Ashhurst family papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

Three generations of the Philadelphia-based Ashhurst family are represented in the collection, beginning with Richard Ashhurst (1784-1861). Ashhurst worked as a drygoods merchant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in 1829 entered into business with his sons John Ashhurst (1809-1892) and Lewis Richard Ashhurst (1806-1874) to form Richard Ashhurst & Sons.

John Ashhurst’s son, John Ashhurst, Jr., was born in 1839 and became a doctor after attending the University of Pennsylvania; he later served as an assistant surgeon during the American Civil War. John Ashhurst, Jr., began his teaching career in 1877 at the University of Pennsylvania, and published several books over his lifetime. He died in 1900.

The connection of Richard L. Ashhurst is not clear, though he was probably also a grandson of Richard Ashhurst. He may also have been the Richard Lewis Ashhurst who served as adjutant for the 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers, one of the Bucktail regiments of the American Civil War. A Richard L. Ashhurst (1838-1911) also published books on numerous subjects, including law, Shakespeare, and the American Civil War.


“Mellon Picks.” Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (Accessed December 7, 2006)

A Guide to the Frazer Family Papers, 1799-1955, 1977-1979. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (Accessed March 16, 2007).

“John Ashhurst.” Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964). Vol. 1, p. 389.

Scope and Contents

The Ashhurst Family Papers consist of .3 linear feet of land deeds, building contracts, receipts, advertisement letters, and cancelled checks related to family business affairs spanning the years 1818 to 1909. Most of the material deals with the commercial drygoods firm of Richard Ashhurst & Sons as well as the law practice of Richard L. Ashhurst, both in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The collection came to the University of Delaware in 1972 as a gift from Anna Moyerman.

The first series consists of the personal and business papers of Richard Ashhurst (1784-1861). Receipts from 1822 to 1824 detail the construction of Ashhurst’s house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Receipts, letters, and legal documents relate to the drygoods business he ran with two of his sons, Richard Ashhurst & Sons. Among the legal documents is an 1835 land deed written on vellum with wax and paper seals. Two copies of an 1856 building contract for a store, one autograph and one typescript, are also in the file and are accompanied by receipts detailing the building process. Toward the end of his life Richard Ashhurst gave to numerous charities and received receipts and thank you letters from various organizations and individuals. He contributed to schools, orphanages, hospitals, the Albion Society, and more in the late 1850s.

The second series consists of letters sent to the lawyer, Richard L. Ashhurst, dealing with contested land in Mauch Chunk (consolidated with East Mauch Chunk in 1954 to become Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania. The letters deal with boundary disputes on tracts of land, specifically related to the extraction of coal. Richard L. Ashhurst worked for William Jenks Fell on the cases of Fell versus Markle and Fell versus Keck. Later the land of William Jenks Fell came under the control of Whitney and Kemmerer Coal, which continued to deal with boundary disputes related to the earlier cases. Multiple lawyers sent letters to Richard L. Ashhurst, including Effingham Morris, Samuel Dickson, S.P. Wolverton, George Dallas, Laird Barber, and Henry Martyn Hoyt (1830-1892; governor of Pennsylvania, 1879-1883). The letters reveal information about the practice of law as well as about the business of coal, but they also demonstrate changes in office technology. The letters reflect the increasing use of typewriters over the last decades of the nineteenth century and the use of various types of copy papers. One office even used signature stamps. The collection also includes Western Union Telegraph slips from 1907.

Series three is the first page of an advertisement for The Principles and Practice of Surgery written by Dr. John Ashhurst, Jr..