of Correspondence to [Chester Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, June 26:

Deputies for Maryland at Annapolis to Virginia Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, June 27:

[Annapolis Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore County Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, July 8:

G[abriel] G. Powell to Maryland Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1774, July 16:

William Cooper to [Baltimore Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, July 25:

Cha[rles] Thomson to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1774, August 4:

Peyton Randolph, _____ Nicholas, Dudley Digges to [Baltimore Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, August 5:

G[eorge] Washington to Th[omas] Johnson

 

target

 

 

 

1774, August 10:

[Annapolis Committee of Correspondence] to [Samuel Purviance]

 

 

 

1774, August 13:

William Davies to [Baltimore Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, September 28:

[Baltimore Committee of Correspondence] to [Annapolis and Chester Committee of Correspondence]

 

 

 

1774, October 20:

James Murray and Cha[rle]s Crookshank to Baltimore County Committee

 

target

 

 

 

1774, October 21:

Arch[ibald] Boyd to [Baltimore County Committee of Correspondence]

 

target

 

 

 

[1774, December?]:

[Harford County Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore County Committee of Correspondence

 

target

 

 

 

1776, January 29:

Joseph Hewes to [Samuel Purviance]

 

 

 

1776, February 4:

Joseph Halle to New York Delegates in Congress

 

 

 

1776, February 27:

[Congress] to Baltimore Committee of Observation

 

 

 

1776, March 8:

M. Squire to Rob[er]t Eden

 

 

 

1776, March 10:

[Frederick Committee of Correspondence] to Baltimore Committee of Correspondence

 

 

 

1776, March [10]:

J[ames] Hughes to Sam[uel] Purviance

 

 

 

1776, March 10:

J_____ L_____ Smith to Baltimore Committee of Inspection

 

 

 

1776, March 12:

William Lux to [Aquila Hall and Benjamin Rumsey]

 

 

 

1776, March 12:

William Lux to [York Committee]

 

 

 

1776, March 17:

Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, April 6:

Benjamin Rumsey to William Lux

 

 

 

1776, April 14:

[Baltimore Council of Safety] to John Hancock

 

 

 

1776, April 16:

John Hancock to Baltimore Council of Safety

 

 

 

[1776, April 17]:

S[amuel] Purviance to Virginia Council of Safety

 

target

 

 

 

1776, May 1:

Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance

 

target

 

 

 

1776, May 6:

Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, June 2:

Joseph Hewes to [Samuel Purviance]

 

 

 

1776, June 25:

Joseph Hewes to [Samuel Purviance]

 

 

 

1776, July 8:

John Hancock to Maryland Convention

 

 

 

1776, July 22:

J[ames] Hughes to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, July 23:

Joseph Hewes to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, September 16:

Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, September 17:

Joseph Hewes to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, October 11:

Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1776, November 24:

Richard Henry Lee to [Samuel Purviance]

 

 

 

1777, February 18:

Nich[olas] Cooke to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1777, February 20:

John Hancock to [Robert] Purviance

 

 

 

1777, February 26:

John Langdon to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1777, April 15:

Fra[ncis] Lewis to Sam[uel] and Rob[ert] Purviance

 

 

 

1777, April 17:

W[illiam] Smallwood to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1777, June 10:

Rob[er]t Morris to Sam[uel] and Rob[ert] Purviance

 

 

 

1778, January 12:

Henry Laurens to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1778, January 15:

Fran[cis] Lewis, William Ellery and James Forbes to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1778, February 17:

Fran[cis] Lewis to Sam[ue]l and Rob[ert] Purviance

 

 

 

1778, March 16:

Richard Peters to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1778, April 3:

Ja[me]s Nicholson to Baltimore Committee of Merchants

 

 

 

1778, June 25:

Fran[ci]s Hopkinson, W[illiam] Smith, and John Wharton to _____ Purviance and _____ Stewart

 

 

 

1779, February 17:

Tho[mas] Johnson to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1779, March 4:

James Nicholson and officers to Committee [of Merchants]

 

 

 

1779, May 20:

Th[omas] Johnson to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1779, June 11:

W[illia]m Pollard to Sam[uel] Purviance

 

 

 

1780, July 28:

Tho[ma]s S[im] Lee to Delegates in Congress

 

 

 

1780, July 28:

Tho[ma]s S[im] Lee to Samuel and Robert Purviance and others

 

 

 

1780, November 12:

Tho[ma]s S[im] Lee to Samuel and Robert Purviance and others

 

 

 

1781, February 27:

Tim[othy] Pickering and Cha[rles] Stewart to Samuel Purviance

 

 

 

1781, March 20:

Tho[mas] S[im] Lee to Rob[er]t Purviance, Mat. Ridley, and W[illia]m Patterson

 

 

 

1781, July 23 and 24:

Resolutions of Congress

 

 

 

1781, November 8:

Tho[mas] S[im] Lee to William Smith and Sam[ue]l and Rob[er]t Purviance

 

 

 

1782, January 10:

J[ohn] Walker to S[amuel] and R[obert] Purviance

 

 

 

1782, August 16:

John H. Purviance to Samuel and Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1782, November 26:

Sam[uel] Page to Sam[uel] and Rob[ert] Purviance

 

 

 

1792, February 28:

John Steel to Robert Purviance

 

 

 

1798, August 2:

Table of Coffee Exported by _____ Hollins

 

 

 

1815, July 19:

Certificate issued to Robert Purviance, Jr.

 

 

 

1843, June 10:

Robert Purviance, Jr. to James [Purviance]

 

 

 

1846, November 27:

Robert Purviance, Jr. to James Purviance

 

 

 

n.d.:

_____ to Dr. Limeon B. Jennings